The cars of 2006

In addition to revised styling and slightly larger dimensions, all Honda Civics - including the 2006 Civic Si pictured here - add side-curtain air bags as well as side-impact bags, anti-lock brakes and tilt and telescoping steering wheel as standard.

AP Photo/Honda
Published: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 30, 2005 at 11:40 p.m.
The 2005 model year marked the return of the car, which had been displaced in drivers' hearts and garages by SUVs and pickups.
Yet, the story of the year was not so much the vehicles, but the tactic used to dispose of them: reducing stickers to the amount employees pay.
And then there was the spike in gas to $3 a gallon, though the Hemi fared as well as the hybrid despite the jump.
So what's in store for '06?
The new models, of course, with the usual assortment of contradictions: Demand for high mileage brings hybrid sport-utility vehicles at Lexus and Honda, while the desire for performance commands the Chevrolet Impala SS and the Dodge Charger, back for another run.
As a concession, however, the V-8s in SS and Charger can shut off 4 cylinders when not needed to conserve fuel.
Retro is still in, with the Chrysler PT Cruiser getting its first styling tweak and the Chevy HHR borrowing the look of the '49 Suburban. But it's also out with the Thunderbird dropped from Ford's lineup. And, as you'll see, a number of names have joined Thunderbird, including LeSabre, Bonneville and Sable. Taurus is next.
To show it's awakened from its slumber, General Motors rolls out the eye-popping Pontiac Solstice roadster. Mazda acts in kind by updating Miata.
With 37 new cars and 16 new SUVs and trucks, the focus again is on sedans and coupes. Gas prices may have something to do with that.
The most important question to be answered, however, is whether consumers pay as much attention to the machines as they do to the money. Domestic automakers, after leaning on employee pricing to boost sales, are hoping value pricing, which lowers stickers to a level closer to transaction prices, works. That way they will be able to jettison hefty incentives.
Will it work and for how long? Stay tuned.
In the meantime, here's a look at the major intros and revamps for '06:
  • Buick Lucerne: To recast Buick's image, LaCrosse replaced Regal and Century for 2005. Lucerne similarly takes the place of standbys LeSabre and Park Avenue for 2006. It's the first Buick with V-8 power in more than a decade; a 4.6-liter, 275-horsepower V-8 is standard in CXS (optional in CXL), a performance-oriented sedan aimed at younger buyers.
    Also standard are Magnetic Ride Control and StabiliTrak to improve ride and handling and get away from the boats-that-float image Buick wants to shed. ''Quiet'' engineering is added to insulate the cabin from road noise for the perception of quality, and greater attention to fit and finish inside and out for the reality of quality. Two other features of note: Side-curtain air bags front and rear and a new dual-depth front passenger side air bag. Deployment size is based on such factors as speed of impact, whether the occupant is belted and where he or she is in the seat.
  • Cadillac DTS: DeVille, the oldest and best-selling nameplate at Cadillac, gets updated. Stays front-wheel-drive but adds a host of new technology, such as remote engine start; adaptive cruise control to keep you from running into the car ahead; side-curtain air bags; dual-depth passenger side bag from Lucerne; and heated wiper fluid to eliminate snow and ice in the winter and bugs in the summer. All that and a $5,000 price cut.
  • Chevrolet Impala and SS: Chevy's bread-and-butter sedan and General Motors' best seller gets new sheet metal and new engines, higher output V-6s and a high-performance, 303-h.p. V-8 in the SS, along with sports-tuned suspension. Noteworthy in regular Impala is a rear seat in which the cushions lift to provide a hiding place for small items. In SS, the 5.3-liter V-8 comes with displacement-on-demand to shut off 4 cylinders when not needed to conserve fuel. That's the same engine that will be combined with battery power in the full-size Chevy Tahoe and Suburban SUVs about a year from now. And that could signal a hybrid Impala.
  • Dodge Charger: Yet another derivative of the rear-wheel-drive LX platform at Chrysler Group, with this one marking the return of a muscle car moniker to give the Pontiac GTO a run for its money. Offers a 5.7-liter, 340-h.p., Hemi V-8 with cylinder deactivation to shut off 4 cylinders or a 6.1-liter, 425-h.p. Hemi to slap you in your seat. But, before you get carried away, the guy in the car next to you asking if ''That thing got a Hemi?'' could be a member of the law enforcement community because a police version bows this fall as well.
  • Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer: Explorer, the best-selling SUV, and its Mountaineer cousin get a makeover, a new, more potent, yet more fuel-efficient, V-8. Amenities and safety features are added. A 4.6-liter, 292-h.p., 3-valve V-8 replaces the 260-h.p., 2-valve 4.6 and boasts 2 mpg improvement in fuel economy city and highway. New driver-side air bag regulates deployment speed based on how close to or far from the wheel, passenger bag now regulates deployment force based on size of occupant and position in relation to the bag. Navigation system a first-time option as is a power, folding third-row seat. Gear shifter is now console-mounted.
  • Honda Civic: The eighth generation is new for 2006, with a lineup that includes coupe, sedan, hybrid sedan and performance Si coupe. In addition to revised styling and slightly larger dimensions, all Civics add side-curtain air bags as well as side-impact bags, anti-lock brakes and tilt and telescoping steering wheel as standard. The 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine gets a 22 percent boost in horsepower to 140, while the Civic hybrid boasts increased mileage to 50 mpg city and highway with manual and automatic, compared with 45/51 with manual and 48/47 with automatic for '05. New options include a navigation system and XM satellite radio.
  • Hyundai Sonata: Hyundai has been growing steadily in the United States, and the Korean company sees the 2006 Sonata sedan playing a key role continuing that by luring buyers from cars such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Now built at Hyundai's Alabama plant, the Sonata is about the same length as the midsize Accord and Camry but is classified as a large car based on interior volume. Sonata starts at around $18,000, offers a choice of 4-cylinder and V-6 engines and all models come with standard side-curtain air bags.
  • Jeep Commander: After being criticized for not offering a huge SUV with three rows of seats such as Tahoe or Expedition, Jeep responds by stretching the Grand Cherokee to create the Commander. And it's built alongside Grand Cherokee, so Jeep can cut Commander output without having to idle a plant if gas prices spike again. Another neat feature is the sunroof over the front seat and skylights over the second row. To take advantage of its appeal in cars, a 330-h.p. Hemi V-8 with cylinder deactivation to save fuel is offered.
  • Pontiac Solstice: When the first 1,000 sell out in 41 minutes, it's probably a good sign. The fact it's a dramatically styled, fun-to-drive, open-top roadster with a base price less than $20,000 make chances it will be a hit even better. And that doesn't figure in the fact that it will top out at $25,000 loaded or that a supercharged or turbocharged version is in the works. Saturn gets its own ''under $25,000'' version called Sky early next year with the emphasis on luxury. With the high demand for Solstice and its 20,000 build, you might want to order a Sky now. Only 5,000 will be built.
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