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.

It will be available in select North American markets in mid-2009, Ford said. The company would not say how much it will cost.

Hyundai i-Blue Fuel Cell Concept: Among automakers working on developing hydrogen vehicles, South Korea's Hyundai usually isn't one of the top names that pop to mind.

But that could change with this concept. It's not a conversion of one of its existing vehicles, like the fuel-cell version of the Tucson SUV. Hyundai's research director, Hyun-Soon Lee, calls it a "tremendous leap forward" for the company.

The i-Blue concept packs a fuel cell capable of 370 miles under its floorboards, which Hyundai says gives the car a more even weight distribution. It's capable of a top speed of 100 miles per hour and has a range of 370 between fill ups.

2009 Chevrolet Traverse: Chevy gets a version of the hot-selling, full-size crossover SUV that GM already is marketing as the Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave. Production of the Traverse is scheduled to begin in the third quarter. Like the others, Traverse will have three rows of adult-size seats and a 3.6-liter V-6 engine (281 hp, 253 lbs.-ft with single exhaust, 286/255 with duals), coupled to front- or all-wheel drive. To be sure you don't run out of things to buy, Traverse has an options list like a luxury car: rear-view camera, power tailgate, rear-seat video, heated and cooled front seats, XM satellite radio with real-time traffic updates.

2009 Ford Edge Sport: The Edge is getting edgier with a factory-customized model that has lower-profile tires, a lower grille and bigger wheels. The latest version of the popular crossover will go on sale this fall. In addition to the wheels and grille, the Edge Sport has side and rear skirts and polished dual exhaust tips. It will be available in blue, black, silver and red with dark gray leather seats. The Sport Edge joins the SE, SEL and Limited models in the Edge family.

GMC Denali XT hybrid concept: A product of Holden, General Motors' Australian unit, it sports a cargo bed that might be just a skosh undersize for the U.S. — half an inch too narrow to slide in a 4-foot-wide sheet of plywood or drywall, and just 4 feet 7 inches long – unless you drop the Chevrolet Avalanche-style midgate to open the interior for cargo use. A concept with little chance of making production, its hybrid drivetrain mates a 4.9-liter V-8 to an electric-drive system. GM says such a vehicle should be able to tote 1,100 lbs., tow up to 3,500 lbs. — similar to a conventional compact pickup. GM calls it an SUT — sport-utility truck — and says it's meant to test reaction to some ideas GM has for future designs.

2009 GMC Sierra dual-mode hybrid: A big truck with a small appetite? GM says that's what you get when you combine a powerful V-8 with an electric drive system. On sale fourth quarter this year, it'll be available with either rear- or four-wheel drive, but only in the crew-cab configuration. GM says it's possible to run on battery power up to 30 mph before needing the gasoline engine. Which is a serious one: 6-liter V-8 rated 332 hp, 367 lbs.-ft. of torque.

Totes more than 1,400 lbs. in the cargo bed, GM says, and tows up to 6,100 lbs. Fuel economy boost from the hybrid system is supposed to be 40% in town, 25% overall. That implies 18 to 20 mpg in most types of driving, up from 13 to 16 mpg for the gasoline-only versions, depending on drivetrain.

2009 International LoneStar semi-tractor: Big-truck maker International loves to waltz into a car show and pull the covers off a huge commercial truck, as if it's the most natural thing in the world. This year at Chicago, it's the 2009 LoneStar, a semi-tractor rig that the company says combines the aerodynamic advantages of streamliners favored by penny-wise trucking fleets, but has the long hood and the mega-chrome beloved by truckers who buy their own machines, instead of driving somebody else's. International says the huge, laid-back grille is meant to recall 1930s-era International D-series trucks.

New-tech clean-diesel engines and the sleeker design are good for about 1 mile per gallon more – 6 instead of 5, more or less, depending on which engine and what the tractor's pulling. Truckers can order them in April, starting at $115,000, and get delivery beginning this fall.

The equipment list reads like a luxury liner's: Wood floor in the sleeper cab, Monsoon killer stereo, microwave and mini-frig, leather. Plus the gamut of auto-style safety hardware such as anti-lock brakes, stability control, traction control, Bluetooth hands-free phone link.

2009 Hummer H3T: If you like the idea of coming full circle, pay attention. General Motors, which owns the Hummer brand name, used the Chevrolet Colorado compact pickup as the base for the Hummer H3 SUV. That's the small (relatively) Hummer. Now, GM is stretching and tweaking the H3 back into a pickup, called H3T.

It goes into production third quarter this year at Shreveport, La., and will be available with the Colorado/H3 in-line five-cylinder engine (242 hp, 242 lbs.-ft. of torque) and in the Hummer Alpha version. That's the V-8 – 5.3 liters, 300 hp, 320 lbs.-ft. Thus equipped, GM says, the H3T Alpha tows up to 5,900 lbs., or 900 pounds more than a V-6 Jeep Liberty. Cargo bed's 5 feet long, which GM says is plenty for dirt bikes and the like.