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2006 Detroit Auto Show

NAIAS Provides a Look at Creative Cars

by Jessica Howell

Multi-hued lights splashed across an array of dazzling stages and live music thumped rthymically, barely audible over the collective roar of foreign languages — all tinged with the unmistakable and universal tone of excitement.

Nearly 7,000 journalists gathered for the 2006 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), held in Detroit, to view the newest and hottest vehicles for 2007, as well as sneak a peek into industry engineers and designer's minds with a look at this year's most creative concept cars.

ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine was front and center to absorb the action, marvel at mechanics, drool over amazing design, and report back to you, the readers. There's plenty to share since the show staked claim to over 60 new model debuts. Read on for a list of what we found to be the highlights of NAIAS 2006:

Chrysler Aspen

Chrysler debuted their first SUV, the full-size Aspen, self-dubbed the 300C of SUVs. The Aspen, which seats eight, offers an innovative Multi-Displacement System that saves on fuel economy. Under the hood you can expect to find none other than the famed HEMI engine, touting 335-horsepower, as an option. With premium features and plenty of safety amenities like ParkSense and ESP standard — Aspen makes a smart new choice for SUV buyers. Look for the Aspen to hit dealerships in Fall 2006.

At it's world debut the new compact five-door Dodge Caliber made a big impression. Starting at around $14,000, Caliber is a an entry-level crossover that sports traditional Dodge styling and offers a multitude of standard features such as standard side-curtain airbags. Attempting to redefine the compact car market, Dodge will begin selling the Caliber in Spring 2006.

Jumping on the bandwagon, Ford introduced its own crossover SUV vehicle, Edge, to delighted audiences. With smooth lines, optional panoramic glass roof and fastback hatch, Edge has a sleek profile and boasts the new three bar grille that runs on Ford Fusion. Powered by a 250-horsepower V6, Edge has improved fuel economy and seats five. Designed with the modern driver in mind, the crossover is complete with a laptop-sized console to store your personal computer. The Edge will hit dealers in Fall 2006.

Also on the Ford stage was the new Mustang Shelby GT500, co-designed by legendary Mustang designer Carroll Shelby and the Ford Special Vehicle Team. With bold panel racing strips and a supercharged 5.4 V8, the Shelby GT500 offers 475-horsepower in both coupe and convertible and will be available Fall 2006.

Hyundai Santa Fe

Combination SUV and mid-size sedan, the all-new 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe was unveiled, built on a new platform and seating seven in a first-time optional third-row. Available in a V6 and V8 (both with reduced fuel consumption,) Santa Fe upgrades horsepower while improving standard safety features and adding luxury details. You'll be able to see the new, upscale Santa Fe in dealerships by Summer 2006.

Traditional Jeep Wrangler has proven itself once again. This time by driving its new 2007 model out of a glass window at COBO Hall, home to Detroit's NAIAS. Out the window, down the street, up the stairs and onto a rugged constructed mountain, the all-new Wrangler showed off its all-terrain capabilities. With a stiffer frame, longer wheelbase and larger wheels, this Wrangler dominates its predecessor. A new three piece modular hard top is available on the 2007 model, set to arrive Fall 2006.

The 2007 Jeep Compass takes its brand in a whole new direction, aimed at buyers who make their trek through an urban jungle. Traditional Jeep styling lends Compass round headlamps, a seven-slot grille and a bold and sculpted exterior. Inside, Compass lengthens its list of safety features and seats five. Available in both front and four-wheel drive, look for Compass in Summer 2006.

Look for the all-new Kia Optima this spring. With more space, more horsepower and more standard features, it's a new midsize sedan that offers a nice package for the price tag. Standard features have been added — such as six airbags, active front head restraints and a tire pressure monitoring system. Also available will be a V6 with dual exhaust.

The 2007 MKX is Lincoln's response to the crossover epidemic. This new luxury vehicle self-catagorizes itself as a CUV — crossover utility vehicle — and seats five under a Panoramic Vista Roof. Powered by a 250-horsepower V6, MKX claims to offer Lincoln's quietest interior yet. No production dates have been announced.

A new crossover SUV is in the future for Mazda — the all-new 2007 CX-7 made its world debut at the NAIAS using the tagline, "the soul of a sports car." Seating five, the CX-7 offers practicality with a smooth yet bold appearance. This Mazda, offering 244-horsepower in a 2.3 Liter Direct-Injection Turbocharged engine has yet to set a sale date for 2006.

Mercedes-Benz debuted its all-new full size SUV, the 2007 GL Class, at NAIAS this year. A 7-seat luxury vehicle, the GL Class is slated to start selling in Spring 2006. Powered by a 335-horsepower V8, GL Class offers theater-style seats for seven, with a fold down second-row a third-row that collapses with the push of a button. Production is slated for Spring or Summer 2006.

Nissan Versa

The all-new Nissan Versa, a five-door hatchback, became Nissan's smallest car at it's NAIAS debut. Available in Summer 2006, the Versa will starts around $12,000 and provide a roomier cabin than its smallest size predecessor, the current Sentra. Five seats, improved fuel economy and an estimated 120-horsepower make Versa a practical choice. A sedan version is slated to appear in Fall 2006.

Longer, wider and taller than ever before, the redesigned Sentra has gone upscale this year. It includes more power, more room and more standard features than the '06 model along with a continuously variable transmission that improves fuel economy substantially. Expect a slightly larger price tag on the 2007 Sentra when it hits showrooms in 2006.

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