5 hits, misses at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show

In the wake of two hectic days of previews for the Detroit auto show, featuring 5,000 reporters ogling some 40-odd new models from around the world, one thought stands out: Go bold or go home.

The best new models and concepts started with strong ideas and identities that came through at a glance. The weakest shared a lack of unique vision — too many parts that looked like they were swiped from better vehicles.

The good news? Four of the five best will hit the road — while the majority of the worst will remain safely confined to the auto show circuit.

THE HITS

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1. Ford Fusion

Like anything popular, midsize sedans can get boring fast. The new Fusion, which Ford will sell in other countries as the Mondeo, looks anything but. Ford managed to give the Fusion better fuel economy for similar power; the interior also takes a leap ahead. No new concept drew as much attention.

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2. Acura NSX

It’s rare to get a true “supercar” concept at any show, and rarer still from Honda’s luxury arm, which has suffered from a run of disappointing models. The hybrid drive of the NSX concept was the only major break with the tradition set by the original — and Honda vows it will build something very close to this in three years.

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3. Cadillac ATS

General Motors’ new compact luxury sedan took thousands of engineering man-hours to assemble, including numerous trips to Germany’s famed Nürburgring track for chassis tuning and new engines, because GM wanted an honest competitor to the BMW 3 Series. On paper, they got it.

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4. Lexus LF-LC

I spent 20 minutes at the auto show just staring at the Lexus LF-LC, a concept roadster Lexus isn’t expected to build. It’s a shame, because it’s the rare piece of complex, modern automotive design that works as a whole piece. Put this body with the engine from the Lexus LFA supercar, and you’d have a classic.

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5. Porsche 911 Cabriolet

The convertible version of the new Porsche 911 made its debut in Detroit, and it was more than just fitting a fabric roof, building a lighter, more fuel efficient car that’s also more powerful. There’s a reason Porsche has never sold more cars than it does today.

THE MISSES

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1. Smart For-Us pickup

The Smart brand of microcars owned by Mercedes-Benz wouldn’t exist in the United States except for Mercedes’ need to meet fuel economy rules. Turning a Smart into a tiny pickup, then crippling it with an electric motor renders a vehicle that for all its fun graphics couldn’t do much more than golf course duty.

2. Volkswagen e-Bugster

It’s long past time that simply putting an electric motor into a regular model, or building a concept with a lower roof than a production model sparked much enthusiasm. Volkswagen did both for the e-Bugster, which offered little new except for what VW called the “pure theatre” of its start-up system.

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3. Chevrolet 130-R

Chevy says its done research with 9,000 young potential customers to find out what they want in a new car. The result was two coupe concepts; the 140S front-wheel-drive model that seemed mostly derivative but bland, and the 130R, a rear-wheel-drive idea with bits too close to the BMW 1M but lacking any power (only 150 hp in the concept). It did have gold wheels, though.

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4. Lincoln MKZ

The relaunch of the Lincoln brand should begin in earnest with the production version of this MKZ concept arrives later this year. But it will sit across the showroom from the new Fusion, offering the same chassis with somewhat nicer interior bits and a less-attractive exterior a higher price. When the company’s touting that the perforations in the seat leather resembles champagne bubbles, you know they’re stretching.

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5. Honda Accord Coupe

Like the Lincoln MKZ, the Accord coupe is a “concept” that’s only slightly different than a production version. And like the Lincoln, it suffers from a blandness that’s only magnified under the auto show lights. If it looks like a model from two years ago here, it’s not going to do well under the bright lights of a showroom floor, let alone an auto show.

Introducing the New 2013 Ford Fusion

(Edited)  They finally got rid of the outdated centre console, obviously. But in my opinion it looks like a cross between a Mitsubishi, Sonata and the grille, an Austin Martin. And sorta like the 2013 Ford Taurus. So basically it looks like every other car. If I were a car designer I would make it stand out a lot. Nonetheless, I like it but I won’t be trading in my 2011 Fusion anytime soon, I will want to wait for Consumer Report reviews and other reviews. And since the 2013 model will be available in the Fall, it’s gonna be awhile for the reviews. But I would love to test drive it.

New Ford Fusion Brings More Technology, Expected Triple Crown of Best-in-Class Gas, Hybrid, Plug-In Efficiency

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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• New Ford Fusion is the first sedan to offer gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains, each with expected top fuel economy, underscoring Ford’s commitment to give customers the power of choice

• With seven must-have technologies, including a Lane Keeping System, adaptive cruise control, active park assist and MyFord Touch®, the all-new Ford Fusion shows how Ford is delivering features customers truly want and value

• Customers can choose from Fusion’s widest-ever portfolio of fuel-efficient powertrains including EcoBoost™, hybrid and plug-in hybrid engines; automatic and manual transmission offerings; and auto start stop technology

• Revealed in North America as the midsize Fusion sedan, this all-new car signals the next-generation Ford Mondeo for world markets

Soundbites: All-New Ford Fusion

Ford Fusion Forum.com – Ford’s all-new Fusion brings alive the next generation of more expressive vehicles from Ford and is the first sedan to offer gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions – each expected to deliver top fuel economy and an engaging driving experience.

Featuring a sleek silhouette and fresh face, the all-new Fusion is the latest in a series of vehicles from Ford – following the 2011 Fiesta subcompact and 2012 Focus small cars – developed to satisfy customers everywhere who want leading fuel efficiency, helpful technologies and game-changing looks.

