2012 Detroit Auto Show
Video: Hot, Sexy Hybrids in Detroit
More coverage from the Detroit Auto Show
Hot, Sexy Hybrids
By Matthew de Paula of MSN Autos
Hybrids aren't what they used to be, and that's a good thing. The latest batch unveiled here at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit proves that going "green" need not be boring. Whether it's a sexy sports coupe or a high-powered performance sedan, these six high-tech rides challenge the notion that hybrids must be slow, pedantic and uninspiring.
Lexus LF-LC Hybrid Sport Coupe Concept
BMW Active Hybrid 5
Here is a hybrid that could very well outperform its gasoline-powered equivalent. It takes the 300-horsepower twin-turbo 6-cylinder engine of the 535i sport sedan and adds an electric drive system that boosts power output by 35 horses. It can go from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. But it can also drive solely on electric power up to 37 mph. It's a looker, too, with a sultry shape that shames the other hybrids with their pudgy proportions and dinky wheels
designed to reduce drag. Driving a BMW Active Hybrid 5 sends a drastically different message than driving a Toyota Prius. Now, if BMW would only pick a better name for it.
BMW ActiveHybrid 5
( Read: BMW Still King of the Hill
BMW Is Still King of the Hill
New 3-Series on display in Detroit seeks to solidify BMW's top-sales status in the U.S.
By Matthew de Paula of MSN Autos
BMW blew away the competition in 2011. It sold 305,418 vehicles, its second-highest U.S. sales year ever and an increase of 14.9 percent from 2010. Second-place Mercedes-Benz sold 40,958 fewer vehicles. No other luxury
automaker even came close.
One the company's best-sellers, the 3-Series, is getting a comprehensive makeover for 2012, which should boost
sales for the brand this year, too. It was announced late last year, but it is making its first appearance here in Detroit at the 2012 North American International Auto Show.
BMW also announced pricing for the 2012 ActiveHybrid 5 sedan, which debuted in September at the Frankfurt Motor Show and will go on sale this spring. It starts at $61,845, including an $895 destination and handling charge. The last bit of news revealed in Motor City will please traditionalists: BMW will offer a 6-speed manual transmission on the 2013 M5 sedan in the U.S., as a no-cost option. A 7-speed double-clutch transmission is standard. BMW ActiveHybrid 3
What is it? Arguably the best sport sedan in the world, the 3-Series is totally remade for 2012.
What's hot? Lots. It's a little bigger than the outgoing model, but 88 pounds lighter. BMW says the rear seat is
noticeably roomier. The turbocharged 240-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that debuted in the Z4 roadster replaces the
6-cylinder previously offered in the 328i. The 335i gets a twin-turbo 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine like before. Output is the same — 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque — but it's been tweaked for better fuel economy. Converting from
the EU test cycle, it gets 29.8 mpg with the 6-speed manual transmission, a 6 percent improvement. It achieves 32.6 mpg with the optional 8-speed automatic, a 16 percent improvement. BMW is the first to offer an 8-speed automatic in a compact car. A Driving Dynamics Control switch will be standard on the 328i and 335i. It has four modes that vary throttle, engine and steering response depending on what the driver wants, be it comfort, better fuel economy or sporty response. The system also varies shift points in cars equipped with the 8-speed automatic. An optional M
Sport package offers a lowered and stiffened suspension, larger wheels and a body kit. An electronically adjustable M Sport suspension is another option.
Meanwhile, the ActiveHybrid 3 pairs the twin-turbo 6-cylinder from the 335i with an electric drive system for a combined power output of 335 horsepower. An 8-speed automatic transmission is standard. The ActiveHybrid 3 will get 37 mpg, said Dr. Klaus Draeger, board member of BMW AG, during a press conference at the Detroit Auto Show.
What's not? The 3-Series traditionally has had few notable faults. One that affects all BMWs is the way the company charges for things that are usually standard on other luxury cars, such as heated seats, for example. The styling might be an issue for some, while others might actually like it better.
How much and when? The rear-wheel-drive 328i and 335i sedans go on sale in February for $35,795 and $43,295, respectively. All-wheel-drive versions of both models hit showrooms this summer, followed by the ActiveHybrid 3 sedan in the fall.
