St. Louis Auto Show features 600 new vehicles

Friday, January 30, 2004

Show features 600 new vehicles

Remember the 1950s and 1960s when new cars came out each fall? I can remember the thrill of riding my bicycle down to the local dealerships to sneak a peak of their latest offerings. The dealers would cover their showroom windows with paper to build suspense leading up to new car introduction day. And customers were willing to stand in line to get a glimpse of a new Mustang or Corvette.

The modern version of new car introduction day is the auto show, and I traveled to St. Louis last week to attend the St. Louis Auto Show 2004. Over 600 new cars, trucks, vans, SUVs and several exciting concept cars were on display at America's Center and Dome. Here is a rundown of some of the new models available in our area:

Buick. Get ready for a new acronym. The newest offering from Buick is the Terraza crossover sport van or CSV. It compliments the Rendezvous and Rainier, which we reviewed previously. Anyone looking for seven-passenger capacity will find the Terraza interesting. Vans in the over-$30,000 category have been gaining in popularity, so it's only natural for Buick to offer its take on the luxury minivan. Terraza is expected to attract the attention of affluent married couples with children.

Chevrolet's Cheyenne full-size pickup concept vehicle features dual truck bed access doors, hidden storage bins beneath the floor and sidewalls and a dual folding tailgate that opens fully for quick access to the bed. The tailgate opens fully, or "half opens" for loading small cargo or to create a work shelf. The bed floor is just 28 inches above the ground, which should appeal to those of us who haul motorcycles, ATVs or lawn equipment.

Arriving this spring is another new Chevrolet, the Aveo. The Italian designed small car will be available as a sedan or five-door.

The SSR, a hot-rod pickup with a convertible hard top that holds down into a compartment behind the seats, also debuts this year.

Chrysler's new Crossfire is a racy two-seat sports coupe combining American design with a 215-horsepower Mercedes V-6 engine. The PT Cruiser is now available with a turbo-charged engine that should silence critics who have complained of a lack of power in the retro-styled vehicle. The Chrysler 300 is a full-size, rear-wheel drive luxury sedan, and the fastback sport-wagon version is named Dodge Magnum.

The new Dodge Ram SRT-10 is the most powerful and fastest production pickup ever, packing a 500 horsepower engine. It will do zero to sixty in just over five seconds, courtesy of it's gigantic 8.3 liter aluminum V-10 Dodge Viper engine.

Although Ford's newly redesigned F-150 is stealing the automotive headlines, Ford also wants you to know about its new crossover vehicle, the Freestyle, with all-wheel-drive, that combines the attributes of a sedan with the versatility of a sport utility vehicle. It can be equipped with third row seating for up to seven passengers. It shares common architecture with the new Ford Five Hundred sedan, debuting later this year. Ford is putting renewed emphasis on its cars, and has dubbed 2004 "the year of the car".

The all-new GMC Canyon midsize pickup truck replaces the Sonoma, and is available in three cab sizes. Also new is the Envoy XUV, featuring a revolutionary power sliding rear roof with an Avalanche-like midgate behind the second row of seats.

The big news from Honda is the upcoming Sport-Utility Truck, with four doors, and a pickup bed. I guess Honda finally got tired of seeing their motorcycles being carried around in Toyota pickups. Their new truck will have unit-body construction (like all other Hondas), an advanced 4-wheel-drive system, and the best safety technology Honda can build. No word on an introduction date.

Hyundai's XG350 is the luxury offering from the Korean manufacturer, and for 2004 offers revamped front and rear styling, upgraded interior trim and an Infinity sound system.

Kia has been in the American market for 10 years, and is thinking big. The all-new Amanti is their first entry in the large-car segment, and features luxuries such as power lumbar and dual-zone automatic climate control.

Mazda is going for speed this year with its all new four-door, four-seater RX-8 rotary powered sports car, and turbo-charged Miata convertible roadster. The RX-8's rear hinged access doors provides easy access to the rear seat, while the world's best-selling roadster -- Miata -- gets a long-awaited horsepower boost.

Mercury's upscale Monterey minivan puts Mercury back in the minivan business, while the Sable gets a freshened exterior.

Mitsubishi was displaying its new Endeavor and Galant models, which we have reviewed, and its new Lancer Sportback compact, which we will review soon.

Pontiac's big news is its modern version of its classic muscle car, the GTO. Boasting 350 horsepower from the same 5.7-liter engine found in the Corvette, it should reach 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds.

Saturn is also introducing a crossover sport van with SUV styling and abilities and the functionality of a van. Called "Relay", it will be the first Saturn to seat seven.

Suzuki welcomes the area's newest dealership -- Auffenberg Suzuki -- with two new models -- the Verona and Forenza. Verona is Suzuki's first entry into the midsize sedan market and features an inline 6-cylinder engine.

Toyota's Tundra Double Cab, featuring one of the largest beds of any full-size four door half-ton pickup, is available in two-wheel and four-wheel drive models. Prius, the gas-electric hybrid, produces more power from both the gasoline engine and the electric motor, enabling it to accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 10 seconds, while getting better fuel economy than the previous model.

I registered to win the show's grand prize, a pretty red 2004 Dodge Durango, and I'm still waiting for that phone call from St. Louis.

Steve Robertson of Robertson's Creative Photography is a car enthusiast and former staff writer/photographer for the Southeast Missourian.

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