“Our vision for Fusion was clear – deliver the very best of what One Ford stands for,” said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Global Product Development. “We brought our global teams together around a blank slate with the charge to develop a midsize car with groundbreaking design and jaw-dropping fuel economy – one that featured technologies to help make our customers safer and better drivers. This car is the result.”

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Fusion is revealed in North America in S, SE and range-topping Titanium series and points to the next Ford Mondeo for world markets.

Triple-crown fuel efficiency
The new Fusion is expected to deliver best-in-class fuel economy across customers’ choice of gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid sub-segments, following through with the commitment by Ford to be the fuel-efficiency leader – or among the leaders – with each new model brought to market.
Fusion brings the broadest selection of fuel-efficient powertrains in the midsize car segment. It offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid alternatives, a pair of EcoBoost™ four-cylinder engines, a normally aspirated four-cylinder engine, an automatic start stop system to shut off the engine at stationary idle, front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive applications, and a choice between automatic and manually shifted six-speed transmissions.

The 1.6-liter EcoBoost is expected to deliver best-in-class four-cylinder non-hybrid fuel efficiency of 26 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine – paired with a paddle-shifted six-speed SelectShift Automatic™ transmission, available 19-inch wheels and tires, and all-wheel drive with the ability to send additional torque to the rear – is the Fusion performance option.

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Ford Fusion Hybrid

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
The Fusion Hybrid – 2010 North American Car of the Year – continues to innovate and evolve with all-new lithium-ion batteries that save weight and generate more power than previous nickel-metal hydride batteries, while raising maximum speed under electric-only power from 47 mph to 62 mph.

Fusion Hybrid also features an all-new 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine, significantly downsized from the previous 2.5-liter unit while maintaining performance standards. This innovative powertrain is anticipated to deliver best-in-class fuel economy of 47 mpg in city driving and 44 mpg on the highway.

Fusion Hybrid fuel economy stands to outperform the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid by 4 mpg city and 5 mpg highway and the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid by 12 mpg and 4 mpg, respectively.

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Ford Fusion Energi

2013 Ford Fusion Energi
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Topping the fuel-efficiency ladder is the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, aiming to be the most fuel-efficient midsize car in the world. Arriving this fall, Fusion Energi is anticipated to deliver more than 100 MPGe, a mile per gallon equivalency metric for electrified vehicles. This is 8 MPGe more than the Chevrolet Volt and 13 MPGe more than the projected efficiency of the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid model.

The next-generation Fusion 1.6-liter is the first automatic-transmission Ford product offered with an automatic start stop system. It shuts off engine power smoothly when the car is stopped and seamlessly restarts as the driver releases the brake pedal, helping Fusion to reduce fuel consumption and emissions by approximately 3.5 percent.

Fusion looks out for you
The all-new Fusion offers an unprecedented portfolio of driver assistance and convenience technologies based on sensors, cameras and radar that enable the car to see and respond.

Fusion can help drivers maintain proper lane position, adjust vehicle speed to changing traffic conditions, identify suitable parking spaces and help park, even aiding drivers backing out of parking space where visibility is obstructed. Specific technologies include:

Lane Keeping System: This class-exclusive technology consists of three elements to help a driver maintain proper lane position. Using a small, forward-facing camera behind the inside rearview mirror, the system “looks” down the road, monitoring lane lines to determine that the car is on course. The system will alert a driver if drowsiness or erratic lane-keeping is detected. The second element warns a driver with a steering wheel vibration if the Fusion drifts too close to lane markings. Finally, lane keeping aid will actually apply pressure on the steering to help bring the car back into proper lane position

Adaptive cruise control: Using forward-looking radar, this system “looks” down the road when activated, slowing the Fusion when slower traffic is detected ahead. Adaptive cruise control enables collision warning with brake support to help slow the car if the potential of a crash is detected

Active park assist: Employing sensors, this technology can identify a suitable parallel parking space, calculate the trajectory and steer the car to properly position it within the spot. All a driver need do is operate accelerator and brake pedals

Blind Spot Information System (BLIS®) with cross-traffic alert: Sensors in both Fusion rear quarter-panels are able to detect traffic in a driver’s blind spot, providing both audible and visual warnings if traffic – unseen by the driver – is detected. BLIS technology enables cross-traffic alert, warning the driver of oncoming traffic when backing out of a parking space with obstructed views, such as between two large vans

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The power of voice
The all-new Fusion offers the latest iteration of Ford’s award-winning, industry-exclusive SYNC® communications and entertainment system, which enables voice-activated communication through a driver’s mobile phone and interaction with the car’s audio system.

Fusion also offers the latest version of MyFord Touch®, allowing a driver to interact with vehicle systems through voice control, a touch screen tap or a conventional button.

Both SYNC and MyFord Touch – powered by SYNC – help reduce the potential for driver distraction through voice-controlled functionality, allowing drivers to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

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Different, by design
“The previous Fusion was an easy purchase for a customer to rationalize,” said Chris Hamilton, chief exterior designer for the next-generation model. “Our design goal for the new car was to give the mainstream sedan buyer a top-drawer visual experience, adding some emotional appeal to an already sensible choice.”

These five elements provided direction for the design team behind the all-new Fusion:

Silhouette innovation: Fusion’s sleek profile sets it apart from the powertrain/cabin/trunk “three-box” designs synonymous with midsize sedans

Perceived efficiency: Fusion character lines sweeping to the rear and thin roof pillars suggest the car is nimble and light on its feet

Refined surface language: Fusion demonstrates that a tasteful, well-executed design does not require add-ons or visual clutter

Technical graphics: Fusion’s functional design elements such as headlamps, LED taillamps and polished exhaust tips communicate enhanced technological capability

New face: Fusion signals the next evolution in Ford global design language for midsize cars and smaller

Inside, the new Fusion offers a sporty, driver-oriented environment with next-generation seating that brings expanded functionality. A higher center console supports the driver-centric theme and yields clever storage for items a driver wants to keep handy.

