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2007 Ford Sport Trac – Advances the Breed

VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) were impressed with the previous Ford Sport Trac and are more impressed with the new 2007 version of Ford’s Sport Utility Truck. The 1st Sport Trac was a funky, hose-it-out, derivative of a two-generations ago Explorer. In its last year in production, the first gen Sport Trac came within a hair’s breadth of winning AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award for the compact pickup category. This is quite an achieve for a last-year vehicle.
The new Sport Trac goes upscale and more sophisticated and adds a V8 to its powertrain offerings. Adopting the more modern Explorer as its basis, Sport Trac gets an independent rear suspension for the first time.Sport Trac gets Ridgeline-like storage bins in the cargo bed. But the key improvements are the V8 and IRS.
Here is Ford’s press release for the 2007 Explorer Sport Trac….
2007 FORD EXPLORER SPORT TRAC AS UNIQUE AS ITS OWNERS
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Ford Explorer Sport Trac Adrenalin Concept
Gone are the days when vehicles fit neatly into one of three categories: truck, van, or car. Today, the automotive landscape is much more complicated, with vehicles for every personality or lifestyle. Leading the way in originality and versatility has been the Ford Sport Trac.
The new 2007 Ford Sport Trac follows the same formula of its predecessor. First launched as a 2001 model and based on the best-selling Ford Explorer, the Sport Trac offered the refinement and five-passenger seating of an SUV with the cargo bed and towing capacity of a pickup truck. Its unique blend of capability and personality has attracted a loyal fan base, whose passion for their vehicles rivals that of Mustang enthusiasts.
In fact, nearly 100 Sport Trac fans attended the unveiling of the 2007 Sport Trac at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, some driving from as far as San Francisco and Buffalo. What the owners found was the 2007 Sport Trac kept what they loved about their Tracs, and addressed their three biggest requests: a V-8, more towing capacity, and more refinement.
Underhood, Sport Trac features a standard 4.0-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission, rated at 210 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. The big news with the 2007 model, however, is the addition of a V-8.
“Customers have been asking for a V-8 since day one,” says Bryan Olson, Sport Trac marketing manager. “These customers want the added capability and towing capacity, as well as the power and performance that only a V-8 can deliver.”
This V-8, inspired by the one found thumping under the hood of the Mustang GT, is a 4.6-liter, three-valve V-8 delivering 292 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the V-8 Sport Trac delivers an impressive maximum 6,800 pounds of towing capacity, and 1,390 pounds of payload.
That payload is stored in the 40 inch-long cargo box, made of sheet molded composite (SMC) with a molded-in black inner liner that resists scratches and is dent-proof. Notches in the box for two 2×4 boards across the bed provide tiered storage of materials – including 4×8 sheets of plywood.
Inside the box are three integrated cargo bins recessed into the bed floor, with two six-pack-sized bins in the right and left rear of the box and one large bin that runs the length of the box headboard. The bins are equipped with weather-resistant lids and removable drain plugs for storing wet gear or ice.
An available tubular aluminum cargo cage acts as a cargo divider or can be swung out as a bed extender for extra storage capacity when the tailgate is lowered.
Inside, the hose out Tuflor™ rubber floor covering is offset by Berber-carpeted floor mats, and available two-tone six-way power seats or 10-way heated leather seats give the 2007 model two tiers of interior comfort.
Other cool features available on the 2007 Sport Trac include a heated windshield, which uses micro-wires embedded in the glass to help prevent fogging and speed up de-icing, and a six-disc CD changer with integrated SIRIUS satellite radio and navigation.
Refinement is dramatically improved with the all new frame, which Ford engineers say is 427 percent stiffer than before. For the first time, the Sport Trac features an independent rear suspension, which offers significantly better handling over both smooth and rough surfaces as each wheel reacts independently to bumps in the road. In addition, IRS drastically reduces rear-end skate, which is the lateral movement that occurs when a vehicle with a solid rear axle travels over sharp bumps or washboard/corrugated road surfaces.


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Long Live Yaris, Toyota Echo is Dead!

VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have been strong advocates of replacing the bottom of Toyota’s lineup – the Echo – in the USA with the Yaris. The Echo was an unlucky car. Echo was designed for the lowest common denominator buyer and was ugly to boot. Sure it was inexpensive, but it was an embarrassment to be seen in. A Hyundai Accent was a better choice especially with its 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
Echo and Yaris are essentially the same car, but somehow Echo’s styling came across as terminally dorky and Yaris looks sophisticated. The conventional wisdom is that hatchbacks don’t sell in the USA and cars need to have trunks to sell here. Well, an ugly car with a trunk won’t sell anywhere. Thankfully, Toyota Motor Sales USA convinced its Japanese parent company to bring the critically acclaimed Yaris into the USA in lieu of the Echo.
Toyota will add a Yaris 4-door sedan and 3-door hatchback to its line-up in Spring 2006.
Here is the press release Toyota released announcing the launch of Yaris…
European Favorite Toyota Yaris Arrives in U.S. in All-New Liftback and Sedan Versions
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2007 Toyota Yaris 4-door sedan and 3-door hatchback
12/26/2005, Torrance, CA: The 2007 Toyota Yaris will make its U.S. debut when it arrives in showrooms this spring in four-door Sedan and three-door Liftback configurations.
First launched in Europe in 1999, the Yaris was named the 2000 European “Car of the Year” and has become Toyota’s best-selling model in the European market. In fact, Yaris was also named “Japan Car of the Year,” marking the first time the same vehicle captured both honors in the same year. For the U.S., the Yaris will replace the ECHO in the subcompact passenger-car segment.
“As Toyota’s most affordable passenger car, the Yaris will feature contemporary exterior styling and a surprising upscale interior,” said Jim Lentz, Toyota division group vice president and general manager. “It will be one of the most economic and youthful passenger cars Toyota has built in the subcompact category.”
The Yaris Liftback will be offered in one grade, while the Sedan will offer two grades, adding a sport-themed Yaris S.


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2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser – Concept to Reality

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VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have been closely watching the development of the Toyota FJ Cruiser since retro SUV concepts began appearing at Toyota auto show displays in the early 2000s. The FJ Cruiser, shown in essentially production form during the 2003 auto show season, is the first truly retro SUV to come to market it’s certainly more capable than the pseudo-SUV Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevrolet HHR and the Honda Element (which also uses rear access doors similar to FJ Cruiser). In fact, FJ Cruiser is a true off-roader more of the ilk of the Nissan Xterra.
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2007 FJ Cruiser w/FJ40 in background
On December 26, 2005 Toyota issued the following (lenghty) press release supporting the launch of the FJ Cruiser. Sales will begin in March 2006 with production in Japan.

2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser: The Result of Art, Technology and Heritage

12/26/2005 Torrance, CA: Toyota advances both the art and science of the off-road vehicle while recalling its own off-road heritage with the introduction of the 2007 FJ Cruiser sport-utility vehicle (SUV), available in March 2006.
The FJ Cruiser offers a youthful, contemporary spirit and employs the same state-of-the-art comfort, power, economy, safety, emissions and convenience technology available in other Toyota vehicles. As it does so, it provides optimized off-road capabilities, value and styling clues reminiscent of Toyota’s famed FJ40 4×4 utility vehicle, sold in the U.S. from 1960 to 1983. The FJ40, which during its production life served around the world as the safari and expedition vehicle of choice, remains a desirable and collectable off-road vehicle.
“The FJ Cruiser effectively fills a gap in the Toyota lineup that was once our core heritage – capable, affordable and durable vehicles that are youthful, fun to drive, aggressive and tough,” said Jim Lentz, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division. “The FJ Cruiser will deliver true off-road ruggedness, image and performance at an affordable price, making it highly accessible and desirable to a large volume of young buyers.”
The five-passenger FJ Cruiser was designed as a concept vehicle at Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, Calif. It was first seen at Detroit’s North American International Automobile Show in 2003. Public and media reaction to the FJ Cruiser concept was so positive that the vehicle was slated for production using most of the same design parameters as the original concept. As an indicator of the vehicle’s unmistakable family DNA, several of the FJ Cruiser’s available color choices are reminiscent of the colors found on FJ40s.


