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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-Benz’s seven-passenger R-Class luxury wagon, the Mazda5 mini-minivan, and Chevrolet’s HHR retro wagon are examples of the different approaches taken.

Here we juxtapose “the company line,” or the manufacturer’s information on notable introductions, with CR’s take based on our auto experts’ initial observations, insights, and experience. Look for full road tests of many of these models in future reports.

Midsized five-passenger sedan.
Ford 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.
CR’s 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.

BMW 3 Series.
BMW 3 Series
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. It’s longer, wider, and taller than the model it replaces.
CR’s 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.

Pontiac Torrent.
Pontiac Torrent
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.
CR’s take: The Torrent shares the same platform as the Saturn Vue and Chevrolet Equinox, which we weren’t 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.

Land Rover Range Rover Sport.
Land Rover
Range Rover Sport
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.”
CR’s 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 doesn’t lend itself easily to that goal.

Audi Q7.
Audi Q7
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.
CR’s 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 won’t have low-range gearing for serious off-roading in order to reduce some excess weight problems.

Mercedes-Benz R-Class.
Mercedes-Benz R-Class
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 automatic transmission.
CR’s 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 R’s three-row seating configuration provides room for only six people.

Lexus IS.
Lexus IS
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.
CR’s 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.



 

Mitsubishi Raider.
Mitsubishi Raider
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 offered.
CR’s take: The Raider is the fruit of another one of Mitsubishi’s 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 Mitsubishi’s longer warranties.

Volkswagen Passat.
Volkswagen Passat
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 bend.
CR’s take: With the Jetta gaining in size, the new Passat will emphasize luxury. Unlike the 2004 version, which has a longitudinal engine, the new Passat’s transverse engine should provide for a roomier interior.

Chevrolet HHR.
Chevrolet HHR
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.
CR’s take: Chevrolet doesn’t 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.

Lexus RX400h.
Lexus RX400h
Mercury Mariner.
Mercury Mariner

Hybrid SUVs

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 conventional versions.
CR’s 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.

Mazda5.
Mazda5
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 positions.
CR’s 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.

Saturn Sky.
Saturn Sky
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, it’s expected to start at less than $25,000. The Sky will be one of the first vehicles to feature the new Saturn grille design.
CR’s take: The Sky is based on GM’s 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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