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01/17/03 The Detroit Report 2003

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Fri, Jan 17, 2003

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

2003 North American International Auto Show

Bill Ford and the Mustang GTs - Autoweek Editors' Choice: Most Significant

The Detroit Report By Christopher Merlo and Chuck Dapoz Photos by Chuck Dapoz

The North American International Auto Show is always huge. The 2003 installment, running January 11-20, is the biggest ever, with more than 60 production and concept vehicles being introduced.

Some major themes found at this year's show at Cobo Center in Detroit : * More hp ... muscle cars are back with a vengeance * Big wheels ... suddenly 18 inches looks small * Larger vehicles ... particularly noteworthy is the Japanesemanufacturers trying to beat the Big 3 at their own game by offering products that are bigger, heavier and stronger, with hp and torque taken to new heights * Increasing numbers of SUVs and SUV-car crossovers * More car offerings from the Big 3, in an attempt to reclaim car market share from Asian and European manufacturers * More full-size trucks and SUVs from the Asians and Europeans, moving into Detroit's last stronghold of share and profit * An increased focus on viable hybrid powertrain technologies that are "transparent" to the user and applicable to the full range of products, compact cars to full-size trucks * Explosive growth in the super-luxury segment (e.g., Rolls Royce, Bentley, Maybach, Lamborghini and supercars)

Let's take a trip thru the displays and look at the offerings presented at America's premier auto show.

PARTICULARLY NOTABLE Perhaps the most-photographed vehicle of the show is the Dodge Tomahawk concept. It might be classified as a motorcycle, but it has 4 wheels, all with independent suspension. The engine is a Viper 8.3L 500-hp V-10, and it serves as the Tomahawk's frame, with the suspension bolted directly to the block. Zero-to-60 acceleration is predicted at 2.5 seconds, with a top speed around 400 mph. The performance numbers are theoretical because the Tomahawk's never been pushed to its limits. Could it be that no one's volunteered? Or they haven't figured out a way to keep the driver attached?

Dodge Tomahawk

Another showstopper was the Cadillac Sixteen concept. It's big - but beautifully proportioned and absolutely gorgeous. The name derives from its 16-cylinder engine. Displacement is 13.6L, and it produces 1,000 hp. Yet Cadillac places theoretical fuel consumption in the area of 20 mpg thanks to advanced technology, including displacement on demand, which reduces the number of working cylinders at cruising speeds. The wheels are huge: 24 inches. Like some of GM's other concepts, the Sixteen is a sedan but sculpted like a coupe, with a long hood and short trunk. There are no B-pillars. The interior is luxurious, with silk carpets and walnut inlays. No word on performance, but GM execs are quick to point out that engine output is nearly double that of the Maybach. A limited production run may be in the works.

Cadillac Sixteen - Autoweek Editors' Choice: Best in Show

The Nissan Titan full-size pickup is big - like the full-size offerings from GM, Ford and Chrysler - and Nissan likes to emphasize that point. Power comes from an all-new 5.6L V-8, pumping 300-plus hp and 375 lbs.-ft., making it the industry's most-powerful pickup engine. Towing capacity is 9,400 lbs, just 100 lbs less than Ford's new F-Series. The Titan features several industry-first features, including rear half doors that open nearly 180 degrees, compared with 90 degrees or less on most pickups. It's due to go on sale in December, a couple months after the introduction of Nissan's full-size SUV based on the same platform. At New York Auto Show in April, look for the SUV as well as a Titan crew cab to be revealed. The Titan and its platform siblings, as well as the new Quest minivan, will be built in Nissan's new assembly plant in Canton , Mississippi.

Nissan Titan

ACURA The all-new Acura TSX is positioned as an entry-level luxury sport sedan. The four-cylinder 2.4L DOHC engine produces 200 hp, making it more powerful than the six-cylinder engines of prime competitors (e.g., BMW 325, Audi A4). Acura says the body is extremely rigid and the four-wheel independent double-wishbone suspension is "race bred." Transmissions are a six-speed manual and five-speed automatic. Introduction is planned for April 2003. Pricing has not been announced, but $25,000 to $30,000 is a good guess.

Acura TSX ASTON MARTIN The AMV8 Vantage concept is collecting votes as the most attractive vehicle on the floor at this year's show. It may just get ours. This head-turner hints at Aston Martin's design for a smaller and more affordable third model line that will put trademark Aston Martin performance and cache within reach of a wider audience - somewhere just north of $100,000. This is the first Aston Martin based on the flexible VH platform - the carmaker's first platform to use aluminum extensively in its construction. "Muscular" and "aggressive" are words that come to mind for this coupe with its classic long-hood, short-overhang configuration. Beneath the hood purrs a 350-hp, 4.3L V8. The Vantage, the name of the production version, goes into production in two years.

