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Ford steals show limelight

Drawing attention: The Falcon 500 will be spun off the Crosstrainer platform.

The last big US auto show of the year kicked off in New York with a new Ford sedan grabbing the spotlight

4 Apr 2002

By MALCOLM LIVERMORE in NEW YORK

A DRAWING of a new Ford sedan was the star of the New York auto show last week.

Called the 500, it will go on sale in the US in 2004.

It has a higher than normal seating position and will be powered by a new version of Ford's Duratec 3.0-litre V6 engine, mated to a six-speed automatic or continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

The 500's name comes from Ford's days of yore - as in Fairlane 500 and - of course - Falcon 500.

The latter name is relevant because the 500 is about the same size as Ford Australia's family car and is targetted at popular large sedans sold in the US, such as Toyota's Avalon.

The comparisons with Falcon do not end there either.

The 500 will be based off the platform Ford is using to develop the Crosstrainer seven-seat soft-roader, which will also be built in Chicago.

Here, Ford Australia is developing its own E265 soft-roader or cross-over vehicle which is due for release early in 2004. The all-new Falcon due around 2005 will be developed closely with E265 so there will be a high degree of mechanical cross-over.

But is there any links between the US and Australian programs? Absolutely not says Ford Australia's Louise Teesdale: "500 is a US product, it's a totally different platform to what we are working on and has nothing to do with us directly." At most, she conceded, there may be merest hints of future Falcon styling in the 500.

Ford had a real thing about traditional vehicles at New York, also revealing its Mach 1 limited edition Mustang and Police Interceptor based on the Crown Victoria, the only large rear-drive sedan left in its stable.

While Ford claimed many of the headlines, there was plenty of other interesting new vehicles unveiled. Here's the rundown:
Chrysler
THE PT Cruiser gets a power boost later this year with the introduction of the 2.4-litre turbo version, producing around 160kW.

The bad news for Australia is we are unlikely to see it, unless Chrysler Jeep Australia decides to do a local right-hand drive conversion.

To cope with turbo power, the 2.4-litre engine - used in US PT models in normally-aspirated form - has a redesigned engine cylinder block assembly, cylinder head assembly and crankshaft.

The engine is mated to either a five-speed manual Getrag transmission or a sequential manual four-speed called "Autostick".

Other changes include a sports tuned suspension system, performance exhaust with a large diameter chrome exhaust tip and 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels.

Chrysler also showed the production version of its Pacifica cross-over, which will go on sale in spring 2003 (our time) as a 2004 model. It will not be sold in Australia.

Ford
JUST as at Chicago in February, the biggest talking point on the Ford stand was not an actual car, but a drawing of one.

Then it was the Crosstrainer cross-over seven-seat wagon, this time it was a large sedan called the 500 that will be spun off the Crosstrainer platform.

It is interesting to note this plan has a lot of parallels with Ford Australia's own plans to develop the next all-new Falcon - due around 2005 - closely with the E265 cross-over which is scheduled for production in 2004.

The 500 is bigger than Ford's US sedan staple, the Taurus, and is designed to go head-to-head with Toyota's Avalon. It has a high SUV-like seating position and will use a new version of Ford's 3.0-litre Duratec V6 and also feature a six-speed automatic or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It is due for sale in 2004.

Ford design chief J Mays described its styling as a development of the Euro-look which first appeared with the Mondeo.

The 500 is one of the 20 new products Ford Motor Company will introduce each year across its brands in North America through 2005.

Ford also announced a special edition 225kW Mustang coupe called Mach 1.

Honda
THE boxy Model X appeared in production form as the Element, an appropriate name considering this is a vehicle designed specifically for the outdoor set, with a high degree of flexibility aided by side doors which are designed without a B-pillar and open from the centre.

It will be available in two-wheel and all-wheel drive, is based on Honda's small-car platform also used for the Civic and CR-V and has a 2.4-litre, 120kW engine. The Element goes on sale in the US before the end of this year.

Also making its production debut was the 180kW, 3.5-litre V6 Pilot, an eight-seat all-wheel drive first seen at Detroit in January in thinly disguised concept form. The Pilot will go on sale in the US in June.

Honda Australia says neither vehicle will make it to Australia, preferring to concentrate on the MD-X which is due here next year.

Isuzu
THE struggling Japanese off-road specialist revealed the seven-seat Ascender, which will replace the Trooper (Jackaroo here) at the top of its US model range.

Built in the same plant as the GMC Envoy, the Ascender has the same choices of engine power - a standard 4.2-litre, inline six-cylinder and an optional 5.3-litre V8, both mated to a four-speed automatic transmission and an on-demand four-wheel drive system with low-range gearing.

Considering its US target market, the Ascender is suitably huge with a 5.273m length, 1932.4mm width and 1917.7m height.

At the moment there is no word on whether it will come to Australia.

Kia
THE South Korean manufacturer chose New York to debut its updated Rio sedan and hatchback.

Engine power is boosted by almost 10 per cent courtesy of a change from a 1.5-litre to 1.6-litre powerplant, while both cars also receive new front-end styling. The sedan's rear-end is also reworked including a new bootlid, tail-lights and rear bumper.

Kia has also updated the interior styling and is also claiming NVH, suspension and braking improvements. Expect it here around November.

Land Rover
THE Discovery received Range Rover-style headlights as part of a minor makeover introduced at New York.

There was also a new grille, front bumper, tail-lights and interior colours and combinations.

Mechanically, Land Rover has added a centre locking differential but engine choice stays the same - V8 petrol or five-cylinder turbo-diesel.

Expect the updated Disco to arrive here in October.

Mazda
THE latest indication of Mazda's swing back to affordable performance was presented in the form of the Mazdaspeed Protégé, a turbocharged 2.0-litre 323 sedan producing about 130kW.

Engine development work was performed by US tuning guru Reeves Callaway - of HSV GTS300 fame - who claims a sub seven second 0-60mph dash for the little Mazda.

While we will not see the car here, Mazdaspeed could be the name for the Mazda family of high performance variants currently under development.

A hot version of the new Mazda6 is expected to be shown at the Paris motor show in September.

Nissan
THE resurgent Japanese manufacturer unveiled its take on the cross-over theme, the Murano.

Powered by a 3.5-litre V6 engine it shares with the Altima sedan, along with its platform, the Murano will go on sale in the US later this year and is being examined by Nissan Australia for possible sale here.

Intriguingly, the standard transmission for all Muranos will be a continuously variable transmission upmarket versions will offer a seven-speed stepped-gear mode. Stability control, adjustable pedals, active head restraints and 18-inch wheels will also be available when it goes on sale in the US.

Toyota
TOYOTA'S new youth brand, Scion, made its debut by showing off two previously seen concepts, the ccX and the boxy bbX. The latter, styled along the same lines as Honda's Element, is slated to become one of two Scion debut models in US showrooms.

Scion is expected to debut in California in June, 2003, then spread to the rest of the country within a year, adding a third model along the way. Toyota hopes the division will reach 100,000 sales annually by 2005.

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