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Toyota Launches Japanese Version of Scion xB

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The Scion xB was launched in the USA in 2003 first in California, then the Southeast and finally nationally. The xB has been a pleasant sales surprise for Scion and Toyota Motor Sales, USA. In fact the Spartan xA hatchback was projected to outsell the xB by a wide margin and the reverse happened. Interestingly, when first images of the xB were released VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) research and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) forecasts projected that xB would be more of a success than predicted by Toyota itself.
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Scion xB by Toyota Motor Sales USA
The xB is a rolling box. It is a low-priced people mover with a huge rear seat and little cargo room, but has proved popular with young and old alike.
The Scion concept is to take Toyota vehicles on sale in Japan and sell them in the USA with minimal changes. Originally, each vehicle was to be a one-off. In other words, each Scion would live for only a few years and then be dropped. A new vehicle would be launched that would provide Scion dealers with equal or more volume. In this way, there would be no successor to the xB. Because of the popularity of the xB, there may indeed be a successor.
Launched in 2000 in Japan, Toyota has just released its successor to the bB (xB’s Japanese name). While not as boxy as the present xB, the Japanese bB is clearly evolutionary. It continues the highly space-efficient packaging, if not the funky styling, of the present vehicle.
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Toyota bB launched on December 26, 2005 in Japan
If Scion xB continues, expect it to be a mild evolution of the new bB in Japan. But the scary thing is the whimsical description Toyota uses to describe the bB in Japan, “A Car-shaped Music Player that Incorporates Youthful Sensibilities”… WOW!


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Honda's Newest Civic Earns Its Reputation

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Honda introduced the latest version of its Civic in early Fall 2005, the eighth generation of a product at the core of Honda’s existence in North America. Though Accord remains Honda’s best-selling product, Civic is a close second. Civic’s annual sales have remained at or above the 300,000-unit mark since about 1997, despite that the seventh-generation was a shadow of former generations and received heavy criticism from public and press alike for its de-contented feel and lack of enthusiasm versus prior iterations. In spite of this, as recently as 2004 the Civic outsold its nearest competitor (Ford Focus) by more than 100,000 units. Though the seventh-generation sold well, it did so by skating on a solid image generated by previous iterations. The new-for-2006MY Civic restores the substance behind the reputation.
The results of this transformation are being immediately felt. The eighth generation is praised even more than the prior car was criticized. It recently won Motor Trend Magazine’s Car of the Year award and is a finalist for the same honor in the North American Car of the Year competition. With such advance praise, we were looking forward to a turn behind the wheel. Now that a Civic EX has spent a week in AutoPacific’s Southfield, Michigan office, we’re happy to say that we’re also impressed.
The Civic has returned, long live the Civic!

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New 2006 Chrysler 300C "Heritage Edition" Debuts at the Los Angeles Auto Show

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VehicleVoice [(http://www.vehiclevoice.com) & (http:/.vehiclevoice.com)] is an admirer of the Chrysler 300 and 300C. Chrysler will debut its new Heritage Edition 300C at the Los Angeles Auto Show and we’ll be there to cover its unveiling. In the meantime, here is a teaser press release from Chrysler.

– – – – –

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• New “Heritage Edition” model pays homage to the 1957 Chrysler 300C which was described as the “Beautiful Brute”
• 2006 Chrysler 300C Heritage Edition offers luxurious performance, exclusive features and unique heritage badging
• New model is the first Chrysler brand vehicle with SmartBeamTM headlamp technology
Auburn Hills, Mich. – Paying homage to the great Chrysler 300s of the late 1950s, the Chrysler Group announced today the new 2006 Chrysler 300C “Heritage Edition,” debuting January 4 at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show.
Available in dealerships this spring, the limited-production Heritage Edition is a performance specialty vehicle offering the power of the award-winning 5.7-liter HEMI® engine with the fuel-saving Multiple Displacement System (MDS), high-performance styling cues of the popular SRT line-up and exclusive features, including the first-time use of SmartBeamTM headlamp technology in a Chrysler vehicle. And, to contemporize its illustrious past, the Heritage Edition has a chromed bodyside molding with a distinctive tri-color 300C badge that is modeled after the badge on the 1957 Chrysler 300C, a vehicle described in its day as the “Beautiful Brute.”
“The Chrysler 300C Heritage Edition honors the long line of beautiful Chrysler 300 vehicles by combining power and fuel-economy in a sporty, stylish package,” said Jeff Bell, Vice President — Chrysler.
Production of the 2006 Chrysler 300C Heritage Edition will begin this spring at the Brampton (Ontario) Assembly Plant.