Additional passenger space was designed-in by moving the instrument panel toward the windshield, contributing to the cabin’s airy, open environment. Thinner, lighter frames support the comfortable next-generation seats trimmed with fabric using recycled sustainable yarns.

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Craftsmanship plus dynamics equals feel
Fusion design delivers on the promise of high visual quality, with improved materials, elevated levels of craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Interior surfaces are softer to the touch and interior and exterior gaps are minimized, while extra care has been taken to upholster or cover each edge and every surface a customer can touch. When the trunk lid is opened, for example, a spring-loaded cover automatically conceals the trunk latch hardware.

“The holistic goal of our craftsmanship process is to see that Fusion not only delivers a superior visual experience but also feels like quality to the customer,” said Adrian Whittle, Fusion chief engineer.

Key contributors to how the Fusion feelsare the ride and handling components that maximize vehicle dynamics.

“This really is a driver’s car,” said John Jraiche, program manager. “Fusion is even more fun to drive with specially tuned electric power-assisted steering (EPAS), a MacPherson strut front suspension and an all-new premium-level multilink rear suspension – comparable to Audi and BMW configurations.”

Careful tuning by Ford’s vehicle handling and ride team has yielded a Fusion with a dynamic character that will please a well-seasoned enthusiast while increasing the confidence level of less-experienced drivers.

Fusion interior quiet reaches a new level with acoustic underbody shields and weight-saving sound-absorption material; both minimize road and powertrain noise while boosting aerodynamic efficiency to help save fuel. The all-new model adds content such as a full-perimeter hood seal to be among the midsize sedan segment leaders in giving drivers a quiet ride.

Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi models also are equipped with active noise control. This feature uses the audio system to mitigate extraneous road noise while enhancing powertrain sounds.

Strength and safety
Fusion is designed with customer safety in mind. Engineers increased its body strength by 10 percent, using more high-strength steels such as boron, and added dual first-row knee airbags and adaptive front airbags that vent and tether to conform to a specific occupant’s size, position and seatbelt usage.

The Fusion safety team targeted top-of-the-line ratings in each public domain safety benchmark, including National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ratings, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick and top ratings in world markets where the car will be sold.

The most prominent example is Fusion’s front-end architecture, as the same car must face simultaneous – and seemingly conflictive – standards across regions. The car’s front end is equipped to meet head-on and offset barrier standards for North America while still conforming to European standards for pedestrian protection – thanks to hours of computer modeling and 180 validating crash tests.

Fusion will be produced at Ford’s Hermosillo, Mexico, manufacturing facility, soon adding production at AutoAlliance International Plant in Flat Rock, Mich. The car will appear in Ford showrooms in North America and South America later this year. Mondeo will be introduced next year in Asia and Europe.

2013 Ford Fusion was “accidentally” leaked on teaser app

We’ve still got a few days between us and the reveal of the 2013 Ford Fusion, but a minor bug in its iPad teaser app has given us an early glimpse of the all-new sedan. The app not available on my Anroid phone for some reason. I want to see the taillights and inside middle console.

As we showed you before, Ford enlisted the help of an interactive iPad app to count down the days until the Fusion’s reveal. But today, an error with the app gave us a nice front-three-quarter view of Ford’s new Camry-fighter, which has since been removed.

We’re digging the low-slung stance, blacked-out Day Light Opening (greenhouse) and pixel-perfect wheel size, but it’s the fascia that’s easily the most handsome, combining elements of recent Ford concepts and polishing them up for production duty (along with a fair bit of Aston Martin in that grille). We’ll be seeing much more in another three days, so stay tuned!

2012 Detroit Auto Show: Top 10 most anticipated debuts

We’re just days away from the Detroit Auto Show….If not at the all-time high sales before the Great Recession, new car sales are coming back. However, for some automakers — like Japan’s Honda and Toyota, still recovering from years of sliding market share and a 2011 that saw natural disasters disrupt production — their unveilings at this year’s Detroit auto show may be the most critical in some time.

Here are my 10 most-anticipated Detroit debuts during next week’s media days:

More: The top 10 must-drive cars of 2012

More: The 5 sexiest new cars of 2012

10. Smart ForUs concept

What we know: Parent Mercedes-Benz has been rolling out concepts of its next-generation Smart car, due for 2013, throughout the past year. So far, we’ve seen the ForSpeed roadster and ForVision coupe concepts, both based on a brand new platform developed by Mercedes and Renault-Nissan. The Detroit-bound ForUs is a pure-electric two-seat pickup.

What we don’t know: Is the ForUs a teaser for a production version of the next Smart? Or just a car show flight of fancy?

9. 2013 Buick Encore

What we know: General Motors’ premium brand is debuting its second crossover, the Encore, set to go on sale later next year. And although it will share its looks with the existing mid-size Enclave crossover, the junior Buick will be much smaller.

What we don’t know: Just how small will the Encore be? Based on spy shots of an Opel version being tested, the Buick will be based on GM’s subcompact platform that also supports the current Chevrolet Sonic.

