Been away from your computer this week and missed all the automotive news? We’ve gathered a few of the top stories of the past week for your convenience.
Dodge is bringing back the Dart — well, the name at least. The 2013 Dart is a new compact sedan that will replace the aging Caliber in Dodge’s lineup. It’s based on a lengthened and widened version of the chassis that underpins the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, with the resulting architecture dubbed Compact U.S. Wide. Engine choices include two “Tigershark” inline-four engines displacing 2.0 and 2.4 liters, as well as a turbocharged 1.4-liter MulitAir inline-four. The 2013 Dart will make its debut at the Detroit auto show in January before going on sale some time in 2012.
The designers at Smart surprised us with the new For-us concept, which is essentially a miniature pickup. Though based on the Smart Fortwo convertible, the For-us is a few inches longer, allowing space for a stubby bed behind the B-pillars. While the minimal amount of cargo space on offer can’t match that of a real truck, Smart posits the For-us could be used to haul small odds and ends, bicycles, and so on. The concept uses both the gasoline engine from a regular Smart Fortwo and the electric drivetrain from the Fortwo ED to, with one engine powering each axle. We’ll see the For-us in person at the Detroit show next month.
As an investigation continues into whether batteries in the Chevrolet Volt pose a fire risk, General Motors wants to reassure customers and drivers that its electric car is safe. The Volt won’t lose its Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t plan to revoke the Volt’s five-star safety rating. Though the company primarily wants to appease customers’ fears by offering free loaner cars, GM says that a “couple dozen” owners have asked for the company to repurchase their Volt.
GM had promised four new car debuts at the Detroit auto show, and now we have a clearer idea of what those debuts are. In addition to the Cadillac ATS, we can expect to see a small Buick crossover, a sportier version of the Chevrolet Sonic, and one or two Chevrolet concept cars. The Buick crossover might be called Encore, and will ride on a smaller platform than the existing Enclave crossover. The Sonic variant could be called the Sonic RS, and will likely have new styling and suspension components, but it probably won’t get any more power than the current LT and LTZ trims (138 hp from a 1.4-liter turbo-four). The Chevrolet concept cars are said to have been styled at the brand’s Southern California design center.
Well known for far-fetched vehicle concepts, Swiss company Rinspeed has revealed a sort of docking station for the Smart Fortwo ED. The Dock+Go consists of an extra set of wheels and a range-extending gasoline engine, which can bolster the Smart’s 62-mile battery range. There are few technical details so far; we expect to learn more when the Dock+Go concept bows at the Geneva Motor Show next year.
Ford’s stand at the Performance Racing Industry trade show played host to the bright yellow Mustang Boss 302 SX. Designed as a track car for serious racers, the 302 SX is meant to show how owners could use Ford Racing parts to modify their own Mustang. The car itself won’t actually be built or sold to the public, but if it were, the SX would be serious performance machine. Upgrades over a factory Mustang Boss 302 include a roll cage, race seats with six-point harnesses, larger brakes, adjustable coilover suspension, and a beefier transmission.
The 2012 Toyota Camry has received a new accolade in the form of a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The safety agency awarded the 2012 Camry four stars for frontal-impact protection, five stars for side impacts, and four stars for rollover protection. The 2011 Camry, by contrast, received just four stars in NHTSA testing. Toyota credits the success to the fact that the new Camry has 10 standard airbags and an extensive amount of high-strength steel. Model-year 2012 brought an all-new Camry, with new sheetmetal and a new interior for all models.
Bentley released a shadowy teaser video and brief sound clip previewing a new engine that will debut next year. The release confirmed our suspicions that Bentley will launch a new, turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine in the Continental GT for 2012. The new V-8 will have either one or two turbochargers, and is expected to make at least 505 hp. It will likely be coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, replacing the six-speed automatic used by the current Continental GT.
Nissan has once again tweaked the GT-R supercar, but instead of adding more power, the automaker has launched a Track Pack designed to improve performance on a racetrack. The updates begin with new cooling ducts for the brakes, which are designed to keep the brakes as much as 100 degrees cooler during hard track use. The suspension dampers have been slightly retuned, and the Track Pack also brings unique six-spoke alloy wheels. Finally, the upgrade nixes the GT-R’s rear seats, and swaps the front seats for more snugly fitting Recaro buckets. Unfortunately, this upgrade is only for cars sold in Japan, the U.K., and Australia.
Driven: 2013 Scion FR-S, 2013 Subaru BRZ, Honda Fit EV, Honda Plug-In Hybrid Mule
This week we drove four Japanese cars, although their intended purposes couldn’t be more different. The 2013 Scion FR-S is a model exclusive to the U.S., but is essentially just a rebadged version of Toyota’s brand-new GT 86 sports coupe. The rear-wheel-drive car is extremely responsive and can be coaxed into easy tail-out slides. Its cabin is well appointed, and everything from the steering wheel to the shifter and clutch feels perfect. The 2013 Subaru BRZ also drew rave reviews, in part because it shares almost all of its mechanical components with the Scion. The 197-hp Subaru feels plenty fast even without the benefit of turbocharging, and it turns in immediately in a manner that’s thoroughly enjoyable.
The Honda Fit EV is at the other end of the automotive spectrum to those two cars. The Fit EV swaps its 1.5-liter gasoline engine for a lithium-ion battery and 123-hp electric motor. The electric car accelerates smoothly with plenty of torque, and its ride remains composed and comfortable even with the extra mass of the battery pack. Honda also gave us some time at the wheel of its plug-in hybrid mule, disguised for now under the bodywork of an Accord sedan. The unique drivetrain mixes a 161-hp electric motor with a 2.0-liter inline-four engine, which is designed to operate primarily as an electric car. Acceleration is adequate, if not stunning, with the hybrid drivetrain. Honda says it will go into production in 2012.