2005 Nissan Maxima Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

Nissan Maxima Wins AutoPacific 2005 Entry Luxury Car Vehicle Satisfaction Award for the Second Year in a Row – Top Rated Car

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Maxima has topped the Nissan lineup since the early eighties and the 2005 model continues the success Nissan achieved when the car was all new in 2004. For 2005, Maxima, in fact, is the top rated car overall. In a broad vehicle segment where Maxima is actually the least expensive entry, it wins with a combination of distinctive styling, good quality, excellent value and a healthy dose of product excitement. Maxima successfully balances value and flair in a way that clearly attracts American entry-luxury buyers.
AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award is given to top ranking vehicles in their product category based on the results from owner responses to a national mail survey.

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2006 Mercury Milan

Mercury is getting much needed new-product investment as part of Ford’s more new products, faster campaign and had several announcements at the 2005 Chicago auto show. As well as the Milan, Mercury announced it is bringing a hybrid to the Mariner for 2006, a year earlier than initially planned, and introduced a redesign of the Mountaineer. Though the platform supporting Milan is found under Lincoln Zephyr as well as Ford Fusion, the Milan shares more with the Fusion than the Zephyr.
Milan targets buyers in the 26-to-35 age bracket with a stylish, contemporary entry. Mercury family cues include satin aluminum accents inside and out as well as the signature waterfall grille. The interior can be had in black or two-tone, with either satin accents or wood. While as many as six airbags can be ordered on Milan, they are not standard. The standard equipment list does, however, include a power six-way drivers seat, remote keyless entry, and power heated sideview mirrors.
The architecure used for the Milan, Fusion, and Zephyr began as the Mazda6, but is wider and longer and is not the same platform per se. It uses different suspension components, geometry, and different stampings. Though derived from the Mazda 6, the Milan gains about two inches in wheelbase and width. This translates into exterior dimensions and interior room that will be vital for success in this segment.
This four-door, five-passenger unitbody sedan offers a fully independent suspension. The front is a short and long-arm arrangement, with a multi-link setup in the rear. Power is from the oft-used Ford 210HP Duratec 3.0L DOHC 24v V6, though the Mazda 160HP 2.3L DOHC 16v I4 serves as the base engine. A five-speed manual is the standard transmission, with a six-speed automatic mated to the V6 engine.

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2006 Cadillac DTS


Though heavily revised for the 2006 model year, Cadillac’s largest and best-selling sedan remains as the only front-wheel-drive Cadillac. With the 2006MY, however, the entry falls in line with the current Cadillac naming strategy to wear the name DTS instead of DeVille. Sales are set to begin in fall 2005.
For 2006, styling is freshened and brought in line with the Cadillac’s Art & Science design philosophy. Specifically, new sheetmetal includes the front end, the decklid, and the rear quarter. The grille, front and rear fascias, headlights (standard xenon), and taillights and CHMSL (both LED style) are also new. There are larger wheels and tires for DTS, with standard seventeen- or optional eighteen-inch sets available.
DTS will be offered in only one exterior and interior trim level, though there are a variety of option packages. The 4.6L Northstar V8 continues as the sole powerplant, offered in 275HP and 290HP versions and mated to the four-speed automatic transmission. Though the platform carries over for the DTS, it was refined and retuned and the front cradle design is new. Buick updated its entry on this platform for 2006MY as well, also implementing a name change from LeSabre to Lucerne. The DTS and Lucerne shared an introduction at the 2005 Chicago auto show.
GM is introducing its latest advancement in front passenger airbags with the DTS (and Lucerne). These dual-depth airbags use vehicle sensors to deploy the airbag in one of two sizes and speeds, depending on passenger size, seat location, and other factors. DTS also offers standard seat-mounted side-impact and roof-rail mounted airbags. IntelliBeam automatic high-beam headlamps are also standard.
DTS gets a long list of available convenience features, befitting its place in the Cadillac lineup. These include heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, three-zone climate control, heated windshield washer fluid, power folding sideview mirrors, remote start, adaptive cruise control, and DVD navigation system. All GM cars will offer standard OnStar by 2007MY and StabiliTrak by 2010MY; the DTS launches with both standard.

