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Review – 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid

The Good: Excellent gas mileage, high quality inside and out, makes driving efficiently fun.

The Bad: $32 grand for a family car, not long for this world.

The Verdict: Mercury finally has a sedan people want—too late to make a difference.

Watch our video review too!

A moment of silence, please, for Mercury.

Decades ago, Ford’s midlevel brand had panache. During the Heyday of America (1945-1968), the brand was a step on the ladder to success; driving a Mercury meant while you may not be able to afford a Lincoln just yet, you’d pulled yourself up high enough by your bootstraps to graduate from those run-of-the-mill Fords.  Much like Buick over at GM, Mercurys were just fancy enough to make their drivers feel slightly superior.

However, much like Buick, the brand lost their way in the last few decades of the 20th century, and spent much of recent history cranking out mildly gussied-up versions of Ford vehicles. (The last Mercury to differ in more than badging from a Ford product was the Cougar—and that cat went extinct in 2002.) So it was no surprise when Ford announced on June 2nd they’d be euthanizing the nameplate this year. While Buick escaped the executioner’s block by virtue of its immense popularity in China, the 72-year-old Mercury remained unloved by any rapidly expanding consumer nations, and so we bid it adieu.

But come December, don’t be surprised if the last Mercury to ever roll off the assembly line is a Milan Hybrid—because this is the first Mercury in a long time to instill in its owners that tiny feeling of supremacy. Sure, the car’s pretty much a clone of the Ford Fusion Hybrid (though a bit less plebian to my eyes), but who cares? This car makes you feel just a bit better than all those clods in their Foci.

But in this eco-conscious age, those feelings stem less from the car’s price (though if you can afford a car that costs more than $30,000 in this economy, you can probably pat yourself on the back) and more from the impressive fuel economy figures eked out by the gasoline-electric powertrain. By mating a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine to a 275-volt nickel-metal hydride battery, the Milan achieves 41 miles per gallon around town and 36 mpg on the open road, according to the EPA. (Fast fact: at a combined 39 mpg, you could drive the Milan hybrid 1,111,500,000 miles on the amount of gasoline that could have been made from the crude leaked so far by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill! That’s 2,326 round trips to the Moon!)

However, unlike some hybrids, the Mercury doesn’t sacrifice much power on the altar of efficiency; the engine-motor combo creates a combined maximum of 191 horsepower, par for the midsized hybrid sedan segment where it competes. (The comparable Nissan Altima Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid make 198 and 187 horses, respectively.) With the power traveling to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission, the dash from 0 to 60 arrives in 8.5 seconds, according to a Car and Driver test of the mechanically identical Fusion Hybrid.

The trunk's interior latch appears aimed at kidnappees.

Impressively, the Milan/Fusion duo of hybrids can reach a claimed top speed of 47 miles per hour on electricity alone; I never quite reached that mark just on juice, but did once make it up to about 45 only on electrons. As John Mellencamp said, that’s close enough for rock and roll. However, making maximum mpg means driving like a rock star is out of the question; a feathery touch on the accelerator is required to keep the inline four from leaping into action. Remember when your parents/driver’s ed teacher/arresting police officer told you to imagine there was an egg under the pedal? If your aim is to use as little gasoline as possible in the Milan, it’s best to picture a helium balloon tied to your right foot. Or better yet, actually tie a helium balloon to your right foot.

But there’s an unexpected side effect to this: it makes driving slow fun. Instead of seeing how quickly you can swoop through the turns or bomb the quarter mile, the joy comes from toying with the formerly-known-as-the-gas pedal, trying to use as little energy as possible to move about without risking incoming gunfire from drivers behind you. (That’s not a joke here in New York City.) In an increasingly common burst of creativity and wisdom, the folks at Ford Motor Company included multiple means of informing the driver just how eco-friendly s/he is being—most inventively, by including a virtual patch of vines on the digital instrument panel, which grows leaves when the car is driven efficiently and sheds them when you’re pissing off the planet. Sounds stupid, but I found it surprisingly effective—and guilt inducing. (“NOOOOOO! THE LEAVES ARE DYING!”)

