The 12 Most Significant New Production Cars of the Detroit Auto Show

Volkswagen Jetta

Front Left View

As Volkswagen tries to shake itself out of the sales doldrums in the U.S., the new-generation Jetta had its worldwide debut in Los Angeles. No wonder, since this sedan accounts for forty percent of VW sales in America. Predictably enough, the new Jetta gets a little bigger; it's about seven inches longer, an inch wider, and about three-quarters of an inch taller. There's a new, 150-hp, 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, while a 200-hp turbo and a 100-hp turbo diesel will follow. As always, VW delivers a lot of new technological value, including electro-mechanical steering, all-independent multi-link rear suspension, and electronic stability control. But we'll see if all this moves the Jetta very far upscale, as it still is less spacious and less powerful than its competition. Moreover, its flashy new grille is attached to bodywork that looks bland at close range. With a five-speed manual gearbox, the MSRP starts at $17,900, while the six-speed manu-matic takes the price to $18,300.

Hummer H3

Front Left View

GM's Hummer division is well aware that it has come to represent wretched excess to many Americans, and it wants you to know that its new SUV, the H3, is a kindler, gentler Hummer. This smaller, more fuel efficient model is based on the platform that underlies the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups. Available only with a 3.5-liter five-cylinder engine that produces 220 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 225 lb-ft of torque at 2800 rpm, the 4700-pound H3 will have its work cut out for it towing its rated 4500 pounds-or even just motivating its own weight. While the base price will likely be a bit under $35,000 for an H3 with cloth seats and a five-speed manual transmission, options like a four-speed automatic transmission, leather seating, DVD navigation, head curtain air bags, and stability control will push the price to around $40,000.

Ford Mustang Convertible

Front Left View

We've showered a good deal of praise on Ford's new Mustang, so those of us who prefer going topless are happy to hear more about the inevitable convertible version. Scheduled to reach showrooms this spring, the new 'stang droptop is an admirable exercise in convertible production, rather than the hackjobs that have plagued some earlier Mustang cabrios. Special attention was paid to keeping the chassis stiff and weight off. Powertrains are the same as the coupe: the convertible will be offered with the standard 4.0-liter 202-horsepower V-6, and the 4.6-liter 300-horsepower V-8. Stay tuned to for our take on driving the newest open-air stallion.

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