Dodge Nitro

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Dodge is developing a truck-based mid-size SUV, and the Nitro concept introduced at the 2005 Chicago auto show is a look at what the product might look like. The concept explores adding Dodge’s aggressive attitude to a mid-size SUV, looking to the Jeep Liberty for components and a starting platform.
The Nitro bears Dodge’s signature crosshair grille and bright red exterior paint, for a look that would slot in nicely alongside the Magnum, Ram, and Charger, as well as suggesting Dodge will further evolve this look with other products during the second half of this decade. Jewel-like headlights bore a rectangular shape (avoiding the round headlights that Jeep prefers). Silver and chrome accents could be found in the satin silver and black-trimmed roof rack and crossbars, chrome dual exhaust tail pipes, a brushed silver license plate, and in the brushed silver vents on either side of the SUV.
The satin silver continued inside, most notably on the center console, though also found on the control buttons, door handles, gauges, speakers, and assist handles. The concept interior also featured black and red two-tone interior, and a seven-inch LED screen with DVD navigation, something not found on most mid-size SUVs. The interior holds five people in two rows, with the second row and front passenger seat folding flat. Among the functional interior touches is a cargo bed that slides out for easier loading and unloading, and is also made of a tough, durable vinyl for easy cleaning. The Nitro shown focused on a solid package for seating five, as Dodge has the Durango for those who need to haul more passengers in an SUV and the Caravan for those more comfortable in a minivan.
As Dodge’s upcoming SUV is expected to share with the Jeep Liberty, but the Nitro indicates Dodge is looking for a larger entry than the Liberty. Compared with Liberty, the wheelbase of the Nitro concept was stretched four inches to about 108 inches and Nitro offers a longer rear overhang. The concept featured two rows of seats and a clever easy-load sliding surface (strong enough for people to sit on and tailgate). The Nitro borrowed its 210HP 3.7L V6, four-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive system from the Liberty.


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New Civic Si Concept

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At the 2005 Chicago auto show, Honda showed off a nearly production concept of the next Civic. As the current Civic suffered from some criticism from the influential and passionate tuner market, the concept was shown in Si form. If the concept is any indication, this time around, the Si will be a coupe, however, and not a hatchback. Honda indicated that the concept was 90% production.
At the same time, Honda announced a tighter relationship with this year’s Specialty Equipment Market Association show in November, where Honda will be the official vehicle manufacturer. The production Si will be introduced at the 2005 SEMA show, which caters to the aftermarket and tuner markets, a highly important segment of Civic sales. The Si will get a 200HP VTEC mated to a six-speed manual transmission; the concept wore eighteen-inch wheels and tires and a large but relatively conservative spoiler. Styling is sleek and streamlined, with a very short hood and wheel wells wrapping around the concept’s eighteen-inch wheels and tires.
For the rest of the Civic range, the sedan and coupe will also arrive in fall 2005. An updated hybrid will be offered and Civic will continue to offer a natural-gas-powered version.

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Peugeot 407 Elixir

The French auto manufacturers have truly been on a roll over the last few years, steadily shedding their reputation for poor quality and really pushing the limits in terms of technology and style. Witness the Peugeot 206 – it is now the best selling car in Germany, knocking the VW Golf off the number one spot it has held for time immemorial.
The C-segment is a crucially important one for volume manufacturers in Europe. In addition to huge fleet sales (company cars are very common in Europe), C-segment cars like the Ford Mondeo and Peugeot 406 represent massive private sales as well. Volume manufacturers also tend to put their latest and greatest technological and styling innovations into these cars.
The Peugeot 407 Elixir strongly hints at the 406’s replacement. Though this concept car is configured as an unusual two door wagon/crossover/whatchamacallit, many of the styling themes shown here will be seen in the production 407, which will be offered as a 4-door sedan and station wagon, like the 406.
In fact, the Elixir’s styling from the A-pillars forward is very close to the actual production 407, which will go on sale for the 2005 model year. The look is rakish and elegant – and unmistakably Peugeot. Peugeot has definitely created a strong family look over the last few years, and the 407 properly builds on that look.
The concept is powered by a 200HP 2.7L turbodiesel V6 equipped with Peugeot’s latest regenerative particulate filter system (it cleans itself), which ensures indefinite clean running. The French have been diesel technology pioneers as of late, and this diesel V6 looks to continue that trend.
Based on this concept, the 407 will undoubtedly be a elegant-looking car that helps Peugeot ensure its continued success in Europe.

