Performance cars supplanted alternative-fuel vehicles as the main attraction at this year’s North American International Auto Show. But just because automakers are busy unveiling fast and powerful machines like the BMW M3 Sedan, Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and Lexus RC F doesn’t mean they’re ignoring fuel economy.
Quite the contrary. The BMW M3 has a downsized engine that is 25 percent more efficient than last year’s while offering more torque. The all-new 2015 Ford F-150 pickup, which obviously isn’t a performance car but is a fuel-chugging powerhouse of a different kind, drops a whopping 700 pounds and adds a new twin-turbo V6 engine to cut fuel economy (Ford has not released full mileage data yet).
“For the first time, with this redesign, the F-150 is actually positive to its fuel economy regulatory requirement,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s group vice president of product development, speaking at the Deutsche Bank Global Auto Industry Conference, during the second press day of the Detroit auto show. Until now, Ford has had to sell one small, fuel-efficient car for every F-150 it sold, just to offset the pickup truck’s negative fuel economy. That’s not the case anymore.
Considering that Ford sells millions of F-150 pickups— it is the country’s best-selling vehicle for many years running—this change will have a far greater impact on overall fuel consumption than, say, the relatively smaller number of Fusion Hybrids Ford will sell by comparison.
Other potential game-changing vehicles revealed in Motor City include Chrysler’s new 200 and Hyundai’s remade Genesis. Both sedans seek to elevate the image of their respective brands by bringing new levels of performance and luxury.
Of the more than two-dozen world debuts at the Detroit auto show, here are the 12 production vehicles destined for showrooms that promise to have the biggest impact on their companies and the industry overall. (After already making such a big splash as simultaneous unveilings across the globe, we left off the 2015 Ford Mustang, even though this technically is its first appearance at an auto show.)
2015 BMW M3 Sedan & M4 Coupe
The M3 has been split into two lines for 2015. The sedan continues to be called the M3, while the coupe is now called the M4. Both lose weight and gain torque from a downsized engine that is turbocharged to deliver even more power. Beneath their aluminum, carbon-fiber and steel bodies, these two look a lot like true race cars. The question is: How well has BMW tamed the noise, vibration and harshness that comes from using hardcore, track-oriented technology?
2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe
Cadillac has its sights set on outdoing BMW’s new 4 Series with this two-door version of the ATS sedan. The base four-cylinder turbocharged engine has nearly 14 percent more torque than its four-door counterpart. A six-cylinder is also available. Enhancements like a robust engine cooling system, limited-slip differential and Brembo brakes prove that Cadillac is serious about track performance. The ATS Coupe goes on sale this summer.
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
We’ve all been waiting for it, and Chevy did not disappoint. This new high-performance version of the seventh-generation Corvette promises to exceed the performance of even the mighty ZR-1 from the previous generation, which thus far has been the most powerful and pricey production Vette in history. The new Z06 features an all-new 625-horsepower supercharged V8 and eight-speed automatic transmission. Look out Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche.
2015 Chrysler 200
Designers made this new midsize sedan so svelte that it actually looks like a compact car in person. Reviews on the show floor were mixed, but there’s no arguing that inside and out, the new 200 is far more sophisticated than before. Chrysler is hoping that exclusive features like a nine-speed automatic transmission, said to help achieve 35 miles per gallon highway, will help it compete in this highly contested category dominated by Ford, Honda and Toyota. Expect to see it in showrooms during the second quarter.
2015 Ford F-150
The best-selling vehicle in the U.S. is all new and gains an impressive list of features. But more importantly, it sheds about 700 pounds by using aluminum instead of steel for its body. The structure underneath remains steel, so the new F150 is just as rugged as before. The military-grade aluminum body has withstood exhaustive endurance tests, including racing in the grueling Baja 1,000 desert race. The F-150′s lighter overall weight allows for downsized engines without degrading performance. It hits dealers late this year.
2015 GMC Canyon
General Motors is thinking ahead with the introduction of this new mid-size pickup truck. With fuel prices and emissions standards on the rise, it sees the opportunity to offer a more fuel-efficient alternative to pickup buyers who might not need the capabilities of a full-size truck. The Canyon targets small-business owners and other professional users, whereas Chevrolet’s version of this pickup, the Colorado, which debuted at the 2013 Los Angeles auto show, is more geared toward outdoorsy types.
2015 Honda Fit
Honda’s smallest offering in the United States is not getting bigger on the outside, unlike most other cars that get redesigned. In fact, it’s losing 1.6 inches in length, but gets a tad wider. The real news is that the interior is larger and more useful. It also features an all-new engine that is more powerful and is said to achieve an impressive 36 miles per gallon overall. Look for it in dealerships this spring.
2015 Hyundai Genesis
The original Genesis was Hyundai’s first true foray into the rear-wheel-drive premium market. It was a good value, but not quite on par with longstanding luxury sedans. The all-new version that goes on sale in the spring looks to change that. It is a big step up in every way: styling, interior amenities, performance and handling. It remains rear-wheel driven with V6 and V8 engines, but gains all-wheel drive for the first time.
2015 Lexus RC F
The successor to Lexus’ legendary IS F sport sedan is a coupe. “F” is Lexus’ high-performance moniker, like BMW’s M and Mercedes’ AMG division. The big surprise is that Lexus did not downsize the engine and stuck with a burly V8, which puts out 450 horsepower. This is basically an enhanced version of the Lexus RC, which was recently unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show. It faces tough competition from the new BMW M4.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
This used to be Mercedes’ most affordable model. But with the value-oriented CLA-Class now assuming that mantle, the C-Class moves up market. It is, essentially a baby S-Class, with a level of luxury and features several classes above its pay grade. It’s larger but lighter than before and, in typical Mercedes fashion, introduces high-tech features like an adjustable air suspension and crash-avoidance systems typically not found in this segment.
2015 Subaru WRX STI
This is the rally-race-inspired version of Subaru’s new WRX sedan, which is based on the Impreza. It is a cult car whose halo effect boosts the mild-mannered Japanese automaker’s corporate image. Its small engine produces a stunning amount of power (305 horsepower) for its size. Advancements to the all-wheel-drive system give it an edge in handling dynamics.
2015 Volkswagen Golf R
This is another cult/halo car that draws a similar type of driver to that of the Subaru WRX STI: young and full of testosterone. The similarities don’t end there, either. This high-performance Golf has a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive, like the Subaru does. But it makes “only” 290 horsepower, which is less than the Subaru WRX STI, but 34 horsepower more than the previous Golf R. Projected highway fuel economy of 31 miles per gallon is impressive for such a high-performance vehicle. It goes on sale in early 2015.