News Column

New Breed of Cars Zips up to Speed

Jan. 13, 2012

Jenny Mount

My Chevy Cruze can match your Corvette's 0-60 MPH time -- if the Corvette is the basic version from the 1975 model year.

Exhibitors at this year's North American International Auto Show, which opens to the public Saturday, are emphasizing fuel-efficient vehicles that regular folks might drive.

Many of those drivers are looking for sedans in the compact to midsize range, cars both roomy enough and with a small-to-moderate appetite for fuel.

When the segment made its debut in the 1980s, buyers seeking that blend of comfort and economy had to settle for no zippiness when they pressed the gas pedal.

But since then, those vehicles have gained something formerly available only in so-called performance cars: rapid acceleration.

Take the Cruze-Corvette match-up: Web site reports that the Vette had a time of 9.2 seconds; automobile Web site posts a review of the Cruze LTZ listing 9.3 seconds 0 to 60 mph. Cruze predecessor Chevrolet Cavalier, introduced in 1983, managed a time of 13 seconds.

General Motors Co.'s Ohio-built 2012 Cruze, priced starting at $16,720, achieves its performance with a four-cylinder engine, compared with the Vette's V8, and a six-speed transmission produced by Toledo Transmission (also known as Powertrain). The hot-selling compact Cruze's fuel efficiency is rated at 26 miles per gallon city and 29 mpg highway; similar statistics for the Corvette, which debuted in an era of cheap gasoline, weren't much of a concern.

But as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tightened emissions standards, automakers were forced to refine their engines, building more precise power plants with more exacting tolerances, said Brett Smith, senior industry analyst with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

Automotive engineers strove for higher horsepower or higher fuel economy, or both, he said. Also entering the equation are computer-controlled transmissions with a higher number of gears -- up to eight from the three of the past -- as well as computer-controlled direct fuel injection, lighter-weight engines, better tires, and sleeker aerodynamics that gave rise to the wedge-shaped vehicle designs now prevalent on U.S. highways.

The midsize Camry sedan from Toyoto Motor Corp., now the U.S. top seller in its category, progressed from 0 to 60 in 12.6 seconds in the 1983 model year, according to

Today it boasts numbers that put it into territory occupied by BMWs of the last decade. The 2012-model V6 Camry (with an EPA mileage rating of 21 mpg city, 29 highway) can reach 60 from a standstill in 6.5 seconds, according to Toyota representatives. That's on a par with the 6 seconds listed on for the 2001 BMW 3330 midsize sedan, which retailed for nearly $40,000. The Camry is priced at $26,640.

Ford Motor Co.'s Fusion, also a midsize sedan, has posted a 0-60 time of 6.7 seconds for the Sport model with the 3.5 liter V6 engine, EPA rated at 22 mpg city, 29 highway. It retails for about $26,000. The car it replaced, a midsize that bore the Taurus name, posted a 0-to-60 time of 13 seconds for the 1993 GL model.

Honda Motor Co. has added a twist to the balance between fuel economy and acceleration. The 2012 models of the Insight hybrid, Civic sedan, CR-Z sporty hybrid, and CR-V compact sport utility vehicle feature a green "Econ" button on the dashboard. When it is pushed, acceleration speed decreases but fuel efficiency increases, offering the driver a choice.

Vehicle shoppers are noticing that cars advertised for good fuel economy also are peppy.

Brian Shephard, sales manager for Mathews Ford in Oregon, said customers who test-drive the Fusion with the four-cylinder engine, the dealership's most popular Fusion model, are surprised by its performance. Tests have put its 0-to-60 time at 8.9 seconds.

The Cruze also has drawn wows after test drives at Dave White Chevrolet in Sylvania, said Greg Oehlers, new-car sales manager.

Customers who have driven previous-generation 4-cylinder cars are surprised at the car's ability to merge into highway traffic.

Also on view at the Detroit show are midsize cars offering luxury as well as high performance. Included in the Daimler AG display is the C350 4Matic coupe, boasting a 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds and mileage of 19 mpg city, 28 highway. It's priced at $37,220.

BMW's 335i has a 5.4-second time posted, with fuel economy of 19 mpg city and 28 highway. The price starts at $42,050.

For the truly performance-oriented, there is Porsche AG's Panamera sedan, with overall dimensions similar to a Camry or a Fusion. The base model, with a six-cylinder engine EPA-rated at 16 mpg city, 23 highway, is priced at $75,000. It chugs from 0 to 60 in 6 seconds. More rapid acceleration, 0 to 60 in 3.6 seconds, with an EPA rating of 15 city and 23 highway, is available at a bit of a premium: that car is $173,000.

Source: (c)2012 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

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