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Volkswagen Concept R

Ever since the demise of the Corrado in 1995, Volkswagen has not had an overtly sporting model in its lineup. Sure, there have been sporty versions of its mainstream models, but a pure sports model has been lacking from the VW lineup for years.
And it makes perfect sense – sports and sporty cars have declined in popularity worldwide as people have instead become attracted to vehicles that offer functionality and practicality along with high image (like SUVs). VW was forced to abandon the sporty Corrado because buyer interest faded.
Hardcore VW enthusiasts have been moaning about the death of the sporty VW ever since, and now it looks like they may soon have reason to rejoice. The Concept R is a design study for a pure sports car that is arguably more focused on pure performance than any VW before it, and word has it that the car will be produced, at least for the European market.
Based around Golf V components, this two-seat roadster is nonetheless an extremely unique model in and of itself. For starters, the Concept R is a mid-engine, rear wheel drive design, like many of the most renowned sports cars. The concept is powered by a 265HP version of the 3.2L V6 engine that currently powers the Touareg V6 and the upcoming Golf R32. VW’s acclaimed DSG gearbox transfers this power to the rear wheels. For those not familiar with DSG, this is a semi-auto manual transmission that utilizes a secondary clutch to keep the next gear engaged and ready to go in the blink of an eye, unlike competing systems that feature a noticeable lag between shifts. It also features a full automatic mode, allowing automatic-style ease of use and refinement with manual transmission fuel economy. Really, the best of both worlds.
The exterior is wildly expressive for a VW, featuring many design cues never before seen within the VW brand. It’s less Bauhaus and more organic. The interior is also very organically styled for a VW, and it does feature some interesting features, like seats that can be adjusted for firmness.
While AutoPacific does not forecast the budget sports car market to undergo a significant resurgence anytime soon, such a car can have a positive halo effect on the brand – which can sometimes make this kind of car worth doing (just look at what the new Z is doing for Nissan). The fact that the VW brand is showing signs of stagnation in the US could make this car worthwhile, perhaps creating some buzz for the lineup in the way the New Beetle did in 1998. If VW can produce this car for a reasonable price (avoiding the brand’s current upscale meanderings), a production version of the Concept R could be very enticing indeed.


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Mercedes-Benz Vision CLS

Mercedes-Benz has long built lovely coupe derivatives of its mid-sized models, but considering today’s drivers’ desire for more utility and functionality for day-to-day life, the company is ready to introduce something very different.
Enter the Vision CLS concept car. A thinly disguised look at next year’s CLS-Class, this low-slung sedan is derived off current E-Class underpinnings. Rather than develop a coupe derived off the E-Class, Mercedes-Benz decided to create a very personal and emotionally styled sedan alternative to the regular E-Class. This strategy is a very interesting one – conventional wisdom has it that personal specialty cars are coupe derivatives of sedans, but in this case Mercedes-Benz has opted for a coupe-like sedan.
The Vision CLS does indeed have a very low roofline and much tighter interior package compared to the E-Class. But the concept does have four real doors – something coupes by definition do not have. The concept is much swoopier than any Mercedes-Benz sedan before it, and its graceful styling proves convincingly that the days of stodgy Benzes are long gone.
The concept shown here is much more representative of the final product that most of the previous Vision concept cars. Indeed, aside from some show car styling details, the car shown here is pretty much what we’ll all see on the roads next year. There’s no doubt that the car is pretty – the car has an almost Jaguar-like grace to it while remaining unmistakably Mercedes-Benz.
Still, it remains to be seen how buyers will interpret the car. It has a much tighter interior than the E-Class it’s based on, and it will undoubtedly be more expensive. The car really has no direct competitors, since most people aren’t looking for a sedan with a tight interior. And people will likely view it as a sedan,, rather than a four-door coupe. And viewing it as such, many will likely find it too small inside for their needs.
Still, kudos to Mercedes-Benz for coming up with something conceptually new and different. The car is undeniably attractive, and on that basis alone it will surely find an audience. How big that audience is remains to be seen, but as an image vehicle, it will surely serve its purpose.
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Hyundai CCS

