The 2001 auto show season is officially underway! The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit kicked off the year with more than 40 automakers exhibiting over 700 cars and trucks. In fact, more than two dozen new production vehicles were introduced and nearly three dozen concept cars were presented.
Our Motor Trend editors were there to provide an insider's view of these exciting vehicles, with the text and photos on the folowing pages. Enjoy.
Videography and video production by Jay McCarthy
Meet the next-generation Integra. Sure, Acura presented the RS-X as a "clear indication of the direction we are headed." But the blue coupe was a very finished piece. Beyond advancement in refinement and torsional rigidity, the real excitement with the RS-X is the 2.0-liter i-VTEC DOHC engine touting approximately 200 horsepower matched with a six-speed transmission. Other features on the show car include cross-drilled disc brakes, 18-inch wheels, Recaro sport seats, and audio system with six-disc in-dash CD changer backed by a trunk-mounted subwoofer.
As snow fell gently outside Cobo Hall, the Audi Steppenwolf concept seemed to have even greater appeal than when the muscular, all-terrain vehicle was first shown in Paris. Applying the Allroad principles to an A3-like-package yielded a cool three-door, four seater that doesn't take no for an answer. Inside, the all-wheel-drive Steppenwolf is trimmed with a generous application of aluminum and leather. Outside, big, gnarly tires, 3.2-liter/225-horsepower V-6, and 8.7-inches conspire for good times in remote places.
Hot on the heels of the M3 coupe is a sun-chasing M3 convertible debuting spring 2001, just in time for adrenaline-surging summer driving. The four-place drop-top packs the same 333-horsepower inline-six engine as the coupe, along with sport-tuned suspension and prerequisite M styling cues. The lined convertible top ensures a quiet ride, and an aluminum hardtop is available for winter driving. Model-specific standards such as power sport seats make the M3 convertible a premium sport/lux car even by BMW standards.
Making its world premier in Detroit, the BMW X Coupe redefines sport, borrowing from both enthusiast cars and utility vehicles. The all-wheel-drive two-door surprised the crowd with its unique asymmetric rear hatch that opens nearly half the car, leaving three pillars total securing the roof. Inside, the car is very driver-centric, with controls and displays oriented toward the left side. An edgy contrast to the Z9, the X Coupe portends of future styling direction for BMW sports cars.
More is better, especially when it comes to horsepower. BMW presents a new performance edition of the X5, pushing power up from 282 horsepower to a serious 347 horsepower. To achieve these gains, an exclusive 4.6-liter version of the V-8 has been prepared. With a five-speed Steptronic transmission, the 354 lb-ft of torque can be harnessed in automatic mode or shifted manually. The exterior sports distinct, body-color trim and the barrel-sized wheels wear 20-inch tires. The X5 HP goes on sale fall 2001.
The shape of things to come, the Z9 Cabriolet hints at the future of luxury sedan design, specifically the next 7 Series. Much more than a styling exercise, the open-cockpit 2+2 also demonstrates an innovative approach to control with myriad systems, including audio, navigation, climate, and communication. Termed iDrive, the ergonomic approach allows the driver to command such functions using a color monitor and rotary-push knob.
General Motors is targeting Gen-Y with its youthful 2001 concepts, pulling even conservative Buick in a sporty direction with the front-drive Bengal convertible. A retractable tonneau cover hides the swoopy six-cylinder's 2+2 seating ability. Rear access is eased with a third door. The hands-free Visteon Voice system enables a clean dash design while providing controls for 118 functions, recognized in six languages. Information is relayed to driver in a male or female voice and a heads-up display.
