2006 Cadillac XLR-V
Cadillac's two-seat XLR roadster has hardly set Mercedes-Benz aquiver with its sales success, but the high-performance XLR-V might have the chops to win a few sales away from the SL by offering SL55 AMG pace for loaded SL500 money. Cosmetic changes between stock and hot rod XLR are pretty subtle: polished wire mesh upper and lower grilles; nineteen-inch, ten-spoke aluminum wheels; and four stainless-steel exhaust tips. The XLR's interior has been slicked up a bit with ebony wood, aluminum accents, and additional leather trim. Cadillac has enhanced the chasis with a stiffer front anti-roll bar, the addition of a rear bar, and a sportier Magnetic Ride Control calibration. The brakes have been uprated, with bigger diameter 13.4-inch front and 13.0-inch rear cross-drilled rotors. The naturally aspirated XLR is hardly underpowered, with 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, but the V's supercharged and intercooled 4.4-liter, 32-valve DOHC Northstar V-8 engine makes an exceedingly healthy 440 hp and 425 lb-ft--enough to push the V from 0-60 mph in less than five seconds. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission featuring GM's Performance Algorithm Shifting (PAS), which downshifts under high g cornering to ensure you don't hunt for a gear on corner exit.
2006 Dodge Charger SRT8
The 425-hp Dodge Charger SRT8 is a rockin' muscle car. It would be easy to dismiss it as yet another twin to the Chrysler 300C SRT8 and the Dodge Magnum SRT8, but the Charger establishes itself as the sportiest of its brethren with the firmest suspension calibration of the bunch and look-at-me spoilers and scoops. Not only is the Charger SRT8 the athlete of the group, we expect it to be an amazing bargain at well under $40,000. With a 0-60 time of around five seconds flat, the Charger SRT8 will show its taillights to all eight of the $50k plus sport sedans in our May issue. The pushrod Hemi V-8 found in all the SRT8 models makes 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque the old fashioned way: displacement--6.1 liters of it, to be exact. Keeping things in check are massive Brembo brakes and sport-tuned stability and traction control. With the ESP off, the tail will hang out at angles that could put a grin on the face of even the most jaded automotive journalist. Mopar enthusiasts will be able to spot the SRT8's unique front and rear spoilers, a functional hood scoop, massive twenty-inch five-spoke wheels, red-painted brake calipers, dual 3.5-inch exhausts, and, when they pop the hood, the retro black and orange paint on the engine.
Ford Shelby Mustang Cobra GT500
SVT, and Carroll Shelby, get back in the Mustang tuning business with the Shelby Cobra GT500, which should arrive in showrooms next spring. In place of the standard Mustang GT's 300-hp, 4.6-liter V-8, the GT500 uses a 5.4-liter engine, supercharged for an estimated 450 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, hooked up to a six-speed manual gearbox. Compared to standard Mustangs, the GT500's chassis changes are limited to springs, anti-roll bars, dampers, and bigger brakes. Inside, the GT500 backs off a bit from the Mustang's retro vibe, dropping the '60s-look instruments in favor of a contemporary design. The tach is now on the right, which SVT feels is the more prominent position, less likely to be obscured because drivers' use their right hand for shifting. Outside, designers have layered some Shelby Mustang cues over the top of the old SVT Cobra stuff. The double white stripes, the reshaped upper and lower grille, and the new aluminum hood with function dual air extractors all nod to the Shelby Mustangs of old. More modern touches include round fog lamps set into the corners of the front fascia, a new rear bumper that extends down to a rear air diffuser, a redesigned (and functional) rear spoiler, and ten-spoke nineteen-inch wheels.
2006 Jeep Commander
SUV buyers who need a third seat have been shut out at Jeep, but that will change with the arrival of the Commander this fall. Essentially a re-bodied Grand Cherokee, the Commander will come with a standard third-row seat, but its accommodations are child-sized. The Commander's interior is completely new, with rustic, distressed-leather upholstery and matte-finish wood available. Small, non-opening glass panels over the rear seats (like those in the Nissan Maxima) are standard. Mechanically, the Commander is a twin to the Grand Cherokee, and will share that model's powertrains: a 3.7-liter V-6, a 4.7-liter V-8, and a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, along with rear-wheel drive or a choice of three four-wheel-drive systems. The suspension consists of control arms up front and a live axle at the rear; stability control will be standard (as it will be on the Grand Cherokee for '06). The Commander retains the Grand Cherokee's 109.5-inch wheelbase, but its unique body is 2 inches longer and 4 inches taller. The slab-sided, rectilinear design is supposed to recall the old Jeep Cherokee, whose handsome styling remained popular as it moved from modern to classic during its extra-long life cycle. The Commander's weird, inset headlamps spoil the effect here, but ardent Jeep fans who need three rows of seats might not care.
2006 Lexus GS450h Hybrid
Lexus is adding another weapon to their green-leaning arsenal as they unveil the GS450h sedan, scheduled to reach dealerships in the spring of 2006. It joins Lexus's own RX400h SUV as the only luxury vehicles to offer the improved fuel economy and eco-friendliness of a hybrid powertrain. Lexus also touts the GS450h as the first rear-wheel-drive car to receive the hybrid treatment (all-wheel drive will not be available). The new sedan will be powered by an electric motor mated to a 3.5-liter V-6 and it should boast the same sporting dynamics as the more standard GS. Lexus claims that the hybrid system's performance will match that of a 4.5-liter V-8--"it will produce substantially more than 300 hp and achieve 0-60 mph in well under six seconds"--while returning gas mileage that equals that of a typical 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Combined fuel economy will likely fall somewhere in the high twenties. Lexus plans to market the GS hybrid not on its environmentally friendly powertrain, but rather its high-performance characteristics, and says that the prospect of spending less time--not money--at the pump will be what draws buyers to the GS450h. Expect a price premium of at least $5000-$6000 over similarly outfitted, non-hybrid GS430s.
2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class
After two concept previews, Mercedes-Benz at last rolled out the production version of its R-class SUV/wagon/crossover whatever, which goes on sale late this year. This is a big boy, stretching 203 inches, riding a 126-inch wheelbase, and tipping the scales at some 4800 lbs. The R-class ferries a half-dozen passengers in six individual chairs. With the four rear seats folded, it carries 72 cubic feet of cargo. Mercedes' newest entry will be sold here in two versions. The R350 uses Mercedes' new 3.5-liter V-6, with dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It makes 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The R500's 5.0-liter V-8 is from the older, SOHC, 3-valves-per-cylinder engine family. Its output is 302 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque. Both engines have standard 4Matic four-wheel drive and use the same 7-speed automatic transmission. The standard air suspension lowers ride height by one-half inch at speeds above 77 mph, or, at low speeds, can raise the ride height by three inches for additional ground clearance. No full-on, supercharged, 500-plus-hp, AMG version has been announced yet, but with the once-exclusive AMG models proliferating throughout the Benz lineup, it can't be far behind. Base R-class models will begin around $50,000 and will be built alongside the new ML in Merc's Alabama plant.