Aston Martin V8 Vantage - Autoweek Editors' Choice Award: Most Fun AUDI Audi is poised to enter the crossover market with its Pikes Peak Quattro concept based on the same platform as the Volkswagen Touareg and the Porsche Cayenne. Final decision on whether to go ahead and utilize the Touareg platform is pending, but Audi's top management is acutely aware that it needs an entry in the SUV segment if it wants to hit its sales target of doubling North American sales. Pikes Peak features 2+2+2 seating, with three pairs of individual seats. Both the second and third rows fold flat via remote control from the driver's position. Under the hood, a 500-hp, direct-injection bi-turbo V-8 powers all four wheels through Audi's Quattro system and runs from zero to 60 in 4.7 seconds.

Audi Pike's Peak

BENTLEY An entry-level Bentley sounds like an oxymoron. However, the taut, curvaceous and outright striking Continental GT is a thinly-veiled concept of the coupe that goes on sale in US later this year at about $150,000 - well below the average Bentley at $250,000. This all-wheel-drive four-seat touring coupe is powered by a 500-hp, 6.0L, twin-turbo, 12-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. With a top speed in excess of 180 mph, the Continental GT harkens back to Bentley's storied roots as a luxury performance brand. In fact, company executives claim the Continental GT is the fastest genuine four-seat car in the world.

Bentley Continental GT

BMW The xActivity concept Sports Activity Vehicle, or SAV, gives a preview of a 3-series based X3 that's in the works. Like the Dodge Kahuna concept, there are no B- or C-pillars, and there's no roof. BMW calls the configuration a "frame-structure convertible." The production X3 will include B- and C-pillars. Additional design details include triangle/teardrop-shaped side marker lights and alternating concave and convex surfaces for the sheetmetal, a treatment that is becoming the signature of the new BMW look. On the inside, the minimal, intelligently arranged instrumentation includes a single control, like the iDrive, for all climate-control functions. This all-wheel drive model is powered by a 231-hp 3.0L straight-six.

BMW xActivity

BUICK Centieme, the French word for "hundredth," is a concept celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Buick Division, occurring this May. Centieme combines features of a sedan, SUV and wagon - and signals Buick's move upmarket, following Cadillac. It also hints at the future look of Buick with its graceful, rounded curves. Built on a next-generation vehicle architecture, and a long, 119.1-inch wheelbase, this crossover vehicle seats six in a three-row configuration. Its 3.6L twin-turbocharged V6 delivers 400 hp.

Buick Centieme

CADILLAC What's a luxury premium brand without a roadster? Cadillac figures there's no better way to announce a new era in American-built luxury than to go head to head with Mercedes and its SL. Enter the XLR, a two-seater that takes its styling cues from the signature CTS design, which shows the new look of Cadillac. It features a retractable hardtop, converting from coupe to open roadster in 30 seconds. This is Cadillac's first application of the high-output 4.6L Northstar V8 engine in a rear-wheel-drive configuration. The XLR enters showrooms this summer.

Cadillac XLR

The SRX is Cadillac's first entry in the growing - and highly competitive - luxury crossover market. It features Cadillac's new design scheme, introduced in the CTS sedan, upon which it's based. The SRX will be available in both rear- and all-wheel drive, with a choice of two engines: the next-generation 4.6L V8 Northstar, which delivers 315 hp and 310 lbs.-ft. and a 3.6L V6 that delivers 260 hp and 252 pounds-feet. Both engines are mated with a five-speed automatic transmission. The SRX seats up to seven with an optional third-row seat. It's due to go on sale in mid-2003.

Cadillac SRX

Sixteen concept (see Particularly Notable)

CHEVROLET GM's renewed focus on the car market, as witnessed by an emphasis on car concepts, is underscored by the Chevrolet's all-new mid-sized sedan, the 2004 Malibu. This is the first North American vehicle to be based on GM's new global Epsilon architecture, shared with the Opel Vectra and Saab 9-3. Chevy claims the body provides a level of stiffness comparable to European midsize sedans such as the Audi A4 - and that ride and handling are better than Toyota Camry. The Malibu has two engine choices: the 140-hp 2.2L Ecotec four-cylinder and the 200-hp 3.5L V6, both mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. New features include remote starting from 200 feet. Malibu goes on sale in September.

Chevrolet Malibu

Chevrolet also unveiled the 2004 Colorado, its largest mid-sized pickup truck to date and a replacement for the S-10. It will be available in nine configurations, including three cab types, three suspension packages and either two- or four-wheel drive. The front end bears the new Chevy truck barred grille found across the lineup. Power comes from a 3.5L 220-hp inline five, which promises the power of a six but with better fuel economy, or a 175-hp 2.8L inline four, both part of a new line of large-displacement Vortec engines. The GMC version will be known as the Canyon. Production begins in the fourth quarter of 2003.

