A parade of new technology

DN Staff

October 4, 1999

17 Min Read
A parade of new technology


PT CRUISERA LEAGUE OF ITS OWN. A high roof line, stubby body, and distinctive face make the PT Cruiser impossible to mistake for any other vehicle. The vehicle, which debuts next March, features flared fenders, bullet-shaped tail lamps, and simulated side sills, making it look part-futuristic, part-retro-1940s.

NEON GROWS UP. Five years ago, Neon went for the cute look, complete with billboards saying, "Hi." The new Neon abandons that look for the cab-forward design. The windshield has been moved forward three inches and the vehicle now uses new jewel headlamps. Color-keyed fascias and a new rear end design provide a more refined appearance.

POWERFUL STYLING FOR YUKON. GMC Yukon's powerful front end design has been widened by four inches for increased airflow and engine cooling capacity. A new domed hood, larger headlamps, and wraparound bumpers give it a more muscular look.

NEW OPTIONS FOR CHRYSLER'S LETTER CAR. Chrysler's 300M enters the 2000 model year with a new, 16-inch chrome wheel option for the performance handling package and a new four-disc in-dash compact disc changer with the optional 360W Infinity II sound system. New appearance upgrades include rear seat cup holders in the armrest, bright power window controls and door lock switches, and color-keyed power mirror switches.

SAAB FLAUNTS ITS AEROSPACE ROOTS. Aerodynamic refinements of Saab's cars have been welcomed by enthusiasts ever since the auto maker introduced Aero packages of its 900 and 9000 models starting in the mid-80s. The new Aero version of Saab's 95 sedan sports flared rocker panels, a front chin spoiler, and a rear valence. The car borrows the 2.3-liter, 4-cylinder engine from the limited-edition Viggen, which has been upgraded to produce 230 hp@5,500 rpm with 258 ft-lb of torque across a turbo-induced wide band from 1,900 to 3,800 rpm. A sport chassis with performance suspension, 17-inch wheels with low-profile tires, and upgraded brakes round out the package. The 95 Aero comes with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

IT'S NOT YOUR FATHER'S BMW. BMW debuts the X5 Sport Activity Vehicle which, the company says, includes its sedans' safety features while retaining the outstanding driving dynamics that are the hallmark of its cars (see Engineering News, p. 41 for a ride review).

A VOLVO FOR THE MASSES. Volvo brings its S40/V40 models to the U.S. and gives buyers in the low-$20k market an entry-level sedan and wagon. With Volvo's solid feel, and looking like a smaller version of the S80 sedan, these vehicles ride like larger cars and drive with confident handling (see Engineering News, p. 66 for a ride review).

I30: MORE ROOM AND BETTER RIDE. Nissan's Infinity I30 mid-size luxury sedan has undergone a complete exterior restyling for a more fluid body. The passenger compartment grew by 2.4 cubic feet, and front-seat head and leg room has expanded. The rear multi-link beam suspension is refined for improved handling and a more comfortable ride. Camber change during cornering has been minimized through the use of thicker front and rear stabilizer bars, larger, softer trailing link bushings, and a relocation of the system's unique lateral link to behind the rear beam.

ECHO TOUTS ROOM AND STORAGE. Toyota aims at young buyers this fall with ECHO, its new bottom-of-the-line Tercel replacement. Designed for strong post-boomer appeal, ECHO packs the interior roominess of a sedan into a subcompact by combining a tall profile with cab-forward design. The high roof provides greater headroom and more upright SUV-like seating. The ECHO comes in two- and four-door models. It is powered by a 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with an output of 108 hp, putting the car on par with Civic, Neon, and Escort. Fuel economy is impressive at 45 mpg in Toyota tests. Unique Echo features include an instrument cluster which is center-mounted, instead of directly mounted in front of the driver, and abundant storage, including CD bins, large door pockets, and split glove boxes.

PATHFINDER ATTENDS FINISHING SCHOOL. Redesigned and introduced mid-year 1999, Pathfinder is Nissan's rough and ready, yet luxury-line sport utility vehicle. Sporting a new muscular front end design, Pathfinder features a higher hood with a "milled off" top/front edge appearance. The SUV employs multi-parabola headlights, new grille designs and bumper, and new color selections for a refined look. Rear styling has also been rethought to include a redesigned tailgate, tailgate finisher, rear bumper and combo lamps with black privacy glass as standard. Comfortable ride and secure handling are guaranteed with a revised rear shock absorber layout.

