I don't know what the next big thing is, out there in the automotive world. I have no clue. None of us can be sure exactly what will touch off the next forest fire of automotive lust, but undoubtedly the tinder already has been lit. How can it not be so? Nineteen years ago, when the first issue of Automobile Magazine was about to hit the streets, Americans had about 160 car models from which to choose. Today, our 2005 Buying & Leasing Guide ($5.99) lists 326 different vehicles for sale in America, with nearly four dozen more models set to launch in the coming twelve months or so. Oh, it's out there, all right.It's not only the sheer number of cars and trucks from which to choose. New cars, which used to take as long as ten years to go from big idea to showroom floor, now can rush from pen to production in twenty-four months. Shelf life is short, and the wild blue yonder seems to be the new creative limit. From urban assault vehicle to your own personal F1 racing car, from tiny two-seat rocket to any conceivable execution of supercar, from eco-friendly alternative-fuel car to tall-roof people mover. From rolling tree house to rolling living room-you want it, you've got it, pal.
Never has this diversity of transportation riches been so apparent as during the course of pulling together this year's Sneak Preview issue. As usual, our worldwide team of unparalleled insiders has blown the cover off dozens of cars and trucks in the immediate pipeline, and we've laid out every scrap of info and every spy photo we could gather in a seventeen-page deep dive into the year to come. But damned if we can tell you what among the coolest batch of coming cars will most float your boat. Or ours. What we have seen and experienced during this year's hunting and gathering is so radical that we are in desperate need for words other than minivan, sport-utility, and even pickup truck to categorize the innovative vehicles coming downstream.
Take the two new Mercedes-Benz people-mover prototypes that Georg Kacher writes about on page 48. Can you call them minivans? Both the luxurious six-passenger R-class and the smaller, five-seat B-class, expected to arrive this fall, promise to be more than that now-maligned Mom-mobile that changed the world and was for its own bright, shining moment a Big Thing. So big, in fact, that it went a long way toward bringing Chrysler back from near death. No, these Mercedes-Benzes are not minivans. They're not station wagons. But they are exciting, and we can't wait to drive them.
What does SUV mean anymore? Some Useful Vehicle? Maybe it's something tiny and Spartan. Maybe it will hold seven or eight people, and maybe it won't go off-road. It could be based on a small front-wheel-drive car platform, or it might have the underpinnings of a full-sized, four-wheel-drive pickup truck. The truth lies somewhere between Land Rover's rowdy 390-hp, supercharged Range Rover Sport (page 54) and the more mature, gasoline-electric hybrid Lexus RX400h featured on page 36 in the Driven section.
If you have any doubt about the wildly divergent riches arrayed for your driving pleasure this year, just thumb through Driven, which begins on page 28, before you read Sneak Preview. You'll find a redesign of an old four-door favorite from Volkswagen, a fabulous bit of retro Ford flash, the startling Japanese redefinition of the pickup truck, the aforementioned hybrid luxury SUV, and a big Japanese sedan aimed straight for Buick's solar plexus.
We know two things. First, it's going to be a great year for the No Boring Cars magazine and, consequently, a great year for all of you. There are still a few snores out there, but so few people want to own them anymore. We want cars that have basic safety features, that get good fuel economy, that don't break, that are exciting to drive, and that look as cool and hip as Target has taught all of us to demand. And it looks as if that's what we're getting.
Second, just when you think you know more than the average car person, just when you think you know what the world wants and needs, along comes a Stout Scarab.