Chevrolet Colorado

The 2005 Equinox is Chevrolet's first entry into the car-based compact sport-utility segment. The five-passenger vehicle in available in front- or all-wheel drive and is powered by a 185-hp 3.4L V6 mated to a five-speed automatic. A sliding rear seat allows the option of more cargo space or more rear legroom. A cargo shelf doubles as a picnic table. The Equinox, built on the same platform as the Saturn Vue, will be built in Ontario at the CAMI plant. It will go on sale in 2004, and pricing will be below the TrailBlazer.

Chevrolet Equinox

The Chevrolet Cheyenne concept explores new looks and new proportions for a full-size pickup truck. The cab-forward design with the wheels pushed to the corners creates a spacious cabin interior. Under the hood is a supercharged 6.0L V8, rated at 500 hp and 580 pounds-feet. The pickup bed can be accessed through an innovative two-position tailgate that opens like a traditional tailgate or half of which can be opened to create a work shelf. Another innovative feature are the side access doors located behind the cab for additional access to the bed.

Chevrolet Cheyenne - Eyes on Design Awards: Best of Show

Let it be said, "This is not your father's SS." A Chevrolet SS with four doors may sound like a contradiction in terms, but one look at this sleek, appealing concept is proof that seeing is believing - and that Chevrolet has jumped a generation in car design. Chevrolet sees this as a new generation of American performance car, bearing the legendary SS moniker from the muscle car era. The SS is rear-wheel drive with a small-block, 430-hp 6.0L V8 aluminum engine under the hood, matched to a high-performance suspension and brakes. It's built on a modified version of the Corvette chassis, which it means it potentially could be produced at the Corvette plant in Bowling Green. Is that likely? Probably not.

Chevrolet SS DODGE

The Kahuna concept offers a retro look - a woodie wagon from the '60s mixed with PT Cruiser flavor. It's also an exercise in space efficiency, with short front and rear overhang and 22-inch wheels pushed to the corners. It has more interior space than Chrysler's long-wheelbase minivans, but its length is shorter than today's short-wheelbase models. The Kahuna offers six individual seats in three rows, and the seats can be folded into tables. Note that the rear doors aren't cut around the wheel wells; this allows all door windows to retract fully into the doors. A 215-hp turbocharged 2.4L engine drives the front wheels.

Dodge Kahuna Avenger concept The Avenger concept is an all-wheel-drive SUV styled after European rally cars. The rear doors open 90 degrees. Inside are four bucket seats. On the floor is textured vinyl rather than carpet. Wheels are 20 inches. The Avenger is billed as a performance vehicle, with a 3.5L V6 and the transmission shifted thru steering-wheel-mounted paddles, though Dodge gave no hp, torque or acceleration specs.

Dodge Avenger

The Dodge Durango Hemi R/T concept wants to be known as the "American Muscle SUV." The exterior is about 85 percent production-ready and offers a strong hint of the look of the next-generation Durango , coming to market this fall as a 2004 model. It's seven inches longer, three inches taller and two inches wider than its predecessor. It's bigger than the Ford Explorer and Chevrolet TrailBlazer, smaller than the full-size Tahoe. Powered by the 345-hp, 5.7L Hemi Magnum V8, the Durango concept delivers better acceleration while improving fuel efficiency by more than 10 percent over the current Durango. The suspension features a hydroformed-steel frame, which Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche says will make it, "best-handling sport-utility on the market, bar none."

Dodge Durango Hemi R/T

Tomahawk concept (see Particularly Notable)

FORD Mix Mustang DNA - a true American icon - with sleek, minimalist, streamlined design, and the results are two eye-catching Mustang GT concepts: a convertible and coupe. Described as "a new design with old memories" and "strong indicators of the next-generation Mustang design" they're built on a modified Thunderbird platform, with seats for two, 20-inch wheels and, of course, rear-wheel drive. The engine is a supercharged 32-valve 4.6L V8 producing about 400 hp. Brakes are 13.8-inch vented Bembros. The next-generation Mustang is due next year as an '05 model.

Ford Mustang GT

Reminiscent of "bad boy" American sedans of the 1960s, the Ford 427 concept is a modern, all-American sedan with aggressive, even intimidating lines. Rendered in midnight black with minimal but arresting chrome accents, the 427 is "tomorrow's American family car." The bold exterior is matched by a 590-hp modular V10 with the same displacement as Ford's landmark 427 engine of the 1960s. The new V10, however, is virtually emission-free. The spare interior is dominated by an oversize console to evoke the idea of the 427's serious drivetrain.