Cadillac has unveiled its latest crossover concept to wear the "art and science" styling. Blurring the lines between sport sedan, SUV, and wagon, the Vizon features an electronically operated liftgate that exposes a flexible interior. Outside, an integrated roof rack accommodates sports gear while a large two-way moonroof lets fresh air pour through. Power comes from a 4.2-liter V-8 Northstar engine commanded with a five-speed automatic transmission. The Vizon shows off GM's latest safety technology with the first all-wheel-drive StabiliTrak application, adaptive cruise control, and OnStar Virtual Advisor
Chevy revived the K5 moniker for a special show truck that offers a sneak peek at future opportunities for a "two-door" Chevy Tahoe. With its fresh look, open-air rear cargo bed with removable top, and 180-degree rearward opening rear doors, the K5 offers much of the versatility of a production four-door Tahoe with the sporty appearance of a two-door. Underneath the hood of the all-wheel-drive K5 is a modified version of the Vortec 6000 V-8 truck engine, making 440 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 450 lb-ft of torque at 4700 rpm and mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.
Chevrolet is touring its claim to Motor Trend's 2001 Truck of the Year award -winning Silverado Heavy-Duty pickup with the larger-than-life golden caliper trophy in the bed. But it can hold way more than that! Up to 6089 pounds when powered by the standard 6.0-liter OHV Vortec 6000 V-8 and five-speed automatic. As we wrote in the February 2001 issue, "the Chevrolet Silverado HD won us over with its do-it-all portfolio of power, passenger room, cargo capacity, feature levels, and towing prowess."
Drawing its inspiration from the 1950s sports cars produced by Briggs Cunningham II, the Cunningham Motor Company (CMC) will produce a V-12-powered, limited-production, grand tourer dubbed C7. The 2+2 coupe is expected to have more than 500 horsepower from an American-sourced engine and carry a price tag exceeding $250,000. Self-described as a "virtual" car company, CMC will outsource the bulk of development and research to minimize cost. Lead by auto legend Bob Lutz, the Cunningham family, and auto exec John McCormack, CMC will be a company to watch.
In another homage to classic cars of the past, DaimlerChrysler designed its Dodge Super 8 Hemi concept with reverse a-pillars, quarter vent windows, brushed aluminum gauges and trim, front and rear bench seats, and a 353-horsepower pushrod Hemi V-8 engine. However, underneath these retro stylings are fully modern independent suspension, AutoStick manumatic transmission, Sirius Satellite Radio, and multi-passenger Infotronic system that features internet-based traffic and weather updates.
Dodge certainly surprised the crowd when it debuted the new 2003 Dodge Viper. Its styling takes many cues from the Viper GTS/R concept shown at the 2000 NAIAS, and Dodge claims this Viper will be the only production car in the world with "500/500/500" performance. Translated this means the Viper will have 500 horsepower, 500 lb-ft of torque, and 500 cubic inches of displacement from its 8.3-liter all-aluminum V-10 engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission.
Ferrari credits Sergio Pininfarina's studio for designing the 550 Barchetta Pininfarina's sleek, fluid styling and leather-covered dual roll hoops. The 550 has a traditional barchetta-style cut to the windscreen, about .04-inch lower than the Maranello's. And there is no top; just a tonneau that covers the interior from the base of the windshield to the rear cowl. This helps save weight -- the 485-hp V-12 Barchetta tips the scales at 3718 pounds, same as the Maranello. Very limited production begins next spring, with about 23 percent bound for the United States.
Based on the 2002 Ford Explorer, the new Sportsman concept is designed to take the angler out into the wilderness for a "back to nature" outdoor experience. Features like fold-out fly-tying benches, a 30-gallon live fish tank, and running boards that also store rods and equipment will improve the fisherman's experience. A fully detachable roof rack extends forward and folds down so bulky gear can be easily loaded from the side of the vehicle.
Ford's extreme two-seat EX concept vehicle features removable composite body sections mounted onto an exo-skeleton frame of Chrome-moly steel. The bronze-tinted windshield folds down and clips to the top of the hood for open-air driving, and passengers are secured by four-point safety belts. No doors, no handles, so side frames are padded for greater comfort getting in and out. Stainless-steel side-exiting exhaust, 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, and durable all-weather textiles add to its Baja-ready appearance.
