2004 Detroit Show, Part IX

January 6, 2004

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

2006 Lexus GS

2006 Lexus GS

2006 Lexus GS

Jim Press, the head of U.S. Lexus operations and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales USA Jim Press revealed the 2006 Lexus GS sport sedan, which forges a new design direction for Lexus described as sculptural and more passionate.

While the basic shape and dimensions of the new GS are very similar to those of the outgoing car (it’s only a half-inch longer than the outgoing GS, with a two-inch-longer wheelbase), the new GS looks very different from the outgoing car, foregoing its Giugiaro-influenced styling in favor of a swoopier shape and softer edges on the outside. The interior has been reconfigured for a more airy feel, and seating — a frequently criticized aspect of the outgoing car — has also been redesigned.

The new GS will be powered either by a 300-hp, 4.3-liter V-8 carried over from the current GS or a new 3.0-liter V-6, making 245 hp. An all-new close-ratio, sequential six-speed automatic with manual mode will be offered with either engine.

Also featured on the sport sedan will be a new version of the company’s stability control system, called Vehicle Dynamic Management (or VDM). Lexus touts the system as better in anticipating handling problems or situations where it will be needed, making the system much less obtrusive than the VDC system that precedes it. And, although components are made by Denso, development of VDM was done completely in-house. For the first time, the GS will be available with a full-time all-wheel drive in addition to the rear-wheel-drive models.

Press estimated annual sales at 24,000 to 30,000 per year, about on par with the current car. Considering the all-wheel-drive option, that seems like an easy target.

2005 Lexus RX400H

2005 Lexus RX400H

2005 Lexus RX400H

Lexus also introduced the production version of its gasoline-electric hybrid SUV, to be called the RX400H. Appearance changes are minor on the outside, barely hinting at the hybrid powertrain within. Tail lamps are an LED design, while the front air intake is larger.

The hybrid RX has an all-new battery with double the power of that in the Prius, while its electric motor can operate at 12,000 rpm — double the speed of the motor in the Prius. For short bursts, the 3.3-liter V-6 combined with the permanent-magnet motor can provide 270 hp, delivered through an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT). The RX hybrid will be the first vehicle offering the division’s VDM (vehicle dynamic management) system, combined with electronic braking.

The RX400H promises a 0-60 acceleration time of under eight seconds, with substantial gains in 30-50 mph passing performance where the hybrid system posts the strongest advantage. The SULEV-rated hybrid will offer a driving range of more than 600 miles, and fuel economy is expected to be better than the current EPA average for four-cylinder compact sedans. Production and sales volumes have not yet been announced. —Bengt Halvorson

Rolls Royce Promises Surprise

A year after the introduction of the new Rolls-Royce Phantom at 2003’s Detroit show, company chairman and CEO Tony Gott reported that after a slower than expected ramp-up the company is now up to a production rate of several cars per day. R-R has produced 481 Phantoms so far, Gott said, with most of those made in November and December and 300 delivered by the end of the year. Each Phantom takes 260 hours of labor to assemble, many times more than a typical mass-market vehicle. Beginning in calendar year 2004, Gott said that the company’s goal of 1000 cars per year is in reach.

The North American market remains the most important for the company, with about a half of all sales. Rolls-Royce North America president Jim Selwa pointed out that the way that the Phantom caters to the driver has helped sales, as fewer than five percent routinely have a chauffeur drive their car. Typical buyers hold in excess of 30 million in worth, excluding their home.

Selwa commented to TheCarConnection.com that the big surprise so far has been how many young buyers they’ve had. For a brand that just a few years ago was considered the domain of stodgy retirees, the Phantom is finding a new generation of 35- to 45-year-old buyers who’ve made it big on real estate or Wall Street, said Selwa, who also pointed to an unexpectedly popular reception in youthful, trendy, very wealthy areas like South Beach Miami. The strongest regions for R-R sales remain New York, Florida, and California.

2004 promises to be a big year for Rolls-Royce, as it marks the 100th anniversary of the partnership between Rolls and Royce. The automaker will be a major sponsor of both Goodwood and Pebble Beach — two of the most upscale car events — this year, and executives hinted to look out (car-wise) for some special ways of commemorating the occasion. —Bengt Halvorson

2004 Kia Spectra

2004 Kia Spectra

2004 Kia Spectra

Kia’s new-generation Spectra four-door compact gets a longer wheelbase, a wider track and more horsepower, as well as six airbags with full-length side-curtain airbags, and four-wheel disc brakes for its 2004 reinvention. Its new platform gives the Spectra a longer wheelbase and more interior room (97 cubic feet) and trunk room (12.2 cubic feet) than in the last version. A new 2.0-liter DOHC engine incorporates continuously variable valve timing, and makes 138 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is standard, an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission is optional. The Spectra LX has standard AM/FM/CD audio, tinted glass, and a rear window defroster; the EX adds air conditioning, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, heated power outside mirrors and front fog lights. in showrooms in late spring. —Marty Padgett

2005 Chrysler Crossfire Convertible

2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster

2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster

Chrysler says its 2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster will arrive in dealerships this spring. Powered by the same 3.2-liter V-6 found in the Crossfire coupe, the convertible is available with a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. The soft fabric top stows beneath the hard tonneau after 22 seconds. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Program and all-speed traction control are standard. Pricing hasn’t been announced. —Marty Padgett

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

With a 15-inch stretch, the Jeep Wrangler becomes a lot more useful as the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, according to Chrysler. The 2004.5 model adds 13 inches to its cargo area and two inches to second-row leg room. The wheelbase on the Unlimited is ten inches longer than the stock Wrangler, which translates into more leg and knee room while adding towing ability — up to 3500 lb — and maintaining a 20-degree breakover angle. The Unlimited’s sole powertrain is the 190-hp 4.0-liter in-line six, here mated to a Dana 30 front axle, a rear heavy-duty Dana 44 axle, shod with 30-inch tall R15 Goodyear Wrangler GSA tires and 15-inch Ravine aluminum wheels, and outfitted with high-pressure gas-charged shock absorbers with a 3.73 axle ratio, fog lamps, and tow hooks. The Unlimited’s standard Sunrider soft top sports a rollback roof panel that’s the cloth equivalent of a 45x23 inch sunroof. An available hard top has as standard equipment a rear defroster and back glass wiper and washer. The Unlimited launches in the spring. —Marty Padgett

2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible

2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible

2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible

The 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible will retail for $19,995, not including $590 in destination, Chrysler says. The PT Convertible will come in three trim levels: the PT Cruiser Convertible sports a 150-horsepower 2.4-liter engine with a manual gearbox, power convertible soft top, and a rear glass window with electric defroster. The Touring edition has as an option a 180-hp, 2.4-liter turbo four, and comes standard with a CD player, cruise control, and a price tag of $22,900. The Convertible GT model uses the 220-hp version of the turbo four, plus anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, low-speed traction control, leather seats, side air bags, an AM/FM stereo with CD and cassette player and driver and front passenger side air bags, all for $27,565. —Marty Padgett
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