Apart from the powertrain, the Milan is pretty much standard Ford material—which is to say, a lot better than it was five or more years ago. (Maybe it’s time to reanimate that old “Have you driven a Ford lately?” tagline.) The gray leather seats in my tester were comfy on long hauls, but not particularly well-bolstered; of course, the hybrid Milan really isn’t aimed at those who’re big into hauling ass and taking license plate numbers, so this comes as little surprise. But the leather was soft, the plastic on the dashboard pleasant to the touch, and the interior proved quite appealing to at least four senses. (I did not lick it.)

This Milan was also equipped with Ford’s Sync system, designed by Microsoft to make ease integrating your cell phone/iPod/microwave oven with the car’s computer. It let me play music from my iPhone through Bluetooth, but wouldn’t read my incoming text messages to me because my phone was “incompatible.” Plus, Sync repeatedly “lost” my phone’s signal, forcing me to dive into the car’s submenus to manually reconnect. (I imagine the car did this passive-aggressively as part of a “I’m a Mac / And I’m a PC” interaction.)

But the rest of the car’s tech proved well above and beyond what I expect from family sedans. The rearview camera and parking sensors were, as always, handy, and the navigation system never steered me wrong. (It does leave “bread crumbs” on the screen to track where you’ve been; after several days driving around New York City, however, it was starting to look like Little Billy’s dotted line from The Family Circus.) The Sony-designed 12 speaker, 390-watt stereo knocked my ears out of the park; I never had to turn it up past 30 percent power. And having two 12-volt cigarette lighter-style and one household-style 110-volt three-prong outlets was quite nice. Finally, I could use my MacBook, my iPhone and my iPad all at once without fear of low batteries—while driving!

[Editor’s note: he did not actually do this. But if Apple wants to give us some freebies so our passengers can try it, we won’t say no.]

The Bottom Line:

The Milan will all but certainly be the last new car made by this septuagenarian brand, unless Ford decides to reward the brand’s tiny audience of fans and unveils a Mercury version of the Mustang. (The Pegasus?) But this hybrid’s virtues have earned it a place in the brand’s history—not just because it was the last in a long line of Mercurys, but because it was the last Mercury anyone could drive and feel proud that they were doing so. Death will guarantee the Milan Hybrid shall remain a rarity on our roads; the company sold only 1, 486 in 2009, and pre-extinction-purchase-fever aside, I doubt the company will sell more than that this year. (In contrast, the Fusion Hybrid sold 15,554 units last year.)  But those 3,000 owners can take pride in knowing they’re driving a unique version of the best family sedan Detroit has made in a very long time—and that’s starting to mean something again.

So with that, we say goodbye to the brand with a phrase most apt for a car company named after the messenger of the gods:

Godspeed, Mercury.

Base Price/Price As Tested: $31,980/$32,980

0-60: 8.5 seconds (courtesy Car and Driver)

Fuel Economy: 41 city/36 highway (EPA estimate)

Key Competitors: Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid, Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

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New York Auto Show – Porsche

To my crushing sadness, Porsche didn’t bring their awesome 918 Spyder concept to the Big Apple. God only knows why.

However, they did bring the new family of Cayennes, which are certainly the improvement many of us were hoping for. The new Cayenne addresses the two main criticisms of the old – a lot of mass and less-than-pretty looks – by shaving off more than 400 lbs and sculpting the body into a shape you don’t want to peel your eyes off.

Nobody was complaining about the performance, but Porsche went ahead and pumped that up too. (They wouldn’t be Porsche if they didn’t.) With its 500 horsepower V8 and eight-speed auto, Porsche says the Cayenne Turbo runs the 0-60 dash in 4.4 seconds. And they’re usually conservative in their estimates.) There’s also a Cayenne S Hybrid with a combined 380 horsepower; they claim a 20 percent fuel economy improvement over the conventional 2011 Cayenne S.

