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Chicago Auto Show
by Jim Bennett and Rick Smith

Like miners, we descended into the vast depths of the Chicago Auto Show, laden with high-tech equipment and now have emerged triumphant to bring you a sparkling harvest of road-hugging, head-turning gems.

We captured over 1,000 megabytes of digital information (over 600 pictures and movies) in two days at the show. We used five digital cameras; the Nikon 900S (see review), Sony Mavica FD7 (see review), Toshiba PDR M5 (winner of DIMA 2000 digital camera shootout), Sharp Internet ViewCam and the Kodak DC260. For processing on the floor (literally) we used a Winbook XL2, Iomega Clik drive, Antec PhotoChute 3 USB and a Philips USB camera.

Take a look at our Virtual Show Coverage! View wide angle panoramas and 360 degree interactive Virtual Reality scenes from the show. Enjoy!

- Click for a larger version. -

A customized PT Cruiser "truck", the "Panel Cruiser" from Chrysler.

Audi TT - Concept roadster made real
Audi's stunning TT roadster is based on the head turning, elegant design of the coupe back in 1995, co-developed by the talented Freeman Thomas (now Chrysler) and his design team for that year's Frankfurt Auto Show. It is now seeing production, while remaining faithful to the original concept. Great job.

Pontiac Aztek - Extreme utility vehicle
The Pontiac Aztek is a five passenger vehicle that is a combination of station wagon, van and SUV design elements. It's powered by 3.4 liter V6 185 hp engine with four speed automatic transmission with front wheel drive or optional all wheel drive and four wheel disc brakes. Design practicality and flexibility allows the hauling of 4 by 8 sheets of plywood, while clever use of space provides removable backpacks built into the front doors and a lift out, insulated center console cooler for drinks and food. A towing capacity of 3,500 pounds is specified, along with traction control system. An optional automatic level control system raises the vehicles rear using air bladders and rear shocks. A pull out cargo tray has folding dividers and extends beyond the tailgate for ease of access. The vehicle's design features were based largely on consumer comments logging on the Pontiac Web site, which hopefully translate into additional sales for the division. It will be built in GM's Ramos Arizpe Mexico plant in Q2 and sold here this summer.

BMW Z8 roadster - Drive a movie star
BMW's Z8 roadster is a 1950's classically influenced, modern design, patterned off of the highly acclaimed Z07 concept car . My first impression is that it is a Z3 on steroids - and then some. The car is being heavily promoted with the new James Bond film "The World Is Not Enough". Power for this light weight performer is derived from the potent and proven 400 HP V-8 M5 engine and achieves 60 mph in less than five seconds, with terminal velocity around 160 mph. See the panorama featuring this car.

DeTomaso Mangusta - Beautiful revival
The DeTomaso Mangusta sports car is back, for its American debut at a major auto show with a modern chassis and engine, plus a unique three position roof system. It's been over three decades since the original, beautiful Mangusta mid-engine coupe graced the auto show circuit. Its body design has stood the test of time very well. The 2000 Mangusta combines new world technology and innovation with old world artistry. The design flexibility of the roof is clever by allowing a standard coupe configuration with the center roof section in place, a targa style with that section removed and the rear window raised and a completely airy roadster, with the rear window powered down. The price will be around $80,000 later this year.

Kia Spectra - Economy Sports Sedan
For the entry level segment, Kia has served up the Spectra for its North American debut. It's a modern, sporty looking five door hatchback selling for under $10,000. For that modest amount, you get a 125 horsepower, four cylinder engine, 5 speed manual transmission, split folding rear seat, easy opening, wide rear hatch and decent suspension.

Daewoo Korando SUV - Offroad Muscle
Daewoo's Korando SUV is a serious first effort and off road class winner (Baja 1000) for this Korean automaker. It's powered by the Mercedes Benz 3.2 liter V-6 engine at 215 hp and 225 ft lbs of torque, coupled to a full time four wheel drive system. Its suspension system is reported to be equally at home on the street as well as off road excursions. Should be available in Q2 for under $20,000. Wow!

Mercury Mountaineer - Heavy metal refinement
The Mercury Mountaineer caught my eye as being a refined, cleanly designed evolution of the popular and proven Mountaineer/Explorer platform with an independent rear suspension. J. Mays, Ford's design chief said the design is 95% complete and will retain a different look than the yet-to-be-introduced Explorer. Styling cues of simple surfaces, brushed aluminum trim and precise fittings work very well.

Panoz Esperante - American-built eurostyle
Panoz is one of the few independent makers of performance hand built American automobiles and is debuting its new aluminum intensive, Esperante prototype. The graceful, classic European lines create a handsome profile. Power is provided by a 4.6 liter V-8, 32 valve Ford engine producing 320 horsepower.

Porsche 911 Turbo - Timelessly modern
The Porsche 911 Turbo is a long time top performer with a low 4 second 0 to 60 time and a top speed nearing 190 mph, with a 400+ HP engine. Visually, three large front air scoops, flared rear wheels wells and all-new retractable rear wing underscore that this vehicle is all business. A continuing classic, but still has a contemporary design that continues to work. Price is currently not available, but sources advise the year's entire production is already sold out.

Concept: Oldsmobile Profile - Cyber luxury
Oldsmobile's Profile is a next generation, mid-luxury concept vehicle definitely moving deeper into new territory with a new sleek form flowing from a high trunk. Rear access is provided by sliding rear doors and a back liftgate. It's powered by a supercharged V-6 engine, coupled to a four speed automatic transmission. Innovative technologies include web server equipment for mobile connectivity via satellite and GPS navigation with real time traffic information. A voice command system, keyless ignition system, audio library, DVD entertainment and palm top interface, round out some of the hi-tech features.

Concept: Honda Spocket - Techno-style hybrid
Honda's Spocket concept vehicle is part sports car and part pick-up truck. It has front upward pivoting doors. A multi-function roof slides rearward and gives the vehicle a sports car feel while providing protection for the cargo area which has a tailgate. A 1.3 liter, 4 cylinder engine drives the front wheels, while each of the rear wheels receive power from individual electric motors. The interior is highlighted by design creativity, ingenuity and some surprises like its weatherproof coverings. This is an interesting 21st century vehicle designed for the young urban and outdoor segment.

Subaru ST/X - Crossover Truck/SUV
Subaru's ST/X is another crossover vehicle that incorporates features of a pickup and Forrester vehicle, with four doors with a soft top folding roof. The shorty, four foot cargo bed can be extended an additional two feet inside the passenger compartment via a "midgate" section when needed. A supercharged, 230 horsepower six cylinder engine and all wheel drive rounds out the powertrain. Exterior styling has received mixed reviews and production plans are pending.

Mazda Tribute SUV - Sporty hybrid
Mazda's Tribute was another hybrid SUV with conventional, but sporty sheet metal. The vehicle is similar to the Tokyo Motor Show's ActiVehicle concept, but tailored for the US market. It should be available in both two or four wheel versions. Engines range from the 130 horsepower, 2.0 liter, in-line four, to the 3.0 liter V6, at 200 horsepower.

Dated: February 21, 2000

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