Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Developed in conjunction with the C6-R race car, the new Corvette Z06 is the fastest and most powerful Chevrolet ever. Actually, it is the fastest and most powerful car in all of General Motors history. What exactly does that mean? Expect 0-60 times under four seconds, quarter mile times under twelve seconds, and a top speed of over 190 mph. This is the kind of stuff that keeps us from sleeping at night. Under the hood of the 2006 Corvette Z06 is a 500-hp 427 cubic inch V-8, or seven liters of displacement. Based on the C6-R engine, it redlines at a shocking 7000 rpm, a speed unheard of in the Chevrolet community. Helping the engine to breathe is a sonorous three-inch dual-exhaust system that is sure to upset the neighbors. With six-figure performance and a five-figure price tag, the Z06 is a sure winner. Watch out, Ford GT and Dodge Viper. Get the full story of the fastest-ever Corvette in the February issue of Automobile Magazine.
This spring the all-new Ridgeline pickup will land at Honda dealerships across the country, further complicating the decision of truck buyers who in simpler days would have listed Chevy, Dodge, Ford, and maybe GMC as their only options. Toyota, Nissan, and Honda once built nothing even close to a real truck for the American market. Times have changed. Honda's 4-door, 5-passenger, 4WD entry will set itself apart from the growing slew of others by virtue of its first-in-class unibody frame. A 3.5-liter V-6 transfers power to the wheels through a 5-speed automatic. Its appearance vaguely resembles Honda's current Pilot and Element models.
Surprise, surprise: the new Mercedes ML is longer and wider than the outgoing model-by 5.9 and 3.8 inches respectively. It is also a unibody, whereas the outgoing model was body-on-frame. All MLs have a permanent all-wheel-drive system with start assist and a downhill driving aid, but there is now an optional off-road package that incorporates air springs, a two-speed transfer case, and diffs that can lock up to 100 percent between the front and rear axles and between the back wheels. There will be two engines: a 268-hp 3.5-liter V-6 and a 302-hp 5.0-liter V-8, both of which are mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. There is a full panoply of available safety equipment, including the PRE-SAFE anticipatory occupant protection system. The interior is noticeably higher quality than the outgoing vehicle's, and noticeably bigger, too: the trunk, especially, is cavernous. The new vehicle is due to go on sale late this Spring.
Seen in profile, the Charger's sloping windowline and kicked-up rear fender recall the iconic, late '60s Chargers. But while muscle-car era Chargers were always coupes, the new one is a four-door only--something that has fans of the early Chargers crying foul on the internet. Their protests are unlikely to get anywhere, however, as Chrysler design chief Trevor Creed says, "We had to ignore the screaming and shouting from people who said, 'Don't you know a Charger is a two-door.' The new Charger comes as either an SXT, with a 3.5-liter V-6, or an RT, with the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8; both have a five-speed automatic sending power to the rear wheels. Unlike Chrysler, Dodge won't offer the 2.7-liter V-6 to retail customers, only fleet buyers. The Charger features a sportier suspension tune than the 300, and although it casts a similar shadow, it's an inch lower. It arrives in showrooms in early summer.
Saturn's version of the Pontiac Solstice, the Sky exhibits the new face of Saturn, which will add a mid-size sedan and a large crossover sport-utility to its lineup over the next two years. Aimed at the Mazda Miata in price with dimensions close to the pricier and slightly bigger Honda S2000, the sub-$25,000 Sky gets a 170-hp, 2.4-liter Ecotec four mated to manual or automatic five-speed transmissions and near 50/50 weight distribution. The Sky comes in early 2006, and we expect a supercharged Red Line version to follow. We're wondering what sister division Pontiac thinks of the of the Sky, as it seeks the same market as its forthcoming Solstice and marks supposed budget-brand Saturn as becoming more performance-oriented.
Dodge Viper Coupe
This great-looking successor to the previous-generation Viper GTS was not originally part of the plan for the new Viper. The first Viper coupe was done only because the roadster's top was so pathetic; with a real convertible top engineered for the second-generation Viper, Dodge planners thought they didn't need a hardtop. The very vocal Viper owners' club disagreed, pointing out that many race tracks don't allow convertibles to participate in track events without adding roll bars. Dodge saw the light and crafted this sexy coupe. Underhood is the same 500-hp 8.3-liter V-10 as in the roadster, and this time the coupe even retains the roadster's side pipes. You won't find the spare tire under the long back glass, however, as Vipers now roll on run-flat tires. The coupe arrives at dealerships this fall, priced close to the roadster's $82,295.