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New York Auto Show – Hyundai

No all-new models for Hyundai this year, but the two new versions of the Sonata they showed off were hardly a disappointment. The sporty Sonata 2.0T takes the place of a V6 trim level; “We’re leaving the V6 behind,” said a spokesman. But don’t fret, power junkies; the turbocharged 2.0 liter engine cranks out 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, bettering its six-cylinder competitors. Plus, Hyundai said they’re dedicated to bringing a “well-equipped” version to market for less than $25K.

The Sonata Hybrid aims for the opposite end of the lineup, offering the best fuel economy. (However, at 209 combined hp, it betters the regular Sonata by 9-11 horses.) With an estimated 34 mpg city and 39 highway, the Sonata Hybrid pulls down solid numbers for a car so large; plus, it has the highest electric-only top speed of any hybrid family sedan. (I could have sworn I heard Ford execs cursing a blue streak at that remark.)

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New York Auto Show – Ford

Ford’s press con was devoted to touting their eco-friendly lineup and future. Among the cars they showed off was an electric Focus “produced for the Jay Leno Show” (I came very close to heckling, “I’m with Coco!”).

But the “big” news was devoted to the company’s hybrids. They boasted of their four current hybrids – however, given that two of those are Mercury twins identical to their Ford counterparts, this is like having Red Delicious and Macintosh apples and claiming you have two kinds of fruit.

So to no one’s surprise, Ford brought out a Granny Smith – a hybrid version of the Lincoln MKZ. Pretty much the same as its Ford Focus and Mercury Milan triplets, the MKZ differs in that not only does its digital gauge grow leaves…it also grows apple blossoms.

Seriously. That was it.

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New York Auto Show – First Sighting!

Not even at the show, and we’ve already spotted our first piece of car-ass. We saw this Porsche 911 GT3 Hybrid in a parking garage on 34th St.

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(Belated) 2010 Geneva Auto Show Recap

(A quick side note from the editor:

I’d like to apologize for the lack of postings these last few weeks. This site is a labor of love, but unfortunately, it doesn’t pay the bills as well as I’d like, so I work another job to cover the rent/food/gasoline I so depend on. A couple of weeks ago, I finally got a job in journalism that’s exponentially better than my old job was, but since that time, I’ve been so busy settling in I haven’t been able to post here. But three weeks without updates is long enough. I owe you more. )

Wow! Our editor is one sappy son of a bitch, ain’t he? God, you can’t believe what we have to put up with, the sh…

Still here.

eer number of nice things he does for us. He’s so generous. And kind. Unfortunately, while his generosity is limitless, his credit card isn’t, so we weren’t able to personally go to this year’s Geneva Auto Show. Thanks to the magic of the Interwebs, though, we can cover it like we were there! Isn’t that awesome? In fact, forget the last three sentences. We DID go to the Geneva Auto Show, and it was out of this world! We’ve just been drunk on Toblerone the last couple weeks.

So, behold – our favorite cars from this year’s Geneva Auto Show, presented in completely objective fashion by being ranked in order of how cool we think they are.

1. Porsche 918 Spyder concept

Just being a leaner, meaner, less El Camino-like successor to the Carrera GT would have probably been enough to land the 918 on the top of this list. Being a hybrid made it pretty much a shoo-in. But the real reason this bad mother(shut yo’ mouth!) ranks as the coolest car of the Geneva Auto Show? Nobody had any idea it was coming. The Carrera GT only wrapped production four years ago. Who would have thought Porsche would bust out its replacement so quickly?

This baby is the future of the supercar, folks. This is what our children will be driving in their heads when they should be studying. Lightness fused with technology. A plug-in hybrid coupled to a powerful engine. Styling that doesn’t shamelessly ape the past, but sets a brave new course without forgetting where it comes from.