MSN Autos' verdict: The 3-Series is poised to remain king of the hill in the compact premium sedan segment. If the performance specs alone don't impress most Americans, here's something that will: Cupholders now located in the center console. This sounds trivial, but to those of us who've had drinks spill from the chintzy dash-mounted ones in the current generation, it's a welcome change.
BMW ActiveHybrid 5
What is it? BMW's first midsize hybrid sedan, engineered to balance performance with fuel economy, rather than focusing on just the latter, as most hybrids do.
What's hot? It has the same sweet twin-turbo 6-cylinder engine as the 535i. With the electric drive system, combined
power output is 335 horsepower, which means the ActiveHybrid 5 is more powerful than the standard 535i on which it's based. It can go from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. But it can also drive solely on electric power up to 37 mph. The lithium-ion battery pack has a 2.5-mile range when driving solely on electric power at an average speed of 22 mph. A new 8-speed automatic transmission is standard.
What's not? It's expensive. It has a weird name. And as with all hybrids, the electric drive system adds weight and complexity. Don't expect Toyota Prius levels of fuel efficiency, either. This is a big, powerful sport sedan, not a fuel miser.
How much and when? It will on sale in late spring with a starting price of $61,845.
MSN Autos' verdict: The BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is not a car for tree huggers; it's pricey and performance-oriented. Honda tried a similar approach with its Accord several years ago and the car flopped. Perhaps it was simply ahead of its time.
Matthew de Paula wanted to be an automotive journalist ever since reading his first car magazine in grade school.
After a brief stint writing about finance, he helped launch ForbesAutos.com and became the site's editor in 2006.
Matthew now freelances for various outlets.
Ford Fusion Energi
The new Ford Fusion almost looks like an Aston Martin from the front -- almost. That's not to say it's anywhere near
as sexy as a sports car, but it does look a heck of a lot better than other hybrids, including the previous Fusion. For 2013, Ford is producing two versions of the midsize hybrid sedan: a conventional one with an upgraded lithium-ion battery pack, and a version called the Fusion Energi with more batteries and plug-in capability. A smartphone application lets owners monitor battery charging remotely. Both hybrid models can drive up to 62 mph solely on electric power. Last year's model could reach only 47 mph in electric-only mode because of its weaker nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Read: Ford Fusion Gets a Makeover
Ford Fusion Gets a Makeover Good isn't good enough; the 2013 model unveiled in Detroit ups the ante even further. By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
2013 Ford Fusion
Ford has enjoyed quite a bit of success with its current Fusion sedan. After a midcycle update, the vehicle was
named the Motor Trend Car of the Year and the North American Car of the Year in 2010, and it was one of the automaker's top-sellers in 2011.
But apparently, good isn't good enough for Ford, as the Blue Oval unveiled a completely redesigned 2013 Fusion this morning at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The new model looks better than the current model in every way, boasting an attractive yet derivative design language that promises to be the future of Ford. 2013 Ford Fusion
What is it? The next generation of Ford's midsize sedan.
What's hot? Just about everything. The 2013 Ford Fusion marks the first use of Ford's new corporate face, and it's mighty handsome. The Fusion also will deliver excellent fuel economy and plenty of room for family and friends. Powertrain choices include:
; A turbocharged 1.6-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder that Ford says will deliver 26 mpg city/37 mpg highway.
; A 2.0-liter EcoBoost four that will offer more power and fuel economy of 23/33.
; An updated hybrid that will best the new Toyota Camry Hybrid with estimated EPA ratings of 47/44.
; Ford also will offer a plug-in hybrid Energi model with an mpge rating of more than 100.
The automaker promises to improve driving dynamics, add all-wheel drive as an option, upgrade to a higher-quality interior and outfit the vehicle with new technology including adaptive cruise control, Lane Keep Assist, Active Park Assist and a blind-spot information system with cross-traffic alert. The Fusion also will get the next generation of MyFord Touch, which Ford says is easier to use thanks to larger lettering and faster response time. What's not? While the grille is beautiful, it looks too much like an Aston Martin design. It makes us wonder if Aston Martin, formerly owned by Ford, will protest and force Ford to change its new face. If not, those beautiful Aston Martins won't look so special when you see a similar face on a family sedan.
