2009 Acura RL
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Debuts from the Chicago Auto Show

2009 Acura RL

Showing off a fresh new face for 2009, the key word used during the Chicago launch of Acura’s revamped flagship sedan was “dynamic’’ – as in more dynamic styling, performance and technology throughout. More flair was added mechanically as well, with a bigger, snappier 3.7-liter V-6 and tweaks to the transmission, suspension and steering.

Beyond Acura’s high-tech “Super Handling All Wheel Drive” system, the RL boasts the AcuraLink navigation system that also gives drivers real-time weather and traffic data. Look for the RL’s new styling theme to find its way into updates set for the TL and TSX sedans later this year. -- John Clor (Scott Olson/ Getty Images)
2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8

After a 21-month wait for the Dodge Challenger concept to be engineered into a real production car, muscle-car fans are elated to see that very little has been lost in the translation for this modern reincarnation of one of the most iconic American performance street machines ever built. Better still, the first of the 2009 Challengers to see showrooms will be top-of-the-line SRT8 versions tweaked by Dodge’s Street and Racing Technology program – a performance engineering group patterned after Ford’s once-prolific Special Vehicle Team.

So what would you call a thoroughly modern, 425-horsepower performance coupe capable of a 0-60 mph sprint in 4.9 seconds, a quarter-mile run from a standing start in the mid-13-second range, and a 170 mph top speed – all for an MSRP of $37,995? A retro-muscle sellout. -- John Clor (Scott Olson/ Getty Images)
2009 Chevrolet Traverse

With so-called crossovers now clearly “the next big thing” in today’s auto industry, Chevrolet enters the fray with its all-new 2009 Traverse – joining the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave as the fourth family-hauler built off GM’s versatile Lambda platform. Promising class-leading fuel economy and horsepower from its direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6, Traverse touts a six-speed automatic, three-row seating for seven or eight, and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.

Styling is inspired by the award-winning Malibu sedan, because, as Chevy’s Chicago presenter put it, “plowing down the road in a vehicle that looks like a rectangle – how fun is THAT?’’ (an obvious shot at Ford’s new squared-off Flex crossover, which is also due out later this year). -- John Clor (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
2009 Volkswagen Routan

In a self-proclaimed effort to “reconnect with the American driver,” Volkswagen unveiled what it wants you to believe is the latest descendant of the once-revered minibus, except that it’s really a thinly disguised VW version of Chrysler’s new Town & Country minivan – which isn’t really a bad thing.

Looking much like a modern Vee-Dub from the front and rear, 2009 Volkswagen Routan minivans will come with a VW-specific interior, a long list of features and creature comforts, either a 3.6- or 4.0-liter V-6, and more Germanic ride and handling – all for a starting price of under $25,000. -- John Clor (Jerry Lai/ AP)
2010 Ford Transit Connect

To bolster its hold on some 40 percent of the U.S. commercial vehicle market and compliment its sales leadership in full-size vans, Ford announced it will bring its popular, fuel-efficient, front-drive European delivery van to the States next summer. Having shown how it can serve a variety of small-business applications in the Chicago area, the Transit Connect will come to America with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine instead of the 1.8-liter diesel it uses in Europe, but will still be good for an estimated 19/24 mpg city/highway fuel economy rating.

The compact, tall-roofed van, now assembled in Turkey, can be configured for up to 143 cubic feet of storage space, accessible via sliding side or swing-out rear doors. Pricing was not announced. -- John Clor (Tannen Maury/ EPA)
2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid 2-Mode

GMC – General Motors’ second-largest brand (even without a car in its lineup) – gets its version of Chevy’s full-size hybrid pickup with the introduction of the 2009 Sierra Hybrid 2-Mode by the end of the year. Even as the standard Sierra is the segment’s V-8 fuel-economy leader, the hybrid version provides up to 40 percent better fuel economy in city driving.

The Sierra Hybrid’s battery pack can get the truck rolling up to 30 mph for about a mile on electricity alone, even while loaded with cargo or towing. Better yet, it is offered in the popular Crew Cab body style and as either a two- or four-wheel drive model. -- John Clor (Scott Olson/ Getty Images)
2009 Hyundai Sonata

With the mid-size family sedan segment a safe bet each year, Hyundai decided it was time to update its Sonata for 2009. It arrives later this month with freshened looks, upgraded interiors and features, as well as improved drivetrains that deliver more power along with better fuel economy.