8. Lincoln MKZ concept

What we know: Ford realizes its “do or die” time for its struggling Lincoln premium brand. Years of little differentiation from lower-priced Ford products, and a confusing letter-naming system, have seen sales drop to new lows. Ford has created a new Lincoln design studio, and hired a new design chief. The first result will be the debut of the Ford Fusion-based MKZ sedan concept, set to foreshadow the brand’s new look.

What we don’t know: Will the MKZ concept’s new design be enough to reinvigorate Lincoln?

7. 2013 Cadillac ATS

What we know: Smaller than the existing mid-size CTS, the compact ATS is Cadillac’s true crack at the BMW 3 Series-dominated entry-level sports sedan segment. A host of four- and six-cylinder engines (with up to 318 hp), and manual and automatic transmissions will be available. The small Caddy also debuts an all-new GM rear/all-wheel-drive platform that may spawn the next Chevy Camaro.

What we don’t know: Will Cadillac be able to sway import (i.e. BMW and Audi) customers to the new ATS?

6. Toyota NS4 concept

What we know: Not much. Toyota has only released a teaser image of the front corner of the NS4, showing a headlight and saying it will be a “hybrid”.

What we don’t know: Will the NS4 be a hatchback or sedan? We don’t know. As witnessed with the new Scion FR-S sports car and the Lexus LF-LC concept, Toyota is trying to make its cars more interesting to look at. So the NS4 may give clues to either the next Prius or Corolla, both due for replacement as 2015 models.

5. 2013 Dodge Dart

What we know: The compact five-passenger Dart sedan is the first of what we’ve been promised are a slew of new, small Chrysler Group vehicles based on Fiat bits and bites. Replacing the woeful Caliber, the Dart will use a wider and longer Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform, dubbed Compact U.S. Wide. Power will come from a trio (2.0-litre; turbocharged 1.4-litre; a 2.4-litre) of Fiat-sourced four-bangers.

What we don’t know: Can Dodge exorcize the demons from its uncompetitive Caliber, and challenge class-leaders like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruze?

4. 2013 Ford Fusion

What we know: With its looks coming from last year’s Ford Evos concept, and power from Ford’s EcoBoost turbocharged engine family, the U.S. automaker has already given plenty of hints about its forthcoming 2013 Fusion. Like the recently introduced Fiesta and Focus, Ford is minimizing the differences between its vehicles globally. We’ve been told the new Fusion’s steering, ride and handling will match the current European Mondeo.

What we don’t know: Will the “Europeanization” of the new Fusion keep it at the top of the mid-size sedan sales charts?

3. 2013 Honda Accord Coupe concept

What we know: Honda’s concepts are usually thinly disguised production cars. So expect the Accord Coupe show car to give clues to what the new Accord two- and four-door sedan will look like, both expected to also go on sale late next year as 2013 models. Based on a technology preview before this year’s Tokyo auto show, expect the new Accord to offer a CVT as the base automatic, and engines with direct-injection and double-overhead cams for better fuel economy and power.

What we don’t know: Will the new Accord bring back customers who have migrated away to rival mid-size sedans like the Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Altima?

2. Lexus LF-LC concept

What we know: Like Honda’s Acura, Toyota’s premium Lexus brand needs to get out of a product and styling rut that has seen its market-share plummet in the lucrative North American luxury car market. Several U.S. publications leaked images of the LF-LC, so we know it’s a swoopy-looking 2+2 with an aggressive styling first seen on the Lexus LF-A super car.

What we don’t know: Everything else. Like how the Lexus will be powered (hybrid? electric?) or will it go into production.

1. Acura NSX concept

What we know: Honda is treating this year’s Detroit show as a re-launch pad for its struggling premium Acura brand. Along with a long-rumoured replacement for its legendary NSX super car that will showcase a raft of new engineering ideas, two new 2013 models — the Civic-based ILX premium compact sedan and the second-generation RDX compact crossover — will also be unveiled.

What we don’t know: We know the NSX is coming. But will it have hybrid power, or all-wheel-drive? Will it be mid-engined, like the original? Or look like the Acura-supplied car seen on the set of the upcoming Avengers movie?

10 driving resolutions for the New Year

 I hope you all had a safe and joyful holiday season.

I always love making New Year’s resolutions.

For other people, that is.

In case you are too partied out to make your own, here are some suggestions:

1. Drive Sober. Despite gains made in anti-drunk driving campaigns (and no thanks to those incredible B.C. Supreme Court justices who overturned that province’s very successful spot-check program), drunk driving remains — statistically, anyway — the single worst thing you can do. So, don’t.

More: This winter, don’t be like this driver

More: How to eliminate your car’s dreaded ‘blind spot’

2. Drive Unimpaired. While alcohol is (as far as we know) still the most common impairment, other drugs — notably among young people, marijuana, other “recreational pharmaceuticals,” and also some prescription or even over-the-counter medications — are a significant problem too. Lacking roadside detection technology for these substances, this one is harder to get a handle on. But we know it’s huge. Smoke away if you choose to — no skin off my fender. Just don’t drive.

3. Drive Refreshed. A big part — again, we’re not sure how big — of our traffic safety problem is driving when tired. After two hours behind the wheel, your eyes start to drop; when that happens, it gets more difficult to keep your car on a proper trajectory, which leads to shoulder drop-offs, and all too frequently, to rollovers. Even a five-minute break at a roadside plaza can help give your eyes that needed respite.