Ford 427 - Autoweek Editors' Choice: Best Concept

Meet the Model U concept and what may well be the most forward-thinking concept at the show, thus the play on the name and a nod to the Model T's seminal role at Ford and in automotive history. As a "21st-century expression" of the Model T, the Model U is a study in breakthrough technologies and urban transportation. It's designed for an urban setting and fast-changing technology. The entire interior - from seats to instrumentation - rests in slots, ready for quick-change "plug and play" response to better technology. Materials are environmentally friendly including a canvas roof made from corn, seat foam made from soybeans, sunflower seed engine oil and a hydrogen internal combustion engine.

Ford Model U

J Mays, Ford's vice president for design, introduced the Freestyle FX concept as, "the automotive equivalent of the Swiss Army knife." This all-purpose crossover vehicle combines attributes of a car, an SUV and a pickup truck. As a family-friendly vehicle it seats seven and comes equipped with a DVD entertainment center. As an SUV it features "command seating", all-wheel drive, flat-folding seats and 20-inch wheels. As a pickup, with the touch of a button, the rear greenhouse rolls up into the roof to create a small pickup bed while the passengers remain fully enclosed. Freestyle FX concept is similar to the Freestyle sport wagon Ford will start selling in 2004 and a slightly veiled version of the Freestyle crossover wagon coming in 2005.

Ford Freestyle FX

Ford took the wraps off its bread-and-butter vehicle, the all-new F-Series, and upped the ante in the full-size pickup segment. It's bold exterior borrows from aggressive, beefy looks of the F-Series Super Duty line as well as the Tonka concept shown at last year's show. On the inside, and what some refer to as the vehicle's most significant design direction, is unparalleled attention to comfort and refinement - and personalization. There are custom interiors for each of the five series. A modular overhead rail system allows for numerous stowage and entertainment options, including a toolbox and DVD player. All three cab configurations feature four doors for ease of access. Passenger compartments on both the Regular Cab and SuperCab are six inches longer, and the cargo box is more than two inches deeper. The new F-Series offers a segment-leading, maximum tow rating of 9,500 lbs. and maximum payload capacity of 2,900 pounds. Power comes from a new 300 hp, 5.4L, 3-valve Triton V8.

Ford F-150 XL

To the surprise of many, Ford also unveiled the F-Series Lightning SVT concept. True to what you'd expect to find from SVT under the hood, there's a an all-aluminum, 5.4L DOHC supercharged and intercooled V8, conservatively rated at 500 hp and 500 pounds-feet. Patented "SuperCooler" technology boosts the SVT's output by as much as 50 hp for 30 to 45 seconds when it's activated. The vehicle rests on 22-inch tires. The word is that we could see a street-legal version in 2004 as a 2005 model.

Ford F-150 Lightning SVT

HONDA Let's go disco with the Studio E concept. The name is derived from the inspiration of Studio 54, the famous New York club, and E, for Element - Honda's quirky new vehicle that went on sale in December. As the name implies, this concept is a rolling music club that translates the surfer-lifestyle functionality of the Honda Element into an urban DJ's rolling studio. The upright sides of the light truck provide space, while the windowless panel-side design provides security for the equipment inside. The Studio E is fully operational, with the ability to mix input from three sources: a PC, a turntable or an electric guitar. A 42-inch high-definition plasma screen supports video editing. Two rear seat pods flip down from the sides if the DJ wants an audience.

Honda Studio E

HYUNDAI This is about as quirky as things get at this year's show. Hyundai describes its OLV concept as a fun and playful sport-utility for "all seasons". This blend of SUV and sedan offers the flexibility to transport recreational equipment, such as bikes and surfboards, as well as home products, such as building materials and furniture. The modular roof consists of three removable panels, while the trunk lid can be removed and the tailgate dropped to form a utility bed. The durable, injection-molded urethane interior and tailgate is scratch-, water-, and dent-resistant. The OLV is powered by a four-cylinder DOHC engine equipped with a Borg-Warner supercharger and intercooler system.

Hyundai OLV

INFINITI What was first shown in concept as the "bionic cheetah" is now the FX45, a premium crossover SUV, combining performance and handling with luxury-car comfort. Its name is derived from its 4.5L, 315-hp V8. The emphasis on performance is underscored with aggressive 20-inch wheels and tires. A second version with a 3.5L 280-hp V6 is named the FX35, and it's available either in all-wheel or rear-wheel drive. Both premier in dealerships January 24. Pricing for the 2003 FX45 starts at $44,225. The FX35 version is slated at $35,700 for the all-wheel-drive model and $35,200 for the optional rear-wheel-drive model.

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