Saturn Sky ConceptClick to enlarge picture

Saturn is known for its sensible small and midsize cars. In Chicago the company showed a fanciful convertible concept that changes from two seats to four.

You'd be wrong, of course. Calendar year 2001 marked the first time in history that the U.S. truck category—which includes SUVs and vans—outsold cars.

But that fact didn't stop major automakers from showcasing new car designs in the Windy City this year. They took the wraps off 14 cars that had never been shown to the public in North America before. This is more than double the number of all-new SUVs shown at the Chicago show. It's more than double the number of all-new trucks, too.

The Coming Spring and Convertibles

When you're in the Windy City, it's never too early to start thinking about spring.

So Mazda officials, who unveiled the original Miata roadster in Chicago in 1989, chose Chicago for the unveiling of their newest Miatas. The two new Special Edition (SE) trims come with a combination of appealing features such as a standard in-dash six-CD changer with a 200-watt Bose AM/FM/CD audio system with speed-sensing audio volume control. Other distinguishing features include a six-speed manual transmission, a chrome fuel filler door, custom 16-inch Enkei alloy wheels and exclusive Special Edition badging.

The Miata SEs come in only two colors: Blazing Yellow with black leather seats inside—the first time that black leather is factory-installed in a Miata—and Titanium Gray Metallic with brown leather seats. The SEs are slated for showrooms starting in March.

Mercury showcased a convertible version of its coming Marauder sedan and showed that, yes, a convertible can carry five passengers comfortably.

The open-air Marauder has the same 335-horsepower V8 as the hardtop car and, even better, the same 38 inches of rear-seat legroom. The 2003 Marauder sedan arrives in showrooms this summer, but there are no plans at this time to build the convertible.

Saturn, too, had a convertible in Chicago. Like the Marauder convertible, the Saturn Sky is a concept.

But the Sky has several novel features including an interior that can change from two seats to four and windshield glass that's colored a bluish tint to match the car body. The car is powered by a 180-horsepower four cylinder with a low-boost supercharger.

Pontiac Dominates New Car Showings

Pontiac was very busy in Chicago this year. Besides showing the restyled 2003 Sunfire, officials unveiled the 2003 Bonneville G/XP, which has a distinctly "customized" look with its lowered body, tinted windows and cladding-free sides. Even the Bonneville SSEi's supercharged V6 is worked over. With a K&N air filter system, Corsa Performance "cat-back" exhaust and an increased boost to the supercharger, the powerplant now generates 30 more horsepower, or 270.

"The G/XP is a visual demonstration of Pontiac's design direction, and hints at the potential design and performance direction of Bonneville," said Lynn Myers, Pontiac-GMC general manager.

She said much the same thing about Pontiac's G-Force that was on stage in Chicago. Based on a Grand Prix, the G-Force takes the Grand Prix's handling to a new level with a chassis, wheel and tire configuration designed to achieve .85G of lateral acceleration force and get the car to a top speed of 155 mph.

The 2003 Sunfire goes on sale this year, while Myers said the G/XP is slated as a specialty vehicle for sale next year. The G-Force isn't a production model but shows the trend for the next Grand Prix, which is a year away.

Performance and Mainstream Cars

Other new cars at Chicago included the 35th Anniversary Edition of Mercury Cougar due out in May, the redesigned Mercury Grand Marquis for 2003 and the 2003 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra.

Note this SVT model has the most power ever in a Ford-produced Mustang. Fitted with a Roots-type supercharger and water-to-air intercooler, the Cobra's 4.6-liter V8 generates 390 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque.

Saturn had its 2003 L-Series models on display with restyled exterior and freshened interior, while Mitsubishi talked up its new GTS trim level of the Eclipse and Eclipse Spyder.

Hyundai's HCD7 was a futuristic vision of a luxury sedan and was fitted with a 270-horsepower V8.

Meantime, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz brought concept cars to Chicago that had first been unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 2001. The Toyota pod looks sort of like a street sweeper but has colored lights that can convey a smile or sleepy eyes at the front of the car. The Mercedes F400 sports a novel suspension system that allows wheels to tilt, adjusting camber angle as you drive.

SUV News

New SUVs may not have been as numerous as the cars were at the Windy City auto show, but they still made news.

Jeep announced two new models. The Wrangler Rubicon is a low-volume model intended for off-road enthusiasts. It's outfitted with sturdy rock guards and an inline six-cylinder engine and lets a driver lock all four wheels at speeds under 10 miles an hour. The Rubicon is due in showrooms by early fall.

The Jeep Liberty Renegade is a restyled Liberty with roof-mounted light bar, colored wheels and new styled fender flares.

Kia announced it will add a second SUV to its line. The Sorento will be larger and more powerful than the current Kia Sportage. Equipped with a 192-horsepower V6, the Sorento will be offered in two- and four-wheel drive. Price wasn't announced, but the Sorento is expected in showrooms later this year.

Subaru showed its 2003 Forester, which arrives in showrooms in May with new styling and a larger interior, though exterior dimensions remain the same as they are in the current Forester. Power comes from a 165-horsepower four cylinder.

And Ford didn't exactly show a new SUV, but it released a sketch of the upcoming CrossTrainer. Headed for production in 2004, the CrossTrainer is destined to seat up to seven people while offering the attributes of an SUV and a sedan, company officials said.

Trucks Keep On Truckin'

Bragging rights were part of truck news in Chicago as Dodge showed its 2003 Ram heavy duty 2500 and 3500 models.

Officials noted the Ram heavy duty will be the most powerful heavy-duty pickup, fitted with the most powerful diesel engine on the market and a new 5.7-liter HEMI Magnum V8.

The Ram heavy duty also claims class-leading towing (Gross Combination Vehicle Weight Rating), payload capacity and interior room. Ram 2500 and 3500 models go into production in summer 2002.

General Motors Corp. also unveiled new 2003 trucks. The 2003 Chevrolet Silverado is restyled outside to bear more of a bold, family resemblance with the Chevy Avalanche and TrailBlazer. The interior is mildly redone.

Similarly, the GMC Sierra for 2003 is bolder in exterior look. GMC also showed its Terra4 concept truck that incorporates novel features such as a bed that's closed like a trunk and can be accessed either through the back or the side. The 285-horsepower V8 is mated to an electric motor, so fuel economy is improved 15 percent over a conventional truck, but without any loss of capability.

Nissan turned its attention to the sky in its compact pickup, showing the 2003 Frontier Open Sky. Due out in fall 2002, it will be the first compact truck in the industry with a power-operated, retractable top.

When open completely, the roof opening covers nearly five square feet. The Frontier Open Sky comes with a tubular-style roof rack, too.

Toyota unveiled a Tundra-based sport truck called the Stepside. Due out in October or November 2002, the model has a sporty stepside bed area and sport suspension that lowers it some four inches compared with a normal Tundra. The show truck in Chicago was finished in a brilliant blue.

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