On the Road Review: What’s New from the Auto Shows

This year’s New England Auto Show got upstaged by the more glamorous Los Angeles Show, where several manufacturers chose to make their new model debuts in front of larger West Coast crowds, while skipping the unpredictable New England weather. A short recap of what’s new, and important, for the coming auto season follows.


With all of the attention on new cars — green cars, diesel cars, small cars — Toyota is debuting two new…trucks.

Still battling for a shrinking market, Toyota has a new Sienna minivan coming this spring. The styling is more aggressive, the interior is roomier, and stylish 19-inch wheels with an optional sport suspension join the third-generation van, as Toyota believes that this genre can still return decent profits. That may not be a bad bet as Chrysler’s sales continue to collapse.

The newest Sienna also offers optional four cylinder power for the first time in this body-style, a 187-hp 2.7-liter four, plus options such as 180-degree rear panoramic camera system, dual view rear entertainment, a power folding split rear seat arrangement, plus a clever reclining second row seat arrangement that includes foot rests. With five trim levels, the latest Sienna promises lots of options for families on the go.

Perhaps of more interest to some motorists is the next generation 4Runner. Still a body-on-frame sport utility, (one of the few remaining such designs) the latest 4Runner gains a new suspension, more electronic off-road traction aids, several locking differential options, plus two new engines. The V-8 is gone — due to low sales levels according to the Toyota brass — while the new corporate 4.0-liter V-6 with 270-hp should prove to be more than capable for this midsize SUV. Third row seating is optional, as are a host of features that can turn the base SR5, starting at $27,500, into a luxurious Limited, beginning at $35,400.

For some buyers, the most interesting feature may be the new base engine: a 2.7-liter, 157-hp four-cylinder. Available for 2WD models, Toyota claims EPA estimates of 18/23. Most popular will continue to be the SR5 4WD, $30,195, that comes with power rear window, trip computer, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, skid plates, and a limited slip rear diff amongst the other electronic stability aids. New 4Runners should be in showrooms right now.

German automaker Volkswagen continues to expand its U.S. presence this year and the accolades continue. Not only is the compact Golf package getting the fabulous TDI-clean diesel engine, but so is Audi’s A3 series. Already named the Green Car of the Year for 2010 — Volkswagen’s second win in the row for its clean diesel engine design — the latest A3 features EPA mileage estimates of 34/42-mpg with all of the power that this innovative 2.0-liter turbocharged engine promises. Volkswagen/Audi now has seven clean diesel vehicles for sale in America.

While there are several new crossover wagons on sale this year — Chevy’s new Equinox, GMC’s new Terrain, BMW’s X6 Hybrid, Hyundai’s new Tucson, and Kia’s all-new Sorento — smaller compact and subcompact cars will probably garner more attention.

Chevrolet has a lot riding on the innovative Volt electric car, but the new compact Cruze will generate far more sales and generate more income for this beleaguered automaker. The 2011 Cruze, a European design that closely mimics the attractive Malibu, will replace the current Cobalt in Chevy’s lineup — probably later this summer. The Cruze will come in three trim levels and offer two efficient Ecotec variable valve, direct injection engines; a 1.8-liter four with 138-hp, plus a turbocharged 1.4-liter 138-hp four that offers more peak torque. With the first conventional six-speed automatic transmission in the compact segment, the Cruze hopes to achieve up to 40 mpg on the EPA mileage cycle.

Ford will chase small car buyers with a new subcompact Fiesta, the same car that it has been selling in Europe. A five-door hatchback using a 1.6-liter, 119-hp engine, the Fiesta should feature typical Euro-style handling plus up-level grades of trim in a spacious design. The Fiesta also hopes to reach 40 mpg on the EPA highway cycle with either a five-speed manual or new six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Features include a tilt/telescoping steering column, Sync and navigation system.

Mazda dealers will debut a similar design for America called the Mazda 2.

One of the most attractive cars debuting this year has to be the stunning new Cadillac CTS Coupe. Using the same edgy styling embraced by the CTS sedan and CTS Sportwagon, the Coupe rides on the sedan’s 113-inch wheelbase while being 2 inches shorter in both length and height. Dual center-exit exhaust pipes, an integrated rear spoiler and door touch-pads rather than handles complete this crisp design. Options include 14-way Recaro sport seats, keyless ignition, plus Bose 5.1 surround sound. Power will come from the 304-hp 3.6-liter CTS V-6, while AWD is also an option. GM says that a high-performance CTS-V coupe will appear by fall, packing a potent 556 hp from a supercharged 6.2-liter Corvette engine. Pricing is expected to start around $47,000 later this spring.

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