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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

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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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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

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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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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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Citroen C-Airlounge – Paris Auto Show

The C-Airlounge five-door hatchback concept indicates the direction of the long-awaited C6. It also indicates that Citroen may launch a bodystyle to compete against the new-for-2004MY Opel/Vauxhall Signum. The interior features an ingenious modular seating system for maximum use of space, as well as a new approach to interior lighting systems.
We may be seeing more of these types of vehicles in the future, depending on what the market makes of these vehicles. First to market, of course, was the recently introduced (and sales challenged) Chrysler Pacifica. The Mercedes-Benz R-Class is coming within the next couple of years, and while we won’t ever see the C6 in North America, the Europe-only Opel Signum is sort of a guinea pig for this concept in the European market.
The C-Airlounge prioritizes interior space and therefore features a tall roof that allows a higher seating position for all passengers. Still, the car manages to look sleek and fast. Perhaps the somewhat stiff A-pillars help prevent it from looking too much like a minivan.
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The interior is indeed roomy, and features individual seats for all five passengers. The center rear seat can be folded down into the floor, providing maximum comfort for two rear seat passengers. Also of note is the unique mood lighting system – it’s too complicated to be described here, but it really must be seen to be believed. The system can change the car’s interior color scheme instantly.
The production version of this car, the C6, is due to make it to market by fall 2005. When it arrives, the C6 will be larger than the long departed XM, positioned further away from the C-segment Xantia, and based on the PF3 upper-medium platform also used by the C5. The next-generation Peugeot 406 (2004MY) and 607 (2007MY) will also use the front-wheel-drive, transverse-engine platform.


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