The 918 Spyder concept comes equipped with a 3.4-liter V8 making more than 500 horsepower, combined with a plug-in battery-electric powertrain making a maximum of 218 horses. The electric motor drives the front wheels, the gasoline engine powers the rear tires through a seven-speed DSG. Porsche claims the car can go up to 16 miles on electric power alone, can achieve 94 mpg, yet also cook off 0-60 runs in 3.2 seconds and top out just under 200 mph. Don’t be fooled by the “concept” moniker. Porsche has never made a concept they haven’t produced in one way or another, and they’re not gonna start now.

2. Ferrari 599 HY-KERS Hybrid

The bad news: rumors of an all-wheel-drive hybrid 599 were incorrect. The good news: going hybrid doesn’t look like it’ll make Ferraris any less fun. In fact, it’ll just make living with one easier.

Which is certainly promising, given what could have been a piece of very ominous news: to conform with new EU regulations, very soon, every Ferrari might be a hybrid.

Whoa, whoa, whoa – no need to buy that Rapture insurance just yet. Judging by the 599 Hybrid, autophiles have nothing to fear. The concept features a 100-horsepower electric motor smooshed in with the seven-speed DSG transmission; at low speeds in town, the car can cruise along in electric mode, or the batteries can summon up a nitrous-like boost for the 612-horsepower 6.0 liter V12. Ferrari claims the 0-124 mph dash is shortened by 0.6 seconds over a stock 599.

Nobody outside of Ferrari has had any seat time in the 599 Hybrid yet, so we don’t yet know what it’ll be like to drive; however, given the company’s entire multibillion dollar reputation is on the line, we’re fairly optimistic Ferrari’s legendary passion and performance will be pretty much unharmed by the hybrid conversion. In addition, we’re hoping the presence of the dual-clutch gearbox here heralds its inclusion in the uber-bitchin’ upcoming 599 GTO.

3. 2010 Audi RS5

We previewed the RS5 in our last post, and nothing’s really changed, mechanically speaking – still a 450-horsepower 4.2 liter V8 with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, still a body that’ll make your girlfriend jealous, still causing hundreds of automotive to wake up with erections after dreaming about the eventual comparison with the BMW M3. Nothing we didn’t know.

But that doesn’t make it any less badass. Or make us want one any less. As much as we love the M3, quattro is handy if you ever venture into the snowy north.

4. 2011 Ruf 911 RGT-8

While perhaps best known as builder of the car Automobile Magazine accidentally incinerated during a post-supercar-comparo dance party with inopportune song selection (“No, dude, the Ruf is actually on fire! We do need water!”), Ruf has a long history of taking Porsches and, like Kanye West did to Daft Punk, making them harder, better, faster and stronger, then slapping their own name on it.

But so far as I’m concerned, this lime-green beaut can drive right in front of Taylor Swift at the next MTV Awards, because Ruf has done what no one thought could – build a 911 with a V8.

Developed and built in-house in just two years, the RGT-8’s 4.5 liter engine pumps out 542 horsepower and 369 lb-ft, giving this naturally aspirated 911 more ponies than the new 911 Turbo S also unveiled at the show. Granted, it may not match the S’s Kryptonian acceleration (Car and Driver ran the less powerful Turbo with 7-speed PDK from 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds, which is about as long as it took us to string together the expletive chain we used when we heard that), but it gives us hope that if Porsche runs out of ways to make the 911’s six-cylinder more powerful…life will find a way.

5. Lotus Evora 414E Hybrid Concept

This last spot on the list was neck-and-neck between the Evora and the Koenigsegg Agera. The Agera has 910 horsepower, a carbon fiber/aluminum chassis, a top speed of 245 mph and looks cooler than Timothy Olyphant in a gunfight.

But like the 918 Spyder, the Evora represents the future, a world of simultaneous pastry-consumption-and-preservation. Each rear wheel is powered by its own electric motor; together, they produce 408 horsepower – 132 horses more than the V6-powered production Evora, and 120 more than the Lotus Elise-based Tesla Roadster. Unlike the Tesla, though, the Evora Hybrid isn’t limited to the amount of energy it can suck out of your wall; should the batteries dip low enough, a 1.2 liter three-cylinder engine kicks in to recharge the battery.

