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Saturn Sky Quietly Introduced in Los Angeles

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Spring 2006 Sales for Saturn’s First Convertible
The wait is nearly over. After the 2002 Saturn Sky concept sparked speculation about when and if Saturn would add a convertible and was followed by a concept version only twelve months ago, the production vehicle arrives at showrooms in spring 2006. The concept introduced at the Detroit auto show and the production car on display at the 2006 Los Angeles auto show are nearly identical, though the two-seat, rear-wheel-drive roadster is basically the opposite of the front-wheel-drive 2002 concept.


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2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

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What a way to start the year and get the folks at VehicleVoice salivating! At the 2006 Los Angeles auto show, an appropriate venue given both Southern California’s obsession with cars as status symbols and the proportion of customers who might be able to afford the $111,600 price tag, Porsche unveiled a 520HP version of its Cayenne, using the same 4.5L V8 as the Cayenne Turbo. Torque also gets a similar boost to 530 lb.-ft., with at least 510 of that available from 2500 past 5000 rpm. Porsche claims a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.8 seconds. Among the specific engine updates are larger intercoolers that increased cooling efficiency enough to increase turbo boost pressure.
The extra power comes with a modified suspension, revised Porsche Active Suspension Management software, more substantial braking power, and an optional exterior body kit. The Turbo S gets twenty-inch wheels, though there are two wheel designs to choose from.
We can’t wait to drive one!


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BMW M6 Finally Arrives

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500HP, 11 Shift Programs, and a Carbon Fiber Roof.
BMW’s M6 high performance coupe started with borrowing the 500HP 5.5L V10 and seven-speed sequential manual gearbox found in the latest M5. Though launched in 2005 in Europe, North American sales do not begin until spring 2006. The M6 was introduced in the States at the 2006 Los Angeles auto show in January, where its nearly $97,000 price tag was also revealed.

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Subtle Styling Cues Signal Special Model
Consistent with European understated high performers, M6 specific exterior cues are subtle and include a larger front air intake, the unique nineteen-inch wheels, a new rear diffuser surrounding the four exhaust pipes, sculpted side sills, M-style mirrors, and the M logo in the ornamental side slats. There are seven colors available for the M6 in its first year, with four of them exclusive to BMW M cars.


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New Mercedes-Benz Flagship – 2007 S-Slass

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Latest S-Class Introduced to North America in Los Angeles
Though Mercedes has been making more news Stateside with its new SUV entries, the R-Class, the M-Class and G-Class, their top sedan is all new for the 2007 model year. While the S65 AMG introduced in Detroit can get lead-footers interested, Mercedes launched the U.S. S-Class with the 382HP 5.5L V8 in the form of the S550. The S65 and a S600 (with a 510HP 5.5L V12) both arrive later in 2006. Within the next couple of years, the S-Class will also likely get a hybrid powertrain option as indicated by a show version at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show alongside the world premier of the S-Class.
The newest S-Class, as its previous iterations have done, raises the stakes in terms of technology and style. Among them are an update to the Pre-Safe anti-crash system as well as Distronic radar-based cruise control that can assist in stop-and-go traffic and works with the brake assist system to help avoid rear-end collisions. Also on the table is an infra-red night vision system.
AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) research shared with VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) indicates that Mercedes-Benz reliability with newly introduced high technology features has been spotty. At the same time, AutoPacific research shows that Mercedes’ image in the USA has deteriorated substantially over the past five years as the images of archrivals BMW and Lexus have continued to soar. The new S-Class has to be bulletproof for Mercedes to begin regaining its reputation as the highest quality, most prestigious automobiles available. View an upcoming VehicleVoice videocast in which Robert Cumberford, renowned styling critic for Automobile Magazine, gives a critique of the new styling of the S-Class.


