27 November 2003

The Americans are gearing up for their biggest-ever assault on the British car market. Traditionally, US cars have struggled to make an impact upon the UK buyers, a trend reflected across Europe. But the Detroit Motor Show in early January could herald a new dawn of exciting, desirable American motors on these shores, led by the stunning all-new Corvette, shown here undisguised for the first time.

CHEVROLET CORVETTE

These amazing pictures are the first undisguised shots of a car Chevrolet bosses have been working hard to keep under wraps before its world debut in Detroit. The beautifully aggressive lines are revealed just a week after we showed a heavily-clad mule being put through its paces at the Nürburgring in Germany. Powered by a 425bhp version of the 5.7-litre unit from the current car, the new C6 is based on sister company Cadillac’s XLR. UK sales should start in 2005, although right-hand drive production still hangs in the balance.

CHRYSLER CROSSFIRE

Chrysler is putting the fire into its Crossfire coupé by adding a 349bhp supercharged V6 version, the SRT-6, capable of 0-60mph in 5.0sec.

The SRT-6 has been developed by Chrysler’s newly-formed Performance Vehicle Operation and will go on sale in the US in May, and in right-hand-drive form in early ’05.

The SRT-6 uses the same 3.2-litre V6 that powers Merc’s SLK 32 AMG, and will be available with a six-speed manual or five-speed auto ’box.

The SLK-based Crossfire received a reserved reception at its launch earlier this year, in part due to the lacklustre performance provided by its 215bhp V6. The SRT-6 will answer those complaints.Expect the coupé to cost around £35,000 – some £7,500 more than the normally-aspirated Crossfire.

CROSSFIRE ROADSTER

Chrysler lifts Crossfire’s lid next May with a new soft-top Roadster version, developed by Karmann in Germany. The two-seater features a power-folding fabric top with glass rear window and manual latching. It stows beneath a hard tonneau panel.

Design chief Trevor Creed says Chrysler decided against a Merc SLK-style folding metal hardtop for ‘cost, looks and weight’ reasons. The fabric top also allows a decent-sized boot. To reduce weight, the hood’s framing and linkages are made of lightweight aluminium and hefty roll hoops are mounted behind each seat.

Two versions of the new Roadster will be offered– the 215bhp normally aspirated model, and the potent SRT-6 version detailed above. Expect both to land in spring ’05.

PT CRUISER TURBO

The hot turbo version of Chrysler’s retro-styled PT Cruiser is heading to the UK in an about-turn for Chrysler, which originally claimed the PT’s 2.4-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder couldn’t be homologated for Europe.

Turbocharging transforms the PT, with the 215 bhp motor providing 0-60 mph sprinting in 7.2 seconds. Top speed is 120mph.

Seventeen-inch alloys, stiffer suspension, discs all round, monochrome paint and interior trim changes will form part of the package. Expect it to arrive in the UK next spring priced at around £18k.

PT CRUISER CONVERTIBLE

Chrysler showed the new rag-top PT Cruiser (shown right) as a New York Motor Show concept back in April 2001 and the production version will make its debut Stateside in May with right-hooker versions arriving just in time for summer.

Like the concept, the production model features a large roll hoop to put back body stiffness lost from lopping the PT’s metal roof, and the soft-top features a power-operated fabric roof with glass rear window and single latch locking. Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche claims that it will be ‘by far’ the quietest convertible in its segment. To compensate for the weight of body strengthening, only the 215bhp turbo version will be offered.

CHRYSLER 300C AND 300C TOURING

Longer than an S-Class Merc, the 300C is the first vehicle to reflect Chrysler’s new design language – a high waist with low roofline; something that’s even more evident on the narrow-windowed Touring five-door. Chrysler designers admit that the exterior of the new ‘C’ was inspired by XXL-sized low-roof Rover P5s from the ’60s, and the 300C and Touring get Chrysler’s new ‘hot’ engine, the 5.7-litre Hemi packing a useful 340 bhp. A 2.7-litre and 3.5-litre V6 will also be offered.

Both versions feature Mercedes E-Class suspension and componentry. Inside, the cabins are wall-to-wall leather, wool carpets and a unique ‘tortoise shell’ finish.

The 300C appears in the US in April and hits Europe in the second half of 2004.

CADILLAC

Cadillac still hasn’t officially committed to the UK market, but Europe’s second biggest luxury car market has to be a priority for the aspiring US brand. ‘We know the UK is important, but we are still working out the possible market size,’ said a spokesman.

The CTS, a BMW 5-series-sized saloon, is engineered for right-hand drive alongside its platform spin-off, the SRX 4x4. Both are expected to spearhead a launch in just over two years.

However, a British buyer can already buy a CTS courtesy of Manchester-based importer Bauer Millet, which lists a 220bhp V6-powered CTS for around £28,000. However, only one is known to have been registered — for the Duchess of York, who is understood to have fallen for the car while filming her US TV show. The XLR luxury sportscar is pencilled in for right-hand drive, alongside its platform derivative, the Corvette.

Both cars are understood to have been ‘package protected’ for a rhd steering rack and column, although there is no financial commitment yet to a production future.

JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE

The long-awaited replacement for Jeep’s flagship Grand Cherokee joins the Hemi club, with a new 340 bhp 5.7-litre ‘Hemi’ V8, offering 47 per cent more power than the current 4.7 V8. Looking very much like an evolution of the current version, the new ‘Grand’ features a longer wheelbase to allow bigger doors, and extra width for more shoulder room.

The front end gets Merc E-Class-style headlights and a revised grille, while the rear features a squarer look.

To offer class-leading off-road capability, the new Jeep gets an improved QuadraDrive system with an electronic limited-slip differential, and new independent front suspension.

It won’t get the rumoured third row of seats though, which will go into a bigger Jeep in ’06.The Grand Cherokee goes on sale in the US next October and is scheduled for its British debut in early 2005.

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