New models feature high tech, fuel efficiency and power

The flurry of new models unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show recently underscored increasingly fierce industry competition on all fronts, from technology to efficiency to horsepower. The show featured major debuts, including the long-awaited redesign of the Toyota RAV4 sport utility, the new Porsche Cayman and Acura's flagship RLX. Meanwhile, Audi unleashed new diesel versions of four models and Ford offered a Fiesta with a turbo three-cylinder engine small enough to fit in a suitcase.

Sitting in front of Chevrolet's new Spark EV — a sub-$25,000 electric car with more torque than some Ferraris — General Motors North America president Mark Reuss said automakers have emerged from the economic downturn leaner, with sustainable operations making large investments in innovative products.

"You can look around this show and basically see yourself driving anything here," Reuss said. "I'm not sure I could have said that at any auto show in the past."

Even as technology and fuel efficiency grabbed the spotlight, Reuss and other auto executives remain keenly aware that consumers still focus on the fundamentals. Asked what factor most determined what consumers buy, Reuss didn't hesitate: "Reliability and durability."

Here's a rundown of some of the major debuts from the show.

Toyota RAV4: Among the new features was an intelligent all-wheel-drive system, offering three driver-selected modes, a first for Toyota. The biggest mechanical upgrade is a six-speed automatic transmission. Toyota also subtracted options: no more V-6. Front-wheel-drive models of the new RAV4 rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. The all-wheel-drive model gets 22 mpg and 29 mpg, respectively. Toyota offered no specific pricing, but expect the base to be similar to the outgoing model's $23,460.

Subaru Forester: The Forester retains a tall-wagon profile, with some changes to the front and back. Fans of Subaru's oddball styling may lament the passing of the hood scoop on the turbo model. Whatever it may lose in styling flair, it gains in power. The turbo version now packs 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, enough to escape most mud bogs and more than enough to navigate the suburbs. That's up from 224 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque in the current model.

Porsche Cayman: Porsche's new rear-drive coupe is essentially a closed-roof version of the Boxster convertible on sale earlier this year. It comes in two forms, the Cayman and the faster Cayman S. The base model has the Boxster's 2.7-liter, direct-injected flat six-cylinder engine. But it's been tweaked in the Cayman to make 275 horsepower and 213 pound-feet of torque. The spicier Cayman S shares an engine with the Boxster S and the base Porsche 911 Carrera. The car, available in April, will sell at a base price of $52,600.

Chevrolet Spark EV: Hoping to ease consumer worries about the hassle of charging electric cars, Chevrolet offers a system on the Spark EV that officials say will charge to 80 percent capacity in just 20 minutes. Chevrolet said the Spark EV would be priced at less than $25,000 with federal tax incentives in the United States and would be eligible for high-occupancy vehicle lanes in California.

New models feature high tech, fuel efficiency and power 12/14/12 [Last modified: Friday, December 14, 2012 6:43pm]

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