By Robert Cumberford
It's not as good-looking as the beloved CRX was in its time, but it's still a very attractive, sporty two-seater that tens of thousands of happy drivers will likely enjoy, all the while saving money on fuel. A true Honda.
It's almost unbelievable to see a really good-looking four-door from Toyota, but the FT-CH is exactly that - and an economical hybrid to boot. Whether or not a production version retains the stylistic charm, this car should be highly successful.
The show-car front end seen in Detroit looks a bit like a chicken coop on wheels, with its four oversize wire-textured openings, but the body shape is strong and the car ought to do well in our market.
Paraphrasing the rockabilly song, "there's a whole lotta stylin' goin' on." Bumps, indents, strangely pointed front-fender shapes, and oversize hip bones above the rear wheels force this tiny city car to support a lot more surface detail than it should have to. Ideal for the young? I don't think so.
This second iteration of the ineptly named Audi electric sports car was the prettiest car at the Detroit show, with classic proportions, beautifully handled surfaces, and a superb interior. Nothing's really new, but it embodies the best contemporary design thinking, as the Italian coachbuilders used to do.
Those big black triangles alongside the grille are less than elegant, but the rest of the car is decent. It's fairly aerodynamic and cheerfully aggressive, with good visual solidity. In many ways, it represents a return to the basic Ford family sedans that sustained the company post-Model T.
Actually more refined in its design than the bigger Focus, the Fiesta will do everything that most Americans need to have done by commuter and small-family cars, with outstanding economy and better handling than has been available in small cars up to now, apart from the Mini Cooper.
Stylistically, it's something of a rounder-roofline mini Malibu, and it carries the established Chevy front-end theme well. A hundred horsepower per liter used to be racing-car output. The Cruze is a good bet for small-car stardom.
When it goes on sale this summer, the 2011 Honda CR-Z will be the smallest hybrid you can buy. It's a foot shorter than the current Insight, although it's longer, wider, and taller than the original, two-seat Honda Insight, which, when it arrived in late 1999, was the first hybrid on American roads.
What's the big deal?
The CR-Z is a foot shorter than the Insight, and more powerful, but can it recapture the spirit of the CRX?
1.5L I-4/electric hybrid, 122 hp, 128 lb-ft; continuously variable transmission or 6-speed manual; 36/38 mpg
Yes, the sexy two-seat electric sports car unveiled at Detroit has the same name as the two-seat electric sports car that Audi showed at Frankfurt last fall. But whereas the previous car was obviously a tweaked Audi R8, this latest E-tron is dramatically smaller, with standout styling all its own. Two electric motors drive the rear wheels and are powered by a mid-mounted lithium-ion battery. The car uses aluminum-spaceframe construction with composite body panels. Audi claims a curb weight of 2976 pounds (60 percent of which is over the rear wheels) and a 0-to-62-mph time of 5.9 seconds. Although Audi has said it plans a limited production run of the R8-based E-tron, no such statements were forthcoming regarding this car, but executives did hint that they are considering a range of E-tron offerings. The show car's crowd-stopping good looks, mid-mounted powerplant, and compact dimensions had others excited at the prospect that this E-tron could in fact be a first look at the long-rumored R4 mid-engine sports car. This more affordable coupe/roadster would slot below the R8 in the lineup and would be twinned with versions for Volkswagen and Porsche.
What's the big deal? Could be a preview of a new, small R4 mid-engine sports car.
Stats: Rear-wheel drive, two electric motors, 204 hp, 0 to 62 mph in 5.9 seconds
The Ford Focus has been here since 200, so why is the new version big news? Because Ford is attempting to dramatically elevate the car's sophistication, equipment, and - not incidentally - its price. Our Focus will not be the ugly stepsister to the European model, as the cars will have 80 percent parts commonality, in keeping with CEO Alan Mulally's One Ford theme. Under the hood is a direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 155 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque. A turbocharged (EcoBoost) engine is promised at a later date, as is an EV in 2011, along with a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid in 2012. Greater sophistication comes in the form of a six-speed dual-clutch automatic and a customizable display screen (MyFord Touch). Ford will attempt to raise transaction prices - and profitability - by tempting buyers with high-tech extras such as keyless ignition, navigation, a backup camera, and automated parking assist. The cheapie coupe disappears, replaced by an oh-so-Euro four-door hatchback to sell alongside the four-door sedan.
What's the big deal? Ford looks to make its small car aspirational, with European refinement and loads of available equipment.
Stats: 2.0L I-4, 155 hp, 145 lb-ft
The first European small Ford to arrive here is the Fiesta, which should reach dealerships by June. The sedan is just fractionally smaller than the current Focus, but the four-door hatchback is more than a foot shorter. Both use an aluminum 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 119 hp and 109 lb-ft of torque, connected to either a five-speed stick or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. The latter is more fuel efficient, posting EPA ratings of 30/38 mpg, or 30/40 mpg with an optional fuel-economy package (revised engine tuning, transmission calibration, and low-rolling-resistance tires). Prices range from $13,995 for the base sedan to $17,795 for the top-spec hatchback, before options. The Fiesta can't come close to matching the Honda Fit or even the Nissan Versa in terms of space for people and cargo; instead, the Fiesta will have to sell on its driving dynamics, which are quite good, and on its styling.