4. Drive belted. Our traffic fatality statistics are still significantly better (proportionally, of course) than those in the United States. Virtually all of the difference can be attributed to better seat belt wearing rates in Canada (about 93 per cent nationally, as of 2010) versus the United States (about 85 per cent). So, what’s keeping the other seven per cent of you (15 per cent of them) from slamming into the windshield or steering wheel in a minor fender-bender? I mean, if you’re gonna die in a car crash, shouldn’t it be SPECTACULAR? Shouldn’t it make the front page? Not 50 km/h into a lamp post. And if you don’t think that might kill you, figure that a world-class sprinter averages about 40 km/h in a 100 metre dash. You can probably run half that fast. Go run into a lamp post as fast as you can. Tell me how much fun that was. Understand that the kinetic energy increases as the square of the speed. At 50 km/h, you’d have to absorb over five times as much energy. Your airbag can only do so much. Rest in Pieces.

5. Learn how to drive. As Driver Trainer extraordinaire Gary Magwood puts it, “We can’t drive when we’re sober!” A couple of hours with a trained professional can improve your driving skills a hundredfold. We are very fortunate in Canada to have several advanced driver training programs available at a very reasonable cost. How reasonable? WAY cheaper than a new fender. Or a burial.

6. Turn on your frickin’ headlights. Daytime Running Lights (DRL) in most cars do not illuminate the tail lights. Arguably, those are more important than front lights, because a large fraction (I’d dare say a majority, but I don’t have the stats to back that up) of our driving is done on freeways, where cars seeing you from behind, especially in rain, in fog, or at dusk, is much more important than them seeing you from in front (the whole point of DRL is not to make YOU see better, but to make you BETTER SEEN). And for sure, you’ll be going faster on the freeway than elsewhere, so the danger is geometrically greater.

The problem stems from the tragically (nearly criminally) incomplete Transport Canada DRL regulation which does not mandate rear illumination. Now, I get it — that might be too expensive to impose upon the carmakers. But it should at the VERY least require that IF DRL is active, the instrument lighting must NOT be on. So many people seem to think that if their dash lights are on, all their lights are on. That ain’t necessarily — almost always is NOT — so. If you aren’t sure what your car does w/r/t DRL, there’s no need to even worry about it — just flick the lights on, all the time. No probs. I’m sure that anyone reading this probably knows this already; maybe your resolution should be to tell at least one person — a friend, a relative, a co-worker, the brain-dead driver beside you at the stoplight — about this every week.

7. Adjust your mirrors correctly. There is no such thing as a “blind spot” in most cars. Except that all too many drivers — all too many driver trainers too, sad to say — have a “blind spot” in their brains that doesn’t let them understand that if you crank your side-view mirrors out MUCH further than you’ve probably been taught — you should be able to just see the left side of your own car if you lay your head against the side glass, and the right side if you lean over so you’re halfway over the centre console — you have a 180-degree panorama of what’s coming from behind (or beside) you.

Why would you want to see the sides of your own car? You KNOW where they are — guaranteed, right where they were when you left home this morning — and there’s no way the side of your own car is gonna hit you. It’s what’s BESIDE the sides of your own car that you have to keep track of. Need a “reference point?” Easy — when an object appears to leave the field of view of one mirror, it enters into the field of view of the adjacent mirror, or into your peripheral vision (it may help to think of your car as having ONE mirror that’s been broken up into three pieces). If you’re seeing the same thing in TWO mirrors (apart from a very small overlap) then what is it that you’re NOT seeing in ANY of your mirrors? Without turning your head so you’re zipping down the highway for a third of a football field per second without looking where you’re going?

Yes, it may take some getting used to. But I have had drivers with 30, 40 years of experience tell me that this is the single most important driving tip they have ever learned. I used to be almost alone in the dark on this one, until the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) produced a paper proving this geometrically over a decade ago. No more excuses.

8. Don’t text or talk when driving. The first one should be particularly obvious, but obviously is not. Many (most?) jurisdictions now ban texting, as well as hand-held cellphone use, even though several studies have shown that hand-held versus hands-free doesn’t make much, if any, difference. It’s the mental engagement, not the reduced manual dexterity, that affects our driving ability.

9. Back in to your parking spot. I admit I was a bit of a latecomer to this, only adopting it after Peter Christianson of Young Drivers of Canada pointed out some years ago how much safer it was to pull OUT of a parking space frontwards, so you can better see what sort of traffic you’re about to enter when you leave that spot. A “pull-through” spot, where you drive in frontwards but can also drive OUT frontwards, is best of all.

10. Drive polite. As if your name, photograph and home address were mounted on a huge placard on the roof of your car. We would never do the impolite, downright hostile things we do in a theatre lineup or a grocery store checkout line that we do in the anonymity of our cars. If we eliminated that anonymity, maybe we’d be more polite. When someone does something stupid on the road, just give him room to be stupid. At the very least, let him go have his crash with someone else. If YOU do something stupid, back off, and try to indicate that you’re sorry. Don’t make the situation worse by becoming aggressive.

There — that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Happy New Year!

The top 10 Must Drive Cars of 2012

The picture is not of the 2013 Ford Fusion, people need to get their facts straight before publishing.

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to start thinking about the next twelve moths.

And for auto writers like yours truly, that means lining up the most desirable new-for-2012 cars for test drives.

So while you’re more than likely making a list for Santa, I’m making a list for my assignment editor of the new models I want to get a crack at between January and December.

Alphabetically, here are the top 10 new cars I’m most looking forward to test-driving next year:

2013 Audi S7

Can Audi make its new A7 Sportback any better?