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Maybach 57 S: 604HP for The Ultra-Luxury Class

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North American Introduction of Maybach 57 S in Los Angeles, January 2006
Though the 57 S model was available in fall 2005 in Europe after a 2005 Geneva auto show introduction, it was introduced to U.S. buyers at the 2006 Los Angeles auto show in January. Along with a bump to twenty-inch wheels, this model boasts an AMG-modified 604HP 6.0L V12, compared with the standard model’s 550HP. The S in this case stands for Special. With the power boost are also some interior tweaks and a firmer suspension. Other changes for 2006MY included making the parking assist system standard and the addition of the Business Package for making the Maybach an office on wheels.
VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) analysts note that the minor facelift to the front end of the Maybach 57 S is very reminiscent of the now out-of-production Hyundai XG350.
The suspension tweaks for 57 S include a firmer setting for the air suspension and shock absorbers, a lower ride height by 15 mm, and thicker stabilizer bars. Electronic driving aids including the stability and traction control programs have been revised for maximum enjoyment of the extra power. Maybach reports that these changes provide “even more impressive handling without unduly compromising the car’s whisper-smooth ride.”

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Volkswagen Passat Range Expands With New Wagon

Passat Wagon Introduced at 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show
The all new Passat sedan went on sale in in the USA in Fall 2005, with the launch of the wagon in January 2006, about the time that the range also added 4Motion models just in time for Winter in the Snow Belt. The Passat wagon has been available in Europe since late 2005 with the USA launch at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show clearly overshadowed by the reveal of the Volkswagen GX3 concept 3-wheel motorcycle.
The wagon benefits from all of the updates the sedan received for 2006 model year, including all-new sheetmetal bearing the latest design direction of the brand and a switch from longitudinal to transverse engine placement. The Passat continues with a choice of in-line four or V6 powerplants. The previous-generation offered a W8 engine that did not sell well has been dropped with the transverse powertrain Golf-based Passat.
The Passat sedan and wagon are offered in similar trim and engine packages, including the 2.0T Value Edition, the 2.0T, the 3.6L and the 3.6L 4Motion. There are two engines available with the latest North American Passat, an in-line four-cylinder and a V6, with no diesel yet offered. A direct-injection 200HP 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16v I4 replaced the prior generation’s 1.8L four-cylinder. The V6 engine is also a direct-injection unit that replaced the 2.8L of the prior generation. While several VAG products offer this latest VR6 in 3.2L displacement, the Passat (and Touareg) gets a 280HP 3.6L version. Volkswagen only offers its 4Motion system when the V6 is selected, whether sedan or wagon. The sedan and the wagon offer the same powertrain lineup, the same basic trim level setup, and the same optional equipment. Models taking the 200HP I4 are badged 2.0T, with the V6-equipped models badged 3.6L or 3.6L 4Motion. Only a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic is offered; no manual transmission is planned for this family-oriented entry.


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Hummer H3x: Appearance Package for 2007MY

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SEMA’s H3 Street Concept Becomes New-for-2007MY H3x.
At the 2005 SEMA show, Hummer displayed a special H3 called the Street. This has translated into a production model due on showroom floors in mid-2006. Though an off-the-shelf package, the H3x works to attract buyers who want a custom look without the extra effort. H3x takes the H3 Luxury package and adds chrome tube steps, the chrome appearance package, and a chrome fuel door. H3x also wears a body-color grille and spare tire cover, a brush guard, and unique tires, wheels, and center cap. The interior is the same as other H3 trim levels, but adds embroidered headrests. Buyers can customize their H3x by their interior and exterior color choices, which include the whole eight exterior and three interior color palette on the H3.


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Pontiac Solstice GXP – Hot Rod Roadster

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What makes a hot convertible hotter? More power, of course
Pontiac follows up the launch of the 177HP Solstice roadster with the introduction of the 2007 Solstice GXP at January’s 2006 Los Angeles auto show. Not content with the 177HP in the standard car, but also looking to keep the balance in the overall package that the four-cylinder engine contributes to, Pontiac decided to turbocharge a four-cylinder engine to create the go-fast version rather than shoehorning a larger (and much heavier) engine into the bay. The Solstice and Solstice GXP will be featured in an upcoming VehicleVoice videocast.
The turbocharged GXP engine delivers 260HP from only 2.0 liters, and Pontiac promises a 0-to-60mph time of 5.5 seconds, slightly faster than the Honda S2000. Pontiac’s Ecotec 2.0L DOHC 16v I4 looks to several tricks to get the power up that high. Among them, this engine is fed with direct injection (fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber), a first for General Motors in North America. A dual-scroll turbocharger is used, with a lightweight turbine and air-to-air intercooling. As is true of the base car, standard transmission will be a five-speed manual with an optional five-speed automatic available.


