Detroit Auto Show Heavy on Speed, Performance with a Healthy Dose of Green

Sports cars have stolen the spotlight at the 2014 North American International Auto Show. Green may be an overall theme in the auto industry lately, but at the show, the focus is definitely not only on fuel economy or who builds the best hybrid. The show seems to return to a time when speedy, sleek sports models were what people came to see.

Michael Tracy of the Agile Group consultancy in Michigan said it plainly: “Sex sells. Speed sells. People don’t talk about wanting a Camaro because the base V6 gets great gas mileage.”

Among the features of sexy new models like the new 2015 Ford Mustang and the Kia GT4 Stinger concept car, are some surprisingly smart, eco-friendly engineering concepts that are a bit more mainstream and in line with the push toward increasingly better fuel economy. For example, that new Mustang comes with a choice: buyers can have the classic 420-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 or a more economical 2.3 liter four-cylinder Eco-boost that can still deliver 305 horsepower.

It’s possible that the trend of mixing performance, power with efficiency will likely continue. “We’re seeing a new era of performance cars that are very safe, very fuel efficient and more mainstream,” says Lincoln Merrihew, consultant at Millward Brown Digital.

Another example is the new Volkswagen AG Golf R, which boasts a 290 horsepower turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine, making it the most powerful Golf sold in the U.S. All-wheel drive will come standard, to make the vehicle more stable and improve traction. The increased power comes with an EPA highway mileage rating of 31 mpg, which actually beats the rating of the 2013 model.

What it comes down to is that “performance” means more now than just acceleration and cornering capability. Efficiency and safety are part of the equation now, and that’s a concept that seems to be here to stay.

The GT4 Stinger from Kia is a perfect example of today’s sports car. It’s a four passenger model that’s sleek and low-slung with a 315-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, suggesting that a rear-wheel-drive performance version sometime in the near future is a real possibility.

Also in the mix is a trend toward lighter vehicles. GM has “lightweighted” the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro, and BMW reports doing the same with the 2015 M3 sedan. Slimming down makes more power possible with faster acceleration; at the same time fuel economy gets a healthy boost and emissions are lowered.

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