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2006 NAIAS Show Stoppers

The Crossovers Are Coming!

     Automakers may be scaling back a bit on the press conference theatrics this year, but there’s been no slowdown in the amount of new product being debuted in Cobo. This year brings us everything from reborn muscle cars to luxury cars and, of course, the automakers’ favorite new segment, crossovers utility vehicles (CUVs). There was a definite interest in fuel economy this year, but thankfully not at the expense of power. Indeed, the product choices industry wide have never been better, as the following Showstoppers indicate.

Not wanting to leave anybody out, Ford provided enthusiasts some details about the Shelby GT500 coupe and convertible—475 of them to be exact. That’s the number of horses under the Shelby’s hood and the amount of torque ready to launch this fastest-ever Mustang off the line. Then for the environmentally-friendly families of no more than three Ford has the sporty Reflex concept that continues a new design theme at Ford. We like what we see. For those who want the ultimate pickup the F-250 Super Chief will suffice. It’s the Ford Edge, however, that should have the other guys most worried. This CUV looks fresh, packs 250hp and a comfortable place to seat a family. The CUV segment is set to explode and as Ford says, for once, it’s on the offense.

We were expecting the next-generation Aviator and we got it—albeit with a new name. Henceforth, the Aviator is dead and the MKX (Mark X) lives. We’re not fans of the busy, electric razor-like new grille, but otherwise the MKX, if priced aggressively, could make a decent alternative to other rough riding midsize luxury SUVs. The real news at Lincoln is the debut of the MKS concept. This large sedan strongly hints at the future of Lincoln’s flagship sedan and is powered by a 315hp V8 and a six-speed automatic transmission. We’re happy to see Lincoln using an attractive waterfall grille again and we hope the production version looks as good as this concept.

General Motors
The General is serious about making Buick desirable again, even to people ineligible for the Senior Citizen discount. The Enclave is a good indication that might actually happen. What you’re really looking at here is a thinly disguised production model that’ll break cover with other GM CUV’s sometime this year. If it has an interior even half as nice as this concept’s then Buick is headed in the right direction. There’s no doubt Chevy is headed in the right direction as it will proudly tell you it is once again the best selling brand in the US for the first time since 1986. And it’s striking designs like the Camaro concept that will help ensure Chevy stays on top. The Camaro borrows heavily from the 1969 model but runs on a fully modern chassis with a small-block V8 borrowed from the Corvette. In the world of hybrids Toyota may be off to an early start, but GM says it’ll do more good by installing hybrid powertrains in the vehicles that will benefit most from them: giant, fuel-sucking SUVs. As such, the new Tahoe, Yukon and Escalade are all set to get a dual-mode hybrid powertrain for the 2008 model year. The advancement in the hybrid system comes from GM’s partnership with DaimlerChrysler and BMW. GM also plans to sell a hybrid version of the Saturn VUE that uses a cheaper version of GM’s hybrid technology and will add less than $2,000 to a VUE when it goes on sale later this year.

The amazing designs just keep coming from Chrysler as the Challenger gets resurrected on a modified Chrysler 300 platform. With 425 horses of HEMI power under the hood and only two doors there’s no one and no reason to give Dodge a hard time about this one. We figure there’s no sense giving Ford all those Mustang sales without a fight. Let’s hope DCX is working on the same logic. On the production side of things we find Jeep headed in a new gentler direction with the Jeep Compass, which finally debuted in full production trim at Cobo. There are some clever details included, like a dome light that doubles as a removable and rechargeable flashlight, as well as speakers that swivel outside to provide tunes for tailgate parties. But Jeep can’t be seen as going soft, so to keep the hardcore off-roaders happy they took the wraps off the new Wrangler. At least we think it was new; the Wrangler hasn’t really changed its look in decades so you have to squint to see the updates, the most significant of which is the new three-piece removable hardtop.

The Q7 looks more than ready to attack suburban streets across the country, but we are more anxious to attack the twisties with the new V10-powered S6. The latest performance Audi joins its equally new S8 big brother and maxed out RS4 as great options for those lucky Audi customers seeking extreme performance.

Toyota is poised to steal some more sales from its competitors with the latest Camry that goes on sale in March. The new car wears fresh sheetmetal with tasteful but restrained design cues. There’s no way Toyota will risk alienating hundreds of thousands of Camry customers. Inside the ergonomics appear stellar and materials are, as expected, class-leading.

Lexus continues its aggressive product rollout with the next-generation LS sedan, now dubbed LS460. It brings slightly more exciting design to the now legendary luxury Lexus is known for. As expected there’s technology galore—even an automatic parallel parking feature. For the first time you can even have your LS in long wheelbase form, which brings with it plenty of luxury goodies and rear-seat accommodations that are downright Maybach-like. And incase that 7-speed automatic in your Mercedes wasn’t doing the job Lexus wants you to know its new 8-speed automatic—no that’s not a typo—will provide the right gear for any occasion.

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