There are few things in this world that can get us to trade in our warm and sunny SoCal digs for a trip to Michigan in winter, but for some things we'll make the exception. One of those is the annual North American International Auto Show, which is the premier Auto Show in all of North America, with major announcements flowing by the hour. Cameras in hand, we descended on the show floor to get the first looks at the newest vehicles and concepts, while draining our pens to record all of the press conference highlights. We took shots, slammed hoods, and quizzed marketing folks to bring you the best coverage in four-wheel drive.
The coolest concept at the show was Ford's Super Chief that hints at the next generation of Super Duty trucks. Ford designers found inspiration in the elegant passenger trains and Art Deco locomotives of the 1930s. This styling theme is carried through to the interior, which has innovative features and luxurious appointments not expected in a pickup truck. With a tri-fuel (gas/E85 ethanol/hydrogen) supercharged V-10 engine, the Super Chief gets 12 percent better fuel economy, 99 percent fewer CO2 emissions in hydrogen mode, and gets a remarkable 500 miles between fill-ups.
For us, the most significant new vehicle unveiling was the all-new 2007 Jeep Wrangler JK. Everything, including the wheel bolt pattern, is different. The weary 4.0L OHV I-6 has been retired, replaced by the 3.8L OHV V-6 from the minivan line, mounted longitudinally for the first time and putting out a respectable 205 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. A trick hardtop allows the roof panels to be removed in sections, and the hardtop doors feature power windows and locks now.Half doors are still available, and the windshield still folds down. The interior is a major improvement over the TJ, and the Rubicon version loses the Goodyear MT/Rs in favor of BFG Mud-Terrain T/As and gains a Power Wagon-style front disconnecting swaybar. It may be bigger and more refined, but it is still every bit of what you would expect from Jeep.
Basically a sneak peek at the '08 Tahoe Hybrid (also available as a GMC Yukon), this should be the first fullsize SUV hybrid vehicle to market. Using GM's new Dual Mode hybrid system (co-developed with BMW and DaimlerChrysler), the already class-leading Tahoe is expected to see another 25 percent jump in fuel economy. Using an ingenious drivetrain that combines a Vortec V-8 engine and electric motor with Active Fuel Management in the same space as a conventional drivetrain, the Dual Mode system could be applied very easily across the truck line. Being new to the full hybrid game, GM also had a display to help illustrate how this new technology works in its vehicles.
While it was officially shown as a concept, not much fanfare was made about the diesel-powered Grand tucked in the corner. We can tell you that this vehicle is a production reality, and the technology will be shared across DaimlerChrysler brands. The Bluetec Grand features the world's cleanest turbodiesel engine, with emissions so low, it can pass the most stringent emissions standards in the U.S., including California, making this powertrain available in all 50 states.
OK, so it is a Jeep car with no low-range, but at least it has all-wheel drive and a center locking diff. Jeep is positioning the Compass to appeal to those who want a car, but need a little extra capability to get to the ranch on an icy or muddy road. For those of you who think that Jeep is going the wrong direction with its products, we realize the Jeep brand is a business and needs to sell cars, and we are OK with it as long as they continue to produce truly capable machines, such as the Jeep Wrangler. And just remember that the more of these car-based Jeeps they sell, the more R&D money there is for killer Wranglers down the line.
For a cool $120,000, you too could have a Kodiak 4x4 outfitted like this one, on display in Detroit. A perfect mix of long-range comfort and heavy-duty capability, this is the rig for all your toy hauling needs. Of course you could skip most of the flashy options and get one for a pretty reasonable price, since Kodiaks start at $41,096 and one very well equipped for the consumer buyer is around $75,000. Brubaker is already lobbying for one for next year's Four Wheeler of the Year test.
Replacing the G-Wagen in Mercedes-Benz's lineup, the new GL-class will become the brand's premium four-wheeler. Designed to conquer its class with excellent handling, accommodations, and safety, the GL-class pampers seven with class-leading luxury and performs with a range of new V-6 and V-8 engines. A state-of-the-art seven-speed automatic transmission is complemented by a two-speed transfer case with 2.93:1 low-range, center and rear diff-locks, and air suspension. We'll see how well it performs in the dirt in a future test.
Surprisingly, Ford spent its energy reengineering the Sport Trac before bringing out a much-needed new Ranger pickup, which last we heard wasn't due until model year 2010. Regardless, the Sport Trac is a vehicle far superior than the one it replaces. Now truly based on the Explorer frame and sporting four-wheel independent suspension, the Sport Trac should be one of the best-riding and best-handling SUTs on the market. Four-wheel drive and a 4.6L V-8 are options.
GM fired off the next salvo of GMT900 introductions with the long-wheelbase GMC Yukon XL, Chevrolet Suburban, and Cadillac Escalade EXT triplets. The long-wheelbase versions gain 20 inches over their short-wheelbase counterparts and are about 19 feet long, adding nearly 10 inches of third-row legroom. The big haulers get the same uplevel interiors, aerodynamic improvements, and overall refinements as their little brothers.
Sure, there isn't a two-speed transfer case to be seen in this photo, but we felt it was something worth showing anyway. We'll let you decide where the true beauty of this photograph lies.