March 12, 2012

News & Features

Good things come in small packages at Europe's big auto show

Detroit Free Press

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Flashy new models are vying for attention at the Geneva auto show this week. Europe's automakers are holding their collective breath, hoping that a wave of exciting cars and crossovers will stave off sales declines this year.

The Detroit Three also have plenty at stake. Ford and General Motors' European units have been stubborn sources of red ink as the companies surged to profitability in the rest of the world. Chrysler Group's Italian senior partner Fiat is making money, but losing sales.

Geneva's luxe side
  • The Geneva auto show also features fantasy rides. See story
  • More than 50 photos from the show. See gallery

Luxury and mainstream brands alike are emphasizing small, efficient and affordable vehicles at the show.

Ford is unveiling the diminutive B-Max minivan. The Chevrolet Cruze compact station wagon aims to combine looks, practicality and fuel economy. The compact Mercedes A-class hatchback and Audi A3 sedan aim to squeeze premium image and pricing into small packages.

Every new vehicle becomes critical in this environment. Nearly three dozen new production models and concept cars are debuting at the show, which runs through Sunday.

Some of the highlights:

Chevrolet Cruze station wagon. About 3 inches longer than the popular Cruze compact sedan, the wagon should sell well given the popularity of station wagons in Europe. It's the first European car with Chevy's MyLink system for smartphone functions, such as navigation, phone books and streaming audio. There's no plan to offer the wagon in the U.S.

Ford B-Max. This ultra-small minivan features sliding rear doors and has no B-pillar, allowing for easier access. The B-Max will offer a turbocharged, direct-injection 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine to save gasoline. The most fuel-efficient model uses a 1.6-liter turbodiesel.

Opel Mokka. This little SUV is nearly identical to the upcoming Buick Encore. Opel and Buick use the same platforms, design and engineering, so take note of the features such as automatic high-beams, lane-departure warning and a traffic-sign recognition system.

Fiat 500L. This small four-door wagon borrows some styling elements from the charming Fiat 500 coupe and convertible. Built in Serbia in the same factory that built the horrifying Yugo, the 500L is 163.4 inches long, nearly 2 feet longer than a 500 coupe. Fiat will sell five- and seven-seat versions in Europe. Only the five-seater comes to America.

Mini Clubvan. This concept for a little commercial van uses essentially the same platform and running gear as the Mini Clubman. It has two seats and a flat-load floor. The Clubvan looks good, but don't bet on it reaching production or the U.S.

Jaguar XF Sportbrake. Jaguar bucks Geneva's trend toward smaller vehicles with this station-wagon version of its midsize sport sedan. However, the XF Sportbrake will come with thrifty four- and six-cylinder diesel engines and has more passenger and luggage room than the sedan. Jaguar doesn't plan to sell it in America.

Mercedes-Benz A-class. Mercedes never sold the first-generation A-class front-wheel-drive compact in the U.S. The new A-class is a different matter, with low, sporty styling, a 200-horsepower 2.0-liter engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

It remains to be seen whether Americans will accept a front-drive, compact Mercedes hatchback, but the new A-class deserves a look. It should reach the U.S. in two years.

Available now: Chevy Cruze, Mini Cooper, Mercedes-Benz C-Class.


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