2004 Nissan MaximaClick to enlarge picture

Power is a big trend at this year's auto shows. The 2004 Nissan Maxima comes with 260 horsepower and some 250 lb-ft of torque from its 3.5-liter V6.

Yes, inside the auto show halls around the country, the newest vehicles are all about "more." It doesn't matter if you're looking at the replacement for the popular Lexus RX 300 sport-utility vehicle, the new Maybach ultra-luxury sedan or Mercury's new minivan, the Monterey. Shoppers will find that automakers this year are offering them more than they did before.

Here are highlights:

More Power

Almost anywhere you look across the auto show floors, you're going to find more horsepower, more torque and sometimes, more displacement.

The 2004 Lexus RX 330, the spring replacement for the RX 300, has all three. A new 3.3-liter V6 provides 230 horsepower for the RX 330, up from 220 horses in the current RX 300 with a 3.0-liter V6. Torque in the new RX is 242 lb-ft at 3600 rpm, up 20 lb-ft from the current model.

Sounds impressive? Go over to Nissan's display and see the 2004 Nissan Quest. This new-for-summer minivan has 230 horsepower, too. Its 3.5-liter V6 is larger than the 170-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 that was in the last Quest, which was retired after the 2002 model year.

Power is the story for the nearby Nissan Maxima sedan, too. The new-for-spring, 2004 Maxima comes with 260 horsepower and some 250 lb-ft of torque from its 3.5-liter V6. And for a real appreciation of power and how to get it from the fewest cylinders, mosey over to Subaru.

There, the 2004 Impreza WRX STi has a spirited 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, all generated from a 2.5-liter turbocharged and intercooled four cylinder. Due in showrooms in summer, the 2004 STi will be available only in limited numbers of 4,000 to 5,000 annually.

Of course, if you're hankering for some real power, it's difficult to beat the 543-horsepower, hand-built, twin-turbocharged V12 in the new Maybach. Sales in the States begin before summer.

And no one who sees it can forget Cadillac's Sixteen, a concept unveiled at the auto show in Detroit. The oh-so-sleek coupe with classic Cadillac styling cues has a 1,000-horsepower 13.6-liter V16 engine. Sorry, though, this one's just for show. Cadillac officials say they have no plans to put the engine into production.

More Doors

There's no need to feel hemmed in by the new vehicles at this year's shows. Innovative doors can be found on several new models.

The Chevrolet Cheyenne is a full-size pickup truck with four doors for the cab plus a door built into each side of the cargo bed, right behind the cab. What a nifty idea. Too bad GM officials say the Cheyenne is just a production possibility at this point.

Doors are big on the Nissan Titan, too. This first full-size pickup from Nissan was shown in King Cab version in Detroit with clamshell-style side doors where the rear-hinged section gets a new, two-stage mechanism. This allows the smaller, rear-hinged door to open first at the traditional 85 degrees and then articulate back to nearly 180 degrees, so the door rests close to the truck body for an even wider opening. The Titan is due out before the end of calendar 2003.

Mazda's RX-8, in showrooms by summer, is one of the cars with rear-hinged doors. They allow easier access into the back seat of this rotary-engine performer.

And the new Rolls-Royce Phantom has big rear-hinged doors, too, for the back seat. And for rainy climes, an umbrella stores neatly in the door. Deliveries of this plush, $300,000-plus sedan start in summer.

More Luxury

With all the new luxury models coming out at this year's auto shows, you'd think the boom era for the economy was still going on.

Besides the Rolls and Maybach, auto show goers can view Mercedes-Benz's new E-Class flagship, which was unveiled at the Chicago auto show. Company officials say the 2004 model, due out in May, is the fastest production Mercedes ever, with a 469-horsepower supercharged 5.5-liter V8. Torque is 516 lb-ft and can power the E55 AMG from standstill to 60 miles an hour in just 4.5 seconds. Only 2,000 are expected on these shores each year.

Aston Martin's DB AR1, also called the American Roadster 1, is a real looker and goes into production in August. A 435-horsepower 6.0-liter V12 provides the power. Note there's no roof, just some sort of tonneau cover for when the car has to be parked in the rain. Only 99 DB AR1s will be built.

BMW's Z8 roadster has a new look, courtesy of Alpina—the maker of performance BMWs for the connoisseur. Only 450 Alpina Z8s are due in the States. They don't have a BMW M engine, as other Z8s have had. Rather, the powerplant here is a 375-horsepower 4.8-liter Alpina V8, and it's mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

More Features

With a premiere at the Geneva Motor Show early in 2003, the redesigned Mercedes-Benz CLK Cabriolet offers a fabric top that—get this—opens and closes by remote control. It's not the only remote device debuting in new models.

When it arrives in showrooms late this year, the restyled 2004 Chevrolet Malibu will be the first car to offer a factory-installed remote starting system. It will let drivers start their vehicles from inside their homes, thus giving them a welcoming warm car interior on bitter cold winter days. The system, which can be activated from 200 feet away, also cools down the car interior on hot summer days.

Meantime, check out all the features in the 2004 Toyota Sienna, due in showrooms in spring. There are 60/40 split-folding rear seats that also fold into the floor, a rearview camera to help drivers see obstacles when backing up, run-flat tires and laser cruise control that helps maintain a set distance between the Sienna and the vehicle in front of it.

Safety features, especially side-curtain airbags, are going to be appearing in more vehicles, too. For instance, Acura's newest sedan, the 2004 TSX due in April, has the curtain bags as standard equipment. They are in addition to standard side airbags that are installed on the sides of the front seats.

And all-wheel drive is very nearly becoming an every-vehicle feature. Toyota offers it on the Sienna for the first time.

Mercedes-Benz announced it will begin offering its 4MATIC system, where power is delivered to all four wheels, on every one of its model classes this year. The news came as Mercedes unveiled its 2004 E-Class Wagon, due in showrooms this fall. The E-Class Wagon comes standard with 4MATIC.

Don't miss the Chrysler-branded vehicle with all-wheel drive—the 2004 Chrysler Pacifica. Mitsubishi's 2004 Endeavor is available with all-wheel-drive, too.

More Room

For the most part, new models unveiled at U.S. auto shows this year continue the decades-long trend of growing larger. The RX 330 is 6.1 inches longer, 1.1 inches wider and nearly an inch taller than its predecessor.

And Chevy's 2005 Equinox, which was shown in Detroit, will be out in early 2004, replacing the entry-level Chevy Tracker sport-utility vehicle. You guessed it—the Equinox is larger. In fact, the 112.5-inch wheelbase of the new four door vehicle will be the largest in the class, according to the automaker.

In May, Volkswagen adds its largest vehicle to showrooms. The 2004 Touareg, looks like a tall station wagon but is billed as a sport utility. Meantime, Toyota's new Sienna is 6.5 inches longer, 3.9 inches wider and 1.6 inches taller than its predecessor.

Ann Job is an automotive journalist and writer for T&A Ink media group.

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