The annual auto show here is first of the four big U.S. shows each year and opens to the public Friday. Next up, Detroit in January.
Among the themes this year:
Small cars are getting bigger, both inside and out. For example, the compact Nissan Sentra has midsize passenger room, while the Fiat 500L is a stretched version of the 500 minicar.
Makeovers for mainstreamers. The long-awaited 2013 Toyota RAV4 SUV is finally unveiled.
Plus, there are high-price models from the likes of Jaguar/Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz. And some just-plain-fun-mobiles, such as a convertible version of the Volkswagen Beetle. Some highlights:
A look at 2013 Toyota RAV4
Toyota unveiled its much-awaited, redesigned 2013 RAV4 small crossover Wednesday. It goes on sale early in the new year at prices still to be announced.
The fourth generation of what Toyota says was the "original small crossover SUV" when it rolled out 16 years ago, was a big event -- a redo of one of the four core products for the world's largest automaker. And it has been seven years since the last redesign.
But most might still find the new RAV4 more conservative than other recent redesigns, such as Ford's Escape, Kia's Sportage and the new Mazda CX-5.
The RAV4 finally has a traditional liftgate (with power available) and a doughnut spare under the cargo floor rather than the spare tire on the rear door.
"What's left is a sleeker, modern vehicle that competes much better with rivals in a small SUV segment whose market share has nearly doubled in the last 10 years," says Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell. "Toyota now has a stronger alternative for hesitant Camry shoppers" who are weighing whether to get a small SUV instead of a midsize sedan.
The interior of the new RAV4 received substantial upgrades, with details such as soft-touch materials on the dash, nicer trim and upgraded lighting.
The carried-over 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine is paired with a modern six-speed automatic rather than the outdated four-speed. On front-drive models, the combination will be rated at 31 miles per gallon on the highway, an increase of 2 mpg, and 24 mpg in the city, Toyota says. All-wheel-drive models are rated 29/22.
The RAV4 comes in Sport and Eco modes and the number of trims is cut to three: LE, XLE and Limited.
Navigation will be available on most models. And all models get a backup camera and 6.1-inch dashboard screen.
Safety upgrades also include eight air bags and blind spot and rear cross-traffic sensors.
Sleeker, bigger 2014 Kia Forte
Kia unveiled its redesigned 2014 Forte compact sedan, showing off a sleeker car with more interior room and upscale features typically found on fancier cars.
The intro came after Kia opened its auto show press conference with an apology to customers and the assembled press for recently having to restate mileage ratings on several models, including the Rio subcompact and quirky Soul.
The new Forte sedan comes just 31/2 years after the original arrived in the U.S., and it has became the brand's No. 2 segment in sales volume. Kia said the sedan model shown here will be first on the market at the end of the first quarter, with a hatchback and coupe to follow. Pricing was not announced.
The new Forte compact is about an inch longer than the outgoing model and now has total interior volume that actually falls into the government's midsize-car segment.
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