CREW CAB ALLOWS EASY ACCESS. Nissan raises the bar for compact pickups again with the Crew Cab, its latest edition to the Frontier lineup. Designed for buyers who want a truck but need to put kids in the back seat -- the Crew Cab has four full-sized, forward-hinge doors to provide the convenient access of a sedan and comfortably seat five. Frontier Crew Cab comes in 4 3 2 and 4 3 4 models, and is equipped with a 3.3 liter SOHC V-6 engine that produces 170 hp and 200 ft-lb of torque. The engine is designed to have a broad, flat torque curve, developing 90 percent of its maximum torque at 1,500 rpm, where it is most useful for off-roading and towing.

MR-SPYDER HIGH PERFORMANCE SPORT COUPE. Toyota's new MR-Spyder concept car hints at the company's future direction in the high-performance sport coupe market. The two-seat sport coupe will go on sale in early spring of 2000. The soft-top roadster weighs in at only 2,200 lb, and sits on a low-slung platform supported by MacPherson struts on all four corners. The rear-drive MR-Spyder is powered by a 1.8-liter twin cam, 16-valve 4-cylinder engine rated at 140 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. Power is supplied to the rear wheels with a transmission, which features a push-button steering shift and no clutch petal. The steering system is a new electric hydraulic power unit designed to save weight, yet be road responsive.

CAMRY GETS A RAG TOP. Toyota offers a new Camry Solara convertible coupe powered by a standard 2.2-liter, 133-hp four-cylinder engine. An optional 3.0-liter, 200-hp V6 engine is matched to a standard four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.


GM IMPROVES TWIN CAM. GM's spunky 2.4-liter Twin Cam engine adds a new induction system with a composite intake manifold. Also, electrical terminals on the Twin Cam's throttle body are now gold-plated for added reliability. With the enhancements, the Twin Cam now lays claim to the most standard power and torque in the compact class: 150 hp at 5,600 rpm and 155 ft-lb of torque at 4,400 rpm. The engine is available on the Oldsmobile Alero and Pontiac Grand Am and Pontiac Sunfire.

NEW POWERTRAIN FOR WRANGLER. Introduced in the 1999 Grand Cherokee, the redesigned 4-liter Power Tech in-line six-cylinder engine is available on the 2000 Wrangler. The engine complies with U.S. low emission vehicle (LEV) requirements. Coupled with an all-new NGV 3550 five-speed manual transmission that offers improved shift quality, the powertrain package gives Wrangler more refinement in addition to lower emissions and noise levels.

BMW's NEW V8 IS BOSS. Big news here comes from BMW with the introduction of a V8 called "The Boss." Perhaps "The Monster" would be a better appellation. This 5-liter, all-aluminum V8 produces 400 hp @ 6,600 rpm with 369 ft-lb of torque @ 3,800 rpm, which makes the M5 sedan it propels the most powerful of the company's M series of high-performance cars. Key engine technologies include: an electronic driver-adjustable, drive-by-wire throttle control, which is coupled to the dynamic stability control system to retard the engine if needed to deter skidding; an oil scavenge system that activates magnetic valves to switch the oil extraction point from the rear of the engine to the appropriate outer side of the oil sump and cylinder head in turns greater than 1.0-1.2 g lateral acceleration; and continuously variable timing control on both the intake and exhaust valve camshafts to maximize torque and reduce emissions and fuel consumption. A six-speed manual transmission is standard. When you spring for $69,400 to buy an M5, BMW teaches you how to handle this ultimate driving machine with a complementary, two-day driving school at its performance center in Spartanburg, SC.

MAXIMA PACKS PUNCH. Nissan's designer version of the Maxima, the Infiniti I30's best feature just got better. The luxury sedan's 3.0-liter DOHC V6 engine received a 20% increase in horsepower to 227 hp and 12 additional ft-lb of torque. Engine refinements include a new programmable engine control module, a larger air intake chamber, a thicker radiator and new cooling fans and a new four-point engine mount design with two electronically controlled fluid mounts for reduced vibration.

Infiniti's I30 features an improved 3.0-liter DOHC, 24-valve V6, and a 100,000 mile tune-up interval.

The sleek S2000 sports coupe features Honda's VTEC system. Its 3-lobe, dual/triple cam follower arrangement has been optimized for high internal speeds.

HOT BUTTON TO HONDA HEAVEN. Borrowing technological advances from forty years of Formula 1 racing, Honda produces a car to lose your head -- and your license -- in. Move over Miata, the Honda S2000 roadster is here. On sale starting in September, the sleek two-seater is brought to life with the push of a red race-car styled starter button. Honda S2000 is powered by a high-revving yet lightweight, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder, 240-hp VTEC front engine -- the highest horsepower-per-liter, non-turbocharged engine in production today. The VTEC powerplant produces 240 hp at nearly 9,000 rpm and 153 ft-lb of torque at 7,500 rpm. Refined for use in the S2000, the VTEC's three-lobe, dual/triple cam follower arrangement provides for high internal speeds. The VTEC engine redesign meets California's strict Low Emission Vehicle standards, to boot, in a real comeback for Honda. The automaker was slapped with a $17 million air pollution related fine in 1998the largest ever in Clean Air Act history. Now, with the addition of the Insight hybrid electric and S2000 models, Honda's clean air lineup will boast seven vehicles with advanced low emissions technology.

