2004 Detroit Show, Part VII

January 5, 2004

2004 Detroit Auto Show Coverage (1/4/2004)


Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Sedan and Wagon

Although it’s been on sale in Japan since May, Subaru took the wraps off its next-generation, more upscale Legacy sedan and wagon for the U.S. The two, which will soon go on sale, offer a 250-hp, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed turbocharged four-cylinder engine with Active Valve Control (variable valve timing). Standard Legacys will still offer a 168-hp, non-turbo 2.5-liter flat four. Power is delivered through either a five-speed manual or new five-speed automatic transmission, and through Subaru’s proprietary full-time all-wheel-drive system. A leather-trimmed MOMO steering wheel is standard, and the trim inside (Subaru calls it a “true grand touring interior”) is significantly more detailed and upscale than the last-generation car.

The new Legacy adds even more standard features on the safety front, like side-curtain airbags and active head restraints, and gets a new ring-shaped frame structure that greatly stiffens the body and enhances crash protection, while an aluminum-alloy hood (and tailgate for wagons) and longer wheelbase help lower the center of mass and give a more stable ride. Expect a completely new version of Subaru’s Legacy-based Outback to be unveiled later this year. —Bengt Halvorson


Honda Accord Hybrid for ‘04

After a very robotic introduction (thanks to ASIMO, the company’s demonstration robot), Takeo Fukui, president and chief executive officer, emphasized that the Honda is sharpening its focus as an engineering and technology company, mentioning the ASIMO and, more seriously, its new business jet, as examples. “We have no interest in being followers,” he declared.

Fukui emphasized that the company intends to stay with its light-hybrid Integrated Motor Assist system, with reasons including its relative simplicity to a full hybrid system, easier adaptation and packaging in a wide range of models, and its more transparent operation to the driver.

Honda will install the IMA hybrid system on its Accord sedan beginning late this calendar year as a 2004 model, allowing the fuel economy of a Civic with more power than a 240-hp, V-6 Accord, said Fukui. More details will soon be announced.

Also, beginning this fall, Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) will debut on some of Honda’s V-6 engines, improving overall fuel economy by allowing models so equipped to operate on three cylinders in light load and cruising conditions.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Fukui also announced that Honda has finished development of its first fuel-cell stack engineered completely in-house. A new version of the automaker’s FCX fuel-cell car equipped with the new Honda FC unit — said to offer increased performance and some packaging advantages — will be revealed in calendar year 2005. —Bengt Halvorson


2005 Nissan Frontier

2005 Nissan Frontier

2005 Nissan Frontier

“Bigger, bolder, better,” and fitting in with the new Titan and a complete vision of a Nissan truck line, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn introduced the new 2005 Frontier pickup as an important next step in the company’s still-ongoing product renaissance.

Available in King Cab or Crew Cab bodystyles and two- or four-wheel drive, Frontier grows significantly larger in nearly all dimensions inside and out — including nearly ten inches in wheelbase — while still maintaining the maneuverability of a compact truck, Nissan says, and brings many of the same fine details of the larger Titan pickup. A fully boxed ladder frame allows impressive ground clearance and ruggedness for off-roading and heavy loads. An electronic-locking rear differential allows improved off-road traction. And of course, it brings the Titan’s upright chrome grill and upscale rugged looks.

Perhaps most importantly, the new Frontier upgrades to a new 4.0-liter DOHC V-6 engine, making a minimum of 250 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Though it’s based on the 3.5-liter VQ-series engine that’s in most of the Nissan lineup right now, the new engine is tuned specifically for truck service. Five-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmissions are in the works. A base two-wheel-drive-only model will still be available with a base four-cylinder engine. With the full frame and heavy-duty suspension, the V-6 Frontier allows a towing capacity of 5500 pounds or more. A Utili-track system allows cargo flexibility thanks to movable cleats, a feature borrowed from the full-size Titan.


2005 Nissan Pathfinder

2005 Nissan Pathfinder

2005 Nissan Pathfinder

The new 2005 Pathfinder, also shown on the stand with the Frontier, though built on the same full-frame “F-Alpha” platform as the Frontier, will offer a double wishbone front and rear suspension for improved ride characteristics. With a third-row seat, there’s room for seven in the Pathfinder, and the second and third rows fold flat, allowing for easy stowage of skis, ladders, or furniture. Nissan boasts 64 different seating and cargo combinations.

Both two-wheel-drive and automatic four-wheel-drive versions will be available. Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) will be an option, as will side-curtain airbags to help provide added rollover protection. Other options will include a DVD-based navigation system and Bose MP3-compatible audio system.

In both the Frontier and the Pathfinder, the interior takes on an appearance that’s more upscale than most other vehicles in their class, and seating looks to be significantly upgraded. Both vehicles will be built at Nissan’s existing Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant and will go on sale late in calendar year 2004.


