The 2002 model year could be called the year of the sport-utility, with a long list of new or redesigned vehicles going on sale in the next few months.
General Motors leads the way with the redesigned 2002 GMC Envoy, Oldsmobile Bravada and Chevrolet TrailBlazer, all built off the automaker's new mid-sized truck platform.
Compared with the 2001 models, the wheelbase and track are up several inches, and each sport-utility features a big boost in horsepower thanks to GM's new 275-hp inline six-cylinder engine.
The TrailBlazer joins the less-expensive Blazer in Chevrolet's lineup, while the Bravada will be produced for an unspecified period of time. Last month GM announced it will phase out Oldsmobile in the next few years.
Buick, meanwhile, will produce the Rendezvous, a new sport wagon built in the same plant as the Pontiac Aztek. Styling, though, is more mainstream and is aimed at young upscale families. The Buick is a little longer than the Aztek and accommodates seven people. Though not a sport-utility, the Rendezvous will be aimed at the sport-utility crowd.
Cadillac's full-sized Escalade sport-utility finally receives a redesign, coming about 18 months after the redesign of its siblings, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon.
Cadillac's truck lineup will double for the 2002 model year with the addition of the EXT. The Cadillac EXT, and its sibling, the Chevrolet Avalanche are four-door pickups.
But their architecture is taken from the Chevrolet Suburban.
Both vehicles feature an open cargo box and a midgate, a door behind the second row of seats that opens into the box, expanding cargo capacity.
The Lincoln Blackwood is based on a sport-utility, the Navigator. Like the Cadillac EXT, it has an open cargo box behind the second row of seats. The Blackwood, however, does not have a midgate.
Like the TrailBlazer, the redesigned Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer have a wider track and a longer wheelbase, and have been engineered for a carlike ride. But unlike the GM products, the Explorer and Mountaineer offer seven-passenger seating.
GM plans a third row of seats in future versions of its mid-sized sport-utilities.
The Ford Motor Co. products offer a 240-hp, single overhead cam 4.6-liter V-8, and a long list of safety options, including stability control and side-curtain airbags.
Suzuki sales surprise?
The Jeep Liberty is the replacement for the Cherokee, which bowed in the 1984 model year.
But the new sport-utility is expected to be positioned a few notches above - and priced above - the Cherokee when it bows this summer. A big new V-6 will be under the hood.
Finally, two 2001 vehicles that will compete for the 2002 sport-utility crowd go on sale this month. Toyota expands its lineup with the Highlander sport wagon.
Suzuki launches the 2001 XL-7, a sport-utility based on a stretched Grand Vitara platform. With four-wheel drive, standard seven-passenger seating and a $21,499 sticker price, the XL-7 may be this year's sales surprise.