Based on the also-new-for-2012 A6 sedan, the four-door 2+2 A7 has arguably ended up the best looking car in a growing “four-door coupe” class that also includes the awkward-looking BMW 5 Gran Turismo and bordering-on-vulgar ‘Benz CLS .

And despite its practical hatch-style body, the Audi is quiet on the road when required, but can act like a sports sedan when called upon.

Improvements? Well, more juice is always good. And that’s where the sportier 2013 S7 comes into play, with Audi’s new 420 hp twin-turbo V8 plus the usual Audi S accoutrements.

2013 BMW 3 Series Sedan

The big question I have about the new generation 3 Series sedan is if I will still be able recommend it to driving enthusiasts as the no-brainer pick in a very tough (and getting tougher) class.

Early preview info doesn’t sound promising.

Like its 5 and 7 Series brethren, BMW has gone timid with the 2013 3’s styling, made it a bit bigger, added more electronic gadgets than a Best Buy box store — and egad! — dropped the base, naturally-aspirated inline six for a blown four banger.

Needless-to-say, some time behind BMW’s new compact sports sedan steering wheel will be called for.

2013 Cadillac ATS

Whereas Ford is still diddling around with its Lincoln luxury brand, over the past decade, it’s been left to the General’s Cadillac to take on the Germans in the sports sedan arena. And the new 2013 Caddy ATS compact sedan (set to debut at next month’s Detroit auto show), is a direct lob at the BMW 3 Series.

Here’s what we kind of know so far…

The ATS will get an all-new rear- and all-wheel-drive platform, be powered by fours and sixes (some turbos), offer manual gearboxes and maybe even a balls-to-the-wall ATS-V, with a speculated 380 hp twin-turbo V6 — can’t wait!

2013 Fiat 500 Abarth

If the Fiat 500 has any chance of busting free of its “chick car” image, the new little Abarth model is its only hope.

Just introduced last month at the Los Angeles auto show, the 500 Abarth (named after Italian race car builder and tuner Carlo Abarth) puts some hair on the previously clean shaven 500’s chest with a turbocharged version of the regular 500’s puny 101 hp, 1.4-litre, pumped up to about 160 hp.

A beefed-up five-speed stick, suitably specced-up suspension and tires, and the requisite sporty bodywork and interior trim also bring some much-needed masculinity to the tiny Fiat city car.

2013 Ford Fusion

According to Ford, I’ve already driven the 2013 Fusion. Well, at least in regards to steering, ride and handling. The current European Mondeo I drove right after this year’s Frankfurt show supposedly gave big clues as to what to expect in regards to driving dynamics for our 2013 Fusion, also due to appear at next month’s Detroit show.

But with styling that’s apparently been inspired by Ford’s Evos concept (or is that the other way around?) and like the new Fiesta and Focus, I’m interested to see how Ford will make one midsize car work for both European and North American drivers.

2013 Honda Accord

After the fly-out 2012 Civic, and the single-to-right 2013 CR-V, Honda North America is hoping for a home run with its forthcoming 2013 Accord. And based on a preview of some of the next-generation Accord’s nuts and bolts, it looks like Honda is bringing all of its extensive engineering prowess with this car.

Dubbed “i-VTEC,” Honda is adding direct-injection and double overhead cams to its mainstream gas engines, promising more power and “at least” a 10 per cent fuel economy advantage over the outgoing powerplants.

As such, the 2013 Accord will get a new i-VTEC 2.4-litre four, plus an all-new enthusiast-friendly CVT, and a plug-in hybrid model as well.

2013 Kia Cadenza

Can Kia keep the hits coming?

The Korean brand’s biggest car, the new-this-year midsize Optima sedan, is arguably its best.

But will the next-step up 2013 Cadenza match (or hopefully exceed) the Optima’s high standard?

Planned to go on sale earlier this year, speculators suggested Kia’s big sedan was delayed so it could take advantage of a new platform it’s sharing with the just-released Hyundai Azera — a car not coming to Canada.

Will the Cadenza be worth the wait?

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera

At first glimpse, the new 2013 911 Carrera doesn’t look that different compared to the last one, which arrived in 2004. But seen in metal and plastic at this year’s Frankfurt auto show, the latest iteration of the iconic Porsche looks the least like the original that arrived in 1964.

That Porsche had one of the originals parked a few feet away only cemented the fact.

Yes, the new Carrera and Carrera S — the first in what will surely be a long line of 911 variants — are lower, lighter, quicker and more environmentally friendly than before.

The 2+2 also happens to be wider, quieter, and more refined, with a longer wheelbase and a more spacious cabin.

But will der neu 911 feel like a sports car when driven?

2013 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ

Last year at this time, I had the Toyota version of this new compact rear-drive sports car on my test-drive wish list. For whatever reasons, though, the car was delayed, finally arriving at last week’s Tokyo Motor Show.

We’ll not see the foreign-market-only Toyota GT 86. But I’m hoping the coming-to-Canada 2013 Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ mechanical clones will be one of those “better late than never” propositions.

With the 2+2 sports car’s rear wheels powered by a naturally aspirated 197 hp 2.0-litre flat-four from Subaru, the FR-S/BRZ is being hailed for its extremely low centre of gravity and feathery 1,207 kg. curb weight — almost 300 kg lighter than a comparable Hyundai Genesis 2.0T.

So, Toyota Canada or Subaru Canada? First one with the invite to drive his car, and I’m all yours.

2013 Volkswagen Golf R

The 2013 Golf R better be good. I’ve been waiting almost three years for this thing.

