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2004 Chicago Auto Show, Part I

2004 Chicago Auto Show Index (2/3/2004)

New Dakota: Bigger, More Powerful

2005 Dodge Dakota

2005 Dodge Dakota

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Dodge says it's the biggest and best of the mid-size trucks with the new 2005 Dodge Dakota, a redesign of which debuted Wednesday. The new Dakota will go on sale this fall, offering the only V-8 in compact truck segment. It gets brand-new sheetmetal and a new fully boxed frame, new front and rear suspensions and a pair of V-8 engines. Dodge says the new Dakota is 3.7 inches longer and 2.7 inches wider than before, and retains its 7000-lb towing capacity. The standard engine is a 3.7-liter Magnum V-6 with 210 horsepower; a 4.7-liter V-8 has 230 horsepower and the new High Output Magnum V-8 will sport 250-plus horsepower, Dodge says. The Dakota will only come as a four-door: in Club Cab configuration the doors are rear-hinged, and in the Quad Cab front-hinged. Dual-stage front airbags and an occupant-sensing system for the passenger-side front airbag are standard, while side-curtain airbags are an option.

New Tacoma Key for Toyota

2005 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner

2005 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner

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Toyota plans to hold on to a big chunk of the compact pickup truck market by building four separate versions of the Tacoma.  The sportiest of the four-models, the Tacoma X-Runner, was unveiled Wednesday during the press previews at the Chicago Auto Show. Compared to the previous Tacoma S-Runner, the X-Runner will ride on a wheelbase that has been extended by more than  five inches and widened by  four inches, which also translates into an extra 4.5 inches of interior shoulder and hip room,  Esmond said. The four-door X-Runner will also come with 240-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 engine with 275 lb-ft of torque and a six-speed manual. A factory-warranted supercharger system that boosts output to 300 horsepower is optional. X-Runner hardware includes eighteen-inch wheels, large diameter stabilizer bars, and stiffer bushings, with ground effects, a hood scoop, and fog lamps to complete the package. Esmond, however, said after the press conference that the X-Runner is only part of the Tacoma story for the 2005 model year. The X-Runner is the low-volume piece of the Tacoma roll-out. “We’ll probably do only 2000 or 3000,” Esmond said. But three other versions of the 2005 Tacoma are also in the works, Esmond said, including a the standard B-cab version, an access cab and an extended-cab version. Toyota has sold compact pickup trucks in the United States for 40 years, Esmond noted, and it now has 21 percent of the segment, selling roughly 154,000 in 2003. The goal is boost total Tacoma sales to around 175,000 units in 2005, added Esmond. The Tacoma is vital to Toyota because it attracts the youngest buyers of any Toyota-brand vehicle. “Like no other vehicle in our lineup Tacoma has held the anchor position in attracting large numbers of young  buyers to the Toyota family,” Esmond said.  Scion is aimed a very young and very urban and very influential segment of inside Generation Y, he noted. “It is however,  only a small portion of the Gen-Y pie. The larger portion of the pie is comprised of a more traditional — more mainstream — consumer. And that’s the portion that we will target with the all-new next-generation Tacoma,” he said. —Joe Szczesny

Mercury Montego Gets A Crossover Sister

2005 Mercury Montego

2005 Mercury Montego

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Ford showed the Mercury Montego sedan in the metal Wednesday and announced it will build a Ford Freestyle-like crossover sister for the Mercury.

Look for grille and interior similarities to the Montego and Mountaineer and Mariner SUVs in the new crossover, which is yet to be named. The odds are good however it will start with an “M.”

The Montego, like the Ford Five Hundred and Ford Freestyle, has an all-wheel-drive option courtesy of Volvo, though standard Montegos will be front-wheel drive. The Montego is powered by a 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 engine, with a six-speed manual transmission standard and a CVT transmission available. Ford officials believe more than 50 percent of sales volume with be with the CVT, because of early complaints by journalists and even some of its own engineers that the 3.0-liter Duratec is underpowered. One Ford official said the company was planning powertrain upgrades by the third year of production at the latest.

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