Ford's new Forty-Nine concept is designed to take Americans on a "sentimental drag race" 50 years back in time and underscores Ford's commitment to designing excitement into new cars. Its super-smooth appearance uses an all-glass upper body structure with concealed pillars, and an exterior wrapped in velvety black paint with modest chrome accents. Underhood, the engine bay houses a Thunder-donated 3.9-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8, tuned to fit the car's appearance and refined muscle.
Face it, America loves the Thunderbird, and Ford wants us to have it. In fact, Ford announced it will in production this summer, powered by a 3.9-liter V-8 engine with a five-speed automatic transmission. Rear-drive, like the original, but with four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, head and chest side airbags, and priced between $35,495 and $39,795 fully loaded. Where do we get in line?
Conjuring fond images of the past, Ford has introduced the Thunderbird Sports Roadster concept inspired by its 1962 namesake. The concept features a sloped rear deck with a molded fiberglass tonneau cover and integrated, white leather-covered headrests embossed with the trademark T-Bird logo. Chrome-finished fasteners secure the tonneau to the roadster. Production intent is uncertain, but the tonneau would make an attractive aftermarket component that would build on the model's rich heritage.
Penned at the GM do Brasil Design Center, Sabia is a small-bedded, four-door utility vehicle, sized like a coupe but with four doors and room for four passengers seated in theatre style. Measuring in at 174 inches long and 60 inches tall, the Sabia is front-wheel drive and powered by a 2.0-liter supercharged engine.
Versatility is a common theme among this year's concepts, such as the boundary-pushing Terracross that is a pickup, SUV, and convertible all rolled into one. Successor to last year's Terradyne concept, the Terracross furthers the "industrial precision" design theme. Notable elements include the three electronically controlled glass roof panels, reconfigurable midgate, wheels positioned at corners, and sliding rear doors.
The Model X was developed with young male college students in mind, and has a number of features specifically aimed at people with active lifestyles. The absence of a b-pillar allows the rear-hinged rear doors to open wide for easy access; additionally, the rear roofline slides forward, and, combined with a rear tailgate, gives the versatility of a pickup truck, to hold large items like mountain bikes, surfboards, or snowboards. Rear seatbacks can be flipped forward to create rear-facing seats for more flexibility. Destoned for production, Model X will complement CR-V, not replace it.
Infiniti's crossover sport/utility vehicle concept is a tall-riding, all-wheel-drive four-door sport sedan with the roadgoing agility of an SUV. Using the same 4.5-liter V-8 as the Q45, the FX45 drives on large 20-inch wheels and features an innovative glass roof for an open-air feel and a two-piece rear tailgate for access to its ample cargo room.
Due in showrooms next spring, Infiniti's third-generation Q45 is powered by a 340-horsepower 4.5-liter V-8 matched to a five-speed automatic transmission promising 0-60 mph in less than six seconds. Infiniti's luxo-flagship features high-intensity discharge headlamps and an optional rearview camera system that displays what's behind the car on a monitor on the dash. Safety features include front, side, and curtain airbags, ABS, stability control, and brake assist.
Isuzu's GBX pushes the edge of SUV design and architecture with an unusual "exoskeleton steel frame" that forms the core of the vehicle by enveloping the entire passenger cell. Center-split doors open wide for enhanced access, and freestanding seats increase floor storage. Power will be from a 3.0-liter turbocharged 24-valve diesel V-6 with common-rail direct injection. GBX will also feature Isuzu's Torque-on-Demand four-wheel-drive system, "intelligent" suspension, four-wheel Brembo brakes, and Goodyear run-flat tires.
