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We attended the first press day at the 2002 New York Auto Show, wrote some notes from the floor using computers graciously provided by PR Newswire, and then immediately were hit by a succession of out-of-town guests and an inane amount of work. Therefore, it took a while to get this page up and running.
First, the real news - to nobody's surprise, the turbocharged version of the PT Cruiser showed up, only a little while after the turbo-2.4 engine (long used in Mexico, and presumably adapted to the US primarily for the Cruiser) was unveiled for use in the short-run, long-time-away Dodge SRT-4 and, maybe, just maybe, [we suspect Mercedes-based] Dodge Razor.
The announcement for the "PT Cruiser turbo" was made in a by-the-way manner, and it was not referred to as a GT Cruiser - but, on the rear hatch, were the letters "GT." That, and a small silver plate announcing "2.4 turbo" on the other side of the hatch, were the only exterior indications that this was indeed a GT Cruiser. That should give all other PTs an image boost when the GT Cruiser goes on sale - sometime around January, we believe.
Full PT Cruiser Turbo details are at ptcruizer.com - click here to visit.
The Neon and Ram SRTs were both present, with a Viper engine sitting on a stool for your perusal. The Neon / Dodge SRT-4 looks better in person, but we still prefer the original front clip, thank you.
The Chrysler Pacifica is officially called a sport tourer, and Chrysler was careful to show that it is a true category-buster, not simply another reshaped wagon or minivan. The design team leader told us that, while it has a rear suspension design similar to the Mercedes E-Class, few if any parts are shared. In addition, unlike the concept, few parts are shared with minivans. The design team leader told us (even when pressed) that the Pacifica, as it now stands, had little in common with any other car produced by the DaimlerChrysler empire, aside from the engine.
The Pacifica generated much excitement, though quite a bit of it seemed to come from BMW Car Club members - who may have seen quite a bit of X-5 in the lines of the Pacifica. Powered (as we wrote earlier) by a 3.5 liter V6 "from the 300M," the Pacifica is surprisingly attractive in person. The wheelbase is right between the short and long minivans, and other dimensions are very similar to the Grand Caravan. In person, though, it looks more like a tall car.
The Pacifica's interior is completely different from any other Chrysler vehicle, and combines elegance, practicality, and room for telematics - indeed, a navigation system will be available from the outset. The version on display featured all wheel drive, though reportedly a front wheel drive version will also be available. Strips of wood - real or false, we couldn't tell - accent well defined doors and the dashboard. The navigation system does not dominate the car.
The few minivan style touches included a movable (we think) center console, and rear controls for ventilation and audio functions. The rear hatch moves up and down under power, just like it does in the Caravan, and we would be surprised if the all wheel drive system did not also borrow from the Grand Caravan.
The instrument panel was not visible on our vehicle - we tried putting the lights on, but the panel remained dim, presumably to prevent competitors from getting a preview. The Pacifica will not be available to the public for one full year. However, the controls and center stack all seemed sensibly designed and attractive to look at. Seat controls are on the door, where they are easier to locate. The appearance throughout the interior is surprisingly subtle and pleasant (surprising only because Audi's Freeman Thomas was let loose in the Chrysler design studios).
Pricing was very deliberately not announced, though the figure $24,000 has been airing (probably for the base model, with two wheel drive) and the number $35,000 was heard (probably for the model we saw, with all wheel drive, DVD system with roof-mounted screen, and other goodies.
Photos are at our Pacifica page, which will soon be updated with full specs and pictures.
No mention was made of the Rams during the Chrysler presentation, which was made as a mock trial whereby competitors accused Chrysler of not making segment-busting vehicles, and press kits were given out in "evidence bags" (actually antistatic bags useful for holding computer parts). We were also issued a "summons to appear" via e-mail which we found annoying, given our prior contacts with various Chrysler legal people, but which probably didn't scare other recipients.
The heavy duty Ram, though, was right at the entrance to the show floor, and its engines were out on display. The "Hemi Magnum" and Cummins turbodiesel were both featured. Our view of the truck was blocked from all but one angle, so that is the photo we've provided. Both of the following photos are the Hemi.
We did think Chrysler did a cool job on the mud-covered, rising-from-the-mud Durango, though we wonder why that one wasn't across the walkway in Jeep territory.
It seems that every manufacturer is now making some sort of crossover vehicle, and also something that looks vaguely like an Audi TT. There's the Chrysler Crossfire, for one, which we were told by Chrysler PR's Anne Smith would be a standard production vehicle - not a limited production, but produced to the full extent that the market would bear. But TT-like vehicles seemed very common, along with the usual small car-SUVs.
(As the former PR person for small cars, Anne also told us that she had heard nothing about the rumor reported by Automotive News that the Neon had come back to Chrysler. This bit of news cheered many people up, since it seemed to indicate that Chrysler would not merely be a way to boost production of key components used by Mitsubishi and Mercedes. Alas, that was not the case. It will indeed be based on the next-generation Lancer, with Dodge's role being limited).
We also noted the Toyota/Pontiac Vibe, essentially a Corolla wagon with no attempt to differentiate the interiors at all (though the Pontiac version had a different front clip).
Ford had two new alternative fuel vehicles, one being the new mid-sized fuel cell vehicle which will reportedly go on sale within one year - we believe using a gaseous feed (e.g. natural gas), with the tank in the trunk. Another vehicle looked remarkably like the concept cars Chrysler was producing nearly ten years ago, like the Java - right down to the matte-finish plastic body panels. This one would use electric power as a city car, and appeared ready for production. The fearsome Mitsubishi Evolution was also on display, along with a range of rather ugly GM concepts and the H2, which, indeed, is hard to mistake for a Jeep.
Overall, an interesting show. We came away with the impression that everyone wants to make the Audi TT - we can't figure out why - and only Chrysler hired the TT's designer, much to our chagrin; that Mercedes overcharges ruthlessly; that everybody has some sort of car-based-SUV in the works or on the road; that Chrysler's going to get clobbered in the minivan market when the new Quest and Sienna appear; and that Chrysler's going to get truly and royally clobbered in cars when the next performance and nonperformance vehicles from GM and the Asians show up. GM is almost sure to have a car with doors opening from the middle (front door opens normally, back door opens the other way 'round, as in truly classic luxury cars) - and if GM doesn't, Mercedes will. Nearly everyone has clever navigation systems, including Chrysler in the Crossfire. GM is really coming back big time, and Toyota has finally addressed the size of its cars with a Corolla that's nearly as large as the Neon - sportier looking than the 2001 Corolla - and a Camry that reaches for the Intrepid.
The 2002 New York Auto Show was exciting, exhausting, and in many ways depressing - we can't help but feel that the momentum of the early 1990s is long gone, and Chrysler seems to have slowed down while everyone else is speeding up. On a high note, perhaps Chrysler will once again ride on the strength of its engines.
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