NAME: HONDA CIVIC SI CONCEPT
Vehicle Type: 2-door coupe
Reason for Being: Honda must regain street cred with the tuner community.
Engineering Aspects: Under the black hood sits a 200-hp, DOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder that spins to 8,000 rpm. It's mated to a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox, and boasts a helical-type limited-slip differential. The 225/40R18 tires wrap 18-in. cast aluminum wheels whose six-spoke pattern show just enough of the cross-drilled rotors and four-piston Brembo brake calipers to indicate the Civic Si Concept's serious intent.
Also Know This: Honda has rediscovered it soul. Strip off the front and side aero kits, rear wing, black hood, and under-bumper rear diffuser and you have the standard 2006 Civic Coupe. Add back some of the body parts, and you have the Si version you'll see in dealerships this Fall. Put it all back in place, slap a "Type R" badge on the back, and you have the ultra-high-performance version expected in 2008.
NAME: DODGE NITRO
Vehicle Type: Mid-size SUV
Reason for Being: To give Dodge an entry-level SUV by expanding Jeep Liberty production.
Engineering Aspects: Extend the current Liberty's wheelbase exactly 4 in., its overall length by 5.3, add 1.5-in. to width, subtract 1.1-in. from its height and you have the basic dimensions of the Nitro. Power comes from the 3.7-liter V6 and 42RLE four-speed automatic transmission used in the Liberty. The suspension is an independent SLA design in front, and a five-link with solid axle in back. Estimated weight is a stout 4,115 lbs. It has a roll-out load floor borrowed from Mercedes' E-Class wagon.
Also Know This: Design chief Trevor Creed assures us that "if" the Nitro reaches production, the production model will be just like the concept—except for the five coats of hand-rubbed candy apple red metallic paint.
NAME: 2005 KIA SEDONA
Vehicle Type: Mom's taxi—a minivan
Reason for Being: To increase Kia's share of the minivan market while filling competitors with sheer terror.
Engineering Aspects: Built on a new platform that is longer, wider, and lighter than its predecessor, the 2006 Sedona has 15% more interior room. It is aimed at the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. Standard equipment includes dual front, front seat-mounted side, and full-length side curtain airbags; ABS; electronic brake force distribution; a tire pressure monitoring system; and active front head restraints. There's a new all-aluminum, 24-valve 3.8-liter V6 producing 240 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. It's mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. McPherson struts are used up front while the rear suspension is a fully independent multi-link design. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard.
Also Know This: Kia has hired Tom Kearns away from GM to be its head of Design, so look for more U.S.—specific vehicles from the Korean company.
NAME: TOYOTA FJ CRUISER
Vehicle Type: Mid-size SUV
Reason for Being: Extending Toyota's bid for world dominance into the SUV sector by building on the lessons learned from Scion.
Engineering Aspects: The five-passenger FJ sits on a modified Toyota 4Runner platform, and utilizes the same powertrain. A five-speed automatic transmission (on both 4x2 and 4x4 models) or six-speed manual (4x2 only) mates to a 4.0-liter V6 producing 245 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque. Four-wheel disc brakes and 17-in. steel wheels are standard, as is Toyota's Star Safety System (stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist). Optional equipment includes alloy wheels, rear differential lock, electronic four-wheel traction control on 4x4 models, running boards, backup assist, front seat-mounted airbags, full side curtain airbags, and more.
Also Know This: This is Toyota's first "heritage" vehicle, but will not be sold at a premium. Toyota is promising a "very low price."
NAME: 2006 BUICK LUCERNE
Vehicle Type: Full-size luxury sedan
Reason for Being: To reestablish Buick in the mid-luxury segment with a car that doesn't carry an automatic AARP discount.
Engineering Aspects: This is the first Buick to offer Magnetic Ride Control and StabiliTrak, and the first Buick car in 10 years to offer a V8 (the Rainier SUV has one, too). The 32-valve Northstar engine produces 275 hp. (A 195-hp 3800 V6 is standard.) The array of airbags is emphasized by GM: a dual-stage driver's bag, a dual-depth front passenger's bag, side-impact thorax airbags, and side curtain airbags. It will be built at GM's Hamtramck Assembly Center alongside the mechanically similar Cadillac DTS.
Also Know This: The Lucerne is claimed to be the first Buick to bear the full stamp of Bob Lutz.
NAME: 2006 MERCURY MILAN
Vehicle Type: Mid-size sedan
Reason for Being: To give Mercury a credible contender in the mid-size sedan segment.
Engineering Aspects: A twin to the Ford Fusion and Lincoln Zephyr—and the Mazda6 that provided the architecture and powertrain for all—the Milan has a standard 160-hp 2.3-liter four-cylinder mated to either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic gearbox. The optional 3.0-liter Duratec V6 has 210 hp—seven more than the larger Ford 500/Mercury Montego—200 lb-ft of torque, and comes standard with a six-speed automatic. The inline four has a PZEV emissions rating while the V6 will get a ULEV II rating. In 2007, the Milan will add AWD, while 2008 will see a hybrid model join the lineup.
Also Know This: Internally, the Mercury Milan goes by the software-like name of Mazda6 version 3.0.
NAME: HYUNDAI PORTICO CONCEPT
Vehicle Type: Six-passenger people hauler
Reason for Being: To preview the two new seven-passenger vehicles Hyundai will launch within the next year.
Engineering Aspects: The Portico has rear suicide doors, no B-pillar, and a panoramic glass roof with adjustable transparency. In other words, things you shouldn't expect to see in production. Two rows of three seats dominate the interior; the seats can be staggered to increase leg and shoulder room. Power comes from Hyundai's Lambda V6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic. Portico is designed to accept Hyundai's hybrid drive system, which has one electric motor (110 kW) driving the front wheels and a second (60 kW) driving the rears.
Also Know This: The Portico is built on the minivan platform found under the 2006 Kia Sedona.—CAS