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SOME VERY PLEASANT SURPRISES FOR 2006

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 Sun, Apr 10, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

7 SURPRISING NEW CARS FOR 2006 By CHRISTOPHER HUDDLESTON

Chevrolet Impala SS For 2006, Chevrolet has re-engineered their best-selling midsize sedan, the Impala. What's most important about this new iteration of one of Chevrolet's most revered nameplates is the return of V8 power. In fact, this Impala will be the first V8-powered Impala in a decade. And this V8 SS appears to have the cajones to beat the unmistakable thrust of the '96 Corvette-powered Impala SS, and it has the potential to be one of the quickest-accelerating Impalas ever with an estimated 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds. Powered by a 5.3-liter, pushrod V8 with General Motors' new Displacement-On-Demand fuel-saving feature, the 2006 Impala SS will have a stout 303 horsepower. The downside? It's still front-wheel-drive. However, the 5.3-liter V8 actually weighs slightly less than the supercharged 3800 V6 in last year's Impala SS, so drivers that push this big sedan down Ortega Highway or up the Angeles Crest Highway should notice a slight advantage in turn-in and weight distribution. Helping offset the inevitable torque-steer expected of such a powerful front-wheel-drive setup are substantial 18-inch wheels and tires and a modified and strengthened chassis that is derived from last year's Impala. The old, supercharged SS with 280 ft. pounds of torque showed remarkably little torque-steer, so hopefully the new, lighter V8 won't be much more of a problem.

While the new exterior certainly can't claim the visual stimulation of recent new cars such as the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Charger RT, Chevrolet has done a fine job of cleaning up the existing Impala design and imparting on the new Impala a cleaner, simpler design that gives buyers the choice of a V8-powered mid-size sedan with the gentler appeal of more mainstream designs such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and the Ford Five-Hundred. Most impressive, however, is a brand-new interior that looks to be one of General Motors' best new designs. The new dash and console feature far fewer cut lines than before, and the double-cowl dash panel adds a very subtle kind of style. The SS interior, with the aluminum-pattern dash trim, has the kind of restrained style we've missed from GM products in the past and have enjoyed in many recent Japanese and European automobiles.

2006 Buick Lucerne CXS How about a Buick that would feel at home cruising Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach or Malibu? Well, that may be a bit of a stretch, but this new full-size Buick just might have the goods to pull it off. The new 2006 Lucerne is Buick's replacement for the LeSabre and the Park Avenue. Also V8 powered, the CXS will be the first V8 Buick sedan in over two decades. Powered by the GM Northstar 4.6 litre, DOHC, 32-valve V8, this svelte new Buick will pump out a hearty 275 horsepower.

The European styling cues on this Buick are unmistakable. Check out the Volkswagen Phaeton-esque rear-end treatment with dual-outlet exhausts and single tips on each side. Buick has also given the Lucerne CXS an aggressive stance, with a subtle wedge profile that when combined with the CXS' 18-inch wheel/tire package, gives the Lucerne a hunkered-down appearance. On this nice, contemporary design, Buick has also managed to incorporate traditional Buick styling cues such as the Buick oval grille and, yes, portholes!

What you won't find inside this Buick is a column-shifter or a front bench seat (although that could be an option on the entry-level versions.) The surprisingly import-oriented interior really echos where General Motors wants to take this brand. Buick says that the smaller LaCrosse is the first Buick to truly be compared favorably to a Lexus. I disagree. The new Lucerne CXS, with a NorthStar V8, and an estimated fully-loaded price of a smidgeon north of $40,000, is the Buick that Lexus may finally pay attention to.

2006 Ford Fusion For many years, the Ford Taurus has been the mainstay of FoMoCo's mid-size sedan fleet. And for many years, the Taurus held up that end of the business admirably while racking up enough sales to be ranked at the top, or near the top, of the sales charts. Times change, however, and Ford found its darling Taurus quietly slipping into the realm of automotive has-beens. Acknowledging that the Taurus couldn't be all things to all people, Ford decided to replace the Taurus with not one, but two mid-size sedans. The new Ford Five Hundred occupies the upper-end of the mid-size segment in regards to size and price and this new Ford Fusion will tackle the lower-end of the segment with the style and driving dynamics to take the imports head-on.

