Over at Ford was the Saleen Thunder, a 450bhp twin-screw supercharger version of its best-selling F-150 pick-up truck, and even Mercedes showed a customised R-class with Rolling Stones branding (what is it with German car companies and past-it British supergroups?) that fortunately, was a one-off created as a prize. Soemtimes you wonder whether the Mercedes taste police are skiving.
Many makers are holding back for the Detroit show, but GM uncovered its king-size SUVs, the Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade.
While we’re talking big, Porsche went big on performance for its largest model, the Cayenne, which can now be had with 514bhp and tarmac-mashing performance in £81,565 Turbo S form. Ferrari countered with the F430 Pista, a follow-up to the very successful 360 Challenge Stradale, and Saleen unveiled an S7 supercar with enough horses, claimed its creator, to deal with Bugatti’s fastest-car-in-the-world claims.
At the other end of the scale some manufacturers think that America might now be ready for the supermini. We’ve been here before, of course, various European models being sent across the pond over the years – remember the Renault 5 Le Car? – without much lasting success. Nevertheless, Toyota unveiled the Yaris Liftback – though it admitted that the Yaris saloon would be a bigger seller – Honda will start selling the Jazz, badged as Fit, in 2006 and Ford hinted of a small car for America in three years time.
Toyota also strengthened its lead in the lucrative hybrid race with the announcement that there will be a hybrid version of the Camry, America’s best-selling car, for 2006. GM has hybrid pick-up trucks on the way too, but is putting more emphasis on cars that can run on E85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 per cent petrol.
Other highlights? The slightly strange, but strangely appealing Mitsubishi Eclipse Coupe (how about a few for the UK?), the Pontiac Solstice GXP, a 2.0 Turbo version of GM’s pretty sportster, and its sister the Saturn Sky (which started life as the Vauxhall Lightning) and Mazda’s tidy and surprisingly powerful CX-7 cross-over.
Mighty impressive, and desirable, is the retro Toyota FJ, a fine pastiche on the 1960-83 Land Cruiser complete with rubber mats, body colour dash and – an excellent piece of modernising, this – suicide rear doors. And all for the price of a lowly Mondeo. Toyota should bring it here - look out for our first drive here at Autocar.co.uk tomorrow.
But sometimes the best treats for we Europeans are the cars native Americans don’t look at at all – gaze in horror and wonderment at the tacky tastelessness of the Lincoln Town Car, the suicide rear doors of that botch of a coupe that is the Saturn Ion (there’s a hot version this year) and wonder with sadness how Buick’s latest, the Lucerne, still manages to miss the cabin quality bull’s-eye despite GM’s best efforts to compete with the Japanese and Korean car companies that are eating it for breakfast, lunch and tea.
It’s not all gloom on the American front though – GM’s big new SUVs don’t look bad at all, the Pontiac Solstice is a desirable piece of kit and Ford’s new Fusion, a saloon based on the Mazda6, is quite attractive and certainly well put together. It’s selling, too, apparently. And it looks as if there’ll be more to be optimistic about at next week’s Detroit show, where a whole barrage of fresh machinery will be wheeled out. Watch this screen.