ECLIPSE GETS RADICAL REDESIGN. The Mitsubishi Eclipse experienced more than a facelift this year, instead major reconstructive surgery included new body, suspension, and significantly bigger engines. The base Chrysler-built, 20.-liter, four-cylinder engine has been replaced with a Mitsubishi-built 2.4-liter four cylinder -- jumping from 140 hp at 6,000 rpm to 155 hp at 5500 rpm. The new engine generates a torque of 163 ft-lb at 4,500 rpm. Part of the credit for the engine's responsiveness goes to a new, high-speed cam, isometric intake manifold and cold air induction system.

Not keeping all the good stuff in Europe, Audi releases the Quattro all-wheel-drive version of its funky looking TT Coupe.


GETRAG TRANSAXLE FOR OLDS. Oldsmobile Alero and Pontiac Grand Am get a major boost in driving enjoyment with the addition of a slick-shifting, five-speed transaxle from Germany's renowned Getrag transmission works (supplier to BMW and Porsche). The unit's clutch housing and gear case are diecast in two pieces to maximize quietness and rigidity while minimizing weight and bulk. The Getrag trans is mated to GM's 2.4-liter Twin Cam 16-valve engine.

AUDI'S TT COUPE GOES QUATTRO. Audi made big news last spring with introduction of the TT Coupe. Beginning in early 2000, this round-looking 180-hp roller skate can come with quattro all-wheel drive for even more fun handling. Look for the quattro TT to impact the "sports car" autocross crowd that likes to put its cars through their paces around traffic-cone courses that spring up in parking lots around the country on weekends.


CADDY'S YAW CONTROL MOVES DOWN. In the year 2000, several vehicles will benefit from the addition of the StabiliTrak system pioneered by Cadillac two years ago. The system uses speed sensors, yaw sensors, steering angle sensors and a hydraulic control unit to help maintain control of a vehicle during emergency maneuvers. By "listening" to the sensors, the system senses a skid and compensates by applying braking force to the proper wheel. Known under a variety of names, it will be available on the Buick LeSabre, Oldsmobile Intrigue, and Pontiac Bonneville.

CHEVY TAKES OUT SQUEAKS AND RATTLES. Chevrolet Monte Carlo stiffens its structure in 2000 with new cross car beams. The beams are tied to the vehicle's rocker panels, thus reducing the twisting and bending forces that can cause squeaks and rattles.

ENHANCED RIDE ON PROWLER. Engineers improved the two-seater's ride by reducing friction in the rear suspension. Specifically, they replaced rubber bushings with cross axis ball joints in the rear suspension lateral links. With reduced friction, engineers could recalibrate the front and rear Koni shocks and reduce front spring rates by 10%, and rear spring rate by 20% for a smoother ride.

OFFSET COIL SPRINGS FROM FORD. Ford Focus uses offset coil springs to eliminate the bending forces acting upon the strut to reduce friction. Low-friction seals and calibrated valves ensure that the dampers respond immediately to small road inputs. The system allows fine-tuning of handling and ride, reduces impact harshness, and achieves linear steering characteristic and handling precision on the test track. Front suspension relies on MacPherson struts and broad A-arms located by horizontal bushes. The upper A-arm is located directly in line with the kingpin. .

FORD FOCUSES ON REAR SUSPENSION. Ford Focus' rear suspension advances from the class norm with a new, fully independent, "Control Blade" multi-link rear suspension. The Focus uses a simple, one-piece pressed steel control blade in place of a cast trailing arm and knuckle. In addition, the spring link and the toe link are pressed steel components. The camber link is the only casting. The rear suspension allows each wheel to react independently to bumps in the road, moving both upwards and rearwards to absorb impact forces, and reduces harshness.


NEW WIRING FROM PONTIAC. This year, Pontiac Montana moves to an advanced Class II electrical architecture. The bus system uses fewer wires and reduced electrical connections to carry digitally coded information that can be shared throughout the vehicle by all electronic-based devices. In addition to the instrument cluster and entertainment systems, the new electrical architecture helps provide oil life monitoring and permits closing of a window or playing of the radio after the ignition is turned off.

