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GM upsizing its models
Web Posted: 03/27/2005 12:00 AM CST​

San Antonio Express-News

It could turn out to be too much of a good thing, but General Motors' decision to super-size a whole new crop of vehicles clearly is meant to bring some excitement to a company whose cars have been seen by some consumers as a bit boring.

G. Chambers Williams III / Express-News
The new TrailBlazer will come with a
version of the LS2 6.0-liter Corvette
V-8 engine, with 400 horsepower.

But with gas prices rising, recent studies have shown that consumers are looking for cars with less power and more fuel efficiency, so this push toward more high-performance vehicles might be coming at a bad time.

Nevertheless, critics of GM say the company needs to do something to generate some consumer interest in its newest cars.

To that end, at the New York auto show this past week Chevy rolled out SS (SuperSport) models of its TrailBlazer midsize sport utility vehicle and of its midsize Malibu sedan and Malibu Maxx hatchback/wagon. That adds three SS models to the Chevrolet lineup, along with the previously introduced Silverado SS pickup, Impala SS sedan, and Monte Carlo SS sport coupe, SSR pickup and Cobalt SS compact sport coupe.

Cadillac, GM's luxury brand, rolled out its own latest SS-type vehicle, the XLR-V. It's a supercharged, 440-horsepower version of the two-seat, hardtop roadster that debuted two years ago on the chassis of the sixth-generation Chevrolet Corvette.

It will join two other "V" models in the Cadillac lineup, the CTS-V midsize sedan, with 400 horsepower; and the 440-horsepower STS-V full-size sedan, shown at the Detroit auto show in January and carrying the same supercharged 4.4-liter engine that will be used in the XLR-V.

GM says the 2006 XLR-V "joins Cadillac's growing family of high-performance V-Series vehicles and joins the ultra-luxury class of high-performance roadsters in power, performance and personal amenities."

Besides the supercharged engine, it will come with a new Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission and will be capable of accelerating from zero to 60 mph in under five seconds.

Among the extras: 19-inch wheels and a leather-wrapped interior.

In the Chevrolet lineup, it's hard to decide which is the most surprising: an SS version of a sedan/wagon line such as the Malibu and Malibu Maxx, or a SuperSport version of the family-hauling TrailBlazer SUV.

As for the Malibu and Malibu Maxx SS models, Chevy says they will deliver "a strong combination of affordable performance, luxury and value in the midsize segment."

They won't have anywhere near the power of the Cadillac V-models, or even the 2006 Chevy Impala and Monte Carlo SS models with their 5.3-liter, 303-horsepower V-8 engines. Instead, the Malibu and Malibu Maxx SS will come with GM's new 3.9-liter V-6, rated at 240 horsepower. It will be normally aspirated, not supercharged.

Other special touches will include 18-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension, and SS badging and interior trim. The V-6 will be connected to a four-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode, a version of the gearbox used in some drag-racing vehicles, GM says.

The TrailBlazer is perhaps the biggest surprise. This one will be based on the short-wheelbase, five-passenger model of the midsize SUV, but will come with a version of the LS2 6.0-liter Corvette V-8, with 400 horsepower, allowing the truck to accelerate to 60 mph in less than six seconds. This is the same engine Chevy is using in the 2006 SSR roadster-pickup and the 2006 Pontiac GTO.

Chevy says the TrailBlazer SS will be similar in execution to what Ford does with its SVT (Special Vehicle Team) models such as the F-150 Lightning pickup.

Ford, however, says it has no plans to build such a souped-up version of the midsize Explorer SUV or its clones — the Mercury Mountaineer and Lincoln Aviator.

At least, that's the word for now. If they would create an SVT high-performance version of the Focus and Contour compact cars, as they have done, it's certainly not unreasonable to think an SVT Explorer could be next, or even an Escape.

Lowering the chassis and sport-tuning the suspension are crucial elements of creating a high-performance SUV, and that will be part of the TrailBlazer SS package. Already, because of their high profiles, SUVs are inherently more prone to rollovers than cars. Unfortunately, when high-power drivetrains are put into SUVs, the rollover danger increases significantly because people think they can drive them as though they were sports cars.

For the most part, you can't safely drive an SUV like a sports car, and anyone who tries may soon find the vehicle sliding off the road upside down. At that point, the occupants had better have their seatbelts fastened and hope that the vehicle has side-curtain air bags.

Probably the only high-performance SUV that truly handles like a sports car is the Porsche Cayenne.

GM says it will give the TrailBlazer SS model a sport suspension and will fine-tune it at a speedway in Germany — the Nurburgring track, where Mercedes, BMW and even Cadillac test the suspensions of their cars. The TrailBlazer SS will be two inches lower than the production model, which should help with stability.

The SS model is planned for a fall introduction as a 2006 model; no prices have been suggested yet, but expect to pay a premium of several thousand dollars to get the performance models.

A key attribute of SS models throughout Chevy's history has been their relative affordability.

"SS has always stood for attainable performance — vehicles that deliver an exciting driving experience across a variety of products," said Brent Dewar, General Motors North America vice president of marketing and advertising.

Among the other SS models is the SSR, which comes only in one form. The SSR name is short for SuperSport Roadster, and there is no lesser model.

Introduced last year with a normally aspirated 5.3-liter, 320-horsepower V-8, the SSR is derived from the chassis of the TrailBlazer. With the upgrade to a version of the 6.0-liter Corvette engine for 2005, the SSR made possible the extension of that engine to a high-performance TrailBlazer. Remember, they have the same architecture.

Also introduced this fall along with the entire new Cobalt compact car lineup, which replaces the Cavalier, is the Cobalt SS, a 205-horsepower supercharged front-drive two-door coupe.

They are just trickling into dealerships for now, but GM is trying to get production up to speed.

Base versions of the Cobalt have a normally aspirated 140-horsepower, 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine. The SS model's engine is a 2.0-liter four.

Two years ago, Chevy introduced a Silverado SS model, available in either rear-or all-wheel drive, and bearing a normally aspirated, 345-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8. Even though this is one speedy sport truck, it still can tow a trailer weighing up to 8,100 pounds.

Coming this summer are the newest Impala and Monte Carlo SS models, and for the first time in this front-drive midsize platform, GM's legendary small-block V-8 engine will be used. The 2005 SS versions come with a supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 engine.

Under the hood of the 2006 Impala and Monte Carlo SS models will be a version of the LS4 5.3-liter V-8 with 303 horsepower, which GM says was "developed exclusively for front-drive applications and incorporates Displacement on Demand technology that enables fuel economy savings of up to 12 percent."

Displacement on demand is a system that cuts out four of the cylinders during highway cruising to help increase fuel economy. The system is showing up in other vehicles outside GM as well, including some Toyota and Chrysler Group models.

In addition to their special powertrains, suspensions and braking systems, all SS vehicles for 2006 will have "unique exterior styling and more refined interior appointments — traits that date back to the first production SS car, the 1961 Impala Super Sport," GM says.

Also included are special SS instrument clusters, seat embroidery and other exclusive touches.

"The exterior design is unique to each model, but all share sporty, contemporary looks that are complemented by larger wheels and performance tires, lowered ride height and subtle yet aggressive-looking body enhancements," GM said.

The SuperSport package made its first appearance on the full-size 1961 Chevy Impala, GM says, offering a 409-cubic-inch V-8 rated at 360 horsepower.

The Beach Boys made an entire hit song based on the engine, "409."
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