Rising oil prices and tougher fuel-economy requirements are the inspiration for the latest wave of fuel-saving vehicles. Prominent among them are more small cars, gas-electric hybrids, and electric cars. However, many larger mainstream vehicles are being tweaked to improve their gas mileage by more conventional means, such as innovations in turbocharging, weight reduction, aerodynamics, and direct fuel injection.
Here’s our take on some of the most notable new models.
The A6 redesign features lighter aluminum body panels and a direct-injection 310-hp 3.0-liter V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission to help improve fuel economy. The base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder good for 211 hp paired with a CVT. The front wheels have been moved farther forward, allowing for more cabin room, and the MMI driver-interaction system is said to be a bit easier to operate. Available gadgets include a color heads-up display, a night-vision display, and LED headlights.
Bottom line: It’s significant that Audi and BMW are bringing four-cylinder engines to their elite sedans.
The smallest Buick in decades is an entry-level sedan based on the Chevrolet Cruze. But it uses the same more powerful 177-hp four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission as the larger Regal. The Verano has a touch-screen navigation system and uses advanced sound-deadening techniques. Higher trims will offer a heated steering wheel and other plush features.
Bottom line: This compact yet upscale Buick will be a welcome addition for consumers who want luxury features without going to a larger car.
The Chevrolet Malibu’s redesign shares underpinnings with the Buick Regal, an agile and well-finished car that did quite well in our road tests. The new Malibu is a bit wider than before, but its wheelbase is about 4.5 inches shorter. The primary engine is a 190-hp four-cylinder, but a mild hybrid system called eAssist, Chevrolet claims, yields 26 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway.
Bottom line: The Malibu will come up against some stiff competition in this segment from midsized stalwarts such as the Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry. But if the Malibu retains the Buick Regal’s ride, handling, and interior quality, it should become a strong competitor. Notably, the new Malibu won’t be offered with a V6 engine.
The Korean-designed, U.S.-built Sonic is a serious attempt by General Motors to gain traction in the subcompact market now dominated by cars like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa. A four-door hatch and sedan are available, as they were for the Aveo it replaces. They are both relatively roomy and are powered by the same engines used in the larger Chevrolet Cruze, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder or an optional turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder. The Sonic’s long list of safety features includes 10 air bags.
Bottom line: Our early drives with a preproduction model last winter indicate that the Sonic is far more competitive than the Aveo.
The redesigned Accent subcompact is available as a sedan or hatch. Its interior is relatively spacious and well finished. Its new 138-hp four-cylinder direct-injection engine gets an EPA estimated 30/40 (city/highway) mpg. Standard features include six air bags and active front head restraints but not cruise control. Both transmissions, an automatic and a manual, are six-speed.
Bottom line: The Accent is about sound, affordable transportation. But the interior feels cheap, and the cabin is noisy.