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New models at Detroit auto show offer more promise than compromise

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By Mark Phelan
Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Compromise, schmompromise. The 2013 North American International Auto Show is about having your cake and eating it, too.

“It's all about increasing efficiency without penalizing performance,” Porsche R&D chief Wolfgang Hatz said at the show this week.

Cars and trucks that offer more power and higher fuel economy are the order of the day on the show floor at Cobo Center in Detroit, where the show opens to the public on Saturday.

It's the future of performance, as automakers embrace the idea that buyers expect their new vehicles to be more efficient and more capable. No trade-offs, thank you very much. We expect it all.

The relentless advancement begins with the beautiful and efficient 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Code-named Y1XX, its 6.2-liter V-8 produces 450 horsepower, accelerates the two-seater to 60 mph in less than 4.0 seconds and will score a higher EPA rating than the outgoing model, thanks to lightweight materials and new technologies.

Ford's hulking Atlas, a concept vehicle pointing the way to the 2015 F-150 that will go on sale next year, sings the same song in a different key.

Ford says aerodynamic tweaks and new technologies will make America's workhorse sleeker and more fuel-efficient.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV adds a long-awaited diesel V-6 — courtesy of Fiat, which specializes in the brawny and frugal engines — to become the first model in the iconic brand's history equipped to conquer the brutal Rubicon trail and break the 30-mpg barrier on the highway.

Some new vehicles at the show offer almost cartoonish levels of power while promising greater efficiency and lower fuel consumption and emissions. The Maserati Quattroporte luxury sedan wrings 532 horsepower out of a mere 3.8 liters of V-8 engine. Needless to say, it also uses 20 percent less fuel than the less powerful car it replaces.

The procession of new high-mpg models isn't just for big spenders. Honda's small crossover — a concept that's nearly identical to a production model coming in 2014 — sneaks a five-passenger interior into an aggressively styled SUV body that promises to score above 40 mpg in highway fuel efficiency tests.

Nissan also promises more features and 40 mpg-plus in its roomy new Versa Note subcompact hatchback.

New hybrids and electric cars abound as well. Volkswagen's CrossBlue concept crossover combines diesel and electric efficiency. Lexus' low-slung new IS becomes the first of the brand's small sport sedans to come with a hybrid, while the Cadillac ELR wraps sumptuous leather and Cadillac style around the drivetrain of the award-winning Chevrolet Volt.

Mark Phelan is the auto critic for the Detroit Free Press; email him at mmphelan@freepress.com.

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