What's Old is New in Chicago

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. No, we're not talking about a wedding; we're talking about the Chicago Auto Show. In press conferences there, Pontiac said it intends to revive its performance image with a V-8-powered sedan called the G8, while Ford dusted off its recently discarded Taurus and Sable names to breath new life into a couple of revised Ford and Mercury models that previously bore other monikers. Mercedes-Benz put yet more heat into its hot McLaren, and Volkswagen gave enthusiasts yet another reason to pull on their driving gloves. Scion unveiled two new models.

After flailing a bit during the 1990s, Pontiac is serious about its performance heritage. And the proof of that is an all-new, rear-wheel-drive performance sedan called the G8, which will be available in dealerships early next year. While a V6 will be available, the buzz at the show centered around the optional 362-horsepower six-liter V8 that can be backed by six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions. Fuel economy is boosted by Active Fuel Management that cuts off four cylinders when they are unneeded.

It is ironic that the 2008 Ford Taurus introduced at the Chicago Auto Show features more than 500 improvements over the old car, since, until Ford execs had an epiphany and decided to rename it Taurus, the car was known as the Ford Five Hundred. (Think that involved a "search-and-replace" in the press release?) One big change that separates the new Taurus from last year's Five Hundred is the 3.5-liter V-6 that delivers an estimated 260 horsepower, a nearly 30 percent increase. It is mated to the same six-speed automatic transmission used in the new Ford Edge.

While they were at it, Ford decided to rename the revised version of its underappreciated Freestyle crossover as well, and what better name to choose than Taurus? So the three-row vehicle is now the 2008 Ford Taurus X. It benefits from the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. And it is equipped with side curtain air bags and electronic stability control. Convenience has been improved with one-touch, flip-and-fold second-row seats and an available power liftgate.

You know how things come in threes? Well, Ford made it a three-fer by renaming the Mercury Montego the Sable, a successful name from Mercury's past. With chassis and powertrain virtually identical to the Ford Taurus sedan, the Sable features Mercury's signature waterfall grille, projector beam headlamps, LED tail lamps and a two-tone interior trim with three different accent trims -- two woodgrains and simulated carbon fiber.

Scion will see if bigger is better by making its new-generation of the xB a bigger box. The wheelbase is longer by four inches and overall the xB has grown by a foot, which should not only increase interior space, but also improve ride quality. The versatile interior provides nearly eight cubic feet of additional storage space behind the rear seats versus its predecessor. The standard and optional sound systems have received serious tweaks including sophisticated iPod connectivity that is far more than just mini-jack port, though that's also standard. For those who want their jukebox to move, the new engine produces 158 horsepower, 55 more than the previous generation.

Scion wasn't content just to show the new xB, though. It also unveiled the xD, a bold new take on the five-door urban subcompact. The xD captures the Scion mojo with its simple surfaces, thick muscular body and accentuated wheel flares.

Other important vehicles to bow in the Windy City included an all-new Dodge Dakota midsize pickup truck, heavily revised versions of the Nissan Titan, Pathfinder and Armada, and a return of the Volkswagen R32.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the auto industry and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.