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Madman reviews the auto industry’s New Year’s resolutions

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Posted: Friday, January 13, 2012 3:03 am

As the morning daylight came through the bedroom window, I reluctantly opened my eyes. I am truly a child of the night and it was way too early to get up. It was that last "El Capitini" cocktail I imbibed while ringing in the New Year at the Ahwahnee Hotel that was adding to my discomfort.

I then dragged my feet to the shower where I began to awaken. While I stood in the shower lathering my hair, I figured it would be prudent to decide on a resolution for the New Year. Yes, it was January 1st and I would be expected to zero in on a personal shortcoming that I planned to mitigate.

I considered many possible areas of improvement when my mind began to wander ... what are car companies going to improve on this year? While it is true that car companies rarely release new models on the first of the year. I can not think of a better time to take a look at some of the new and interesting 2012 models. This will be a look at what I think are forward steps in automotive design for the new year.

What better place to start than with the tiniest wheeled shoeboxes available, city cars. City cars have been popular in Japan and Europe for quite some time. They are necessary in places where space is tight and fuel is pricey. The Smart ( for two ) is manufactured by Mercedes and can be parked almost anywhere. While it can only haul two passengers and little else, it is cute and can manage 90 miles per hour with its three cylinder engine. If you are a speed junky, the new Scion IQ made by Toyota can scream down the highway at 93 MPH - providing you have a stretch of road long enough and a downward slope might help. The IQ has been sold as the Toyota IQ for a while so neither of these cars are new this year, but this may be the year they become widely accepted as more than a novelty.

While the Fiat 500 looks and parks like a city car it is significantly larger and more practical. This car is also new only in America having proven itself overseas as a solid little car. The little Fiat is indicative of the foreword thinking that is going to get Americans excited about driving smaller cars and with a starting price of $15,500, it won't empty your pocket every month. If spending more on a tiny car is appealing to you, there is the MINI Coupe made by BMW. The MINI Coupe is like the old Cooper and Cooper S but with a new and interesting design and more power. The designer of the car said he was inspired by the way his teenage son wore his ball cap back to front. The MINI Coupe does, indeed, look like it is wearing a backward baseball cap, weird but cool. The pint sized beamer tops the Fiat by about sixty horsepower which makes it faster, but it will run you about ten grand more when it comes time to pony up.

For 2012 the original pony car is back with a vengeance. The Ford Mustang GT500 will be screaming out of dealerships with 650 horsepower. That is enough power to launch the little pony car into orbit. Chevrolet is not going to let their rivals hog the muscle care limelight. The Camaro ZL1 will be firing back with a supercharged V8 serving up 580 horsepower. These numbers seem ridiculous and they are just that...insanity, but that is what muscle cars should be about. If you are in the market for a muscle car that is reliable then look to the Dodge Challenger. The Challenger gives you muscle car thrills and has won several JD Power awards for quality. The Dodge is a muscle car you can buy with your sensible shoes on.

If you wear your sensible shoes all of the time, the Chevy Volt is for you. I have talked about this brilliant plug - in hybrid at length in the past. I still believe Chevy has built the future of gas electric hybrid technology. There is the small matter of the large price tag running about forty thousand dollars before rebates, but it is still really cool. New for 2012 Chevy will be reinforcing the battery packs to keep Volt drivers safe. Current Volt owners will be getting a retrofit. Also new for 2012 will be the Toyota Prius V. The Prius V is essentially a Prius with a station wagon cargo area. This new model has 51 percent more cargo room over the original sedan and looks different which is a plus considering how many Prii are on the road.

Luxury cars are selling sluggishly these days with gas prices and the advent of smaller crossover SUVs. However Chrysler's all new 300 deserves a nod. The new 300 is completely redesigned both inside and out. The coolest thing about the Chrysler 300 is the range of power plants available. For those who want a quiet, comfortable couch on wheels there is a 292 horsepower V6 with an eight speed transmission. If you prefer a little crazy with your comfort, you may opt for the SRT 8 version with 470 horsepower and bespoke sport wheels and body cladding. Chryslers SRT 8 is not the only new and quick luxury car available for 2012. Hyundai's Genesis is getting an "R Spec" badge and a new 5 liter V8 producing well over 400 horsepower. German automakers need to watch out as they will have serious competition this year.

I have been a die - hard Honda guy for years. Lately, however, I have been converted to a Hyundai guy. The Korean automaker has blown me away with the Genesis coupe and sedan, not to mention the beautiful Sonata and Elantra. Unfortunately Hyundai has been missing a good sport compact. While the redesigned Accent is sensible, it is as sporty as flip - flops on a basketball court. The 2012 Hyundai Veloster is the most striking sport compact car to be released in recent memory. The Veloster's low profile and wicked front fascia scream sports car. These eye catching looks are let down a little by the weak power plant. The slick Hyundai has only 138 horsepower, making it more compact and less sport. Word around the car campfire is they are releasing a turbo charged version of the Veloster later this year. The plot thickens.

Spending the New Year's holiday in the beautiful Yosemite Valley, left little time to ponder a New Year's resolution, too many choices, too many rocks to climb. I will work on personal goals one day at a time because there is always room for improvement and the automotive industry is well on its way If 2012 is any indication of what direction the industry is going. Yes, things are looking up. Happy New Year, one and all!




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