Regular Lotus Evora shown. But you didn't know that, did you?

Lotus says the three-cylinder produces a meager 47 horsepower, which means drivers could be in for an trouser-soiling surprise if the battery goes dead while trying to pass a minivan on a two-lane road. Since the engine isn’t driving the wheels, it’s not like the car will suddenly lose 85 percent of its horsepower – but if you believe the performance won’t suffer significantly, then don’t listen to Alfred Molina when he advises you to throw you the idol first.

Honorable Mention:

2010 Koenigsegg Agera:

Did you read the first paragraph about the Lotus?

2010 Brabus E V12 Coupe:

Since Christian Bale’s Batman lost his Tumbler to Heath Ledger, I nominate this 788-horsepower, 1047 lb-ft beast to replace it. Let’s see the Penguin fuck with this thing.

2010 Pagani Zonda Tricolore:

It pulls 1.45 lateral g, and while the 7.3 liter Mercedes-Benz/AMG-sourced V12 isn’t new…it’s still an enormous custom AMG V12. Plus, like the Highlander, There Can Be Only One.

Dishonorable Mention:

2011 Aston Martin Cygnet:

Somewhere, Sean Connery’s balls have retreated into his body.

2011 Bentley Continental Flying Star by Touring Superleggera:

We were unaware anyone had asked for this.

Honda 3R-C Concept:

If there’s one thing people want, it’s a one-person electric scooter to replace walking around. How could that go wrong?

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2010 Detroit Auto Show Recap

Well, it’s mid-January again, and all you car nuts out there know exactly what that means – it’s Detroit Auto Show time! Because as the Detroit Tourism Board will tell you, there’s no better time to venture to America’s home-grown Thunderdome than when it’s cold enough to freeze mercury.

Still, so long as the heat in the Cobo Center works, journalists from across the globe will cram their North Face parkas and .357 Magnum Colt Pythons into overnight bags and journey to Motor City for one of the largest auto shows in the world. This year was a bittersweet one for the three home-team automakers: bitter for GM, who saw four divisions exorcised from its corporate ranks after tossing all its self-respect into Lake Michigan by declaring bankruptcy and taking federal bailout money; but sweet for Ford, who managed to avoid Chapter 11 and saw its first profitable quarter in nearly two years.

And Chrysler? Well, they’re owned by Fiat now. Actually, do they even count as one of the Big Three anymore?

Regardless of whether Chrysler considers their home in The Boot of Italy or The Mitten of Michigan, in the minds of most people, they still count as a good ol’ American boys. Unfortunately, Chrysler/Fiat considered new model revelations and press conferences excessive expenditures this year, and simply left their models out on the floor for perusal. (At least they showed up, unlike Porsche and Nissan. Uncool, guys.) Luckily, though, plenty of other new models and concepts came into the light at the show. Here are the best.

Audi e-tron concept

Astute readers of this blog may be thinking, “Didn’t I already see the e-tron?” And the short answer is, yes, you did. But not this one. Audi has, somewhat inexplicably, decided to use the exact same name for this smaller electric sports car concept as they used for their larger, R8-based version. The difference, you see, is that the R8-based original is just called “e-tron,” while this new concept is…the “e-tron.” Come on, Audi! You’re German – Germans make up new words all the time by smashing them together. Couldn’t you call it the “Smallersilverelectricsportscar?”

Regardless of what you call it, the baby e-tron will reportedly run from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds with a top speed of 124 mph, thanks to a pair of electric motors with a combined output of 204 horsepower. Of course, since the baby e-tron is just a concept, this could be entirely hypothetical; the show car may well be powered by a hamster on a wheel for all we know.

More importantly for car fans, the e-tron 2-seater’s design may be a preview of Audi’s rumored upcoming R4 sports car. There’s no way to know for sure, but Audi could do a lot worse than pattern the R4 on this aggressive-looking concept. Slap the S4’s 333-hp supercharged V6 in there and stack it up against the Porsche Cayman (Whoops! VW owns Porsche now) – er, BMW Z4, and they could have a winner on their hands.