Known as the KJ, the Liberty is the modern successor to the long-lived Jeep Cherokee. Although that classic box will continue in production for a short while longer, the Liberty makes a radical leap forward in design, engineering, and refinement, while preserving the "Jeep" essence and affordable price point. Longer, taller, and riding on a bigger wheelbase, the Liberty is available with a 2.4-liter/154-horse four-cylinder and 3.7-liter/210-horse V-6. Two 4x4 systems offered, with the V-6 available with the premium Selec-Trac setup.
The Liberty Rubicon project vehicle was built to show how, in Jeep tradition, the vehicle can be personalized to fit the owner's specific desires.
DaimlerChrysler unveiled its concept interpretation of the classic "pure American" Jeep Willys by driving it out onto stage by a group on safari. Constructed of a one-piece carbon-fiber body with an aluminum frame and injection molded seats, the Willys concept is powered by a supercharged 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower, mated to four-speed transmission and a full-time four-wheel drive system.
The first all-new Land Rover since 1994 will be launched in North America at the end of this year. The five-door Freelander will be powered by Land Rover's KV6 engine, a 2.5-liter, 24-valve DOHC producing 175 horsepower and be mated to a five-speed Steptronic auto or five-speed manual shifter. The AWD SUV will also feature four-wheel electonic Traction Control (4ETC), Hill Descent Control (HDC), and all-terrain ABS. The molten orange Freelander Kalahari Concept vehicle (shown) has added a special a-frame nudge bar, heavy-duty skidplate and towing receiver, winch, roof-mounted light bar with spot- and foglights, as well as many other active-use items.
Lexus has expanded the cargo capacity of its rear-drive sport sedan by adding a non-conventional wagon back. Expected to appeal to youthful, recreation seekers, the SportCross will be offered in one high-content level. All IS 300s benefit from new features for 2002, including brake assist, side curtain airbags, Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) system, and auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass. The sedan will now be offered with a five-speed manual transmission paired with a firmer suspension.
Termed the "jewel of Lexus," the stylish SC 430 adds a premium convertible to the automaker's lineup. Fitted with a retractable hardtop, the opulently equipped 2+2 transforms from coupe to open-air cruiser in 25 seconds. Inside and out, the SC 430 drips with style: Delicate shapes and elegant interior materials emanate sophistication. Powered by a 300-horsepower DOHC V-8, the SC 430 can race 0-60 in a claimed 5.9 seconds and reportedly reach a 156-mph top speed. Combining grace and speed, this jewel is the embodiment of "luxury sport."
Don't let the two-door hatchback profile fool you, this is a four-door sports car. Thanks to Mazda's "freestyle door system," suicide doors open wide to reveal the absence of center pillars for easy access to the back seats. Labeled a "design engineering model," the RX-8 is powered by Mazda's revolutionary RENESIS side-exhaust rotary engine producing 250 horsepower in naturally aspirated form. Signaling a sports car revival, the RX-8 is racing toward production.
Mercedes-Benz re-enters the hot rod ranks with its new C32 AMG supersedan. Powered by a new 349-horsepower, 3.2-liter supercharged and intercooled V-6 Kompressor engine, the new C32 develops nearly 300 lb-ft of torque and moves 0-60 mph in just 5 seconds. SpeedShift five-speed automatic transmission and racing brakes and suspension round out the sporty package.
The trim new coupe that made its debut last week at the Los Angeles Auto Show appeared here as well. In addition to its innovative panoramic sunroof, the C-Class Sports Coupe boasts smart front airbags, curtain side airbags, Tele Aid emergency call system, and ESP stability control. Powered by a 190-horsepower supercharged and intercooled engine, it is offered with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic with Touch Shift manual gear selection.
Building on the success of the popular C-Class sedan introduced last September, the C320 wagon will be available next fall powered by a 215-hp, 3.2-liter V-6 engine. A long list of standard equipment includes safety items like smart front airbags, curtain side airbags, Tele Aid emergency call system, and ESP stability control. Its flexible interior allows one or both of the rear seats to fold, providing cargo capacity from 16.6 (with the seats up) to 48.9 cubic feet (both down).
