Los Angeles claims the annual honor of first major show of the year, no matter how painful the timing can be for the auto industry. This year's event sandwiched around New Year's day, giving the media (and you!) an earlier peek than usual at the latest concepts and near-future production cars.
A timing downside appears to be a limited number of significant unveilings. Sure, there were a number of enticing new machines, but just not the sheer volume seen at Detroit and the major international events. General Motors dominated the event, with the greatest number of significant new machines, from the Hummer H3T to the crossover "sport van" twins. Join us for a tour of the car-filled halls of the LA Convention Center as we revisit some familiar concept vehicles and examine the latest rides.
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Acura explores enthusiast territory with this sharp TL project car, boosting power, improving handling, and bolstering its urban image. The most obvious changes include a two-inch wider stance, one-inch lower ride height, massive 21-inch wheels, more angular front fascia, and flashy grille. The rear features similar changes, with a sporty fascia, eye-catching exhaust tips, restyled decklid spoiler, and new taillight treatments. Internal modifications, augmented by high-flow intake and exhaust, elevate power from 270 hp to over 300 hp from the 3.2-liter V-6. While this demonstrates the TL's extreme potential, Acura now offers an A-Spec kit, complete with a track-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheel/tire combo, and full aerodynamic package. This kit is dealer-installed and covered by full factory warranty.
The BMW X5 gains more power for the 2004 model year, with the top V-8 now displacing 4.8 liters and producing 360 horsepower. BMW claims swift a six-second 0-60-mph time for this high-performance package. The now-midrange 4.4-liter engine receives numerous enhancements for the new model year, including several refinements adapted from the prestigious 7 Series sedan. The X5 benefits from the new, intelligent xDrive all-wheel-drive system that can infinitely vary the distribution of forces to the front and rear axles. The system works with onboard sensors, monitoring yaw rate and steering input, to predict when stability control intervention or motive force distribution is required. While the hardware marks the most significant updates, the exterior has been modestly updated for the new model year.
Making its North American debut, the new BMW 645Ci Coupe promises power and performance wrapped in gorgeous, contemporary styling that is among most attractive application of the automaker's current design language. The first BMW to wear the 6-Series badge in more than a dozen years, the new model is powered by the same 4.4-liter V-8 engine found in the luxury 745i, and offers three different six-speed transmissions, including one sequential manual gearbox. BMW promises 0-60-mph times in just 5.6 seconds, and a top speed electronically limited to 155 mph thanks in part to a judicious use of lightweight materials keeping the car at a 3528-pound curb weight. Additional niceties include an adaptive cruise control that maintains a programmed distance from the car ahead, swiveling headlights for improved visibility, and run-flat tires. Key options will include Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Drive suspension, and Active Steering, making the 6 Series a technological tour de force. The coupe is priced at $69,995, and the convertible model will debut in Detroit.
With Oldsmobile retired, premium minivan responsibilities are to be handled by Buick. Excuse us, this is a crossover sport van. Not to be confused with the minivan-based Rendezvous crossover sport/utility, think of the Terraza as a macho trying to shake the pervasive minivan stigma. Powered by a 3.5L/200-hp V-6, the Terraza will be offered in front- and all-wheel drive. Attention to safety sees the fitment of 16-inch, anti-lock disc brakes at each corner, traction control, and stability control. A traditional minivan interior is treated to premium trim, with abundant use of wood grain and chrome accents. The third-row folds flat, though not into the floor, leaving a slightly higher than normal load surface.
After an extremely long model span, Chevrolet will soon replace the Cavalier with the all-new Cobalt. Based on the Delta platform, the Cobalt will be offered in coupe and sedan forms, with a total of eight trim levels. The configurations will include base, LS, LT, and SS levels, with the striking coupe also to be offered in SS Supercharged form. Each distinct model includes a specific interior, powertrain, suspension, and wheels, ranging from 15 to 18 inches. Cobalt standard features include A/C, electric rear defogger, AM/FM/CD stereo, and driver information center. Available features include heated leather seats, power sunroof, XM Satellite Radio, MP3 playback, and OnStar. Chevrolet sees this car as both an opportunity to regain mainstream market share and make inroads into the sport compact enthusiast realm. For a clear hint at the SS Supercharged model, look at the 205-hp Saturn Ion Redline.
The beach-ready Dodge Kahuna seems more at home in LA than it did in frosty Detroit last year, when the six-passenger vehicle debuted. A modern interpretation of the Woodie, the Kahuna is pure fun, with maple laminates, retractable canvas top, and short, dune-friendly overhangs. Even the paint name is in the surfing spirit, Point Break Blue. Inside, the "big wave" theme continues, with a flowing wave design seen in the shaping of the instrument panel, as well as its switches, door panel detailing and seat forms. There are three rows of flexible seating, two of which can be turned into tables if needed, and a Sto & Go load floor. For mechanicals, the Kahuna is fitted with a minivan suspension and turbocharged 2.4L/215-hp four-cylinder engine.
