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Lake Effect Showing

As the 2005 Auto Show front moves East, the automakers drop a significant number of new product and concept introductions on Chicago.

While the January Detroit show seemed dominated by sensuous high-performance sports cars and mid-size CUVs, Chicago’s newly expanded 1.2 million sq.ft. convention center held all of those, plus a solid variety of significant 2006 introductions too important to wait for New York: five cars ranging from midsize Mercury Milan to mega-powered Mercedes S65 AMG, six trucks from an enlarged Kia Sedona van to a gargantuan International pickup and three production-bound concepts from Honda (Civic Si), Hyundai (Portico CUV) and Dodge (Nitro SUV). Bridgestone earns credit and kudos for inviting and expertly hosting attending major media.

Mercury Milan
Following the Detroit debuts of Ford Fusion and Lincoln Zephyr, Milan rounds out the trio of appealing new mid-size sedans coming this fall from Ford Motor Co. All are built on the same fwd platform that underpins partner Mazda’s 6 series. The standard 160-hp 2.3L DOHC four is paired with a choice of standard 5-speed manual or optional 5- speed automatic, while the available 210-hp 3.0L DOHC V-6 gets a 6- speed automatic.

Buick Lucerne
Buick follows its ’05 LaCrosse mid-size sedan with the 2006 Lucerne, another hugely important introduction. While the LaCrosse’s challenge is to replace Century and Regal, Lucerne’s assignment is to supplant no less than LeSabre and Park Avenue full-size sedans. The standard V6 is GM’s veteran 195 hp 3800 Series III. The available V8 — identified by a quartet of stylized portholes on each front fender — is a version of Cadillac’s Northstar 4.6L 32-valve DOHC unit good for 275 hp. It is Buick’s first V-8 in a car in ten long years.

Cadillac DTS
Think of the ’06 DTS as the new DeVille, restyled to blend into Cadillac’s growing family of distinctively edgy sedans, SUVs and the stealth-fighter XLR sports car, rebadged to conform to its three-letter naming scheme and greatly improved throughout. It will be offered as a single model with multiple option packages and powered by a choice of 4.6L Northstar DOHC 32-valve V-8s, one higher-revving with peak output of 290 hp, the other with 15 fewer top-end horses but greater peak torque for quicker launch and part-throttle response.

Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG and E350

Mercedes’ AMG subsidiary develops ultra-hot versions of nearly every M-B model.

This 2005 S65 AMG, a 604-hp 6.0L twin-turbo V-12- powered variation of the top-line S-Class sedan, boasts an incredible 738 lb.ft. of pavement-shredding torque and can rocket from rest to 60 mph in a tick over 4 sec.

AMG specialists hand-assemble, test and sign every AMG engine, and the S65’s AMG-tuned active suspension virtually eliminates roll, squat and dive during cornering, acceleration and braking.

Also introduced were new 2005 E350 sedan and wagon additions to M-B’s mid-range E-Class family, both powered by a new 268 hp 3.5L DOHC V-6.

Kia Sedona
Korean maker Kia (now productively partnered with Hyundai) rolled out its larger, better-equipped and much-improved new 2006 Sedona van. The second-row seats flip and fold forward, the third-row 60/40 bench folds flat into the floor, and power sliding side doors and tailgate are optional. Electronic stability control and traction control with brake assist will be available as part of an option package. Powertrain will be a new 3.8L DOHC 24-valve V-6, good for an expected 240 hp driving through a 5-speed Sportmatic transaxle.

Toyota FJ Cruiser
This 2007 retro rock-climber — which debuted as a concept two years ago — will slot below Toyota’s compact RAV4 and (somewhat curiously) compete for youthful attention with the company’s own Scion-brand products. Riding on a modified 4runner chassis, it will be powered by a 245 hp 4.0L V-6 and, despite its low base price, will have standard AC, six-speaker CD audio, ABS brakes, traction control and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC).

Mercury Mountaineer
Mercury’s Mountaineer mid-size SUV is much improved with a freshened exterior, all-new interior, upgraded powertrain and chassis (with independent rear suspension) and standard AdvanceTrac with Roll- Stability Control, which uses a gyroscopic sensor to detect a roll condition during extreme maneuvers and applies engine control and braking countermeasures to reduce the chances of a rollover. Standard powertrain is an improved 210 hp 4.0L SOHC V-6 with 5-speed automatic, while a new 292 hp 4.6L SOHC 24-valve V-8 is optional with 6-speed automatic.

