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2001 Chicago Show, Part I

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Chicago Auto Show coverage

2002 Ford SVT Focus

2002 Ford SVT Focus

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SHARPER FOCUS. It’s what Ford’s Special Vehicles Team pack leader John Colletti calls the “next obvious product” in the microbrand’s lineup: a 170-hp version of the very popular and, we’re told, very hip Ford Focus. The SVT Focus benefits from a raft of engine improvements, including an uprated compression ratio, to 10.2:1; tuned headers; a dual-stage intake manifold; and a variable-cam intake system. Along with the 170 hp, the Focus also gets a boost in torque, up to 145 lb-ft, some 85 percent of which SVT says is available from 2200 rpm. The suspension is lowered a half-inch, spring rates are increased 13 percent, and the brakes are enlarged to 12-inch rotors in the front, 11-inchers in the rear. Toss in a single CD player (a six-disc, in-dash changer is optional), a batch of interior trim from the Euro Focus (seats, steering-wheel, extra audio controls) and a base price of about $18,000, and we’re predicting a quick sellout. That’s of the car, in case you’re thinking too hard. 

2001 Ford SVT Lightning Rod

2001 Ford SVT Lightning Rod

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STRIKING LIGHTNING ROD. Tattoos and chop jobs aren’t just for L.A. anymore. Dearborn is all agog over hot rods, and it’s showing in Ford SVT’s Lightning Rod, a concept that stretches the 380-hp Lightning to a new limit. It’s chopped an inch, with shorter overhangs, and dolled up with loads of polished aluminum on the dash and tattoo stripes down the tonneau cover, seats, even in the headliner. Massive 20-inch tires carry the same pattern carved into their treads. The powertrain – a 380-hp, supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 and a four-speed automatic – is carryover. 

2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK55 Cabriolet

2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK55 Cabriolet

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HIGH SPEED ACCESS. Looking for the fastest, sunniest way to attack the next exit ramp? Benz customers suggest the Mercedes-Benz CLK55 Cabriolet. In fact, they crave it so much, and pestered the company with so many e-mails, Mercedes-Benz USA decided to bring 1400 copies over from Germany. The CLK55 Cabrio matches the coupe’s 342 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, and gets similar upgrades to suspension, brakes, 17-inch wheels and Benz’ ESP skid-control system. Benz says it’s the first cabrio to hit 155 mph with the top up or down. It might make it to the U.S. for less than $80,000, but then again, Nicole Kidman might really be available emotionally for you now. Uh-huh. 

2002 Nissan Xterra

2002 Nissan Xterra

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MORE POWER TO YOU. With sales up 11 percent last year, Nissan’s aiming to keep its momentum at a hummingbird-like pace. Two of the company’s recent hits are being updated for 2002: there’s a long-bed version of the four-door Frontier pickup, and a restyled Xterra off-roader. The Crew Cab Long Bed gets a 74.6-inch full-size bed, along with a new instrument panel and an available 300-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo system. The Xterra now offers the 210-hp supercharged V-6 found in some Frontiers, and also gets an enthusiast model with the V-6, four-wheel drive, tow hooks, manua locking hubs and limited-slip edition and rubber floor mats -- but all Xterras get a new front end treatment with round headlamps that reduce its butch quotient by a significant amount. 

2001 Pontiac Rev concept

2001 Pontiac Rev concept

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PONTIAC’S REV-OLUTION. GM president Ron Zarrella calls it a “very strong indicator of the future of Pontiac products.” We say it’s a hark back to the halcyon days of the AMC Eagle four-by wagon. The Pontiac Rev’ concept combines a powerful six-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive with Lycra-covered seats and a GPS cell phone with Web access for a unique interpretation of all-road activity. There’s also a third door for easy access, as well as a cavernous, clamshell cargo door.

For more Chicago auto show coverage, click here .

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