This baby Hummer brings the brand's defining cubist styling and rugged abilities down to a more affordable and garage-friendly size. Riding on a 118.6-inch wheelbase and measuring 74.5 inches wide, the H3T embodies the classic Hummer proportions - wide stance, low roofline, and wheels at the corners. Pushed outward, the 34-inch tires and 11.5 inches of ground clearance gives the H3T a staggering 51-degree approach angle and a 50-degree departure angle. For rigidity, the cab and 5.5-foot bed are engineered as a single structure. Power for this concept comes from a turbocharged Vortec 3500 I-5 engine producing 350-horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. Other notables include side access doors for cargo bed, power-operated fabric sunroof, extensive use of aluminum trim, hose-out rubber floor, Nike-inspired interior materials, and docking stations for portable MP3 player and GPS units.
The rear-drive Lexus IS 300 doesn't get the street cred the car deserves. Despite its modest 200-hp rating, the sedan and wagon each offer a more rewarding driving experience than the numbers suggest. Rod Millen Special Vehicles built this project car by tapping the GS 430 parts bin, pulling out a 4.3-liter V-8, six-speed manual transmission, and rear suspension. Power reaches the pavement through Michelin Sport Cup tires fitted to 18-inch Speed Star SSR wheels. Vented, cross-drilled Brembo disc brakes provide the stopping power. The exterior is dressed with a Rhys Millen Racing front lip spoiler and side skirts, along with an IS 300 rear spoiler. The Mark Levinson-designed entertainment system also pushed to new heights boast 720 watts creating a discrete 7.1 surround sound experience through 20 speakers. For us, the only sound system needed in this car is the exhaust.
Porsche extends the breadth of the Cayenne range with a new six-cylinder variant expected to be priced well below $50K. The first V-6 ever offered in a Porsche produces 247 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 229 lb-ft of torque at 2500 rpm. This engine will be offered initially with a six-speed Tiptronic S, to be joined next calendar year by a six-speed manual transmission. Porsche claims this Cayenne will run 0-60 mph in 9.1 seconds with a 133-mph top speed. Although a more affordable SUV, it will still pack the Porsche Traction Management and Porsche Stability Management systems that give the big V-8 versions such impressive all-terrain ability. The ride-height-adjusting air suspension and Porsche Active Suspension Management will be available. Pound for pound, this may be the best Porsche value since the 924.
Through a product-sharing initiative with fellow GM partner Subaru, the 9-2X promises to catapult the Swedish division into the premium end of the white-hot sport compact market. The 9-2X is a modestly restyled Impreza, with a distinctly Saab front end. The Fuji-sourced drivetrain remains unchanged, offering a base 2.5L /165-hp naturally aspirated flat four and WRX-shared 2.0L/227-hp turbo flat four. Each engine is backed by a choice of five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission, with power routed to all four wheels. The 9-2X will be offered in sedan and wagon forms when it goes on sale in July 2004.
Saturn is finally getting the broader vehicle portfolio the no-haggle division has always needed. This next addition is a crossover minivan, which is a corporate twin to the Buick Terraza also unveiled in LA. Seeing the Relay as a chance to snare import minivan intenders, Saturn expects the more rugged appearance to have greater appeal than the typical Mom box. The base Relay counts a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, OnStar, power heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, and rail system for storage modules among its standard features. The uplevel RELAY adds body-color door handles, a six-way power driver's seat, rear HVAC controls, and a convenience package that includes a cargo area storage module, floor mats, power rear quarter windows, and a theft-deterrent system. Like the Buick, the Relay is powered by a 3.5L/200-hp V-6.
Toyota pushes the impressive Corolla to the next level for 2005 with the XRS sport sedan. The chassis is enhanced with a more aggressive setup that includes increased rate coil springs and shocks, and a Yamaha-sourced front connecting rod damper. As a result, the ride height is lowered a half inch, and both pitch and roll have been reduced. For motivation, the XRS will be fitted with a specially tuned version of the 2ZZ DOHC engine found in the Celica GT-S that boasts improved midrange torque, a notorious weakness of this 1.8L powerplant. As in the Celica, this Corolla will boast a six-speed manual transmission. The sporting character carries over to the steering, where a special rack has been developed for improved response. The XRS can be visually distinguished with its 16-inch wheels, color-keyed grille bezel, and unique badging. Likewise, the interior features model-specific enhancements, including sport seats, silver-colored center cluster and switch plates, and leather-like shift boot with a leather shift knob. The XRS is schedule to go on sale May 1, 2004.