Mercedes' exciting compact sports car combines a new supercharged V-6 Kompressor engine with a fully retractable electric hardtop for the ultimate convertible experience. The 349-horsepower AMG engine promises amazing performance and the new SpeedShift transmission allows up to 35-percent-quicker gear changes. When the going gets fast, 13.15-inch front and 11.8-inch rear brakes provide reliable stopping force under repeated use.
The smile-inducing Mini Cooper combines modern performance, refinement, and safety in an evolutionary package. The new car is 18 inches longer and 14 inches wider than the 10x4x4-foot original. Both the naturally aspirated 1.6-liter/125-horse four-cylinder Cooper and 160-plus-horse supercharged Cooper S will be available at launch in America, March 2002. The performance-tuned Cooper S most appeals to enthusiasts with its force-fed engine, tauter suspension, and more aggressive wheel/tire fitment. In a 2200-pound package, either Cooper powertrain is certain to deliver brisker acceleration than the output numbers suggest.
ASX, or Active Sports Crossover, combines sports sedan handling, international style, full-time four-wheel drive capability, and stretch-outroom for five adults in an all-season, multipurpose vehicle. The flexible interior balances space for passengers and cargo, while offering a "walk-through" semi-flat floor. Technical features include an advanced cruise control system and the Mitsubishi Multi-Communications System (MMCS), which includes on-board navigation capabilities. This dashing model is heading toward production.
The geo-mechanical RPM 7000 was designed to combine on-road performance, off-road ability, and passenger/cargo versatility without compromise. Illustrating its flexibility, the rally-inspired RPM 7000 can accommodate four adults in a teardrop-shaped coupe, or two-passengers and a full load of sports gear with an open rear cargo area. An intercooled, twin-turbo 315-horsepower engine puts power to either pavement or dirt through a variable torque all-wheel drive system and 19-inch wheels wearing V-rated tires.
Last spring, Nissan promised it would soon bring a full-size V-8 powered, U.S.-assembled truck to the market. The aT (alpha T) Concept is a radical design exercise toward that end with a massive front grille, bumper, and headlights; scooped hood; aggressive four-door body; and sharply sloped A-pillar and glass panel roof treatment. The aT Concept promises performance to match its powerful appearance, with a 300-horsepower 4.5-liter V-8 engine, rugged suspension, four-wheel drive, and four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.
Like the original Z car, Nissan's new Z is an intimate two-seater with a true hatchback body; beyond that, the design is completely revolutionary. Powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 producing more than 260 horsepower, and either a six-speed manual or five-speed auto, Nissan promises 0-60 mph in less than 6 seconds and a target price below $30,000. Nissan's new Z is scheduled to go on sale in mid-2002 as a 2003 model, along with a convertible version.
Designed on both sides of the pond with assistance from Bertone, the Olds O4 exhibits a Euro-inspired "architectonic theme." Underneath the exterior panels, the O4 features a complete chassis borrowed from the current Opel Astra. Spirited performance is assured with power delivered from a 1.8-liter, turbocharged Ecotech engine. The four-seater uses a flexible, lightweight targa top that allows several roof configurations. If well received, the O4 could inspire product from other, more secure GM divisions.
As if the Vibe we met at last week's LA Auto Show wasn't hot enough, Pontiac has spiced it up even more with a GT version. The sporty Vibe GT boasts a 11.5:1-compression-ratio, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual tranny, boosting performance up to 180 horsepower while still retaining 28 mpg on the highway. Pontiac promises 0-60 mph in just over 8 seconds. Pontiac's Vibe and Vibe GT will go on sale in dealer showrooms next year as a 2003 model.
The familiar GT2 moniker has once again been applied to a race-destined 911. This rear-drive 911 Turbo variant produces a Viper-besting 462-horsepower from the 3.6-liter, twin-turbo, flat-six engine. Porschephiles can distinguish from the GT2 from the 911 Turbo by its enlarged front air inlet ports and giant, manually adjustable wing. Claimed top speed is 196, with 0-60 mph near 4 seconds. The GT2 goes on sale in Europe in May and reaches our shores in the summer.