How much and when? Starting at about $20,000; due late summer.
MSN Autos' verdict: It looks as if competition in the midsize-sedan segment is heating up. The new Chevrolet Malibu is quite nice though a bit cramped in back, and the Korean automakers have been putting on the press for the past couple of years. The 2013 Fusion is arguably the best-looking of the bunch and it promises excellent fuel economy, a premium feel and plenty of space.
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast
magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently
contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.
Lexus LF-LC concept
If Lexus were to produce a hybrid version of its LFA supercar, it would probably look like this sexy machine. It's the company's interpretation of what a future luxury sports coupe should look like. With its huge, angular grille, sloping glass roof and bulging fenders, it manages to be racy and elegant at the same time. The interior is just as richly sculpted, with a stylish steering wheel of polished metal, leather and carbon fiber. The door panels and center console have sweeping shapes that curl like waves. A 12.3-inch display in the middle of the dash complements the multilayered instrument binnacle in front of the driver. Lexus, please turn this into a production model. View Pictures: Lexus LF-LC Hybrid
Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid
Here's another performance-oriented hybrid that should be loads of fun to drive. It uses a V6 gasoline engine that puts out 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. But wait, there's more. An electric motor adds 27 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque for a combined power output of 329 horses and 457 lb-ft of torque. Estimated fuel consumption is 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway/27 mpg combined. On the outside, it's the same classy E-Class we've come to expect.
Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTEC Hybrid
(Read: New Hybrids From Mercedes
Mercedes Shows Off 2 Hybrids, Roadster in Detroit
In typical German fashion, they're brimming with new technology.
By Matthew de Paula of MSN Autos
Mercedes-Benz has some good momentum at the moment, having just recorded the highest yearly U.S. sales (264,460 vehicles) in its 125-year history — impressive considering it did so in a shaky economy.
It also launched six new vehicles in 2011, including volume sellers such as the C-Class and halo cars such as the
SLS AMG Roadster. That's the most new vehicles Mercedes has ever launched in a single year.
It doesn't look as if Mercedes is going to slow down in 2012, as it unveiled three new models last night here at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. As is typical, the German automaker is playing simultaneously to opposite ends of the market by unveiling a pair of hybrid sedans next to a sporty convertible. It's an appropriately diplomatic strategy for a luxury car company, which must uphold performance standards while pursuing better fuel economy and lower emissions.
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL
What is it? One of Mercedes' most important cars in terms of corporate image. Since the original debuted in 1952, this 2-seat convertible has enhanced the brand's mystique and filled country-club parking lots everywhere. But it's not a hard-core sports car like a Ferrari or Porsche; this drop-top is more of a boulevard cruiser, unless an AMG badge is on the trunk.
What's hot? The car's underlying structure and body panels are made almost entirely of aluminum. The frame for the folding hardtop is magnesium. Compared with the previous model, which used steel for much of its structure, the 2013 SL550 weighs 275 pounds less, yet is nearly 2 inches longer and more than 2 inches wider. The car's twin-turbo V8 is more powerful than the engine it replaces and — thanks to technology such as a start/stop function, which
powers the engine down during temporary stops — it's also more fuel-efficient. The engine puts out 429 horsepower, a 12 percent increase. Torque is up 32 percent, to 516 lb-ft. A fancifully named Magic Sky Control glass roof panel is optional and switches from transparent to opaque at the push of a button.
What's not? As Mercedes pursues younger customers with bolder design, it appears to be shedding some of the understated elegance that has long been a hallmark of the SL roadster.
How much and when? The SL550 will hit dealerships this spring. Pricing has yet to be announced, but it will probably cost about what the 2012 model, which starts at $103,650.
MSN Autos' verdict: The new SL upholds Mercedes' trend-setting tradition. Although high-end cars have used aluminum in their construction for some time, no production car thus far has used it so pervasively — barring exotic
sports cars that cost more and are made in fewer numbers. But the new SL has much more going for it than just weight savings. It will be a hit.