In the Wings: Chevy's in-your-face Avalanche, a macho-designed pickup-SUV that's a cross between a Suburban and Silverado, looks as if it roared off the set of a "Mad Max" film. The truck, coming in the first half of 2001 as an '02 model, is built off the Suburban's frame as a six-passenger SUV with what Chevy calls a "convert-a-cab" system: the rear window can be removed and the rear seats folded forward to extend the truck bed to 8 feet.
The '02 TrailBlazer, on sale in the spring of 2001, is all new from the ground up. It will have its own, larger chassis instead of sharing one with the S-10 pickup. It and its sibling trucks, the GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada, will be 9 inches longer, 5 inches wider and 5 inches taller than the Chevy Blazer, providing considerably more legroom and hip room to the five occupants. All three get an all-new 4.2-liter, 270-horsepower, all-aluminum power plant with twin camshafts, the first inline-6 in any GM vehicle in 17 years.
Consumers are already panting for the Chevy SSR, a sporty, V-8-powered pickup truck coming in late '02 as an '03 model. The SSR's hot-rod-styling, evoking the El Camino and American pickup trucks from the late 1940s and early '50s, is designed to break the auto maker's image for making only mainstream vehicles. The retro-look truck with a retractable hardtop will probably have a V-8, but other details won't come until next year.
New: Chrysler's PT Cruiser, which premiered in March as an '01 model, has been one of the most talked-about, most photographed and sought-after auto introductions in years, ranking right up there with Volkswagen's New Beetle. The PT's 1930s design, evoking a gangster getaway car--Chrysler prefers to call it "heritage" instead of "retro"--is nostalgic to oldsters and just plain cool to the younger set. It's a minivan-like space on a small-car platform with head-turning looks. The five-position rear shelf invites tailgate parties, and its snarling looks lend themselves to aftermarket customization, particularly of the painted hot-rod flames variety. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $16,000 to $20,000, but some dealers, smelling a mother lode--for now--have been charging premiums of several thousand dollars.
Elsewhere, the 2001 model year sees helpful cleaning up of Chrysler's smaller cars. There's an all-new Sebring lineup: coupe, convertible and now a four-door sedan, the former Chrysler Cirrus. All three Sebrings sport a signature egg-crate grille with chrome edging, matching the common look among Chryslers. Newly designed jewel-like headlamps are 25% brighter, and a new instrument panel features chrome-ringed white-on-black gauges for a sporty look.
The engines are a 2.7-liter, 200-horsepower twin-cam V-6 (which offers 32 more horses and is up to 10% more efficient than the 2.5-liter it replaces) and an inline-4 that's boosted to 2.4 liters and 142 horsepower; the coupe gets an optional 3.0-liter V-6 with 200 horses. Manual shifting in automatic models is mimicked with the coupe's AutoStick, which allows drivers to shift gears under full throttle and even skip gears.
Chrysler is synonymous with American minivans, a segment it created in 1983, and the thinking seems to have been "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The all-new Voyager and Town & Country minivans are completely redesigned for 2001 but aren't a radical departure from Chrysler's successful formula so far. There are, however, a number of touches: an industry-first power lift gate; removable center console; pop-up rear cargo organizer; three-zone temperature control; minivan-first 3.5-liter engine with 230 horsepower, coming in mid-2001; and a 6.4-inch liquid-crystal screen for the optional rear-seat entertainment system.
The upscale Town & Country, with extended wheelbase, adds such luxury touches as heated leather seats with programmable memory and an in-dash four-CD player. But Chrysler did not put in a third row of seats, a popular feature offered by General Motors, Honda and Mazda.
Changes: The LHS and 300M, essentially the luxury and sports versions of the full-size Concorde, get optional side air bags, standard three-point seat belts in the rear and an internal emergency trunk release.
The Rest: The Concorde gets minor updates.
Changes: Providing it survives its apparent bankruptcy and the attempts of the South Korean government and banking system to sell it to someone with money (Ford backed out after looking at the books, but General Motors and Fiat are still considering a joint bid), Daewoo will enter its third year in the U.S. market with steadily growing sales and a largely unchanged lineup. The exception is a sport version of its Lanos subcompact, the package consisting of a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a "ground effects" kit that adds side cladding and a rear spoiler.
The Rest: No changes to the compact Nubira or mid-size Leganza.