The beauty of the new Ford Fusion is the fact that it's based upon the highly-acclaimed Mazda6 platform, sharing a good deal of that car's suspension components and engine/transmission combos. This bodes well for this new Ford because the Mazda6 has received extremely favorable reviews for its ride, handling, and sporty nature. The one area that the Mazda6 has received critical attention is the overall interior room, specifically accommodations for the rear-seat passengers. Rivals such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are considerably more spacious. Ford, however, kept the best bits of the Mazda6 chassis and incorporated a much-needed stretch of the wheelbase to help increase interior roominess. The Fusion will be powered by either Mazda's smooth-revving and powerful 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower, or the familiar Ford Duratec 3.0 litre DOHC V6 with about 210 horsepower. Of interesting note is that the 3.0-liter in the Mazda6 produces 220 horsepower, thereby making us wonder if Ford is retuning that engine to produce a bit more low-end torque in the Fusion (resulting in a slight decrease in horsepower). With a good-looking, driver-centric interior, and a brash and bold exterior design, the new Ford Fusion could be that little bit of excitement that Ford mid-size sedan shoppers have not seen since the days we saw these three letters together....S, H, and O.

2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT News at Mitsubishi isn't so good right now. For calendar-year 2004, sales were down 37 percent over 2003. And while March might be showing somewhat of an improvement, January and February were even more dismal.

This Eclipse GT, however, signals a bright twinkle at the end of the tunnel. It will take much more than a niche sports coupe to turn that twinkle into a bright light, but the 2006 Eclipse GT shows there is still quite a bit of passion left in this old dog called Mitsubishi. Set to come out later this year, Mitsubishi has taken the gloves off and put some real flair into this replacement for an Eclipse that has gotten, let's be honest, a little flabby around the edges. Even with V6 power, the current-generation Eclipse has never caught on with the same crowds that drooled over the AWD turbocharged monsters of the past. The first couple of generations of Eclipses were known for their feisty turbocharged engines and aggressive, sometimes flamboyant, styling.

This new Eclipse GT brings a lot of that styling back to Mitsubishi and harks back to the era of the 1995 generation Eclipse with it's dramatically voluptuous curves. The interior is even more progressive with a level of styling and detail one only finds in concept cars gracing turntables at auto shows. While the new Eclipse GT is only front-wheel-drive, and sticks with a V6, non-turbocharged engine, the new 3.8 litre MIVEC V6 engine produces a healthy 263 horsepower and 260 lb/ft of torque channeled through a standard 6-speed manual transmission. Combined with the aggressive 18-inch wheel/tire package, this drivetrain will add considerable moxie to what was previously quite a soft performer. And this time? It's got the looks to match! "Fast and Furious" here we come!

2006 Honda Civic Expected sometime for the 2006 model year, the new Honda Civic will help to correct a sales dip that most people never thought they'd see a Civic endure. It will have been six years since the seventh-generation Civic was introduced in 2000. Honda likes to pride itself on a four-year lifetime for a model generation but somehow this Civic scooted right on past that timeframe.

The current generation Civic has been criticized in some circles for an exterior design that is quite generic, and didn't embody the Civic with the kind of small car-style and individuality that made the fourth, fifth, and sixth generation Civics so popular with young enthusiasts and tuners. As you can see in the accompanying photos, the new Civic Si and Civic 5-door concepts show design inspiration that could renew America's love-fest with this feisty little economy car.

The Civic Si is rumored to have a 200 horsepower VTEC engine, far surpassing the lame-brained 160 horsepower version we've been stuck with during this generation. And although we won't get the new, Alfa-Romeo-like 5-door version, it gives us great hopes for the 4-door sedan version we most likely will receive.

Will Honda revert back to the front double-wishbone suspension set-up that was so revered by Civic fans? We don't know, and wouldn't count on it. But it appears that these Civics, in whatever forms they take, will bring some sparkle back to the eyes of Honda fans.

