Auto show compact, midsize sedans: Cars grab spotlight

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

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These days sedans make more headlines for irritating President-elect Donald Trump than for their sales numbers. With U.S. regulations and labor costs choking profits, sedans have been forced to low-cost Mexico. But in a crossover-crazed world, small sedans remain relevant as they attract young buyers to brands that can ultimately sell them higher-margin, family-size SUVs. Midsize sedans have it tougher as they compete more directly with red hot utes. Which is why the vanilla Toyota Camry is getting some fudge nut swirl.

Dodge Challenger GT

What it is: The muscle car coupe gets AWD. Buy the 305-horse Pentastar V-6 and you can get your Challenger with the same all-wheel-drive system found in the Charger sedan. While practical for all-season driving, the GT doesn’t ignore sportiness with 19-inch, Hyper Black aluminum wheels and a rear deck spoiler. The GT only comes with the V-6 engine option (sorry, Hellcat V-8 fans) but is loaded with all the goodies inside, including Nappa leather heated seats, heated steering wheel, and best-in-the business 8.4-inch Uconnect display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

Payne’s take: For performance enthusiasts who have shied from RWD muscle cars as fair weather rides only, the GT is a real Detroit alternative to AWD hot hatches like the Subaru STI and Golf R. For less than an STI — and slightly more than a RWD ’Stang GT, the posh $35K AWD Challenger is an all-season star.

Smart ForTwo Electric

What it is: Almost ignored at this year’s electric-heavy show is the tiny Smart, now in full EV form. It’s no Chevy Bolt EV, but with a range of 70-100 miles at 10 grand less, the Smart is an affordable city EV that can park (literally) anywhere. Front or sideways at the curb. Between cars. Heck, you can probably take it up the elevator with you. With a roomier cabin than in the past and clever paint job, Smart is an EV with attitude.

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Payne’s take: For city slickers only. Be sure you have a 240-volt outlet available. Try to charge the Smart on a standard, 120-volt outlet and you’re looking at (cough) 22 hours before full charge.

Subaru WRX and WRX STI

What it is: Subaru’s rockin,’ sockin’ all-wheel-drive performance twins get a mid-cycle cosmetic update. What they don’t get is a new chassis based on the Subaru Global Platform like the Impreza. The twins get new grilles, air intakes, LED headlights and 19-inch wheels for the STI. A quieter interior (thanks to door seals and thicker side glass) gets a raft of new toys, including Subaru’s EyeSight safety-assist features and bigger infotainment screens.

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Payne’s take: The plastic surgery is nice, but fans of these rally-racing inspired hoon-mobiles will have to wait another couple years to the get the chassis upgrades promised by the Impreza’s stiffer chassis that has been received with raves from the auto press. That’s a shame since the WRX and STI are under attack from AWD competitors like the Golf R and Ford Focus RS that offer state-of-the-art everything.

Toyota Camry

What it is:America’s best-selling appliance gets a long-awaited overhaul. The result is a Camry that will actually get your heart racing. Are those quad tailpipes on the V-6 powered model? The interior is even more dramatic with a chrome S-curve running through the middle of the console. Of equal importance to the cosmetic changes is an all-new TNGA platform that tightens up the Camry’s somnolent chassis dynamics. The car has a lower roofline and center of gravity.

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Payne’s take: Camry gone wild. In an effort to keep sedans relevant in a SUV world, the best-selling sedan gets dramatic. Heavily sculpted hood. Available red seats. A black body trim package. For all the drama, the Camry’s engine choices remain familiar, including a V-6. “Because our customers like V-6s,” says a spokesman.

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