To recap: the über-Golf is essentially an Audi TT-S in a five-passenger four-door hatchback body. That means a 256 hp version of VW Group’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre direct-injected and blown four that sends its power to all four tires.

However, unlike the Audi, the VW will only come with a stick; no autobox. That should keep us auto writers happy, and the posers at bay.

2012 Toyota Camry comes cheap and feels that way

Handout/MCT

The 2012 Toyota Camry features excellent fuel economy, voice-recognition and Internet connectivity.

Mark Phelan
DETROIT FREE PRESS

Speaking of Sedans, can’t wait to see the 2013 Ford fusion next month..I think I’ve said that already???

Attention bargain shoppers: Just in time for the holiday shopping season, here comes the 2012 Toyota Camry SE, a mid-size sedan that offers an attractive list of features, but leaves no penny unpinched when it comes to look, feel and sound.

The Camry offers excellent fuel economy and a new voice-recognition system that’s among the best on the road.

Aside from those features, Toyota had modest ambitions for the seventh generation of the mid-size sedan that’s become the default choice for many buyers. The car’s platform and powertrain choices are largely unchanged, though they offer more of most everything the casual shopper wants: fuel economy, features and room.

The interior is unimpressive, however. The materials look and feel very basic and the gaps between pieces of trim are uneven. Wind and road noise are very noticeable.

The new Camry is a bit of a throwback, despite offering advanced voice-recognition and connectivity systems.

More: Can Toyota’s ‘Jesus car’ change the company’s vanilla image?

More: Toyota pins its hopes on all-new Camry

The new Camry’s basic interior recalls the days before Toyota became a benchmark for solidity, fit and finish.

The mid-size sedan’s fuel economy, passenger space and trunk size all rank at or near the top among mid-size sedans, however.

Prices for the 2012 Camry start at $23,700 in Canada for a base model with a six-speed automatic transmission and 178-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine.

A 268-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 is available in models starting at $29,700 in Canada. A hybrid model gets a total of 200 horsepower from its 2.5-litre engine and electric motor. The hybrid has a continuously variable transmission and starts at $26,990 in Canada.

I tested a nicely equipped Camry SE with the four-cylinder engine and options including JBL speakers, navigation and Toyota’s new Entune system for voice-recognition and some Web services. It stickered at $26,600 US. All prices exclude destination charges.

The Camry competes with mid-size sedans like the Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima and Volkswagen Passat.

The Camry will be challenged early and often in 2012, when new versions of the Accord, Altima, Fusion and Malibu go on sale.

For now, at least, the four-cylinder Camry matches the Sonata for class-leading fuel economy. The EPA rates it at 25 mpg in the city (9.4 litres per 100 km), 35 on the highway (6.7 l/100 km), 28 in combined driving (8.4 l/100 km).

The SE’s drivetrain provides good acceleration. The ride is soft. It absorbs bumps smoothly, but leans noticeably in fast curves.

The passenger compartment provides plenty of head and legroom. The trunk is large, with a wide opening for easy loading. The trunk liner is flimsy and lacks an inner handle. The lack of padding contributes to a tinny sound when you close the trunk.

That lack of sound insulation carries over to the passenger compartment. Wind and road noise are very noticeable on the highway.

That bargain-shopper feel recurs throughout the interior. The dashboard, doors and centre stack are covered in hard plastic. The gaps between some of the trim pieces are uneven, which was unheard of in Toyotas at the brand’s peak.

The Camry’s styling is somewhat reminiscent of the Toyota Corolla compact, with tall, relatively flat sides, a big greenhouse and a short hood and deck.

The 2012 Camry is the first vehicle with Toyota’s new Entune system, which offers Internet connectivity and voice recognition for phones, navigation and more. The voice-recognition system is outstanding. It batted a thousand understanding names and complicated addresses.

I had less success evaluating Entune’s Internet connectivity. Toyota wouldn’t provide an app to test Entune with my own phone. I was stuck with a very glitchy Motorola Droid with Verizon service, provided by Toyota.

The phone’s ability to connect to the car was inconsistent, and the connection was frequently interrupted when I tried to use Entune to listen to Pandora Internet radio. The voice recognition for phones, navigation and the audio system gets an A-plus; Entune’s promise of Internet connectivity for audio and other services still has to prove itself.

The 2012 Camry provides lots of features at an appealing price. It lacks the driving dynamics and interior fit and finish of the best mid-size sedans. The new Camry could have its hands full as new versions of key competitors hit the road over the next few months.

Canada’s 10 Worst Selling Cars of 2011

In what some in the industry were hoping was going to be a “bounce back” year for new car sales, for some current on-sale models, the first 10 months of 2011 have been anything but.

Between the natural disasters in Japan and Thailand that shut down assembly and parts plants around the world, and lingering global economic concerns, some new car models have suffered major sales drop-offs compared to the same period last year.

Here are the top 10 sales losers in Canada through the end of October:

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10. (tie) Acura TSX, Ford Flex — Down 41%*

The Acura TSX compact sports sedan has never challenged segment sales leaders like the BMW 3 Series. But the made-in-Japan car’s limited availability this year saw its sales drop down to only 1,036 units.

The Ford Flex three-row’s Ontario plant never closed this year. But buyers continued to stay away from a vehicle that’s neither a minivan nor an SUV.

With only 2,483 examples sold this year, the Flex is Ford’s worst-seller.

9. Honda Fit — Down 42%

You can’t blame the product for flailing Fit sales, down to only 2,719 units sold in 2011.