A legend reborn, the 2005 Ford GT made the show circuit this past year commemorating Ford's 100th anniversary. But in LA, Ford announced the price, ending many months of speculation - $139,995. Yes, for one. The GT has raced into production since its show stopping concept introduction at the 2002 Detroit show. The first "production" vehicles were displayed at Ford's centennial celebration this past June, though full production doesn't begin until summer 2004. One of these first cars was sold at the Christie's Auction of Exceptional Motor Cars at Pebble Beach, California, for $557,500, with the net proceeds going to charities. The Ford GT is powered by a hand-built aluminum 5.4-liter DOHC supercharged V-8 producing 500 horsepower and 500 lb.- ft. of torque.
The Maserati Quattroporte returns to the United States with an all-new, Pininfarina-penned design. Following on the heals of the successful introductions of Maserati's Coupe and Spyder, the Quattroporte is slated to fill a conspicuous void in the Italian automotive industry. First indications are that the Quattroporte will live up to its promise of proving the Italians can compete with the Germans in the premium luxury market. Extravagance and performance go hand in hand, as the latest Trident-marque offering is sumptuously furnished with a tailored leather and wood interior to complement the curvaceous design. As expected from a sports car manufacturer, the Quattroporte sedan can motor to 60 mph in just over five seconds.
Best known for its over-the-top Mercedes-Benz conversions, the Bottrop, Germany-based Brabus has turned attention of its Chrysler tuning group to the Crossfire, the cousin of the Mercedes-Benz SLK. Shown in Los Angeles was the 3.8-liter variant, said to produce 300 hp. The Brabus make-over program includes a sport suspension, wheels, stainless steel exhaust, interior accessories, and a full body kit. No official word on whether the 6.1-liter V-8 model will pass the federal muster and come to these shores.
The 2003 Detroit showstopper, Cadillac's Sixteen has the super-sleek, nearly over-the-top Cruella DeVille styling that still has us reeling. The concept showcases a 13.6-liter, 90-degree V-16, an all-aluminum pushrod engine with 16-8-4 cylinder cutoff. General Motors says the XV16 is good for 1000 horses, 1000 lb-ft. and 20 mpg on the highway cycle. The hood opens gullwing-style, like the hood on Caddy's first V-16 in 1930. The aluminum-steel chassis employs high-arm SLA suspension up front and independent semi-trailing arm suspension in the rear. Fortunately, four-wheel steering enhances the Cadillac Sixteen's maneuverability. The front and rear brakes are six-piston calipers with 16-inch rotors. At 223.3-in. long, with a 140-in. wheelbase and an overall height of less than 54 in., this car has the looks and proportions (along with the power) to put Maybach back on the boat.
Chrysler designers continue to explore heritage-inspired designs, combining classic cues into a modern machine. The latest example is the Airflite concept, first shown in Geneva. The Airflite brings together coupe-like styling and five-door hatchback practicality, in this Crossfire influenced concept. Based on a shortened version of the LX platform, the Airflite features a 3.5-liter V-6, shared with the 300M. The Airflite's interior employs nautical-inspired themes, creative use of materials and unique "floating" components, including seats, instrument panel and armrests, to create an open, elegant passenger environment. The most striking interior element is the dominant center spine that connects the interior from front to back. The satin silver-colored center console appears to be a structural member that ties the two sides of the car together.
The five-seater embodies the Super Sport heritage in a modern sedan, with the 21- and 22-inch wheels pushed out to the corners for a muscular stance. Seeming to draw design influence from Ferrari, the SS is all-American underhood with a 6.0-liter/430-horsepower V-8 touting GM's imminent Displacement On Demand technology scheduled to appear in some 2005 models. The independent suspension features driver-adjustable shock damping. Inside, the gear shifter is console-mounted in the SS tradition, with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifting in the sport mode. There is a built-in child booster seat in the center rear, and the entire rear seats fold flat for extra cargo space. For additional mobile entertainment, the SS features three DVD players (one behind each seat headrest and a center mounted unit above the console), plus obligatory XM Satellite Radio and OnStar system.
Built with Bruno Independent Living Aids, this Monterey features front- and second-row Bruno Turny passenger seats that rotate 90 degrees, power out of the vehicle and down. This allows a person to sit in either seat before entering the Monterey. Both seats are operated by individual hand-held controls and have a weight capacity of up to 330-pounds. Both seats can be easily removed to restore the Monterey back to its original condition without compromising the resale value. The rear of the Monterey houses a new, fully adjustable Bruno Offset Fold-Away powered scooter lift that is capable of raising and storing a scooter or wheelchair weighing up to 200-pounds. Ford Mobility Motoring offers people with physical disabilities comprehensive roadside and financial assistance of up to $1000 for the installation of adaptive equipment on new Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicle purchases or leases.