Over the last few years, Hyundai has made serious strides worldwide. No longer the purveyor of cheap, low quality, and just plain undesirable vehicles, Hyundai is now offering much more competitive offerings with unbeatable prices and warranties.
Each new offering from Hyundai appears to be more impressive than the last, and the Hyundai CCS concept, which is a near-production ready Tiburon convertible, is no exception.
The CCS is Hyundai’s first convertible offering, and as per today’s convertible top trend, it features a slick retractable hard top. Engineered by renowned coachbuilder Karmann, this top features an innovation not yet seen on any other retractable hard top – a sliding glass roof.
Similar in concept to the Porsche 911 Targa, the CCS’ glass roof slides back over the backlight. In other words, the driver is treated to a large sunroof. Of course, the top also fully retracts into the trunk, making this car perhaps one of the most versatile convertibles around.
Other details are standard Tiburon. The concept is powered by the Tiburon’s 2.7L V6, and all sheetmetal below the beltline and forward of the B-pillars is shared with the standard Tiburon coupe. The car’s silhouette works well with the retractable hardtop and gives the car a whole new look – onlookers may not even realize that this is a chop-top Tiburon.
This car, while destined to be a low volume seller, will almost certainly serve as an image builder for a company whose image is already well on its way up. Hyundai’s aggressive product strategy is paying large dividends, and cars like this new Tiburon convertible help to reinforce to the buying public that Hyundai is becoming a real, viable, and unique alternative.

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Toyota CS&S

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It’s pretty safe to say that Toyota is way ahead of the game when it comes to hybrids. Whether or not hybrids are the way of the future certainly remains to be seen, but as of right now, no one makes a better hybrid than Toyota. Because Toyota got into the hybrid game early (1997 in Japan), Toyota has been refining the concept longer than anyone else, and it shows.
The new Hybrid Synergy Drive system is Toyota’s second generation hybrid system and offers numerous advantages over its first generation system. It relies more heavily on the electric motor, meaning better fuel economy. The system also allows the air conditioning to be used while the motor is stopped, say, at a stoplight. Overall, it’s just plain more efficient and advanced than the other hybrid systems on the market, or coming soon to market, for that matter.
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Toyota wants to show that hybrid powertrains have their place in more than just bland little sedans. Therefore, they installed the latest Prius’ Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain into a 2-seat, mid-engine roadster concept call the Toyota CS&S. About the size of an MR-2 Spyder, the CS&S is an attractive little piece, but the real point of interest is its hybrid powertrain.
Over the next few years, Toyota plans on introducing its hybrid powertrains in a variety of cars and trucks. Furthermore, its Lexus subsidiary is also introducing hybrids – but tuned more for performance. For Lexus vehicles, hybrid powertrains will be offered as the performance option, starting with the 400HP RX400H.
In the meantime, Toyota will be pitching its hybrid offerings as environmentally friendly and totally transparent to the use. Unlike first generation hybrids, Hybrid Synergy Drive powered vehicles are not slow or have that engineering student science fair feel about them.