Despite newer competition from Ford, Hyundai, Kia and Mazda — among others — the subcompact Honda four-door hatchback still ranks high in its class when it comes to roominess, flexible cargo space, build quality, fuel-efficiency and fun factor.

8. (tie) GMC Yukon, Lincoln MKT — Down 47%

It’s hard to blame the disasters in Japan or Thailand for the sales slumps of these two large, North American-made cars (the Yukon in the U.S., the MKT in the same Ontario plant as the Ford Flex).

Except for the discontinued Town Car, with only 424 sold this year, the MKT — the Lincoln version of Ford’s Flex — is the least popular model in the Ford luxury brand’s showroom, as is the full-size Yukon SUV, with only 874 units moved.

7. (tie) Toyota Prius, Lexus GS — Down 48%

This pair of Toyotas share similar sales declines, but for different reasons.

With only 1,440 copies sold this year, the Prius hybrid got hit with the double-whammy of production shortages due to the Japanese manufacturing crisis this year, and slowing sales of hybrids in general.

The mid-size Lexus GS sports sedan (only 112 sold this year) was also hit by production woes this year, and by Lexus’s heavy promotion of the next-generation GS, due early next year.

6. Nissan 370Z — Down 49%

Never a high volume model to begin with, Nissan’s two-seat sports car has found only 420 buyers so far in 2011.

Like the also-made-in-Japan Honda Fit, it’s not like the Zed car is a bad ride.

In fact, it’s a great performance bargain if you’re looking at a Porsche Cayman or base-model 911 Carrera.

But you can blame the limited supply due to plant closures earlier in the year for the slide in Z-car sales.

5. Honda Ridgeline — down 54%

Despite a report in Automotive News that Honda’s mid-size pickup is not long for this world and might be replaced by a compact pickup/lifestyle vehicle based on the compact CR-V chassis, the automaker has officially said, “To the contrary, Ridgeline has a significant role in the Honda lineup and it is expected to continue in the foreseeable future.”

Unless something changes in the marketplace, the U.S.-made Ridgeline’s future seems to be destined as a low-volume model.

Only slightly revised since its introduction in 2005, Honda Canada sold only 1,314 copies this year.

4. Lexus HS 250h — Down 55%

Like the Prius it’s based upon, the little Lexus hybrid sedan’s sales have tumbled this year, with only 280 units sold.

And, like the Ridgeline, the HS 250h’s future has come into question.

Ward’s Auto is reporting that Toyota is looking to kill the HS 250h after sales in the U.S. dropped nearly 73 per cent compared to the same period last year.

3. Honda Insight — Down 76%

For 2012, Honda is rejigging the Insight’s exterior styling, upgrading interior materials, adding a bit more room inside, and claiming the five-passenger, four-door hatchback is less noisy.

With only 232 copies sold so far this year, these changes — and more availability — should help the Japan-made Insight post better sales results over the next 12 months.

2. Acura ZDX — Down 82%

I guess there really is a limit to the number of four-passenger, SUV/coupes you can sell.

Despite being priced more than $10k less than a $66,650 BMW X6 xDrive 35i — the Acura’s only direct rival — the ZDX crossover-cum-coupe’s sales have never met expectations.

And so far this year, sales have been worse.

With only 111 units sold through the end of October (compared to the 908 copies of the equally irrational X6 that have been moved in Canada), the ZDX is verging on either collector car status or the soon-to-be-cancelled list.

1. Nissan Cube — Down 85%

I still like the Cube as an economical (prices start at $17,598), fuel efficient (rated as low as 6.3 L/100 km on highway with available CVT), and surprisingly roomy and manoeuvreable urban driving machine.

Yet as the 10th Japan-made model on this list, once again, the manufacturing crisis in Japan this year has severely limited the supply of the box-on-wheels compact Cube.

By this time last year, Nissan had sold almost 2,500 Cubes, almost 10 times the amount (only 385) moved this year.

*All figures from Automotive News Data Center and Association of International Automobile Manufacturers of Canada and company sources.

Jenny fakes the block? J-Lo’s Fiat 500 ad causes a stir

Jenny from the block? Not so fast. A new TV spot featuring the singer/actress is causing a bit of a stir.

They do this in Hollywood all the time. How many movies were shot in Toronto as if it was NYC??? Big deal!

Jennifer Lopez’s starring role in Fiat’s latest commercials for the Fiat 500 have come under question after a report from the Smoking Gun suggests she used a body double.

The ad features the singer/actress driving a Fiat 500 Cabrio as she takes in the sights in the Bronx, where she grew up. The minute-long spot, dubbed “My World”, explores how life in the New York City borough continues to inspire her to be “tougher, to stay sharper and to think faster,” her voice-over says in the ad.

But not everything is as it seems. It turns out J-Lo actually couldn’t be bothered to return to the Bronx for this shoot, according to the report.

The Smoking Gun report claims a Lopez look-alike was hired to drive around New York City’s poorest borough while the real J-Lo was filmed inside the Fiat 500 in Los Angeles. A production studio then merged the shots with computer-generated images to make it appear as if Lopez was actually driving around the Bronx streets.

You wouldn’t be able to tell by just watching the ad, though. The well-polished TV spot managed to fool scores of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal.

But really, should this kind of digital fakery come as a surprise to anyone these days?

Despite the aggressive advertising campaign, sales of the 500 have fallen far short of Chrysler’s expectations so far this year. The carmaker had hoped the Fiat 500 would help boost its sales of small cars, an area where its offerings had lagged behind those of other automakers.