Import auto makers paint LA green

Now, non-domestic manufacturers produce some of the most advanced hybrids, electrics and other fuel-efficient vehicles.

Although not the greenest of vehicles at the show

Import nameplates featured prominently at the Los Angeles Auto Show—in particular where eco-friendly vehicles are concerned.

One can argue that offshore automakers started the green motoring movement in the 1970s, during a time when bigger was better, and smaller cars were no more than a stepping stone to the behemoths people really desired.

The fuel crisis changed all that and manufacturers like Toyota, Honda and Datsun (now Nissan), along with a few other imports, paved the way with small cars for the masses.

By today’s standards they weren’t very eco-friendly, but certainly used less fuel than the land barges of the day.

Now, non-domestic manufacturers produce some of the most advanced hybrids, electrics and other fuel-efficient vehicles. And there were plenty on display last week (and this week) at the show.

Acura

The ILX is Acura’s newly-launched compact luxury sedan, and among its models includes the nameplate’s first-ever hybrid model.

The ILX Hybrid is powered by a 1.5-litre inline four cylinder and Integrated Motor Assist. Together, the gas engine and electric motor deliver 111 hp and 127 lb/ft of torque—modest power for a sedan in this segment, but the benefit is a fuel efficiency rating of 5.0/4.8/4.9 litres/100 km (city/hwy/comb).

More exciting, but less green, the NSX Concept was arguably the most stunning vehicle on display at the show. Using lightweight materials and a mid-ship V6 engine, it provides a glimpse of the next great performance vehicle from Acura.

It also employs a dual electric motor drive with a bilateral torque adjustable control system. The new hybrid all-wheel-drive system can instantly generate negative or positive torque to the front wheels during cornering. And its next-generation VTEC V6 engine works with a dual-clutch transmission with built-in electric motor for supercar performance and good fuel efficiency.

BMW

There was nothing routine about green offerings at the BMW display. Case in point was the BMW i8 Concept Roadster. To look at it, you’d think this sportscar to be a high-powered exotic—and it is with a powertrain output of 354 hp and zero-to-60 mph acceleration of 4.6 seconds.

But with an estimated (US) 78 mpg, this fuel-sipping plug-in hybrid delivers better fuel economy than most microcars

The 300 hp, twin turbocharged inline-six used in the BMW ActiveHybrid 3 has proven itself in some of my favourite sports sedans. Here, it’s working with a 55-hp electric motor powering the rear wheels, to not only boost performance, but when driven with restraint, deliver good  fuel economy.

It can run in electric-only mode, or when pushed, operate with both motors running full bore. While coasting at speeds up to 100 mph, ECO PRO mode can be activated to switch off and decouple the gas engine.

Honda

Although Honda has yet to announce its Canadian launch date, the Accord Plug-In Hybrid was unveiled in Los Angeles. It can run in electric-only mode for 20-28 km and has earned a class-leading EPA rating of 115 MPGe, surpassing many of its plug-in competitors.

The Fit EV—the all-electric version of the roomy and practical Fit subcompact—was also on display, and managed an even better EPA rating of 118 MPGe.

Lexus

The Lexus booth was chock-a-block with auto artistry, and the LF-LC concept was one of my favourites. I’m confused by all the alpha-nomenclature (LF-LC, LF-CC, LFA, LSh, etc.), but nonetheless was impressed by this application of the L-finesse design language that took its cues from the LFA supercar.

Its structure is a blend of light carbon fibre and aluminum alloys, which result is an extremely taut body that responds crisply to the driver. And a great platform for the next-generation Lexus Hybrid Drive system.

Featuring a powerful Atkinson cycle gas engine and high-energy battery pack, this powertrain develops a whopping 500 hp—the most of any Lexus hybrid.

Styled after the LF-LC concept and the LFA, the LF-CC Concept is a more compact, rear-wheel drive, full hybrid that provides a glimpse at future Lexus models.

It is equipped with an all-new 2.5-litre 4-cylinder gas engine, mated to a compact, high-output, water-cooled electric motor, achieving class-leading energy efficiency, with more than 2 hp produced per gram of CO2. And just as important—it’s a head-turner.

Mazda

The all-new 2014 Mazda6 made its North American debut, showcasing two fuel-efficient Skyactiv powertrains. Scheduled to go on sale in Canada this January, the new model will first be equipped with the gasoline-powered Skyactiv-G 2.5-litre engine, with the 2.2-litre Skyactiv-D (diesel) following later in 2013.

This will make Mazda the first Asian manufacturer to offer clean diesel technology in a non-commercial vehicle. The new Mazda6 will also be the first to feature the company’s capacitor-based regenerative braking system.

Nissan

Also debuting on this continent, the Nissan Hi-Cross Concept features a dramatic new look for a Nissan crossover, and seven-passenger seating on a compact footprint.

It too is a hybrid, employing a 2.0-litre gas engine with electric motor. The Hi-Cross uses battery technology developed for the Leaf, which is coupled to Nissan’s proven Xtronic CVT.

Smart

When the smart fortwo was first conceived more than two decades ago, developers anticipated the need for alternative powertrains, including an electric variant. The smart EV’s battery fits in place of the fuel tank and the electric motor replaces the gas engine, making it look just like any other smart fortwo.

And thankfully, they’ve dramatically upped the power from the one I drove last year. Then, it did the zero-100 km/h ≥sprint≤ in around 20 seconds. Now that’s down to around 12, making it more of a pleasure around town.

The new microcar is rated at 122 MGPe in the city, and European models have achieved up to 145 km on a full charge—although it has tested lower here.

Toyota

On display at the Toyota booth was arguably the best selection of fuel efficient vehicles at the Los Angeles Auto Show. As you’d expect, the Prius lineup was present in full force with the one that started it all—now California’s best-selling car—along with the Prius v (the lineup’s largest people and cargo hauler), the Prius c (the smallest and lowest priced—a subcompact) and the Prius Plug-In Hybrid (up to 25 km city driving).

The electric RAV4 was missing from the booth on press day, but this collaboration with Tesla Motors is rated at 76 MPG3, while delivering all the benefits of this popular compact SUV. According to a company spokesperson, there are no plans to bring it to Canada.

Volkswagen

While everybody was gawking at the reveal of the stylishly tweaked 2013 Beetle Cabriolet, I perused some even greener offerings at the Volkswagen booth. Front and centre was the 2013 Jetta Hybrid, featuring a turbocharged 1.4 litre four-cylinder engine, paired with a 27 hp electric motor and an “electric-only” mode that will go for a couple of kilometres.

It combines the handsome look of a conventional Jetta, and is reported to deliver driving dynamics more in line with a VW than a fuel-sipper.

There were more vehicles on display in Los Angeles than space will allow, so visit the auto show web site for more details: www.laautoshow.com.

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