With all the hype and speculation revolving around concept cars such as the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger at this year?s crop of auto shows held in major U.S. and Canadian cities, it?s easy to overlook the real and tangible vehicles that will soon be in dealer showrooms. There actually appears to be about 25 in all coming (as of this writing), but since I have limited space - just like in my wardrobe at home - I only have enough room to discuss 9 with any sort of detail.
Acura RDX: Honda?s luxury division will have its second sport-utility vehicle when the RDX arrives this summer. With a turbocharged four-cylinder engine putting 240 horsepower to all four wheels through Acura?s ?SuperHandling? all-wheel-drive system, the RDX promises some serious on-road performance. The new model joins the MDX that shares many of its components with the Honda Odyssey minivan and Pilot sport-utility vehicles.
Buick Enclave: Finally, the Buick division gets its own unique sport-utility. With a 3.6-liter Cadillac V6 and six-speed automatic transmission, the six-passenger Enclave is based on a brand-new unitized (frameless) platform. The interior is adorned in wood, leather and satin-metallic trim. The Enclave?s siblings will include the GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook. Insiders suggest 12 months before the Enclave sees the light of day.
Ford Edge: Based on the Mazda6 car platform (Ford owns a big chunk of Mazda and shares its technology among all its automotive brands) and featuring all-wheel-drive and a new 3.5-liter Ford V6, the Edge sport-utility wagon is a key component in the company?s plan and will arrive this fall as a 2007 model.
Honda Fit: Already a hit in Europe and Japan, the smaller-than-a-Civic ?Fit? will hit these shores in April with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. (A five-speed automatic will be optional.) An extensive standard-equipment list and ability to transform the interior into a variety of configurations should help this smallest Honda find an audience. It?s interesting to note how far up the ladder the Civic has moved in the last few years. What once began as a vehicle in the Fit?s league just keeps growing and getting better with age.
Jeep Compass: Sharing its platform with the upcoming Dodge Caliber, the Compass is a five-door hatchback that rides on standard 17-inch wheels. Power comes from a brand new four-cylinder engine developed in partnership with Hyundai and Mitsubishi, mated to a five-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable unit. Look for it in Jeep stores this spring.
Jeep Wrangler: It doesn?t look new, but the only thing left from the old Wrangler is the folding windshield, solid axles and the off-road ability. The old 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder is finally gone as is the 2.4-liter four-cylinder, both replaced by 205-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 (not the 3.7 that you see in the Liberty). The hardtop is a three-piece modular unit and you can still remove the doors even if they will have power windows. Longer and wider, the Wrangler retains and improves on its legendary abilities. It?s on sale this fall as a 2007 model.
Lexus LS460: Since launching its Luxury Sedan (LS), Lexus has since set the quality standard by which most other vehicles are measured. With the upcoming 2007 LS460, Lexus is aiming straight at BMW and Mercedes-Benz. A 380-horsepower V8 provides a third more power than the previous engine while consuming no more fuel, partly due to the new eight-speed automatic transmission. Goodies include a ?self-parking? system and a 19-speaker audio package that will store 4,000 songs. A gas-electric ?hybrid? version is also on the way. The new LS will be in Lexus stores later in the year.
Mazda CX-7: Based on the same Mazda6 car platform being used for many Ford family products (remember, Ford owns a sizeable chunk of the Japanese automaker), Mazda?s CX-7 has the same all-wheel-drive system as the MazdsaSpeed6 and a 240-horsepower version of that car?s turbocharged 274-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Look it by summer or early autumn.
Toyota FJ Cruiser: This retro machine is an auto-show standout and shares many of its mechanical bits with the 4Runner, thus making it a truly capable off-roader. In fact, Toyota says the FJ Cruiser is the most capable 4x4 in its stable. A 4.0-liter V6 drives the rear wheels (or all four in 4x4 models). It has a price tag in the mid-$20,000 range.