2001 Vehicles - Off Road Fun Meets Clean Air
by Jim Bray
The environmental lobby may look with chagrin at model year 2001's new Sport
Utility Vehicles, but they can also be heartened that we've entered an age
of environmentally sensitive, high tech wheels.
Regardless of environmentalist angst, SUV's are hot, and even more of the
beasts will be on tap later this year from diverse manufacturers like Hyundai,
Daewoo Toyota, Ford, and Mazda.
Toyota and Ford appear to be going in opposite directions with their handsome
new entries. Toyota's Sequoia - based on the company's Tundra pickup - is
BIG, while the Ford Escape is much more diminutive. Sequoia, Toyota's first
truck to be certified as "an ultra low emission vehicle" (ULEV) shares Tundra's
V8 engine and power train, taking 240 horses off the road with you.
The eight passenger beast is about the size of a Ford Expedition, though
Toyota claims its third seat and rear cargo area are bigger and that it offers
more ground clearance - for those who actually go off road. Sequoia will feature
four wheel disc anti-lock brakes and the four door, four wheel drive model
can be equipped with Toyota's Vehicle Stability Control system.
Ford's Escape, meanwhile, is a classy-looking vehicle the company will offer
in a 2 liter, 4 cylinder 5 speed version as well as with an optional 3 liter
V6. The four banger will be available with front or four wheel drive systems.
Designed, according to Ford, to appeal to "the young and young-at-heart," the
five passenger Escape V6 will tow up to 3500 pounds of stuff (with the towing
package), and come with toys like air conditioning, an optional CD changer
One nifty feature is a dual mode tailgate in which you can flip up the glass
window separately from the tailgate itself, which could come in handy when
you're trying to load or unload stuff in a relatively tight space.
Mazda's new SUV, the Tribute, is the Escape's twin brother - though not its
identical twin. Built on the same basic platform as the Escape, it'll be offered
in a variety of trim levels - from the 4 cylinder-based DX to the 200 hp,
24 valve V6-powered LX, DX, and ES, all of which feature a four speed automatic
transmission and that nifty two piece tailgate.
Korean carmakers, who can obviously sniff a profit as well as anyone, are
jumping on the SUV bandwagon with both feet. Hyundai's first sport ute is
the 2001 Santa Fe, a six cylinder critter that looks like a Toyota RAV4 on
steroids, while Daewoo is unleashing the 220 hp Korando, a vehicle which has
no danger of being remembered as the world's most handsome SUV.
Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder - and only as deep as the
vehicle's sheet metal.
Besides, one can't take shots at ugly wheels without mentioning the new hybrids.
"Hybrids?" Yessiree. "Y2K+1" promises to see the production introduction
of the first mainstream hybrids, vehicles that combine petroleum and electrical
power to vastly increase gas mileage while decreasing emissions - and, unfortunately,
assaulting consumers' eyes.
Hybrid vehicles rely mainly on their gasoline engines, but enhance their
performance with an electric motor whose batteries are automatically recharged
as you drive and as you brake.
Honda's Insight and Toyota's Prius ("Pree-us") will be the first models to
duke it out for consumer's "greenbacks", beginning this summer.
The 5 passenger, 4 door Prius has sold more than 30,000 units since its Japanese
introduction in 1997, but the version coming to North America has been changed
somewhat to make it more drivable and efficient. Toyota says it wants the
Prius to fit into the "Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle" (SULEV) category,
the standards of which are nearly twice as tough as Ultra Low Emission.
The Honda Insight, meanwhile, is only a two seater, but claims 70 miles per
gallon - and drivers will be treated to ABS, air conditioning, power windows
and mirrors and other creature comforts.
As mentioned, however, both hybrid vehicles are hideous enough to frighten
Hybrids are pretty nifty ideas, though, but they're just one of the new,
clean automotive technologies coming down the 'pike. Watch for even cleaner
vehicles in the next few years, including fuel cell-powered ones whose only
emission is water.
Which will definitely bring a new meaning to the term "puddle jumper."
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.