New for 2005 & 2006
Get Consumer Reports' take on more than a dozen of the most notable vehicles.
The big news from the recent auto shows is that manufacturers are
aggressively overhauling their lineups and that consumers might
benefit from this modernization in terms of safety, fuel economy,
and interior flexibility.
Ford is introducing three new sedans and phasing out the dated
Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable. Volkswagen is replacing the Jetta
and Passat with revamped models. BMW is updating its 3 Series lineup
with some powerful new engines.
A wave of hybrid vehicles is being introduced, including four new
sport-utility vehicles, from Ford and Toyota.
And the automakers are still searching for that sweet spot at the
juncture of wagons, minivans, and SUVs that appeals to a wide audience.
Mercedes-Benzs seven-passenger R-Class luxury wagon, the Mazda5
mini-minivan, and Chevrolets HHR retro wagon are examples
of the different approaches taken.
Here we juxtapose the company line, or the manufacturers
information on notable introductions, with CRs take
based on our auto experts initial observations, insights,
and experience. Look for full road tests of many of these models
in future reports.
Fusion/Mercury Milan/Lincoln Zephyr
The company line: This trio of midsized five-passenger
sedans go on sale in--2005. The Ford and Mercury versions
will offer a 160-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder or a 210-hp,
3.0-liter V6 engine; the higher-priced Lincoln will have
only the V6. The four-cylinder can be mated to a five-speed
manual or a five-speed automatic transmission; the V6
uses a six-speed automatic.
CRs take: All share a platform with
the Mazda6, which performed well in our tests. Ford will
be offering a family of Fusions, ranging from an $18,000
budget sedan, an all-wheel-drive turbo model in '06, and
eventually a hybrid.
The company line: A redesigned 3 Series arrives
in May with a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that
is rated at 255 hp, up 30 hp over the 2004 model. The
standard transmission will be a six-speed manual, with
a six-speed automatic optional. Its longer, wider,
and taller than the model it replaces.
CRs take: The 3 Series will have
a new generation of powerful engines. The frustrating
iDrive multifunctional control system will adorn only
cars equipped with the optional navigation system. The
outgoing model is a former CR Top Pick; it
will be hard to improve on such an excellent car.
The company line: The new SUV will feature a
rear seat that slides on rails to increase rear-seat
foot room or cargo space. Front- or all-wheel-drive
models are available.
CRs take: The Torrent shares the
same platform as the Saturn Vue and Chevrolet Equinox,
which we werent impressed with. They also tipped
up in government rollover testing. The Torrent gets
the coarse V6 that powers the Equinox and not the smooth,
powerful Honda-supplied V6 in the Vue.
The company line: The LR3-based SUV offers two
engine choices: a 300-hp, 4.4-liter V8 or a supercharged
390-hp, 4.2-liter V8. Land Rover says this will have
a sporting character.
CRs take: Range Rover is likely
feeling pressure from sporty SUVs such as the BMW X5
and Porsche Cayenne. Oddly enough, the company chose
to derive the Sport not from the Range Rover, but from
the newer LR3, which has a heavy body-on-frame platform
that doesnt lend itself easily to that goal.
The company line: The Pikes Peak concept vehicle
(shown) provides a preview of this new seven-passenger
SUV. Audi claims it will be capable off-road when it
arrives in 2006.
CRs take: The Q7 will share a platform
with the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg. It
will join the new Allroad raised wagon. Unlike the Touareg
and Cayenne, the Q7 wont have low-range gearing
for serious off-roading in order to reduce some excess
The company line: The new R-Class will be similar
to the Vision R concept vehicle (shown), and it will
share a platform with the redesigned M-Class SUV. The
vehicle features three rows of seating, with the rear
two rows foldable. The all-wheel-drive concept vehicle
is powered by a 302-hp, 5.0-liter V8 mated to a seven-speed
CRs take: Since the new M-Class
will not offer a third-row seat, Mercedes buyers wanting
room for more passengers must opt for the more expensive
R-Class. Like the Chrysler Pacifica, the Vision Rs
three-row seating configuration provides room for only
The company line: The redesigned IS should go
on sale in -- 2005 and will feature new styling, optional
all-wheel drive, and a choice between two V6s.
CRs take: This second-generation
2006 IS should be roomier than the previous version
and may compete better against the BMW 3 Series. Eventually,
the sedan will be followed by a coupe, a convertible,
and a wagon.
The company line: The base model uses a 210-hp,
3.7-liter V6 mated to either a six-speed manual or four-speed
automatic transmission. A 4.7-liter V8 engine is also
available. Extended- and crew-cab body styles will be
CRs take: The Raider is the fruit
of another one of Mitsubishis joint ventures with
DaimlerChrysler with a name borrowed from the old Dodge
Raider SUV. The truck itself is only a thinly disguised
Dodge Dakota--however, the Raider will be backed by Mitsubishis
The company line: The new Passat will feature new
engines and a roomier cabin. On sale late in 2005, it
will offer features such as automatic distance control
and headlights that can rotate to illuminate around a
CRs take: With the Jetta gaining
in size, the new Passat will emphasize luxury. Unlike
the 2004 version, which has a longitudinal engine, the
new Passats transverse engine should provide for
a roomier interior.
The company line: The five-passenger wagon will
come with a 140-hp, 2.2-liter or a 170-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder
engines. Both a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic
transmission are offered. The split rear seats fold to
create a flat floor.
CRs take: Chevrolet doesnt
credit the Chrysler PT Cruiser as an inspiration for this
model, but it probably is. Like the PT, the HHR may enjoy
hot sales initially, which could quickly fade once the
nostalgia wears off.
The company line: The next wave of hybrids comes
to the small and midsized SUV categories. In addition
to the Ford Escape Hybrid, released in fall 2004, the
Lexus RX400h, Toyota Highlander, and Mercury Mariner are
all entering the market for '05 and '06. The vehicles
promise better acceleration and fuel economy than their
CRs take: In addition to saving
money at the pump, newer hybrids provide quicker acceleration
than their conventional counterparts. The Toyota and Lexus
models, for example, should provide V8 performance with
V6-like fuel economy.
The company line: The six-passenger minivan is
designed to combine sporty driving with the cargo versatility
of a large sport-utility. The second- and third-row seats
can be folded into a near-flat floor or arranged in different
CRs take: Based on the excellent
Mazda3, the Mazda5 will be smaller and less expensive
than conventional minivans, much like European-style microvans.
But unlike European vans, the Mazda5 will have two sliding
rear doors like the conventional minivans.
The company line: The Sky is a two-seat convertible
slated to go into production early in 2006 as an 07
model. Powered by a 2.4-liter, 170-hp four-cylinder engine,
its expected to start at less than $25,000. The
Sky will be one of the first vehicles to feature the new
Saturn grille design.
CRs take: The Sky is based on GMs
promising new Kappa platform, which is also the basis
for the upcoming Pontiac Solstice convertible. It will
provide Saturn with an affordable rear-wheel-drive roadster,
similar in concept to the Mazda Miata.
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