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Subaru B9 Tribeca. New SUV Falls Short with Subi Purist.

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The B9 Tribeca is Subaru’s first effort in designing a larger SUV. It was introduced to the majority of consumers through a 30 second spot featuring the song, “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. The ad concludes with the tagline claiming the B9 brings an end to our perception of what a typical SUV is, and attempts to establish a new definition for the SUV. The song and visual cues of the ad depicts other SUVs (much larger and utilitarian in size and functionality) falling to dust when the B9 crosses their paths.
Unfortunately, the B9 may be the one that will disintegrate and vanish into air before its competitors. It is brought to you by a company known for appealing to a unique group of individuals who are perceived to be tree-huggers and granola-eaters. From an engineering standpoint, the B9 Tribeca is a great vehicle featuring all that Fuji Heavy Industries technology Toyota just bought from General Motors (GM sold its stake in Fuji to Toyota in Fall 2005)… advanced all wheel drive, ABS, other technological features. Although the B9 Tribeca has an impressive and exquisite interior wrapped in a very distinct (controversial) exterior, it is doubtful the new vehicle will appeal to a large audience.
The Subaru B9 Tribeca was included a VehicleVoice Beauty Contest. As expected, its styling was controversial… in the middle of the pack. It will take a person wanting to make a definite statement to buy a B9 Tribeca. Of course, to break out of the product clutter, that is exactly what Subaru was trying to achieve.
Subaru of America Attempting to Move Upmarket
With the introduction of the B9 Tribeca and the earlier intro of its new Legacy lineup, freshened Forester and Impreza, Subaru is trying to reposition and reintroduce themselves to consumers. The question is whether or not Subaru has the goods to move upscale in product content and price.

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Bugatti Veyron – 253 MPH and Still a Little Late

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For those of you who do not live in the Los Angeles Times sphere of influence, you may miss the writing of Dan Neil their Pulitizer Prize winning auto journalist. You can catch up on his reviews, Highway 1 editorials and podcasts at the LA Times website (http://www.latimes.com). This article on the upcoming launch of the Bugatti Veyron supercar is just one example of Neil’s writing.
By Dan Neil, Times Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2005
PALERMO, Sicily — At 200 mph, the Bugatti Veyron pounds a beautiful, howling hole in the sweltering haze hanging over the motorway.
This, the fastest production car in the world, is broad and low, an enameled ellipse in a spiffy two-tone paint scheme. By comparison, its now-vanquished supercar rivals, such as the Ferrari Enzo and McLaren F1, are all edges and blades and angles, like F-16 fighter planes or Japanese stunt kites.
The Veyron is not, strictly speaking, the fastest car I’ve ever driven, but the one that’s faster had a jet engine and a parachute. The guardrail to my right is blurred into a dirty stream of quicksilver. Houses fly by before my brain has time to register the word “house.”

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About nine seconds ago, I was dawdling at 100 mph. Then I squeezed the throttle. The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox clicked twice, the engine took a huge lung-busting toke of atmosphere through its twin roof snorkels — and then things got interesting. Something slammed me from behind and I realize it was the seat. Captain, it appears we have fallen nose-first into a wormhole.
Two-hundred mph. And I’m not even in top gear.
… house….


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Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: Third SUV, Built in America

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The Mercedes introduction of the third prong of its latest attack on the American SUV market is the 7-passenter GL-Class. The GL-Class complements the 5-passenger M-Class and 6-passenger R-Class “Grand Sports Tourer” (whatever that is) as Mercedes-Benz broadens its people-carrier offerings to meet the needs of SUV buyers.
The full technical details of the GL announced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2006, were precluded by the first photos and brief technical specifications shown here:

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Ford Edge – Ford Shows its Edge in January

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Among the 2006 North American International Auto Show introductions will be a new addition to Ford’s sport-utility lineup – the Ford Edge. The Edge uses a car platform, in this case that of the recently introduced Fusion, and adds a more powerful 250-horsepower V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Lincoln also gets a version that becomes the second-generation Aviator. Ahead of the official introduction, Ford has released an illustration that gives us an idea of what the truck will look like.

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