SUNFIRE GETS BIGGER BOOM BOX. The 2000 Sunfire adds the 200W Monsoon audio system. The eight-channel premium system includes one 0.6-inch 4-ohm speaker in each door, augmented by two, low-impedance, high-sensitivity speakers enclosed in separate housings. At the rear, left and right dual coaxial speakers include 4-ohm tweeters backed by 2-ohm subwoofers.

CADDY LIGHTS UP NIGHT. Perhaps the most astounding automotive innovation of the decade, Cadillac's Night Vision system borrows from the thermal imaging technology that aided troops in the Gulf War. It employs infrared light to detect the thermal energy of objects that are invisible to the human eye and then displays them to the driver as virtual images on a heads-up display. Cadillac says that the technology can help drivers detect animals in the roadway or people changing tires along the side of the highway, potentially lessening collisions at night. Cadillac DeVille will also employ Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist, which uses an array of four ultrasonic sensors to alert a driver to the presence of objects in the blind spot behind the vehicle.

VENTURE GETS A VIDEO. Chevrolet Venture for 2000 adopts a flip-down video screen specifically designed for use in GM minivans. The screen is no aftermarket device -- it flips up into a console when not in use, and it's engineered for temperature extremes and on-the-road jarring. It also offers plug-ins for audio and kids' video games.

HANDS-FREE PHONING AND MORE FROM JAGUAR. One of the neatest, and safety conscious, options is the voice-activated, hands-free cellphone, entertainment, and climate control in Jaguar's new S-Type. Even without the recommenced 15-minute "learning program," it is still able to recognize most voice commands for hands-free dialing and conversation -- just push a button on the steering wheel and speak. A voice reply confirms the command before it is executed. Ford's Visteon provides the system.

MERCEDES GETS COLOR LCD SCREEN. Mercedes' optional COMAND system integrates operation of the navigation system, entertainment functions, and cell phone on a color LCD screen in the center console. A cellphone voice-recognition option is also available. The monochrome information display below the speedometer not only provides standard trip computer/mileage type information but simplified graphical representations, such as arrows, to the driver.

ODYSSEY OFFERS GPS. Introduced in 1999, Honda's largest vehicle ever and first mainstream minivan, the Odyssey, offers an optional Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system for its 2000 models as a factory option. The system uses satellite information and its own inertial navigation system to pinpoint the vehicle's location. It offers visual cues on a touchscreen and audio directions to guide drivers to their destination.

INFINITY MICROCHIP PREVENTS THEFT. Now standard on Infinity's 2000-year I30 is a new theft deterrent system that immobilizes the vehicle if the car is started without the authorized key. Separate from the standard vehicle security system, the Immobilizer uses a computer microchip transponder mounted in the key that sends its ID code to the engine control unit. Once the proper code is verified, the ECU sends another code to the car's engine control module. If the control module verifies the code, the engine starts. If not, the engine will start momentarily and then die. The microchip has one of 65,000 unique "fingerprints," and the key stem can be cut into 23,000 different combinations. Each time the engine is turned off, the ECM generates a new code for the next start.


FORD FOCUS USES TAILORED BLANKS. Today's laser-welding technology offers the ability to join steel panels of different gauges to provide tailored blanks for stamping processes. In the Focus, Each B-pillar is stamped from a tailored, laser-welded blank of variable thickness. Similarly, on each rear side rail blank, the gauge reduces progressively in three stages from front to rear. In addition to weight savings, laser-welded blank technology enables fine-tuning of deformation characteristics, provides strength where it is required, and allows down-gauging where it is not.

STIFFER BODY FOR BONNEVILLE. Pontiac Bonneville begins its "all-new-from-the-ground-up" design with the addition of a more rigid body structure. Its advanced new architecture results in a 62% improvement in torsional stiffness and a 27% increase in vertical bending capacity. Together, those improvements contribute to better ride, handling, and sound quality.

INSIGHT OFFERS LIGHTER BODY. Honda's Insight employs an aluminum frame and plastic and aluminum body panels. The gas-electric hybrid weighs in at less than 1 ton. The chassis uses a combination of extruded, stamped and die cast aluminum components to minimize weight40% less than a comparable steel body.


BMW ADDS DYNAMIC BRAKE CONTROL. Dynamic Brake Control (DBC) is part of the safety package that BMW has on all cars with Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). DBC detects a panic stop by measuring speed of brake pedal application as well as travel to automatically apply full braking pedal pressure. Based on road conditions, standard ABS then functions as needed.

SIDE AIRBAGS FROM AUDI. New from Audi are SIDEGUARD(R) inflatable curtain airbags on all sedans and wagons. These provide head protection during side impacts and rollovers. In addition, the A8 sedan has a three-point center-rear safety belt and a concealable center headrest to improve driver rearview mirror vision when no passenger is in the center rear seat.

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