What's the big deal? Our first new taste of European Ford goodness.
Stats: 1.6L I-4, 119 hp, 109 lb-ft; 6-speed dual-clutch automatic or 5-speed manual; 30/40 mpg; $13,995-$17,795 base price range
If the Spark looks familiar, that's because it was one of a trio of minicar concepts that General Motors showed three years ago. The public was asked to vote for its favorite, and the Spark, then called the Beat, came up the winner. Initial word was that it would not be sold in the U.S. market, but GM management has changed its mind - perhaps in an attempt to show its government masters that the company is offering more fuel-efficient models in America? - and the Spark will go on sale here in early 2012.
As Ford is attempting with the Focus, Chevrolet wants to elevate the perception and the price of its compact sedan. It's wisely ditching the Cobalt name for the new sedan, which is slightly larger than its predecessor, the better to make room for not one but two entries underneath it: a new Aveo and the Spark minicar. The Cruze, available only as a four-door sedan (no coupe version this time), comes in four trim levels. The base LS gets a 136-hp, 1.8-liter iron-block four. The uplevel engine, a 1.4-liter turbo in the 1LT, 2LT, and the LTZ, isn't much more powerful (138 hp) but should get better fuel mileage - Chevy is predicting 40 mpg on the highway. The manual and automatic transmissions both have six speeds. Available equipment includes leather, navigation, Bluetooth, heated seats, and wheels as large as eighteen inches.
What's the big deal? It's more upscale and more economical than the Cobalt.
Stats: 1.4L turbo I-4, 138 hp, 148 lb-ft; 1.8L I-4, 136 hp, 123 lb-ft; 6-speed automatic or manual; 40 mpg highway (turbo)
The Aveo has been a laggard in the tiny-car field, but an all-new version, previewed by the Aveo RS show car unveiled in Detroit, looks like it will turn up the wattage of Chevrolet's subcompact. In fact, if the production version hews closely to what's shown here, it rightly should get a new nameplate, to distance itself from today's car. Although the current Aveo is imported from Korea, the new version will be made in Michigan. The top engine offering will be the same 138-hp, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine available in the Cruze. GM's Bob Lutz has said that the new Aveo will cost more than today's bargain-basement entry, which has a base price range of $12,685 to $16,085. Determined price shoppers will have another option, though - the even tinier Chevrolet Spark minicar.
Stats: 1.4L turbo I-4, 138 hp, 148 lb-ft
Toyota has finally admitted that it plans to expand the Prius from a single model to a family of vehicles, which we first reported in June 2007. Toyota Motor Sales president Jim Lentz has said that the plan is to add eight additional hybrid models, with the goal of doubling the company's hybrid sales. Toyota characterizes the FT-CH (Future Technology Compact Hybrid) concept as one possible member of the Prius family, but it is a particularly logical one and something that dealers have been asking for. Nearly two feet shorter than today's Prius, the FT-CH takes the hybrid idea down one size class, from mid-size to compact; it also would be less expensive. Toyota isn't saying anything about the powertrain, but, if anything, it should exceed the current Prius's already-stellar 51/48 mpg.
What's the big deal? A smaller, cheaper Prius that gets even better gas mileage.
Stats: 153-inch length (vs. 175.6-inch Prius), 100-inch wheelbase (vs. 106.3-inch Prius)
Various countries, government agencies, and even car-rental companies have their own rules for classifying vehicles by size. For instance, the EPA goes by interior volume and weight, while the Japanese government goes by exterior dimensions and engine size. But manufacturers and industry observers more often rely on an informal shorthand that follows the simple logic we all learned from reading Playboy data sheets - higher letters denote bigger, um, cars. Generally speaking, A-segment refers to city cars like the Fiat 500, B-segment to subcompacts such as the Nissan Versa, C-segment to compacts like the Ford Focus and the Toyota Corolla, D-segment to mid-size cars such as the Chevrolet Malibu, and so on.
Two feet shorter than a Terrain, GMC's Granite concept is Gamma-based, powered by a 1.4-liter turbo. "We are trying to push GMC [toward] the future," says designer Juho Suh.
- Carlos Tavares, Nissan's chief for the Americas, has said that Nissan will add to its North American lineup two new models smaller than the Versa and priced at less than $10,000.
- BMW brings us its smallest-ever SUV, the X1, in early spring of next year.
Audi board member Peter Schwarzenbauer has indicated that the subcompact A1 (which goes on sale in Europe this year) won't be sold in the United States.
By David Zenlea