Displayed downstairs near the similarly named Cunningham C7 was the first production Saleen S7, emoting supercar elitism with its lava-hot orange paint, gull-wing doors, and abundant shark gills. A Ford-based, 7.0-liter V-8 engine delivers 550 horsepower, 520 lb-ft. of torque, routed to the rear wheels through a six-speed transaxle. Three inches lower and 650 pounds lighter than a Lamborghini Diablo, the S7 promises world-class performance. In fact, Saleen claims a 200 mph top speed and 0-60 mph under four seconds for the race-trimmed S7R.
After years of being teased by the red-hot, rally-bred Subaru WRX model in Japan, American performance enthusiasts will finally be able to buy a turbocharged Impreza. Though not quite as powerful as the overseas legend, the U.S.-market sedan and wagon will still offer extreme performance in an all-wheel-drive package. The 227-horse four-cylinder is matched with a five-speed manual or four-speed auto transmission, sport-tuned suspension, 16-wheels, aggressive styling, and full roster of creature comforts.
Toyota's all-new Matrix combines the utility of an SUV with the style and performance of a sports car, and is designed to be active, adaptable, accommodating, with the affordability of a subcompact car. When it hits showrooms in about a year, Matrix will be available in three trim levels, in front- or four-wheel drive, and with either manual or automatic transmission. The sportiest Matrix will feature the Celica GT-S's 180-horsepower engine and six-speed manual tranny, as well as 17-inch wheels.
Volvo's Adventure Car Concept takes a peek at what a future Volvo SUV might look like, and while it's not planned for production, that could change depending on customer reactions. The ACC was designed to have carlike driving characteristics and safety features, a powerful yet economic engine, and generous interior space. Interior amenities include seating for four, a refrigerator, television, and high-performance audio system. Log your opinion at www.conceptcars.volvocars.se.
Volvo's Safety Car Concept was designed to promote superior vision for the driver using such features as open A-pillars woven from metal and Plexiglas, video cameras for increased visibility, and a driver's seating position that changes based on the position of the driver's eyes. Additionally, sensors alert the driver to vehicles hidden in blind spots, and headlights vary their brightness according to speed and light conditions and turn based on steering wheel input.
The new Jetta wagon that made its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show last week was here as well. The wagon provides 34 cubic feet of storage space. It will be available with a variety of engine choices and trim levels, with prices ranging from $18,600 to $24,500. The list of standard items includes premium sound system, four-disc ABS brakes, remote locks, and much more.
Looking a bit like Scooby Doo's Mystery Machine, Volkswagen's Microbus Concept was created not as a copy of the original, but as an evolution of its design (where have we heard that before?). It's not currently scheduled for production, but consumer reaction could change that. This concept featured narrow Xenon headlights, large sliding doors, and wide wheel arches to accommodate 20-inch alloy wheels. Three rows of seats and a seven-inch video monitor are interior highlights. Volkswagen also showed pickup truck and camper models based on the Microbus concept.
Volkswagen's Passat sedan and wagon have been freshened, with improvements including new design elements inside and out for improved safety, power, and comfort. The restyled front end features a sharply raked grille with strong chrome accents, seamless bumper transition, and new headlight design. Mechanically, the new Passat adds more dynamic rigidity and crash protection, along with VW's Side Curtain Protection system. Prices range from $21,450 to $32,375 depending on trim levels, engine choices, and body style.
Volkswagen of America donated a brand-new 2001 Eurovan to the Detroit Institute for Children during the show, where it was given a colorful paint job by Dallas artist Jimmy Sasso. The scheme was based on the work of five-year-old Sedrick Jackson of Detroit who won a VW "Van-Tastic" coloring contest in December. Read more about the multi-hued van at