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Big Three highlight eco-offerings in L.A.

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For the Big Three, the L.A. Auto Show is becoming as important as the home-turf North American International Show held in Detroit every January. The difference is the thrust of the products highlighted.

True to California's green bent, the story here was all about fuel efficiency and the use of electrons. Here are the highlights for Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.

Chrysler

While Chrysler had several new models on display, including the 10th anniversary Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, the automaker chose to shine the spotlight on the Fiat side of its portfolio. To this end, it introduced three all-new models of the 500.

The 500 Abarth Cabrio does to the droptop model what it did to the tin top -- adds significantly more punch and handling while allowing the driver to open the canvas roof at speeds of up to 100 kilometres an hour.

The 500L is, as its name implies, a stretched version of the base car. In reality, the L is to the regular 500 what the Venice Beach muscle man is to the 50-kilogram weakling. The overall stretch measures 660 millimetres. This and the increased height (152 mm) add 42% more interior space.

For the more adventurous, there is the L Trekking. It brings a bolder style and a two-tone interior.

The 500L also features the most powerful version of Fiat's MultiAir turbocharged 1.4-litre engine to date -- 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque -- and it arrives married to a six-speed twin-clutch transmission.

The Fiat 500e is an all-electric version of the regular car. Fiat promises to make electric cars sexy by delivering a 128-kilometre range when driven on the highway. Better yet, for the urban commuter, the range is pegged at 160 km because of the advantages of regenerative braking.

It's also surprisingly fast: The run to 96 km/h is less than nine seconds and the time to replace all those depleted electrons a scant four hours.

The advertising around all of the above is so overt it would make a chauvinist blush.

Ford

The 2014 Fiesta will now be available with Ford's latest EcoBoost engine, a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder that produces 123 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. The more important number is the economy it promises. Ford says it will return 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres.

Having driven it, I can say it's peppy, with very good low- and mid-range power. As with other three-cylinder engines it does sound a bit grumpy when worked but, if it lives up to the economy promised, that would be compensation enough.

At the opposite end of the spectrum sits the Fiesta ST, powered by a 1.6L EcoBoost four that spins out 197 hp and, more importantly, 214 lb-ft of torque. The power is put to the pavement through the front wheels and a six-speed manual transmission. Ford says the newest ST will run to 100 km/h in 6.9 seconds, which would make it one seriously quick subcompact.

To ensure the power is put down effectively, the Fiesta ST earns Ford's Torque Vectoring Control system and an advanced stability control system that allows the driver to deactivate the traction side or turn it off entirely. Inside, there are body-hugging Recaro seats and the usual go-faster pedals.

Besides the 2014 Fiesta, Ford also pulled the wraps off the 2014 Transit Connect Wagon. It will be offered in two wheelbase lengths -- a short in five-seat model and seven-seat long-wheelbase version. It's also packed with utility, boasting more than 100 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded flat and a truck-like payload of 544 kilograms. It will also tow a 909-kg trailer.

The Connect Wagon will be offered with a 2.5L four-cylinder and an up-level 1.6L EcoBoost turbocharged four. Both are teamed with six-speed automatics. The list of available amenities includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen with navigation, SYNC with MyFord Touch, backup camera and a panoramic moonroof.

General Motors

The Spark EV shows some real signs of promise -- Chevrolet is quoting the smallest production numbers, so all should be better when the EV is ready to roll next year.

The plug-in electric version of the perky Spark is powered by an electric motor that twists out more than 130 hp, which is, at the very least, a whopping 56-hp increase compared to its gasoline-powered sibling.

Torque? Gobs of it! Chevrolet says 400 lb-ft is available from Rev One. The net effect is a promised run to 96 km/h of less than eight seconds, which is a full five seconds faster than the mortal Spark. It also promises a Volt-like top speed of 160 km/h.

The power comes from a 20 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that has been fitted below the rear seat and under the cargo floor. This placement means it does not impinge on the cargo capacity.

One of the key advantages to the Spark EV, Chevrolet says, is its ability to accept multiple DC fast charges in a single day without melting the battery pack. The advantage to DC charging is that it can dump an 80-per-cent charge into the flattened battery in just 20 minutes, which is stupidly fast compared to most -- the normal AC charging time, even when hooked up to a 220-volt supply, is in the six to eight-hour range. The secret lies in the battery pack's ultra high-efficient built-in cooling system.

The Spark EV goes on sale initially in California, but will be offered to Canadians next summer. At the show, the sentiment was positive -- many were celebrating the fact the Spark now lives up to its name.

Chevrolet also revealed its next-generation MyLink telematics system that will debut in the 2014 Impala. It pairs with smartphones to offer better integration, while the expanded series of apps will include a navigation function.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2012 A1

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