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Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG – Super-Stomper from Stuttgart

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S65 AMG: Still the Most Powerful Series-Production Sedan
Mercedes-Benz has been hard at work adding new products to its portfolio with the R-Class, upcoming GL-Class, all-new M-Class, and European-market B-Class all arriving within a sixteen-month span, but the company has not left behind its flagship S-Class sedan. The choice of dignitaries everywhere was officially introduced at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show, ahead of late 2005 sales in Europe.
Mercedes saved the introduction of the currently fastest version of the S-Class for North America, however. The latest S65 AMG is being introduced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in January. Though the GL-Class is expected alongside the S65 AMG, the S65 will retain the title of the world’s most powerful production-series sedan, carrying on with the 6.0L biturbo V12. This year, its output has increased slightly to 612HP.
Along with modifications to some of the materials and components in the engine for improved performance and better cooling, there are other AMG touches. Befitting the most powerful series production sedan, it is supported by an AMG sports suspension based on the Active Body Control system and stopped by all-new high-performance composite brakes. The engine continues to be mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Along with specific nineteen-inch wheels, there are the to-be-expected AMG exterior touches. Among them are a redesigned front apron with bigger air intakes, side skirts, and V12 biturbo lettering on the front fenders. Borrowing a page from the Porsche handbook, the S65 AMG introduces AMG’s take on in-car lap-timing software with the RACETIMER system. For those track days, the system stores last lap, average lap, and best lap times as well as the track distance.
Sounds wonderful, but about a month past being able to add it to your Christmas list!


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USA Today – Yaris Pleasant Enough to Drive

Jim Healey of USA Today reaches similar conclusions as VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) relative to the upcoming Toyota Yaris. Excellent replacement for the Toyota Echo, low entry price, but seems a little expensive when loaded with equipment most American drivers demand.
ATLANTA — Yaris is a small, economy car that will replace the unloved Echo in Toyota’s U.S. lineup this spring, and while it is pleasant enough behind the wheel, Yaris seems to fall short of Toyota’s promise of a premium vehicle at a bargain price.
Two body styles of Toyota’s Yaris are offered in the USA, a four-door sedan and a “liftback.”
Final judgment must wait for specific pricing, which Toyota won’t announce until closer to Yaris’ March or April on-sale date. But $12,000 to start is a fair guess, and for that price you won’t get a radio, possibly not a tachometer, definitely not anti-lock brakes. (Photos/audio: Toyota Yaris with Healey’s comments)
Most of the desirable features are available, for a price. If that strategy bumps Yaris up to, say, $14,000 outfitted as most Americans like, then it will be within a few hundred dollars of bigger, more refined cars such as Honda Civic and Toyota’s own Corolla. Not incidentally, Corolla’s fuel-economy rating is better than Yaris’, and Civic’s is nearly as good, even though both are bigger, heavier and have more-powerful engines.
The industry axiom is “small cars, small profits,” and it’s often true. So why bother introducing a subcompact into the size- and space- and power-loving American market? Because 45% of small-car owners — the most of any segment — eventually trade up to pricier, more-profitable models known as premium compacts, such as Civic and Corolla, according to the Power Information Network. And within that group, a significant number — 30%-plus is common — stay with the same brand, PIN data show.
In other words, buyers captured by small cars don’t require as much expensive persuading to get them to move up through the same car company’s more-profitable models.
Hoping to leverage Yaris’ appeal, Toyota says it put two separate engineering teams to work on two versions of Yaris — a four-door sedan and a two-door hatchback — and kept them apart to encourage independent design.
Toyota calls the hatchback a “liftback,” sensing that “hatchback” remains a pejorative term in the U.S. market.
The sedan is the bigger car, outside and in. The rear seat in the hatchback slides fore-aft to maximize either legroom or cargo space. With the rear seat all the way back, there is plenty of adult legroom. That’s remarkable in such a small vehicle.
The main test vehicle was a two-door hatchback equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.


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