May 22, 2013
Written by Steven Macoy
Thursday, 01 December 2011 11:39
At the Greater Hartford Auto Show, the cars are truly the stars. There aren’t many distractions, just shiny new cars and trucks as far as the eye can see on the sprawling second floor of the Connecticut Convention Center. And there is always a surprise waiting at the next display — something even car guys who keep an eye on the market didn’t know was out there.We traveled 60 miles to the auto show Nov. 12 in a Chevrolet Sonic, General Motors’ newest subcompact and a worthy replacement for the adequate-at-best Aveo. Sure enough, the Chevy display included a new Sonic similar to our test car.
But the surprises lurked elsewhere among the dozens of cars on display. Foremost among them were:
• Front and center in the Nissan display was what appears to be the first crossover convertible — a soft-top, all-wheel-drive Murano CrossCabriolet. The tan 2011 model on display was priced at $48,000 and is rated at 17 mpg city, 22 highway. The automotive Web site edmunds.com says of the CrossCabriolet: “Just when we think we've seen every possible body style under the sun, out pops the 2012 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. This midsize four-passenger vehicle takes key attributes of two wildly divergent categories — the car-based crossover SUV and the soft-top convertible — and combines them to create something thoroughly unique.”
• We also didn’t know Buick was back in the compact-car business with the 2012 Verano (not to be confused with the forgotten Suzuki Verona), a gussied-up Chevrolet Cruze. We test-drove a Cruz and liked it, so the more upscale Verano has promise. It starts at $22,585 and delivers fuel economy in the 22/31 mpg range.
• The Nissan Leaf all-electric sedan drew good crowds. Nissan dealer representatives told show-goers the Leaf could go 100 miles on a charge. That’s more than double the somewhat bigger, more expensive Chevrolet Volt’s range in all-electric mode. The difference is the Volt also has a gasoline engine and 9-gallon tank, so when the battery dies, the Volt keeps going. The desirability of the $35,200 Leaf therefore hinges on establishment of a network of charging stations.
• Range Rover’s new Evoque, a rugged 3-door SUV, is stunning, but show-goers accustomed to very large Rovers were troubled by its compact size. For all its one-of-a-kind styling, it’s the second-lowest-priced model in the Rover line at $41,145. Shoppers who are considering a Toyota FJ Cruiser (base price, $25,990) may find the Evoque appealing as well.
• Near the exit door was a collection of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep products. We sat in several of them and couldn’t help but notice how solidly built they seemed to be. The minivans and sedans we tried on for size exuded quality and attention to detail. Years ago, we owned a Dodge minivan that was well conceived and designed, but cheaply made. That’s not the case with its descendants.
• A gathering of tiny Fiat 500s occupied a patch of floor near the exit, and people flocked to them. Some show-goers liked them and some didn’t, but one reaction was universal: They made everyone smile. If cuteness translates into sales numbers, the adorable 500 will do well in the U.S market.
• The show featured the first Scion iQ we had seen. It’s not available in the Northeast yet. Reminiscent of the smartfortwo — that is, small — it has a wider stance and (we presume) a smoother-shifting transmission. The iQ comes with a continuously variable automatic and costs $15,900. It delivers 36 to 37 mpg.
• If you like the fuel-economy numbers and green cachet of the Toyota Prius, but find it too small, the roomy Prius V might be just what you’re looking for. The Prius V on display had a list price of $29,430; it featured a solar panel on the roof that powers ventilation fans when the car is parked. But the Prius V exacts a serious fuel-economy penalty of 7 to 8 mpg, compared with the 51-mpg original Prius.
• Speaking of Toyota, the era of bland styling appears to be coming to an end. The interior and exterior styling of the Prius V and other models catch and hold the appreciative eye, something Toyotas had been failing to do in recent years. Hyundai likewise had some sharp-looking cars on display, including the redesigned Elantra, the big Equus and the Genesis coupe.
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