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2006 New York Auto Show 4x4s - Wheels Of Empire

Posted in Events on August 1, 2006
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Detroit and Chicago may grab the biggest auto-show headlines, but the New York International Auto Show is the longest-running car expo in the U.S., having been in business since 1900. Each April, manufacturers, media, and the public converge on the Javits Center in midtown Manhattan to gawk at the latest OEM concepts, prototypes and production units for the upcoming model year. As with the city itself, the New York show has something for everyone, and this year's exhibit was no different for us. Here's what we found amidst the new iron on display in the Empire State.

You saw it here first, up close and technical (June '06), but the new Wrangler Unlimited's official coming-out party took place a few weeks later at the Javits Center. Naturally, the wacky wags at DaimlerChrysler couldn't unveil a vehicle such as the Unlimited in the usual manner, so members of the media were handed plastic ponchos and herded into bleachers facing a massive mound of dirt outside of the convention hall ("you might get wet," we were warned, despite the unseasonably warm and sunny weather). A few minutes later, DCX Executive VP for Sales and Marketing Joe Eberhardt (pictured) hailed a truckful of New York firefighters to assault the dirt pile with high-powered hoses, and a few minutes later, voila! one memorable (and muddy) debut. Mechanically, the JK is as we described last month-new 3.8L 205hp V-6, six-speed manual or four-speed auto transmission, NVG transfer case with either 2.72:1 or 4.00:1 "Rock-Trac" low-range, coil-spring/multilink suspension, and 255/75 (32-inch) Goodyear Wrangler tires turning 4.10:1-geared Dana 44s (if you get the Rubicon package with selectable lockers; a Dana 30 front is standard). It'll be another couple of months before we can get our hands on an Unlimited for testing, but as soon as we can, you'll read about it here.

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When we spied the first-gen concept of this vehicle a year ago, we assumed Jeep was thinking of reviving the Cherokee brand, but apparently they've got other, more ambitious plans for this compact 'ute (can anybody say, "RAV4-fighter?"). Based on the same Dodge Caliber passenger-car platform as its sister Compass, the front-wheel-drive Patriot shares much of the same componentry-2.4L 172hp "World" four-cylinder engine, four-wheel independent suspension, and brake traction control. Where it differs, though, is in its electronic four-wheel-drive system. Dubbed "Freedom Drive" by Jeep, the system comes in two levels: "Freedom Drive I" (also found in the Compass) utilizes a locking center coupling in its continuously variable four-speed transaxle (CVT2) to transfer power to both front and rear wheels when "4-Lock" mode is selected by the driver. The Trail-Rated "Freedom Drive II" system uses the same coupling, and recalibrates the CVT transaxle to provide a 19.0:1 crawl gear when "Low" mode is engaged; FD II-equipped Patriots also come with full skidplating, tow hooks, and optional 215/60-series (27-inch) Goodyear Wrangler SRA tires that help provide 9 inches of ground clearance (fairly good), a 31-degree approach angle (semi-good), and a claimed fording depth of 19 inches (we'll find out how good). We'll post more detailed specs as they become available, but for now we're asking ourselves: Should a Jeep without a transfer case be invited to our Four Wheeler of the Year test, even if it is Trail Rated and has a pseudo-low-range gear?

No mystery faux-wheeling here-the new Sorento will be available for '07 with an honest-bygawd transfer case with a genuine low-range gear. The Sorento will offer two electronic drive modes: either full-time "Torque-On-Demand" four-wheel drive, which automatically detects wheel slippage 200 times per second and transfers torque as needed, or a part-time, knob-actuated system; additionally, the solid rear axle will sport a standard Eaton limited-slip (not a Gov-Lock, please!). Propelled by a new 3.8L 262hp V-6 and five-speed manumatic trans, the 106.7-inch-wheelbase Sorento boasts double-wishbone/coil-spring suspension up front, a five-link rear, and 29.5-inch Michelin tires. Traction control and tire-pressure monitoring are both standard. Judging by the overall panel fitment and the quality of interior materials we saw on the display vehicle, the new Sorento would appear to mark another quantum leap in refinement and build integrity by an automaker that has come a very long way in a very short time. It could well be a sleeper in our 2007 Four Wheeler of the Year test, and we'll pass along more info on this intriguing little 'ute as we find out more about it.

What to do when you're an automaker whose entire vehicle line consists of petrol-gorging SUVs? If you're Land Rover, you start working on "Land-e," a new line of energy-saving hybrid technologies that could make their way into Rover vehicles within a few years' time, and this display at the Land Rover booth spelled out some of the highlights. Among the features under development: Seamless Prop-Shaft Reconnect, which looks to cut mechanical losses by disabling power to the rear wheels when front-wheel drive would be more efficient (e.g., highway cruising); Electric Rear Axle Drive, which can supplement engine power to provide additional torque for off-pavement use but which can provide stand-alone power to the rear wheels when needed (idling on pavement); and Power-Shift, which replaces the transmission torque converter with dual clutches for seamless shifts and improved efficiency. Land Rover posted record sales in the first quarter of 2006, so it's good to see that the chaps in Solihull aren't resting on their laurels and are still looking to improve the performance of their already-refined products.

There's a reason the photo is so dark. Tucked away in a very dim corner of the Javits Center, Suzuki execs unveiled the newest version of the XL-7. A joint venture with General Motors, the new X drew raves from the press for its sleek and aggressive stance, and a look at the spec sheet had our mouths watering: brand-new 3.6L 250hp V-6, five-speed Aisin manumatic trans (with 4.68:1 First), four-wheel independent coil suspension, and estimated mpg of 24 highway. We've long held this versatile and budget-friendly ride in high esteem-we had one in our long-term test stable last year-and we were itching to testdrive the new version. Unfortunately, we learned, the X lost its transfer case during the redesign and is now but a lowly all-wheel-drive. Then again, with only 7.9 inches of ground clearance and a whopping 17.5 degree approach angle, perhaps ditching low-range was all for the best. The oil pan must surely be grateful to be spared the rigors of hard-core trail work.

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