2006 Hyundai Azera The amazing success of Hyundai can never be ignored. While not the most prestigious of nameplates, the company hardly seems like the same one that brought us the Excel subcompact so many years ago. Heck, Hyundai ranked second in the 2004 Strategic Vision total value index (behind only Lexus.) Just a year ago, Hyundai finished in a tie for second-place in the most recent J. D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Study and was also the Most Improved Nameplate. With their new found success, Korean companies like Hyundai and Kia still haven't found a way to crack into the real meat of the automobile market, which is the $25,000-$30,000 sedan segment. While competent cars, the Hyundai XG350 and Kia Amanti have never sold in large numbers. The new, 2006 Hyundai Azera could do a lot to change those fortunes for Hyundai. At 192.7 inches long, the Azera is the biggest Hyundai sedan ever sold here in the United States. It also brings to the Hyundai table a sense of style far exceeding what we've come to expect from this Korean manufacturer. While the front end does appear to mimic the Japanese sedan norm, as your eyes travel rearward, you begin to notice how the body side and greenhouse have a much more stylistic feel with an untraditional three-side-window design and a rear end with enough curves to make even J. Lo jealous.

Hyundai calls this a "premium, high-performance luxury sedan." Time and test-drives will tell if this claim has a ring of truth in it or is pure hyperbole. The Azera is front-wheel-drive and is powered by a new 3.8 litre, DOHC V6 with variable-valve timing and a nicely-competitive 265 horsepower and 257 ft. pound of torque. Hyundai's previous V6s, even the bigger 3.5-liter engines, have seemed short of snort so it's nice to see this big 3.8-liter pick up the pace somewhat. Finally, Hyundai has given this car and interior that any Lexus fanatic would be proud to sit in. Unfortunately, due to the limited information on this vehicle, there were no interior pics available that could be downloaded for the website. I can tell you that trimmed in a combination of wood, satin-nickel trim, and nicely two-toned taupe and beige hues, the style and layout of the Azera's dash and console bring an upscale sense of quality and occasion that will be a first for any Korean automobile. Hyundai's value story will, as always, be the final key to the Azera's (hopeful) success with a price-range estimated to be in the $25,000-$30,000 range that the XG350 occupied. It may be the most expensive Hyundai ever, but with the Azera's new sense of style, luxury, and features, the most expensive Hyundai might also just be the company's best value as well.

MazdaSpeed 6 I've got to think that there are people out there like me. People that think the idea of an all-wheel-drive car with a maniac turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a manual transmission packaged in a practical four-door sedan body style is an awesome idea. Subaru and Mitsubishi have been producing cars that seemingly fit that bill, the WRX and the Evo. However, also like me, I've got to think that there are people out there that don't like the brashness that comes with the outrageous scoops, spoilers, and skirts that seem par for the course with these cars. Mazda has got the perfect car for us. The MazdaSpeed 6 is Mazda's first high-performance version of its highly-regarded midsize sedan, the Mazda6. A factory tuning arm closely related in concept to Mercedes-Benz' AMG and BMW's M divisions, MazdaSpeed first came to market here with the MazdaSpeed Protégé then, more recently, the MazdaSpeed Miata. MazdaSpeed vehicles typically pack enhanced drivetrains, suspensions, and braking systems and combine them with subtle yet attractive styling modifications inside and outside of the vehicle. The MazdaSpeed 6 is powered by a 2.3-liter, turbocharged, direct-injection, four-cylinder engine with an estimated 274 horsepower and 280 ft. pound of torque. Combined with a new all-wheel-drive system and a 6-speed manual transmission, the MazdaSpeed 6 will provide an exhilarating drive that will rival it's cross-town competitors from Subaru and Mitsubishi. Rival, but not necessarily beat them, that is - and for good reason. While the MazdaSpeed 6 should have enough grunt to stay with a standard Subaru WRX, the more powerful WRX STi and the Mitsubishi Evo will still leave it behind at the dragstrip and on the racetrack. Why? They pack as much or more power in cars that are significantly lighter. That's okay, because Mazda designed the new MazdaSpeed 6 from the beginning to provide similar thrills but with a much more comfortable ride, a roomier interior, and a more restrained style than those aforementioned Japanese powerhouses. You can see that directive come true in the very attractive design that is nicely devoid of erroneous scoops and wings. So while the new MazdaSpeed 6 is not the hardcore road-racer the WRX and Evo are, it should provide a wonderful compromise for the enthusiast that wants an exciting ride combined with sedan practicality wrapped in a conservative yet attractive package, all for a base-price that's less than $30,000.

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