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2006 Buick Lucerne

Buick will retires the LeSabre name with its 2006 model-year lineup and replaces it with the Lucerne. Lucerne is a major change and redesign to the LeSabre, which uses the same platform as Cadillac’s best-selling sedan. The DeVille is also revised for 2006MY, and renamed DTS.
Lucerne will be the first Buick to offer a V8 in ten years, using the 275HP 4.6L DOHC 32v V8 that serves as the base engine in the DTS. The 3.8L OHV V6 carries on as the base engine, and both are mated to four-speed automatic transmissions.
Several standard and optional features, also found on the Cadillac DTS, will be Buick firsts, including Magnetic Ride Control (paired with StabiliTrak), heated washer fluid, and dual-depth passenger airbag. Not only does the airbag sense the passenger and deploy at one of two speeds, there are two sizes, with a smaller bag deploying when the car senses a smaller person or a less severe impact. Six airbags will be standard, including side and roof-rail airbags. Lucerne will also offer a DVD navigation system.
Buick styling cues adorning the conservative Lucerne include chrome-accented portholes on either front quarter panel, chrome-tipped exhaust, and the vertical Buick grille. Lucerne will be offered in three trim levels, with one intended to take up the LeSabre place and an uplevel version hoping to satisfy would-be Park Avenue buyers, as the Park has fallen from production.

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Hyundai Portico – Chicago Auto Show


As the SUV market slowly matures and minivans, while stable, do not enjoy much growth, manufacturer are again looking at family transportation alternatives. At the same time, Hyundai is expanding into new segments as they push for more sales, and has said they plan to bring two seven-passenger vehicles to market within the next couple of years. One is likely to be a version of the new-for-2006MY Kia Sedona, but the 2005 Chicago auto show Portico concept explores possibilities for the second vehicle. Described at its 2005 Chicago introduction as the next generation of family transport, the Portico’s silhouette is along the direction of the upcoming Mercedes-Benz R-Class or Chrysler Pacifica.
Portico incorporates relatively new solutions to the issue of carrying both people and stuff. Similar to the Honda Edix launched in Europe last year, the Portico featured two rows of seats with three passengers in each. The middle seat could be staggered to keep the center passenger from feeling sandwiched, or it could be folded if not needed. The benefit of keeping all six passengers in two rows is more cargo space behind the seats. Making access easier were pillarless front-hinged front doors and rear-hinged rear doors, an arrangement not likely to reach production. Modern conveniences included a DVD rear-seat entertainment system and DVD navigation and a panoramic glass roof. Should a variation of Portico reach production, the interior would likely be more conservative than the wild purple scheme of the concept.
The Portico concept was shown with Hyundai’s Lambda V6, but is being designed to also accommodate a Hyundai hybrid system under development. Both powertrains are expected to be available in a production model.

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2006 Mercury Mountaineer

For the 2006 model year, both Mercury Mountaineer and Ford Explorer get a major redesign. To help generate interest in Mercury and display a commitment to the brand, the Mountaineer was introduced at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, ahead of the redesigned Explorer and alongside the all-new Milan. Mercury also took the opportunity in Chicago to announce that the hybrid version of the Mariner would come a year early, for 2006 instead of 2007.
The redesigned Mountaineer enters 2006MY with revised exterior styling, an all-new interior, and an updated platform. The new styling, inside and out, is meant to convey Mercury’s design vision of modern design, smartly done. Mercury displays a contemporary, technical look through its selection of interior materials and satin aluminum exterior accents.
Exterior design updates include a new grille and revised headlights at the front. The waterfall theme carries over, accentuated by a new front fascia and rectangular fog lamps. Below the grille is a satin aluminum on the center section of the bumper, promised to be a new design cue for Mercury products. The shape of the side mirrors was revised for better NVH, as well as being larger for better visibility. The rear gets a new tailgate and clear taillamp lenses, as well as a satin aluminum strip in the rear bumper strip. Seventeen-inch wheels are standard, with optional eighteen-inchers.
The all-new interior gives Mercury boosted functionality and versions of features from its bigger brother Navigator. Among them are integrated power running boards and power-fold third-row seats, which also now fold 50/50. Both third- and second-row seats fold, but now create a flat load floor. The third row is now a stadium seating style, allowing the rear-most passengers a sightline out the windshield and side windows. The instrument panel, center stack, gearshift lever, seats, and door handles are all new.
Along with a stiffer frame, the mechanical changes include a revised front and all-new rear suspension. The transmission is upgraded to six speeds and the engine to 292HP as the 4.6L V6 gets three valves instead of two.

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Dodge Nitro


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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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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Toyota CS&S


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.
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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Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch

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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