Mariner Hybrid
Originally planned as a 2007 model, Mercury’s Mariner Hybrid SUV will now reach L-M dealers this fall as a 2006. On the surface, it’s little different from its conventional counterpart except for hybrid badging, specific 16-in. wheels and an available “hybrid energy and navigation system” that graphically displays energy flow to and from the engine, motors, batteries and wheels. Underneath, a 133-hp Duratec 2.3L 4-cylinder gas engine teams with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and AC electric motors front and rear to provide energy-efficient on-demand fourwheel- drive with a 1,000 pound towing capacity. The result is 33 mpg EPA city and 29 highway, along with ultra-low emissions.

Dodge Ram Mega Cab
Dodge started with the 160.5-in. wheelbase “long box” Ram 2500, and replaced its eight-foot box with the standard Ram’s six-foot, threeinch box, then put 20 of those 21 inches back onto the rear of the cab. Inside are 145.2 cu.ft. of space, nearly half available for cargo with the 60/40 split rear bench folded flat. The rear doors open to a near-perpendicular 88 degrees, exposing a yawning 34.5 x 35.5 in. opening to 30 sq.ft. of load floor behind the front seats. Rear legroom is a limo-like 44.2 inches, and the seatbacks recline — a pickup first. Behind them are 7.6 cu.ft. of useful cargo space, including large covered bins.

International RXT
Following last fall’s introduction of the (medium-duty truck-based) International CXT, the world’s most humongous pickup, the company rolled out a 2006 RXT variation. While the CXT boasts a GVWR of 25,999 pounds — one pound short of requiring a commercial driver’s license — tows up to 17 tons and starts at $90,000, the lowered and somewhat lighter (five ton) RXT is rated at 20,500 pounds GVW, tows up to 12 tons and stickers at a mere $70,000. While the 4×4 CXT is motivated by a 220-hp, 540-lb.ft. 6-cylinder diesel and retarded by semi-style air brakes, the 4×2 RXT is powered by a 230-hp, 540-lb.ft. diesel V-8 and reined in by hydraulic 4-wheel discs. They say it’s intended for ranchers, racers, boat haulers, landscapers, contractors … “business owners who want a truck that promotes themselves as much as their businesses.”

Honda Civic Si Concept
An all-new series of Civic coupes and sedans will roll out this fall, followed by a more fuel-efficient Civic Hybrid, a natural-gas-powered GX and a new performance-oriented Si coupe. This hot-looking concept is essentially the ’06 production Si with bigger tires and a swoopier roofline, powered by a 200-hp 8,000-rpm example of Honda’s nextgeneration i-VTEC “intelligent” 4-cylinder mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox driving through a helical-type limited-slip differential to optimize launch and cornering traction.

Hyundai Portico Concept
Hyundai calls Portico — a curvy concept crossover wagon with a large, versatile 6-passenger interior and easy ingress and egress through its pillarless body with front-hinged front and rear-hinged rear doors — “the future of family transportation.” Its three-across seating front and rear has unique set-back center seats to optimize occupant comfort. It’s powered by Hyundai’s new 24-valve DOHC aluminum Lambda V6 engine coupled to the 6-speed Shiftronic automatic coming soon to Hyundai’s production vehicles. A later AWD hybrid system will add a 110 kW (136 hp) electric motor in front and a 60 kW (83-hp) motor driving the rear wheels.

Dodge Nitro Concept
“The mid-size SUV segment is among the most popular and crowded in the U.S,” said Chrysler Design Senior VP Trevor Creed at the Nitro’s Chicago introduction. “They are like a rack of spices. Some are like parsley, some like rosemary, many like plain vanilla. We challenged our designers to spice things up a bit.” Then a giant simulated spice bottle tipped over forward, spilling hundreds of spice-red styrofoam pellets over which the Nitro drove as it emerged from inside. Jeep Liberty-based and 3.7L SOHC V-6-powered, it has uniquely bold style and attitude, which will likely be retained when it reaches production in a couple of years to give Dodge an SUV below its larger (formerly “mid-size”) Durango.

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