Ford hopes the Fusion, scheduled for release sometime this fall as a 2006 model, will be its next mid-size powerhouse. A tick smaller in most directions than the Taurus, the Fusion will be built on a modified Mazda 6 platform. The front-wheel-drive car gets either a 160-hp, 2.3-liter in-line four or a 210-hp, 3.0-liter V-6. All-wheel drive will be a later option. Ford desperately needs this car to help it to bounce back from a disappointing 2004, which saw it lose 1.2 percent of its U.S. market share. The "athletic" exterior design was inspired by the well-received 2003 Ford 427 concept-which looks from the side much like a Chrysler 300 with a different grille. It will be interesting to see how well the mass-market receives the taillamps, which were inspired by either aluminum foil or the tuner scene. Ford claims that the Fusion has a light and nimble driving personality, which is assisted by the car's fully-independent front and rear suspensions and strong torsional rigidity.
The fourth-generation Eclipse is longer, wider, taller, and more powerful. Based heavily on last year's well-received Detroit concept, this latest version is extremely important for beleaguered Mitsubishi, which hopes to recapture the younger buyers lost with the previous-generation car. We hope it looks better on the road than it does at the show if it's going to save this automaker on the brink. GS models will be equipped with a 2.4-liter, 165-hp four and either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. GTs will get one extra ratio per gearbox and a class-leading 3.8-liter, 260-hp V-6 with Mitsubishi's versions of variable valve timing. The coupe is due in mid-2005 with the Spyder following in 2006.
Subaru B9 Tribeca
The Tribeca goes on sale this summer and will be both Subaru's biggest and most expensive vehicle to date. It is a seven-seater crossover SUV that is more car than truck. A unibody platform carries four-wheel independent suspension, with a new control arm rear end and struts up front. Subaru has fitted the Tribeca with its most sophisticated all-wheel-drive system that incorporates stability control. Power comes from its familiar, 250-hp, horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine. Subaru is very proud that the Tribeca has a center of gravity 1.5 inches lower than a BMW X5, yet still has 8.4 inches of ground clearance. Externally, the car incorporates the new face of Subaru-a grille that is said to represent the fuselage of an aircraft, with wing-like vents on either side. The Tribeca will be very well equipped for a base price around $37,000, with power front seats, leather, all manner of air bags, and a power moonroof.
As Volkswagen tries to shake itself out of the sales doldrums in the U.S., the new-generation Jetta had its worldwide debut in Los Angeles. No wonder, since this sedan accounts for forty percent of VW sales in America. Predictably enough, the new Jetta gets a little bigger; it's about seven inches longer, an inch wider, and about three-quarters of an inch taller. There's a new, 150-hp, 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, while a 200-hp turbo and a 100-hp turbo diesel will follow. As always, VW delivers a lot of new technological value, including electro-mechanical steering, all-independent multi-link rear suspension, and electronic stability control. But we'll see if all this moves the Jetta very far upscale, as it still is less spacious and less powerful than its competition. Moreover, its flashy new grille is attached to bodywork that looks bland at close range. With a five-speed manual gearbox, the MSRP starts at $17,900, while the six-speed manu-matic takes the price to $18,300.
GM's Hummer division is well aware that it has come to represent wretched excess to many Americans, and it wants you to know that its new SUV, the H3, is a kindler, gentler Hummer. This smaller, more fuel efficient model is based on the platform that underlies the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups. Available only with a 3.5-liter five-cylinder engine that produces 220 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 225 lb-ft of torque at 2800 rpm, the 4700-pound H3 will have its work cut out for it towing its rated 4500 pounds-or even just motivating its own weight. While the base price will likely be a bit under $35,000 for an H3 with cloth seats and a five-speed manual transmission, options like a four-speed automatic transmission, leather seating, DVD navigation, head curtain air bags, and stability control will push the price to around $40,000.
Ford Mustang Convertible
We've showered a good deal of praise on Ford's new Mustang, so those of us who prefer going topless are happy to hear more about the inevitable convertible version. Scheduled to reach showrooms this spring, the new 'stang droptop is an admirable exercise in convertible production, rather than the hackjobs that have plagued some earlier Mustang cabrios. Special attention was paid to keeping the chassis stiff and weight off. Powertrains are the same as the coupe: the convertible will be offered with the standard 4.0-liter 202-horsepower V-6, and the 4.6-liter 300-horsepower V-8. Stay tuned to automobilemag.com for our take on driving the newest open-air stallion.