New Xterra on the way

An all-new Xterra, which converts to the same platform (called F-Alpha) as the new Frontier and Pathfinder, will be introduced at April’s New York show, Ghosn confirmed. —Bengt Halvorson



Mazda MX Micro Sport

2004 Mazda MX Micro Sport

2004 Mazda MX Micro Sport

The new kid on the Mazda block was the diminutive MX Micro Sport. Based on the European-market Mazda2, the Micro Sport adds a little more character and angularity to the basic small-car shape—and, dare we say, it looks both fresh and a little retro, harking back to the more upright angles of some popular hatchbacks of the 1980s. The hatchback, powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, rides on big 17-inch wheels and teases with racing- and tuner-oriented styling cues. Special attention has been paid to seating comfort, with enough space for adults front and back, Mazda says.

Although the Micro Sport is officially a concept, Mazda’s U.S. marketing chief Stephen O’Dell confirmed that the trendy little hatchback closely mirrors a car that “will go on sale in a major market this year.” Whether that market is North America rests to be seen, but O’Dell segued into talk about the Micro Sport after talking about how fast Mazda is going to rejuvenate its U.S. lineup, and with the confirmed U.S. success of Scion’s small cars, the Micro Sport would probably serve well to bolster Mazda’s zoom-zoom lineup.


Scion tC

2005 Scion tC

2005 Scion tC

After reminding us that Gen Y will buy one fourth of all new cars by 2010 and 40 percent by 2020, Scion head Jim Farley revealed the production version of the tC, a hatchback touring coupe based on the European-market Toyota Avensis and geared specifically for the under-35 crowd. The tC is powered by a 160-hp, 2.4-liter, all-aluminum in-line four with variable valve timing, paired with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The coupe is quite economical, too, returning a combined 24 miles per gallon. Big 17-inch alloy wheels are standard. A dealer-installed supercharger package, available soon after launch at a modest price, will boost power to about 200 hp.

The division is anticipating for the finicky tastes of younger, educated buyers, who generally hate mass-market luxury features like faux wood and plasticky leather, offering a meticulously detailed interior with soft-touch controls and specially textured finishes. A full-length panorama moon roof brings a distinctive appearance from the back in addition to brightening up the interior. Interior component gaps are nearly on par with those in the new Toyota Solara, a considerably more expensive car, and sound-deadening materials are on par with those of much more expensive cars.

The car will be built at the Tsutsumi plant in Japan, and Toyota/Scion expects about 25,000 tCs to be sold in the U.S. in calendar 2004 alone. That’s more than it sounds, considering that the tC won’t go on sale until June, but if the price is as low as we anticipate (starting well below $20k) we suspect Scion will have no problem moving as many tCs as it can build.

Scion also garnered some attention with its xB Release Series 1.0, the first Scion Release Series special edition. Series 1.0 has a special Hot Lava orange paint job, an orange powder coated strut brace, a tuner-look billet grille, and black seat fabric with orange highlights. Only about 2100 units of version 1.0 will be made, and all of the future special editions in this series will be limited to a volume of a few thousand vehicles per edition, so Scion will offer an exclusive appearance and equipment package for only about $1000 more than the base vehicle price.


Hyundai HCD-8

2004 Hyundai HCD-8 concept

2004 Hyundai HCD-8 concept

Hyundai’s U.S. president and CEO Bob Cosmai explained that, despite a lackluster year overall for the industry, things are still really looking up for the brand. Hyundai has seen a 343-percent growth in sales volume since 1998, and still expects to break 500,000 units in 2006. Especially important to meet this goal is the company’s new Alabama plant, its first in the U.S., where the 2005 Sonata will be built beginning in March 2005, with the all-new 2006 Santa Fe SUV following nine months later. And the new-model roll will continue for years. Later this year, the production Tucson SUV will be introduced, followed by an all-new Sonata and XG350 in 2005 and an all-new Accent, Santa Fe, and minivan in 2006 and even more new models in 2007.

In the past year, Hyundai and Kia opened a design/tech center, called the Hyundai Kia Design and Technical Center, in Superior Township, Mich., and the automaker will also soon have a California City, Calif., test track ready.

The new HCD-8 concept car is the first to come from that new joint design and technical center. While this is just the latest in a long line of sporty concepts (mostly coupes) Hyundai has shown in since 1992’s HCD-1, it promises to be the closest to production yet, and based on comments made on the stand it will likely be based on the platform of the next-generation Sonata. Going to production, the HCD-8 could spawn a new Tiburon, or, if softened a bit, a Sonata coupe (both the Tiburon and a new Sonata coupe are due in 2007).

Shown in a pale Ballistic Yellow with Vapor Gray leather interior, the HCD-8 adds nickel-finished aluminum trim, wood trim, and wood flooring. The “sports tourer” is powered by a supercharged, 2.7-liter V-6 that makes about 250 hp, paired to a six-speed manual transmission. Cosmai said that the HCD-8 is designed to appeal to “…the youthful-minded buyer who’s passionate about transportation,” though a quick look at the nicely detailed HCD-8 also hints that Hyundai hopes to move upscale, too.

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