Already Hyundai’s best-selling vehicle, Sonata’s refinements were meant to broaden the car’s appeal with the addition of such crowd-pleasers as iPod inputs, an available navigation system and even a sport-focused SE model. In today’s market, that’s Sonata bad idea. -- John Clor (Scott Olson/ Getty Images)
2009 Ford Edge Sport

Ford is upping the ante on its already best-selling Edge crossover with the addition of a Sport model for the 2009 model year. Edge Sport wears all the custom equipment you might expect from an aftermarket tuner, such as a sleek body kit, smoked headlamp and taillamp lenses, special paint and interior upgrades – not to mention polished dual-exhaust tips and meaty, 20-inch rims (22s are optional – the largest ever offered on a factory crossover).

Although it’s not the high-performance SVT model that enthusiasts have long hoped for, Edge Sport is a great way to add some factory-backed customized personality to a popular ride. -- John Clor (Ford)
2009 Porsche Cayenne GTS

Porsche served up some dessert after hosting auto journalists for breakfast in Chicago with the unveiling of its new-for-2009 Cayenne GTS – adding a heaping measure of on-road performance capability to the Cayenne SUV lineup.

Equipped with Porsche’s Active Suspension Management, the GTS has a lower ride height and a 21-inch wheel-and-tire package to complement its 405-horsepower, 4.8-liter V-8 and six-speed manual transmission. You can see GTS and its sticker of $69,300 in Porsche dealers near you. -- John Clor (Jerry Lai/ AP)
2008 Audi A4 Special Edition

Perhaps intended as one last hurrah for the current A4 before a new version makes its debut, the Audi A4 Special Edition gives buyers of the Sedan or Avant models a special look and expanded equipment offerings – including a set of Y-spoke 17-inch wheels with performance rubber.

Powered by the A4’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder, all 2008 Special Editions come with one free year of SIRIUS satellite radio. They should be available in dealerships within the next month. -- John Clor (Audi)
2009 Mitsubishi Eclipse

Mitsubishi jazzed up the looks of its sporty Eclipse Coupe and Spyder twins for 2009, tweaking the front and rear styling a bit. The GT models also get an all-new (rather large) rear spoiler and snappy high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps.

There’s a couple more horses on tap for the 3.8-liter V-6 in the GT, which also gets a new, throatier dual-exhaust system and active stability control standard. The revised Eclipse arrives in dealerships this summer. -- John Clor (Tannen Maury/ EPA)
2009 Suzuki Equator

The way Suzuki sees it, with so many of its motorcycles, boat engines and ATVs out in the marketplace, it only makes sense that its customers carry them all around in a Suzuki-branded pickup truck. To make that happen in a hurry, Suzuki’s first-ever pickup will be based on the Nissan Frontier and built alongside the current Frontier in its Tennessee assembly plant.

Suzuki didn’t actually show its standard production truck in Chicago but rather three “concepts’’ – the Equator RMZ-4, the Quad and the Quay (pronounced “key’’), but you can expect the body-on-frame Suzuki-ized Nissan to be shown in production trim later this year. -- John Clor (Tim Boyle/ Bloomberg News)
2009 Hummer H3T

Revealed before the Chicago press days actually started, the 2009 H3T fills an important role in the Hummer lineup as the brand’s first true functional pickup. Riding on a stretched wheelbase and sporting a usable, five-foot-long bed, H3T is the only mid-size truck to come standard with full-time four-wheel drive, 32-inch tires and off-road skid plates.

The H3T comes standard with a 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder, and can tow up to 5,900 pounds when equipped with the 5.3-liter V-8. Production of this Hummer Sport Utility Truck, which will also be sold in Europe and the Middle East, is scheduled to begin by the fall. -- John Clor (John Clor/ Special to the Los Angeles Times)
2009 Chevrolet Ecotec HHR

One of the many off-stage announcements at Chicago was that General Motors is planning key powertrain improvements for its Chevrolet HHR retro wagon. Not only will the HHR’s standard 2.2-liter four-cylinder get the variable valve-timing technology that the optional 2.4-liter four enjoys, but both HHR engines will be made E85-capable for next year.

When the 2009 Ecotec HHR makes its debut, it will become the first ethanol-fuel four-cylinder GM vehicle sold in the States. -- John Clor (General Motors)