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2009 NAIAS Show Stoppers

A Lot of Electric Vehicles Add A Little Spark to the NAIAS

    General Motors wanted everyone to know one thing when it kicked off the 2009 North American International Auto Show Sunday: they’re in it to win. A dramatically scaled down show display acknowledged the nearly fatal financial problems of the past year, but the product on display should convince even the most annoying Washington Bureaucrats (we’re looking at you Senator Shelby) that GM plans to win in every category it competes.
     The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is a stunner inside and out and will offer up to 30 mpg on the highway with a new direct-injection 2.4-liter I4. The 182 hp engine will be the volume leader with nearly 2/3 of customers expected to forgo the 255 hp 3.0-liter V6 in favor of the fuel sipper. The Chevrolet Cruze subcompact was also on hand and it looks to reset the standard in the entry-level class with style to spare and an interior with original textures and high-quality materials throughout. Buick follows up the superb Enclave with another beauty in the second-gen LaCrosse. Superb chrome detailing mixes with textbook clean design to form the first truly upscale looking Buick sedan in many long years. Two fuel-efficient V6 engines are available with 255 hp or 280 hp, all-wheel drive is a first in a Buick sedan and a luxury interior that would look at home in a Cadillac should make this good enough to erase the memory of the original LaCrosse. Cadillac has a new SRX based on the equally new Equinox and it offers two fuel-saving V6s of up to 300 hp. Officials hint it should cost less than the current SRX when it goes on sale later this year. Cadillac wants in on a piece of the Chevy Volt’s techno goodies and whipped up the Converj concept to showcase what a future Cadillac powered by the extended-range electric propulsion system, now dubbed Voltec, could look like. We’d like to see the CTS Coupe come to life first, but if this is what the future of green motoring looks like, we’ll adapt just fine.
     Ford once again dragged legendary Carroll Shelby to the frozen cityscape of Detroit to introduce the revised Shelby Mustang GT500. Adopting tuning first offered on last year’s GT500KR, the new super ‘Stang now offers 540 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque in a musclecar body so sexy it should be illegal. Not quite to that level of sexiness is the all-new 2010 Ford Taurus, which nevertheless looks far better than any Ford sedan in a long time. A 3.5-liter 263 hp V6 used throughout the Blue Oval lineup motivates the technologically advanced new sedan in either front or all-wheel drive form. We’re mostly excited at the prospect of the upcoming 350 hp twin-turbo Ecoboost V6 finding its way under the hood before long. Sounds like the Taurus SHO could live again! In the meantime, customers will have to appreciate the optional adaptive cruise control system or the Collision Warning with Brake Support safety system. Ford also laid out plans for plug-in electric hybrids and full on electric vehicles with a range up to 100 miles by 2012. Of course they didn’t offer any physical proof such vehicles exist, but they promise to be the leaders in fuel economy, and mostly of the electrically assisted kind.
     Chrysler was all about the electric vehicle during their press conference showing several current products in EV guise. The ones that caught our eye include the Lotus-derived Circuit sports coupe and the 200C, which we’re hoping is a glimpse at the replacement for the lackluster Sebring. It’s one giant leap in the right direction for Chrysler’s virtually non-existent mid-size sedan offerings.
     Volkswagen snuck in a sexy little mid-engine roadster called the Concept BlueSport powered by a 2.0-liter clean diesel producing 177 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Good power numbers for a sub 2,600-pound sports car that also happens to return 35 mpg in the city and 50 mpg on the highway. VW claims 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and acknowledges that a gasoline TSI engine will also fit. We claim the world will be a better place with more affordable sports cars in it. Let’s get this in showrooms Volkswagen….or should we be seeking Porsche’s permission these days?
     In a year when there wasn’t much good news for automakers Audi sold itself to a new record of more than one million vehicles in 2008. To make sure that sales momentum continues Audi is filling out its lineup with more performance and more style. First, the beautiful R8 supercar dials up the super to the tune of 525 hp thanks to a 5.2-liter direct-injection V10. Carbon ceramic brakes, LED headlights and special wheels set the R8 apart from slower V8 models. We expect a sizeable price increase to go along with the sizeable power increase. Second, a preview of what Audi is calling a coming lineup of Sportback models proves that Mercedes isn’t the only German manufacturer that can dial up the style of a sedan. The Sportback Concept is powered by a 3.0-liter diesel with 225 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque sent through a 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission able to return 40 mpg and 0 to 60 mph times under 7 seconds. It’s a striking design from any angle and we always welcome more Audis with open arms.
     On Monday there was a collective sigh of relief from Prius lovers around the world as Toyota took the wraps off the secretive third generation of the hybrid phenomenon. Collective fuel economy now sits at 50 mpg and Toyota claims numbers in that neighborhood should be easier to reach in real world driving. To satisfy owners demands for a little more punch under the hood the gasoline engine has been upped to 1.8-liters for a combined net total including electric engine of 134 hp. That gets the four-door to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds. An available solar paneled roof powers the car’s ventilation system so fresh air is circulated through the cabin on hot days. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this vehicle in the months ahead, but it’s safe to assume Toyota will remain the darling of the green movement for some time.
     Lincoln finally got to show off its version of the Ford Flex, although we’re not sure we’d choose it over the less expensive version. Something about the rear of the vehicle rubs us the wrong way although we’re glad to see Ford talking up the new 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 that will spread across the lineup later this year. The pressurized engine is rated at 355 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque and will also be available in the Flex and the MKS sedan. We’re suckers for V8 power and if Ford can get it from a V6 then we’re talking the automotive equivalent of getting cake and eating it too!

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