2011 BMW 740i/740Li

This isn’t the first time BMW has sold a 740i in the States – two generations of 7-series ago, it was the mainstay of the lineup – but it is the first time since 1992 that Americans can order a six-cylinder engine in the car. The last version, the 735i, made do with a mere 208 horsepower; the new 740i packs BMW’s sublime turbocharged 3.0 liter inline six making 315 horsepower.

The 740i looks pretty much like any other 7, so feast your eyes on the 500-hp BMW Alpina B7.

Presumably, Bimmer is bringing the six-cylinder 7 our way in order to improve its fuel-economy standings; odds are, if you can afford the $71,025 base price, you’re probably not too concerned with saving cash at the pumps, and if you really wanted to be green, you’d buy a loaded Prius and pocket the extra $40,000. Still, for the handful of high-powered executives who don’t care about power (Do I see one standing in the back? No? Okay.), the 740 offers pretty much all the luxury features of its pricier brethren for a nice discount.

Buick Regal GS Concept

From the land of seemingly oxymoronical concepts comes this high-performance Buick. Okay, “high-performance” is a bit of an exaggeration – the all-wheel-drive GS runs with a turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder making 260 horsepower, a mere 40 more than the current top-of-the-line Regal. But the GS has a six-speed stick shift! I don’t think there’s been a manual Buick since Clint Eastwood was a sex symbol.

Buick promises the GS achieves 60 in less than 6 seconds, which probably means 5.9. What they haven’t promised is a production version; however, it seems pretty likely, as it would give Buick a strong card to play against Acura and Lexus. Buick has made impressive strides in the last few years in making their cars more attractive and elevating their quality towards the levels of other luxury makes; adding high(er) performance models would be a logical next step. It’s probably safe to expect the GS in the showrooms by spring 2011.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a high-performance Caddy would have seemed just as paradoxical as a fun-to-drive Buick; however, since the first-generation CTS and the introduction of the V-Series line of kickass Caddies, the idea has latched onto the car enthusiast population like an alien face-hugger.

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

And the new CTS-V Coupe is probably the sweetest Cadillac yet.

Everything you love about the regular CTS-V, just in a sleeker two-door package. Same 556 horsepower supercharged V8, same choice of six-speed stick or auto – just two fewer doors. Sure, there’s less room in the back, but come on – how often do you use those rear doors anyway? Besides, chicks dig coupes. Just ask Batman.

Pricing will probably be a few grand more than the CTS-V sedan, so figure a base one will set you back around $67,000 when they land in showrooms this summer – a few grand more than its main competitor, the BMW M3. But the Caddy has 142 more horses. And, like George Thorogood, it’s American Made. So give it a little love.

Cadillac XTS Platinum Concept

The last ten years or so have been lean times for folks interested in full-sized American luxury cars. Mafia dons, Fortune 500 executives, and your Grandpa Larry have watched with sadness as their beloved Town Cars, Park Avenues and DeVilles drifted off into the ether, leaving them with a difficult choice – buy European (I ain’t buying no Nazi car!), downsize (I don’t feel safe in this thing!) or move into a luxury mega-SUV (I can’t see my grandson behind me in the driveway!).

Luckily, it looks like CEOs and coots alike will be able to breathe a sigh of relief soon. While technically a concept, the XTS is likely a very strong indicator of Cadillac’s upcoming full-sized sedan, slated to replace the STS and the DTS – both of which, remarkably, are still available at your local Caddy dealership.

In concept form, the XTS is powered by Cadillac’s 3.6 liter V6 direct injection V6 coupled to a plug-in hybrid system; combined, the car puts out 350 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed auto. It’s unclear from the press release how the electric and gasoline powertrains interact exactly, but we’d bet both can be used to drive the wheels – unlike the Chevy Volt, where the gas engine is used simply as a generator for the batteries and electric motor.

