Acura pushes power into RL; Dodge debuts Challenger

The Chicago auto show has a reputation as a truck show, and it won't give much ground on that this year. General Motors gm, especially, is rolling out an intriguing array of trucks not seen at the Detroit show last month — or anywhere else.

Other automakers have a variety of models top show, including sleek coupes and updated sedans.

Here's the hot stuff making its debut at the Chicago show, open to media representatives Wednesday and Thursday and to the public Friday through Feb. 17.

2009 Acura RL: The remade Acura RL gets the largest engine every to grace the upscale Honda brand.

The new 3.7-liter V-6 develops 300 horsepower. It has a five-speed paddle-shifting automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The RL also gets bigger wheels — 18-inch instead of the 17-inch rims in the current model.

It goes on sale in the spring. No price yet.

2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8: Not just any ol' Hemi, but a chuffing big 6.1-liter Hemi makes the midsize Challenger retro-muscle car into an SRT8 — Dodge's designation for the highest-performance models. Expect it in April, boasting 425 horsepower, 420 lbs.-ft. of torque, mated to a five-speed automatic and shamelessly asking for premium fuel, as muscle cars did when gasoline was 40 cents a gallon. Should be good for 13 mpg in town, 18 on the highway, Dodge says.

Challenger SRT8 is meant to be a limited-production item — Dodge doesn't say how many — and each gets a numbered plate on the dashboard. Starts at $37,995, including destination charge. Dodge pledges standstill to 60 mph in "the low 5-second range," and promises less than 17 seconds for the 0–100–0 mph test made famous by the Shelby Cobra's big engine and big brakes decades ago. Burn up the quarter mile in less than 14 seconds, says Dodge. The original Challenger arrived in 1969 as a '70 model, late to the high-performance party, and production halted in 1974.

2009 Hyundai Sonata: Hyundai is adding a few tweaks to its flagship.

Outside, the car gets new headlights, taillights and chrome strips across the grille and along the sides.

Under the hood, Sonata will have a new four-cylinder engine that the South Korean automaker says will deliver both more pep and better fuel efficiency. Gas mileage goes up 1 mile per gallon to 22 in the city, and up 2 on the highway to 32 mpg in the automatic transmission version. Horsepower is boosted from 162 to 175.

The big story, Hyundai says, is the Sonata's new interior. The center stack was redesigned to feel more upscale — and to face competitive heat from the likes of Chevy's new Malibu, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

The price went up, as well. The Sonata, available starting later this month, is base priced at $18,795, including destination and delivery charges. That's about $450 more than the current model.

Ford Transit Connect: Like, what took Ford so long?

Chrysler found a badly needed hit in its Sprinter van, a big utility vehicle built by Chrysler partner Mercedes-Benz that taps into the American fondness for the big brown trucks driven by UPS drivers.

Ford has basically the same vehicle tooling around Europe. Ford's Transit van has been a European fixture in various forms since 1965.

The Transit Connect, as Ford Motor is calling its big van, gets car-like fuel economy — 19 miles a gallon city, 24 mpg highway — with the size of a medium truck. It has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. It's built in Turkey.

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