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Weekend Roundup: 2012 BMW 3 Series, Nissan Hybrid and CVT, Chevrolet Spark Electric

Been away from your computer this week and missed all the automotive news? We've gathered a few of the top stories of the past week along with the weekend racing schedule for your convenience.

BMW has finally pulled the wraps off the all-new, F30-generation 3 Series. The car goes on sale in the U.S. in February 2012. The brand faithful will notice that the car's basic look is very familiar, with tweaks like a bulging hood, extra character lines, and revised lighting designs headlining the exterior changes. Under the hood in 328i guise is BMW's new turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, good for 240 hp, while 335i models continue with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six producing 300 hp. A six-speed manual is the standard transmission, with an eight-speed automatic optional. The new 3 Series also benefits from a heavy dose of chassis upgrades which improve fuel economy and driving performance, as well as new safety and convenience technologies.

Nissan has announced a raft of new technologies, and chief among them is a new hybrid system. It uses a supercharged 2.5-liter inline-four engine coupled to an electric motor-generator and continuously variable transmission. It will appear in an American-market production car in 2013 before going on sale globally. Nissan also announced its new XTRONIC CVT, which is a claimed 10 percent more fuel-efficient than current Nissan CVTs and also rewards with quicker acceleration. It arrives in an American production car in 2012 before rolling out around the world.

Chevrolet has announced that its tiny Spark hatchback will be sold in the U.S. from 2013. And on top of that, Chevrolet will build an all-electric version of the Spark that uses lithium-ion batteries. Regular versions of the Spark will employ a 1.2-liter inline-four engine with 83 hp, coupled to a five-speed manual transmission (an automatic will likely be optional). Just how small is the five-door Spark? Approximately four inches longer than the Fiat 500.

Seemingly playing catch-up to Ford's EcoBoost range, General Motors announced this week a new family of small, turbocharged gasoline engines. With displacements ranging from 1.0 to 1.5 liters, the Ecotec engines will be offered in both three- and four-cylinder varieties. GM won't say when these engines will arrive or in which cars they will be employed. However, we know that only the four-cylinder versions are slated for American consumption. The company expects to produce over two million such engines around the world each year.

Chevrolet plans to take the chassis used for its new Colorado global pickup truck and build a midsize SUV called the TrailBlazer. Built on the same truck platform as the Colorado, a teaser photo of the TrailBlazer reveals a curvaceous and attractive SUV. It goes into production in 2012. Will it come to America? Chevy officials won't comment, but given that the Colorado pickup is to be sold Stateside, our hopes for the SUV are high.

Cadillac has revealed a new touch-screen infotainment system called CUE. It debuts in the forthcoming Cadillac XTS luxury sedan, then will appear in the SRX crossover and ATS sport sedan. CUE consists of an eight-inch touchscreen display at the top of the center stack, and a 12.3-inch LCD display for the information panel. Cadillac says it drew inspiration from tablet computers and smartphones; CUE has features like multi-touch recognition and proximity sensing that will illuminate icons or button as a user's finger approaches the screen.

Chevrolet assembled local dignitaries, IndyCar race drivers, and even Roger Penske to announce that IndyCar racing would return to Detroit, Michigan. The Chevrolet IndyCar Grand Prix will take place June 1 through 3, 2012, and organizers have signed a three-year commitment to the race. The race will return to Detroit's Belle Isle, where IndyCarlast appeared in 2007 and 2008. Over the race weekend next June, Belle Isle also will host racing events for the Cadillac CTS-V race car and Chevrolet Camaros in a Grand-Am race.

Kia getting in on the B-Spec racing series launched by Mazda. Kia will provide customers with a race-prepared version of the 2012 Rio, which includes a roll cage, racing seats, and harnesses. The B-Spec series is designed so amateurs can enter a race series for much less money than normal by buying what are essentially manufacturer-ready race cars. The Honda Fit and Mazda 2 are already available as B-Spec racers, and several other manufacturers will join soon.

When Infiniti showed off a version of the FX50 crossover tweaked by Formula 1 racer Sebastian Vettel, we assumed it was just a one-off show car. Not so: Infiniti will put the Vettel-fettled FX50 into production. Tweaks to the 5.0-liter V-8 engine elicit 414 hp, enough for a claimed 5.5-second sprint to 60 mph and a top speed of 186 mph. The Infiniti's ride height has been lowered, and it wears Formula 1-inspired aerodynamic add-ons. There's no word yet on when the special FX50 will go on sale or how much money it might command.

In anticipation of the reveal of the new 3 Series, we dipped into the archives and plucked out our three favorite examples of the BMW from its five previous generations. Narrowing down the list to just three was tough, given how much we have loved every iteration of BMW's famed sport sedan, coupe, and convertible. Our top three picks include the E30-generation BMW M3, the E46-era 3 Series, and Jeff Koonz' M3 GT2 Art Car.

Driven: 2012 Fiat 500C, Honda HPD CR-Z and B-Spec Fit, 2013 BMW ActiveE

This week we slipped behind the wheel of an Italian hatchback, some Japanese race cars, and a German electric car. The 2012 Fiat 500C is just like a regular 500, except its metal roof has been chopped out and replaced by a retractable fabric top. Although it is not a true convertible, this type of open-air conversion means the Fiat 500C provides the benefits of open-air motoring without adversely affecting that car's driving performance. We also took a ride in the Honda HPD CR-Z and B-Spec Fit, cars modified to turn them from workaday commuters into track-day stars. The HPD CR-Z is meant to demonstrate how Honda's hybrid two-seater could be used for racing, while the B-Spec Fit is a low-cost factory racer aimed at amateurs looking to get started in racing. Finally, we drove the 2013 BMW ActiveE, a lease-only proposition that paves the way for BMW's upcoming i3 all-electric car. Based on a production 1 Series coupe, the ActiveE proves that emissions-free motoring can mix with driving enjoyment. Just over 1000 copies will be built, and of those 700 are headed to our shores.

Weekend Racing:

- NASCAR Sprint Cup, Bank of America 500, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Saturday October 15 at 7:30 p.m. EST on ABC

- NASCAR Nationwide Series, Dollar General 300 Miles of Courage, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Friday October 14 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN 2

- IndyCar, IZOD INDYCAR World Championships, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Sunday October 16 at 3:00 p.m. on ABC

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