Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Trucks/SUVs Get Even More Car-Like In 2007

As if to blur the distinction between truck/SUVs and cars, automakers are driving deeper into the comfort zone with their work and off-road vehicles in 2007.
With crossover being the vehicle buzzword that also aptly describes buying habits these days, the more a manufacturer’s truck or SUV does double duty as powerful workhorse and comfortable family vehicle, the more likely it is to attract buyers. Throw in some new technology that boosts fuel economy and that truck or SUV starts to look even more attractive.
If anything, 2007 is shaping up to be a watershed year for trucks and SUVs. Attracting and holding consumer attention in this segment of the auto industry is more challenging than it has been for the last decade.
In the showroom, many buyers had been purchasing trucks or SUVs and using them as though they were cars. But the auto industry is seeing that dynamic shift towards actual car purchases. They are responding with trucks and SUVs that are even more car-like. Take a look at some of what’s new in trucks and SUV’s and see for yourself.
One of the grand-daddies of the SUV family, the Chevrolet Suburban has gotten a complete makeover this year and has added a new engine to the lineup that employs a fuel-saving variable displacement system called Active Fuel Management to automatically shut down four cylinders while cruising on the highway.
The engine, a Vortec 5.3 liter V8, is standard in the half-ton series of Suburban. Highway mileage improves to 21 mpg. The LTZ version adds head-curtain side airbags in all rows.
The Suburban chassis has been redesigned to give a better ride and improve handling, too. Pricing starts at $37,760 for the LS. Entry point for the LTZ is $47,035.
The smaller Chevrolet Tahoe has gotten a similar makeover.
Chevrolet has scored big this year with the Silverado, winning both the prestigious North American Truck of the Year and Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year awards. The truck has gotten a completely new frame that improves handling and ride comfort. Side-curtain airbags are available as well as Active Fuel Management and GM’s StabiliTrak electronic stability control.
The WT (Work Truck) version of the Silverado is priced starting at $18,750 but there are so many variations of the model including crew cab versions that its easy to spend over $35,000 to get exactly what one wants.
Chrysler has introduced the Aspen for 2007 to go toe to toe with the Cadillac Escalade and the Lincoln Navigator. It’s available with either the huge 4.7 liter, 235 hp V8 engine or the humongous 5.7 liter, 335 hp Hemi V8 that employs cylinder deactivation to improve overall fuel economy.
“It’s the first full-size SUV that Chrysler has had,” noted Ed Pimentle, business manager at Hiller Co. Chrysler-Dodge in Marion. “It’s more of a luxury SUV.”
The Aspen really goes the route with high-end standard equipment including rear parking sensors and tire pressure monitoring but holds the line on entry level pricing at $31,490. Even with the Hemi option in the 4x2 version, the Aspen can attain 20 mpg on the highway. Other luxury features such as remote start, heated seats, navigation system and power liftgate are options.
At Dodge, the green light is on for environmentally friendly upgrades. Start with the Dakota pickup which adds flex-fuel E85 capability to the optional 4.7 liter V8 engine.
E85 is a fuel mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline that many in the auto industry anticipate will be readily available in the next few years. Many gas stations already pump a mixture of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. Flex-fuel vehicles automatically adjust for the changing fuel mixtures to obtain maximum performance.
This year, the Dakota also adds a very useful dual position tailgate and spiffs up the interior with stain resistant fabric. Pricing starts at $19,780.
The Dodge Durango, which has seen a significant redesign for 2007, offers a fuel saving multi-displacement cylinder shutdown system with the optional 5.7 liter Hemi engine that can muster up 20 mpg on the highway. The smaller 4.7 liter V8 is E85 capable as in the Dakota.
Electronic stability control is now standard as well as side airbags. Bucket seats are available for the second row with heat. It’s best in its class for cargo storage behind the second row of seats, too. All told, the Durango can comfortably carry up to eight passengers and otherwise has numerous seating configurations. A base model with a 3.7 liter V6 engine is priced from $27,055.
Completely new at Dodge this year is the 5 passenger Nitro. This midsize SUV is clearly aimed at younger buyers with it’s “Loaded With Adrenaline” marketing tag. Off-road, the full-time four wheel drive should easily live up to the hype especially when coupled with optional 20 inch wheels.
Power in the base model Nitro is delivered by 210 hp, 3.7 liter V6. A bigger 4.0 liter V6 is available. Pricing begins at $19,885.
In that youthful vein, Honda has perked up the Element with an additional 10 hp, boosting the performance of its sole 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine to 166 hp. The uniquely square-ish looking crossover SUV has also added a hip new SC version that has a monochromatic finish, sport suspension and 18 inch wheels. The 2WD entry level LX model comes in at $19,495. The SC is priced from $23,290.
Meanwhile, the popular Honda CR-V has gotten a complete redesign for 2007. Sleek on the outside and polished on the inside, in all categories this crossover SUV shows refinements – safety, comfort, style and performance.
Stability/traction control and ABS are standard. But that’s just the start to a long list of standard features that enhance this vehicle’s comfort level: power windows & locks, adjustable steering column, cruise control, map lights, a tachometer, air conditioning with air filtration. The list goes on. It’s priced from $21,195.
The four-door Honda Ridgeline pickup has also tweaked its level of refinements with passenger safety and comfort features including front seat side airbags with occupancy detection, side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors and rear seat heater ducts. Entry level price is $28,395.
The all-new Mitsubishi Outlander adds a hot new crossover to the 2007 lineup of SUVs. The featured-loaded vehicle belies its compact design.
Fuel consumption is maximized with variable valve timing and a six speed transmission; an electronic stability system controls brakes, engine output and 4WD to stabilize the vehicle when it detects skidding; a Bluetooth mobile phone interface with voice recognition facilitates hands free phone use; ABS brakes ensure safe stopping. All this and it’s priced from $19,990.
“People have gotten away from truck-styled SUVs,” explained Alan Hollis, sales manager at Executive Mitsubishi in New Bedford referring to the Outlander. “The new crossover SUVs are built more like cars.”
The Outlander LS will transport up to five people. The XLS version can transport seven. An available rear-seat DVD entertainment system can keep those passengers entertained.
Ford has added its own crossover SUV – the Edge - to the burgeoning list of quasi-cars now available. It’s a five passenger vehicle that offers higher sight lines than the typical car yet manages fuel with car-like economy. EPA estimates give the Edge 27 mpg on the highway.
Boldly styled and sharp-looking, the Edge offers a unique two-part panoramic glass roof as an option that will lets the sun shine in for front and rear passengers. With the back seat down, cargo space is an ample 69.6 cu. ft. Power derives from a new 265 hp, 3.5 liter V6. Pricing starts at $25,995.
This is just a start. There are lots more trucks and SUVs out there in the showrooms with new features that will impress. Go have a look.

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