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Ford Visos

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It has been quite some time since Ford of Europe has done a design study on its own. The Ford Visos design study represents Ford of Europe’s first such effort in several years.
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The Visos is not intended for production in its current form, but word has it that Ford of Europe has been considering a replacement for the long departed (and well-loved) Capri – a European automotive icon of the 70s and early 80s. Indeed, while Ford claims that its looks draw heavily on all manner of past Ford products, the Visos is clearly modeled after the Capri, particularly its side window graphics and the little scoops ahead of the rear wheel openings.
This four seat coupe is claimed to have superb packaging for four adults despite its being a sporty coupe. Compared to the Capri, the Visos has a relatively upright C-pillar, though this is cleverly disguised with the very Capri-like rear quarter window shape. Special attention was paid to making the car adaptable to the driver’s mood, from changeable mood lighting to seats that actually change shape depending on whether the driver wants comfort or aggressive bolstering. The overall look is very consistent with J. Mays’ “retro-futurist” style – very clean, simple, yet somewhat organic.
Underneath, the Visos is based on the C1 small car platform that also underpins the Mazda3, the new Volvo S40/V50, and the next generation European Ford Focus. In the case of the Visos, the car is fitted with all wheel drive, and power comes courtesy of a twin turbo 3.0L V6 capable of 350HP.
While Ford insists the Visos will not see production as shown, it is definitely gauging interest in its nouveau-Capri concept. Problem is, as attractive as the Visos may be, the market for sporty coupes, both in North American and abroad, has decreased very significantly over the decade.
Nonetheless, sports and sporty cars can bring attention to the brand, and if such a car succeeds in increasing overall interest in the brand, the car’s value can be priceless.

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Seat Altea Prototipo

Building on the 2000 and 2002 Salsa concepts, the Altea Prototipo is a near production-ready view of the all-new small MPV that is without a doubt the most unique Seat to date.
This long-awaited new entry for Seat was previewed by yet another concept, the MPV or Altea Prototipo, at the 2003 Frankfurt auto show. The concept, as well as the production model going on sale in mid-2004, is based on the new-for-2004MY Golf V. Seat expects the Altea to become one of its main products, alongside the Ibiza and Leon.
When it reaches showrooms wearing the Altea badge, it will ride on the latest Golf platform and incorporate cues from its Salsa show car predecessors from 2000 and 2002. The 2003 Frankfurt concept front features a large grille and Seat emblem and cat-eye headlights. The flowing lines of the side view will be common to Seat design in the future. The Altea is perhaps really the first Seat to truly make good Seat’s claim of being a unique alternative to Alfa Romeo. The car’s styling is fresh, different, and unmistakably Latin. And it’s very functional and practical, too boot.
The Altea Prototipo features a combination of sporty design, a dynamic driving experience, and the functionality of a mono-space interior layout. The concept backs up its sporty look with the first FSI application for Seat, using VW’s 148HP 2.0 FSI mated to a six-speed Tiptronic transmission. The concept’s nineteen-inch wheels are not likely to make production, unless on an option package, but the 2.0L FSI is likely to be one of the engines on offer.
The Altea is the first product developed after VW reorganized and moved Seat to the Audi Brand Group.
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Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch

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Ever since the introduction of the new 9-3, Saab traditionalists have been screaming about the lack of a traditional hatchback model. Despite this, sales of the new 9-3 are far exceeding those of the old model, meaning that Saab’s decision to offer the car as a notchback sedan was obviously a wise one.
Still, those Saab enthusiasts are a pretty rabid bunch, and Saab would be unwise to completely ignore their needs. Plus, with functionality being all the rage these days, why not offer a more functional bodystyle in addition to the sedan?
The 9-3 Sport-Hatch concept previews the next bodystyle in the 9-3 range, codenamed 444 and due in 2004CY.
A hatch it may be, but it’s not a hatch in the way the old 9-3 was. The four-seat Sport-Hatch concept features a fastback shape drawing from the 9-3x concept. Inside, one can find more cues inspired by the 9-3x as well. According to Saab, while the 9-3x is a coupe-meets-SUV concept, the Sport-Hatch is meant to blur the distinction between five-door hatchback and wagon bodystyles.
As no proper concept car is shown underpowered, the Sport-Hatch features the 250HP 2.0L turbo-charged four-cylinder that can be found in Aero models in the lineup, and will likely be offered in the production Sport-Hatch.
Will this bodystyle appease the Saab traditionalists? Probably not, but this wagon bodystyle is even more practical than their old Saab hatchbacks, and by any standard the Sport-Hatch is a very handsome car. It should help add some incremental sales to the already popular 9-3 sedan, and offer one more reason to check out the Saab dealer. Finally, GM is paying some attention to this high potential brand.


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