Hopefully, any production version of the XTS won’t differ significantly from the show car’s sleek lines, which (in our eyes) meld the CTS with the Mercedes-Benz S-class. Plan on a choice of V6 and V8 powerplants upon launch, with a hybrid option soon afterwards. As for when it lands in dealerships – summer or fall 2011 seems like a safe bet.

And on a side note, GM’s vice-chairman and Main Car Bro Bob Lutz announced Cadillac will indeed be producing its own version of the Chevrolet Volt, based on the Converj. It won’t be hitting the streets until sometime after 2012 (assuming we’re still alive by then! DUM DE DUM!), and will probably be pretty faithful to the concept – two doors and edgy styling over the Volt’s four doors and slightly bland looks. And it’ll probably cost more than $50,000. But I’d still buy one.

Mmm...eco-friendly.

Chevrolet Aveo RS Concept

Like the looks of this Aveo RS? Then you’ll probably like the regular Aveo when it hits the ground next year. Just strip off the spoilers, the ground effects, and throw on some more conventional headlamps. With its sights locked squarely on the Honda Fit, the Aveo will take the bottom rung in Chevy’s lineup.

The concept has a turbocharged 1.4 liter inline four-cylinder engine under the hood pumping out 138 horsepower, and routing it to the front wheels through a six-speed manual. If they’re smart, Chevy will actually produce a high-performance version of the Aveo; we’ve been wishing Honda would do a Fit Si for years, and if the Chevy is anywhere near as fun to drive as the Fit, they could sell a boatload. Hell, we’d probably buy one.

2012 Ford Focus

Not to be outdone in the small-car department by their arch-foes at GM, Ford unveiled the next-generation Focus in Detroit – and as Peter Griffin would say, it seems freakin’ sweet. For the first time, the Focus sold here in the States will be nearly identical to the version sold in Europe, which should mean European-style (i.e. better) handling and materials when it lands here early next year.

Equipped with a 2.0 liter inline four-cylinder making 155 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque, the Focus comes with your choice of six-speed transmissions – manual or “dry-clutch automatic,” which is just a fancy term for the sort of dual-clutch gearbox found in everything from the Ferrari 458 Italia to the Volkswagen Golf. Ford also announced a electric-powered version, which should be coming our way in later 2011.

Coming in both five-door hatchback and four-door sedan forms, the new Focus boasts a bevy of cool features most people probably wouldn’t expect on a compact car, from an assisted parallel-parking system (complete with rearview camera) and an eight-inch dash-mounted touch screen. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but expect it to be pretty much in line with its competitors – the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, and upcoming Chevy Cruze.

2011 Ford Mustang GT

Hot on the heels of upgrading the V6-powered Mustang to 315 horsepower, Ford is throwing a new 5.0 liter V8 under the hood of the ‘Stang GT, bumping power up to 412 horses. While still down a few ponies  to the Camaro SS and Challenger SRT8, the revised ‘Stang should be lighter than its fellow muscle cars, giving it an edge in the curves (and probably on the straights too).

Pricing is still unknown, but since the installation of the new V6 didn’t jack up the base Mustang’s price very much, expect to pay around the same amount for the 5.0 as the old 4.6 liter V8. (Anal-retentives, please not the emphasis placed on the word around. There, did it once more just to ensure you understood.)

GMC Granite Concept

As the first American entrant into the “funky box”category of small cars pioneered here by the Scion xB, the Granite raises the style bar a few notches higher. Up ’til now, the small boxes like the xB, Kia Soul and Nissan Cube had convenience in spades, but good looks weren’t part of the deal.

But the Granite manages to make boxy look badass. Running the same engine as the Aveo RS Concept in a more utilitarian package, performance isn’t really the name of the game here – 138 horses is adequate, nothing more, nothing less.

However, GMC insisted on extolling the Granite as a “flexible, functional social space…equally at home at the cabin or the club.” News flash, PR flaks – any place with more than one person is a social space.