Ford Motor Company combines hybrid electric vehicle technology with an advanced fuel cell to create a highly efficient, zero-emissions Ford Focus FCV sedan. The four-passenger Ford Focus FCV uses a Ballard fuel cell that converts chemical energy into electrical energy using hydrogen and oxygen. The electrical energy then powers the vehicle's electric-drive motor, producing only water and heat as byproducts Together, the new battery pack, regenerative braking, and storage tank help increase the driving range of the Focus FCV to between 184 and 200 miles. The hybrid electric power system also gives the vehicle the "off-the-light" zippiness of a more conventional sedan and a top speed governed at 80 miles per hour. More than a high-tech concept, these Ford FCV sedans are already being used in fleets in the United States and Canada.
One of six new Ford and Lincoln-Mercury cars that will launch in 2004, the Ford Focus will receive design and engineering improvements for the 2005 model year. While Europe receives a truly all-new Focus based on the global C1 platform shared with the Mazda 3 and Volvo S40/V50, North America will instead have an evolved current-generation car. The American-market Focus will be offered in four unique body styles carrying simpler model and trim designations, including a three-door hatchback (ZX3), a four-door sedan (ZX4), a five-door hatchback (ZX5), and a station wagon (ZXW). New for 2005 is a Focus ZX4 ST performance sedan (shown), that marries chassis components from Ford of Europe's Focus ST170 and the SVT Focus with a 2.3-liter/151-horsepower Duratec engine, which boasts 30 percent cleaner emissions than the 2004 models. Focus receives a front-end treatment with styling cues taken from the Ford's soon-to-be-unveiled flagship sedan, the Five Hundred. (It also reminds of the European Mondeo.) Other changes include an all-new interior, designed to be clean and modern looking, with four different color themes and plenty of functional storage.
First seen as the AUTOnomy concept presented at the 2002 NAIAS Detroit Auto Show, and evolving at other shows since then, GM's Hy-wire concept is the first vehicle to combine a hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system with drive-by-wire technology. Essentially, the fuel cell construction enables a skateboard type of chassis to contain all of the vehicle's propulsion, transmission, steering, and braking components so that flexible body styles can be customized to meet the user's various lifestyles. By-wire technology replaces mechanical linkages between driver's controls and powertrain/chassis units with electrical cables to allow revolutionary new ways of controlling essential driving functions. While this has been seen at numerous other shows, it is such an innovative concept, we had to share it one more time.
Recently shown at SEMA, the MazdaSpeed MX-5 Miata is being seen for the first time by the general public here in Los Angeles. Fitted with a ball-bearing single-scroll turbocharger and an air-to-air intercooler, the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine now makes 178 hp at 6000 rpm - 25 percent more than the normally aspirated Miata. To handle the extra power from the turbocharging system, the engine block and cooling system have been modified, and the manual transmission, clutch, pressure plate, driveshaft, and differential all have been optimized. These engine modifications, combined with a durable short-throw six-speed gearbox, MazdaSpeed sport-tuned and lowered suspension, and 17-inch Racing Hart aluminum alloy wheels shod with Toyo Proxes R28 205/40R17 80W high-performance tires all make for a quickest, most agile Miata to date. The MazdaSpeed MX-5 Miata will go on sale in select North American markets in spring 2004, priced at $25,500 with cloth interior ($26,200 with leather), thousands less than a BMW Z4 and promising nearly the same horsepower.
British sports car maker Lotus announced its plans for U.S. market growth begining with the 2005 Lotus Elise, a two-seat convertible that goes on sale this May for $39,985. The first all-new Lotus for the American market since the Elan debuted in 1990, Lotus boasts the 190-hp Elise offers more than 100 horsepower per liter to produce sub-five-second 0-60 mph times. Sourced from Toyota, the high-revving 1.8-liter 2ZZ-GE engine for the American market is both powerful and efficient, returning more than 30 miles per gallon. Claiming to be the first production car in the world with a bonded and extruded aluminum chassis, the Elise was developed using technology borrowed from the aerospace industry to produce an extremely lightweight and exceptionally rigid chassis that is the backbone of its incredible performance claims and key to its athletic agility.
Combining elegant coupe lines with practical sedan functionality, the Vision CLS splits hairs to create an interesting hybrid. The CLS showcases the 265-horsepower bi-turbo diesel engine that is both fuel efficient and strong, capable of pushing this sizable car 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds. A full complement of Mercedes technology is featured, including the 7G-tronic seven-speed automatic transmission and bi-xenon Active Light System. Since its introduction in Frankfurt this past fall, Mercedes-Benz has announced that the CLS will be offered in the U.S. market for 2005. The production CLS500 will be powered by a five-liter V-8 engine and feature much of the high-tech componentry exhibited on the concept vehicle.
PHOTO BY DOUGLAS GLAD