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Dodge's Magnum SRT-8 concept foreshadows the styling of future Chrysler group LX sedans.

A number of notable worldwide and North American vehicle debuts took place in the city of angels before the show opened for public attendance January 4 - 12.


DaimlerChrysler began the 2003 auto show season by unveiling the Dodge Magnum SRT-8 concept. Like the early 1960's-era muscle cars from Dodge, the Magnum sports a powerful 430-horsepower HEMI V8 engine with rear-wheel drive. However—unlike those cars of the '60s—this Magnum has plenty of utility, including all-wheel drive and lots of cargo space. Although the Dodge Magnum SRT-8 is currently a concept vehicle, Chrysler officials said a production version similar to the concept will go on sale in 2004 with the Magnum name. They also noted this concept provides a strong hint at Chrysler's next generation of rear-wheel-drive "LX" vehicles.


Ford's L.A. unveilings had a definite environmental slant, with new products designed to save fuel and keep emissions to a minimum. The Escape Hybrid's gas-electric hybrid powertrain is expected to deliver 35-40 miles per gallon while providing power comparable to a current 200-horsepower V6. The new SUV will meet California's Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) certification when it goes on sale later this year.

Ford also introduced the Focus PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicle). "The new Focus PZEV is a technological breakthrough that delivers real-world environmental benefits without a single compromise for its owners," said Dave Szczupak, Ford Motor Company vice president of powertrain operations. "This super-efficient engine meets California's stringent partial zero emissions standard while delivering lively performance from a larger-displacement powertrain with enhanced torque," he noted.

Less environmentally friendly but undoubtedly more fun is the Supercharged Thunderbird concept car. Powered by a 3.9-liter 390-horsepower supercharged V8 engine, the concept was created to gauge consumer interest in a high-performance version of Ford's retro two-seat sports roadster.


BMW introduced an all-new Performance Package for its popular 330i sedan. Created exclusively for the American market, the new package enhances both performance and handling. Modifications to the 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine bumps the horsepower up to 235 and, for the first time in a 330i, a six-speed manual transmission will be standard. The Performance Package also adds a new sports suspension and 18-inch wheels with mixed-size performance tires. The benefits of the new package are immediately apparent: acceleration to 60 mph happens in just six seconds, half a second faster than the standard 330i. Production of the 330i Performance Package will begin in March 2003, with the first cars arriving at showrooms in April.

The German automaker also debuted a special edition of its flagship Z8. The ALPINA Z8 replaces the roadster's 'M' engine with a special performance version of BMW's standard V8. The ALPINA's V8 produces 375-horsepower (vs. the standard 394), but it does so at a lower rpm, which allows the engine to be teamed with an automatic transmission. The special Z8 also features 20-inch wheels, up from the standard 18-inchers. ALPINA plans to build only 555 Z8s. Of those, approximately 450 will come to the U.S. beginning later in January.


Although it has been on sale in Europe and Asia for several years, the rally-inspired Lancer Evolution never made it (legally) to the United States. That changes for 2003, and now we get to experience this high-performance sedan. Powering the Evolution is a highly refined 271-horsepower turbocharged and intercooled version of the engine that has powered every version of the Lancer Evolution sedan. The U.S.-specification Lancer Evo features a full-time all-wheel-drive system utilizing a viscous coupling center differential and a limited-slip rear differential. Large Brembo brakes provide stopping power. The Lancer Evolution begins rolling into showrooms in February 2003.


The GTO name hasn't been on a Pontiac since 1974, but the "Goat" returns in 2004. Still called a show car when it was unveiled at the Los Angeles show, the new GTO is based on the Australian-built Holden Monaro. A 340-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 will power the new rear-wheel-drive GTO, teamed with either a 4-speed automatic or a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission taken from the Corvette Z06. The new sport coupe is expected to reach 60 mph in a mere six seconds. Production of the 2004 Pontiac GTO is scheduled to begin in September 2003 at Holden's Elizabeth plant. Up to 18,000 GTOs will be produced annually.


Scion is an all-new youth-oriented brand from Toyota, designed for the "next generation of new-car buyers." The first two models to wear the Scion name were unveiled in Los Angeles. The xA is a muscular 4-door hatchback with numerous storage bins, including an illuminated translucent compartment in the center cluster as well as hidden under-floor storage in the cargo area. The xA's interior has a metal-tone instrument panel and sporty black-on-white gauges.

The xB—a production version of the bbX concept shown at last year's New York Auto Show—features square styling and roomy interior. Front-seat occupants get sport seats, while the second row can fold flat in a 60/40 configuration or can be removed altogether. Removing the rear seats and spare tire provides a completely flat floor for hauling cargo. Both the xA and xB feature a 108-horsepower VVT-I engine, and they go on sale in June exclusively in California. A nationwide rollout will coincide with the launch of a third Scion model in the spring of 2004.

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