2011 Honda CR-Z

Though we’ve already seen it in leaked brochure photos, it was nice to finally see Honda’s new sporty hybrid coupe in the metal for the first time at the show. Looking pretty much like what you’d expect the Insight to be had it remained a coupe,  the tiny Honda promises to be a pretty fun drive.

While we're not entirely sure this image isn't a computer graphic, rest assured, the real CR-Z is probably solid.

With a 1.5 liter inline four under the hood connected to Honda’s “Integrated Motor Assist” hybrid bits, the CR-Z (the “Crazy?”) puts down 122 horsepower and either 128 or 123 lb-ft of torque, depending on whether you choose the six-speed manual or the CVT. (The manual has the higher torque figure, because manuals are awesome that way.) Fuel economy is estimated at 31 mpg city/37 mpg highway for the stick, and 36/38 mpg for the CVT – so if you do a lot of city driving, it might be worth it to go auto. Maybe.

The CRaZy will go on sale here in the latter part of 2010, in two forms – base and EX. The base model will hardly be a stripper, as it will reportedly feature a six-speaker CD/USB stereo, automatic climate control, stability control, power everything, keyless entry and cruise control. Should you feel compelled to move to the EX, you’ll add a 360-watt seven-speaker stereo, xenon headlights, and Bluetooth, among other features. The base sounds pretty good to us, honestly. No details on price yet, but our fingers are crossed for the base model to land under $20,000.

2012 (?) Mercedes-Benz CLS

Sadly, the next-generation of Mercedes’s four-door “coupe” wasn’t really at the show. However, M-B did have a model showing off the basic shape of the new CLS. From the looks of it, it seems Mercedes was trying to replicate the shape of the car under a sheet; however, the guys at egmCarTech thought it looked more like Robert Patrick’s liquid-metal T-1000 oozing into the shape of a car, and quite frankly, we have to agree. But if the car is as pretty as the display implies, it won’t need to shape-shift to snare people’s attention.

Image courtesy Omar Rana - egmCarTech

Mini Beachcomber Concept

Do you miss the Mini Moke? (Hell, do you even know what the Mini Moke is?) Well, for those of you with a fondness for the old pseudo-off-roader still found carving up beaches on St. Barts, Mini has just the car for you.

Well, you can’t actually buy the Beachcomber. It’s more of a concept version of Mini’s upcoming small SUV, which will probably be called the “Countryman.” (We’re still pulling for the “Countrymouse,” but only if they rename the Cooper the “Citymouse.”) When the actual Mini-SUV hits the dirt roads, don’t expect to see the Beachcomber’s removable doors or spare-tire-like “backpack;” do expect the elevated ride-height, knobbier tires and available all-wheel-drive. Hopefully we’ll be seeing the production version sometime this year.

Volkswagen New Compact Coupe Hybrid Concept

No, we didn’t add the “new” to the name – Volkswagen did. Frankly, we’re not sure why, since so far as we remember, there wasn’t an Old Compact Coupe Hybrid Concept. But whatever they call it, we’re grateful, because the NCCHC promises to be a pretty sweet little ride.

Coming across like a Honda CR-Z Plus, the NCCHC packs a 1.5 liter turbocharged and supercharged inline four connected to enough hybrid pieces to provide a combined 177 horsepower and 45 miles per gallon. I believe the technical term for that is “win/win.”

While the car may be called a concept, it looks pretty damn production ready to us. Of course, VW’s thrown us curveballs before – remember the Nardo supercar concept? – but there’s a world of difference between producing a quarter-million-dollar supercar and an inexpensive hybrid sports car. Hell, just ask Honda – who canned the new NSX most of the way through its production cycle. Luckily, rumor has it the NCCHC will be heading stateside as a coupe version of the new Jetta – hopefully with hybrid powertrain intact.

All in all, it wasn’t a huge year for the Detroit show. No show-stopping concepts, no earth-shaking revelations – just a whole bunch of pretty exciting new cars. And to be frank, we’re okay with that. Given the last couple years in the automotive world, a little piece and quiet seems rather nice, doesn’t it?

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