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Six cars to watch for 2006
Prospects for six of the most interesting cars to come out the Los Angeles and Detroit Auto Shows.
January 14, 2005: 12:03 PM EST
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN/Money staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - As always, there's a lot to look forward to in the upcoming automotive model year. Then again, some of next year's new cars and trucks are already generating more groans than cheers.

Following the Detroit Auto Show, Joseph Barker, North American sales analyst with automotive consultancy CSW, and James Bell, publisher of the pricing guide IntelliChoice, provided their outlooks for some of the more interesting members of the class of 2006.

2006 Dodge Charger  
2006 Dodge Charger

Dodge Charger: After months of hype -- and a rising sense of dread among muscle car enthusiasts -- the all-new Dodge Charger finally made its appearance.

Since it shares its mechanical guts with the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum, there's no question that the Charger's performance will match the name. It's the car's doors that are causing concern.

Many vocal muscle car fans are outraged that the Charger name is going onto a four-door car, even if the exterior carries suitable high-horsepower styling cues. But nostalgic fans don't constitute a big portion of the new car market.

"In the old days, if you wanted 300 horsepower under the hood you bought a sports car, " said Barker. "Now, you can get 300 horsepower in a wide variety of vehicles."

Maybe, as the Dodge Magnum wagon showed, buyers will take home a Hemi in a more practical package.

2007 Saturn Sky  
2007 Saturn Sky

Saturn Sky: Saturn is usually thought of as a car company for people who don't like cars.

When you're selling cars, though, people who like them make better customers. That's why General Motors, Saturn's parent, is investing lots of money in a mission to make over the brand.

What better way to start than a two-seat roadster, a car that appeals solely to the love of driving?

Technically, the Sky doesn't belong in this list. Although it was officially unveiled in Detroit this week, it will be a model-year 2007 car with production slated to begin in 2006.

If you're familiar with Saturns, you should be pleasantly surprised with the Sky's top-notch interior, said Bell. Overall, he said, the Sky comes off as a mini-Corvette with even more striking looks.

But going after the sports car market is tough. The Sky and Pontiac Solstice, a 2006 model year roadster with which it shares engineering, had better be fun to drive, or no dice.

"They look good," said Barker, "but you can only judge a vehicle so much by the way it looks."

2006 Chevrolet HHR  
2006 Chevrolet HHR

Chevrolet HHR: Why buy this instead of a Chrysler P.T. Cruiser?

Five years ago when the P.T. Cruiser first came out, it was totally unique and sold like lemonade in a heat wave. Now that it's been out for a while sales have slowed as many who wanted a retro-styled wagon now have one.

The market prospects for the HHR, Bell and Barker agree, look dismal.

Chevrolet will have to find a unique selling point for the HHR. The six inches of extra cargo space might help. Chevrolet's other unique selling point -- "We're putting a $4,000 rebate on it" -- could come into play as well.

2006 Lincoln Zephyr  
2006 Lincoln Zephyr

Lincoln Zephyr: The 12-cylinder art deco beauties built in the 1930s and '40s were the ultimate noir cars. You've probably seen them in old detective flicks being driven by fidgety young heiresses with "problems."

In picking up the Zephyr name, Lincoln is hoping to pick up a whiff of the old days when Lincoln was a genuine class act. The new Zephyr is Lincoln's cut on the Fusion, Ford's new midsized sedan.

If it works out, the Zephyr is a chance for the Lincoln brand to "halo up." A hit with this car could do for Lincoln what the New Beetle did for Volkswagen, Baker theorizes. Cool cars are cool regardless of price.

But between the two, the Ford Fusion simply looks better, said Bell. Based on the Mazda 6's basic engineering, there's little question that both the Zephyr and Fusion should be fun to drive.

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca  
2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca

Subaru B9 Tribeca: Maybe you'll like the exterior design of the Tribeca. Maybe you'll think it's hideous. Once people see it in person, most will like it, said Bell. It just doesn't photograph well.

"That's one of those that screams 'concept,' then they tell you, 'No, it's production,'" said Bell.

The Tribeca is the first step in Subaru's plan to move up-market. The vehicle's artful interior design reinforces the message that going up-market, for Subaru, doesn't mean imitating anything else that's already there.

2006 Honda Ridgeline  
2006 Honda Ridgeline

Honda Ridgeline: The Ridgeline is a pickup as only Honda would do it. This isn't a truck you'll see parked outside construction sites, but you'll probably see it at the beach or near hiking trails.

Yes, it can really haul stuff. It carries a full half-ton, just like other small trucks, but has independent suspension for a nice ride. It's also got a lockable trunk underneath the back of the truck bed.

"The built-in trunk is long overdue," said Barker. "Leave it to Honda to do the simple things and do them well."

Bell doesn't think the Ridgeline will be popular in middle America where big pick-ups are a vehicular staple. He does see it selling well on the coasts, though, where the idea of a small truck with the amenities of a car will be popular.

"It's the one vehicle I'm thinking about shuffling my wife out of a Jeep Grand Cherokee into," he said.  Top of page

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