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L.A. Auto Show

Los Angles in November: 80º and copious sunshine pitted against the testimony of Detroit’s CEOs in D.C.

Los Angles in November: 80º and copious sunshine pitted against the testimony of Detroit’s CEOs in D.C. It was enough to steal its thunder, especially as the show biz capital was remarkably devoid of same. Here are the highlights:


Ford Mustang

Every panel other than the roof is new on the 2010 Mustang. Once again designer Doug Gafka oversaw the project, though the brief this time was to take the 2005 design–which re-established the Mustang’s traditional cues–and begin taking it into the future. The significant change is in the interior, which throws off the hard plastics of the past for a cleaner, more tailored look fronted by softer materials.


Ford Fusion

The revised Fusion is being offered in a hybrid version–Ford is claiming 200 patents pending on the Fusion’s hybrid technology–that is expected to beat the Toyota Camry Hybrid’s 33 mpg city/34 mpg highway numbers by up to five mpg each. It’s nothing short of stunning. Oh, and it can run up to 47 mph–or at a sustained 45 mph–on the electric motor alone. The new front styling points to Ford’s “post-kinetic” look that debuts on the 2011 Taurus, but as is the case with the ’10 Mustang, it’s the interior–fewer seams, better materials, better fit-and-finish, new seats–that’s most notable.


Mini E

Though the name evokes Vern Troyer’s character in the Austin Powers movies, the electric Mini is part of BMW’s Project i program, which is tasked with developing alternative drive systems and vehicles. Here, the drive system mates an electric motor with 204 hp and 162 lb-ft to a single-stage helical gearbox, and draws power from a 572-lb. lithium-ion battery pack that takes up all of the rear seat and most of the cargo area. The BMW-supplied 240-volt recharging system gets the Mini E, which can travel 150 miles and at speeds up to 95 mph, on its way in about 3 hours.


Nissan Cube

Now that cell phones have nearly eliminated pay phones, Clark Kent may turn to the Nissan Cube as his mobile dressing room. Especially since the “Magic Rubber Bands” system on the door armrest can be used to secure small items like a folded super suit. Unapologetically upright (it sits on a 99.6-in. wheelbase and spans 156.7-in. overall), the Cube started the box-on-wheels craze 10 years ago in Japan, though Nissan waited for the third generation before bringing it to the North American market.


Kia Soul

The Kia Soul is larger than the Cube (110.4-in wheelbase, 161.6-in. overall). It was designed in Kia’s Southern California studio and features sporty styling with a distinctive wedge shoulder line. The base Soul is powered by a 1.6-liter engine mated to a five-speed manual, while upper models get a 2.0-liter with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Multiple interior fabrics are available, including one that features ghostly glow-in-the-dark “Soul” lettering.


Mazda3

The second generation Mazda3 is something of a junior Mazda6 in overall form, with an interior that was designed around humans. That is, all of the key controls are located at the same level as the steering wheel and shifter, the main gauges are housed in twin pods directly in front of the driver, and a “multi-informational display” (navigation, audio, trip computer, etc.) is located high on the dash in a shape reminiscent of Honda’s Civic.


Nissan 370Z

Built on the second generation FM platform (which it shares with the Infiniti G37), the rear wheels are moved forward 3.9 in., overall length is down 2.7 in., and width is up 1.3 in. The goal was to make the new Z more compact and focused, an aim helped by a carbon fiber radiator housing, strengthened hatch opening, and an underbody “V-bar” that increase front and rear torsional rigidity by 30%and 22%, respectively.


Honda FC Sport

For the FC Sport concept, Honda placed a custom-formed high-power fuel cell stack between the rear seats, the battery pack low in the middle of the vehicle, and an electric motor just forward of the rear axle. Two fuel storage tanks are located above the rear axle. This leaves a relatively large passenger compartment for three, with the driver located between the two passengers. Jason Wilbur in the Advanced Design Studio of Honda R&D Americas led the design effort.