This spring’s New York International Auto Show was akin to a fashion show, with a bevy of European designers offering glimpses of curves and lines that will be the talk of the town this fall.
New introductions by imports dominated this festival of all things automotive as domestic makers showed their new models in Detroit in January. Nevertheless, Chevrolet made news with the announcement that its popular Malibu sedan will be sold in more than 100 countries, making it a true world car. The Malibu sports a four-cylinder engine, and with fuel prices soaring, cars with smaller, gas-sipping power plants will likely be in greater demand. The new Honda Civic and Hyundai Accent both post at least 40-mpg numbers in highway driving. In the luxury-car segment, Mercedes-Benz’s smaller A-class Concept indicates that makers of finer vehicles will be looking for similar performance figures in the near future, with its power supplanted by nifty design and electronic capabilities that make the car a rolling hot spot.
Hybrid, electric and diesel models also may help offset the effect of rising fuel prices, especially in larger vehicles. Porsche, for example, is adding a hybrid version of its Panamera S sedan to join its existing Cayenne. And BMW continues its slow but inexorable march toward an electric vehicle fleet with the debut of its ActiveE this fall.
None of this means cars with big, powerful engines are disappearing, even if they are more fuel-efficient. Jaguar’s new XKR-S, for instance, uses a V-8 with 550 hp to go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. But unlike the big steel behemoths of years past, the XKR-S is a speeding blur of lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber. Likewise, Aston Martin’s new Virage uses a V-12 engine to power the sports car like a rocket.
Nor is the fun gone. The Volkswagen Beetle is being reborn in a more muscular, sportier 21st-century incarnation available in gas and diesel versions. And Fiat is bringing retro Italian whimsy back with a roll-down, cloth-top convertible version of the Fiat 500 that reimagines the iconic Cinquecento of the late 1950s, albeit with modern conveniences like Bluetooth connectivity and GPS navigation.
Driving may be more of a fuel-conscious endeavor, but that doesn’t mean cars have to become soulless, Soviet-style conveyors of a drab humanity. Here’s a closer look at some of the new cars coming down the road.