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The Lexus LF-LC concept is headed for the Detroit auto show. (Toyota)
The Lexus LF-LC concept is headed for the Detroit auto show. (Toyota)


Detroit auto show promises production-worthy concepts Add to ...

A bevy of concept cars and trucks will make an appearance at the North American International Auto Show that opens in Detroit next week, with most of them much closer to production than whimsical design project status.

Lexus will show off its LF-LC concept, after early photos and details of it were leaked by buff book Road & Track magazine. The shapely 2+2 hybrid coupe features a more aggressive version of the L-finesse design language seen on the all-new GS sedans, and especially its more angular and prominent snout. But it also shows cues from the Lexus LFA supercar, showing that although the $375,000 (U.S.) supercar may sell in minuscule numbers, Lexus still intends to use the LFA’s enthusiast aura to increase the emotional appeal of its more mainstream products.

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The official photo of the LF-LC concept highlights its long nose and seriously raked windshield, but the company is withholding details of the California-designed coupe until its debut. But outside of show car touches such as the clear roof and huge wheel-arch stuffing oversized 21-inch chrome rims, the LF-LC concept’s finished lines and Hybrid badges suggest that this “design exercise” could easily have a production future.

Acura will also unveil a concept version of its on-again, off-again NSX supercar, now in hybrid electric form and seemingly headed for production. It reportedly has a more aggressive body than the first-generation, aluminum-bodied mid-engined NSX, which debuted with a V-6 making 270 hp, or about what an Accord V-6 puts out now.

Less whimsical will be concepts like the Nissan Pathfinder, Acura ILX, Lincoln MKZ and Honda Accord Coupe, all of which will see near-identical production versions follow these debuts to market within three to nine months.

The four-wheel-drive Nissan Pathfinder will feature seven seats and plenty of cargo room, as well as a more aerodynamic body on a new platform that will likely also form the basis of a redesigned Titan pickup.

The Acura ILX will be based on the Civic platform, and will come in both regular four-cylinder and hybrid powertrains, making it Acura’s first gas-electric model when it debuts this spring. And unlike the Canada-only CSX and its 1.6 EL predecessor, this entry-level Acura will also be sold in the United States.

The Honda Accord Coupe will also be a significant unveiling for the company, not because it sells many versions of the large two-door – at least compared to its full-size sedan sibling – but simply because it will provide the first official cues to what the upcoming Accord sedan will look like. And that Accord sedan has been one of the best-selling cars in North America for the past decade.

The new Lincoln MKZ will be based on the new platform of the Ford Fusion, which looks to be Ford’s biggest unveiling at the Detroit show, as it will also show off the styling of what will become the Ford Mondeo in Europe and other parts of the world.

Ford’s biggest rivals will also unveil similarly all-new mainstream sedans, with Chrysler unveiling the Dodge Dart, and GM its new Chevrolet Malibu Eco, using a similar mild hybrid system as on Buick Regal and LaCrosse eAssist models.

Sporty Civic regains Consumer Reports recommendation

The Honda Civic Si has regained its lost “Recommended” status in the closely watched Consumer Reports’ ratings. The consumer group shocked many industry watchers when the redesigned 2012 Civic LX, EX and Hybrid sedans scored too low on the magazine’s interior and performance tests to achieve the relatively common status, even though the Civic has long been a compact class fuel economy and reliability leader.

These are qualities traditionally valued highly by CR, perhaps too much in some eyes, and ones in which the Civic has dominated for the past 20 years, if not longer.

But the Civic Si sedan scored high enough to receive a lukewarm recommendation from the group, even though it placed the Civic Si ninth out of 11 sporty compact cars. The group said the Si still suffered from the vague steering, cheap interior plastics and higher noise levels of the regular Civic, but that its 2.4-litre Acura TSX-sourced engine was a gem, even if it doesn’t rev quite as stratospherically high as some of its predecessors.

The newer Volkswagen GLI sedan scored higher in this group’s test results than the Civic Si, its scores placing it sixth, but it was deemed too new to receive the coveted Recommended rating. But the smaller and pricier VW GTI leads CR’s sporty group rankings, followed by the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mazdaspeed3.

Water-logged Enzo to return to Targa Newfoundland

The Alberta exotic car dealer who famously drove his Ferrari Enzo into a salty river at last year’s Targa Newfoundland rally will be returning to the event in a retuned and updated FXX-based Enzo, repaired and re-tuned to tackle the daunting 2,200-kilometre course again.

ZR Auto owner Zahir Rana became an online star when videos of his Enzo crash went viral, bringing unprecedented attention to the 10-year-old race. Rana also suggests the crash may have been good for business, as the savvy business owner not only posted his own elaborate interviews and video of the crash online, but the subsequent attention globally now has the shop selling T-shirts and DVDs of the experience online at the shop’s zrauto.ca website. And bringing even more attention to his exotic car dealership from customers around the world.

Goodbyes for 2011 could be good buys now

Now that 2012 is upon us, it seems a good time to say goodbye to some 2011 vehicles that either didn’t make it into the new year, or will soon be gone.

Perhaps the most missed will be the BMW 1-Series M, which was a one-year special for the 2012 model year, but the limited-edition model was quickly snapped up by dealers, meaning few if any will be available in the new year. BMW says a successor model is under consideration, but the new-generation 1-Series unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show last year suggests that there will be many new mainstream versions left before another 1M becomes available.

Close on its heels in enthusiast hearts is the demise of the Mazda RX-8, the butterfly-doored four-seater that offered amazing handling, a high-revving and super-smooth rotary engine, and very livable rear-seat room in a shapely package.

BMW’s X6 ActiveHybrid was produced to the end of December, 2011, and BMW confirmed in the fall that no 2012 successor will be available in Canada.

Not all leaving models are such one-and-done niche vehicles. The Ford Ranger compact pickup retired officially in 2011, although there are likely still some of the small pickups around on dealer lots. Many are lamenting the loss of a practical yet fuel efficient four-cylinder pickup, and though Ford has unveiled a new version of the Ranger for other markets, it says there are no plans to offer it in North America.

Ford’s Crown Victoria and related Lincoln Town Car also stopped production in the fall, sending hundreds of former employees at the St. Thomas, Ont., plant looking for work. Other large traditional sedans to meet their end include the Buick Lucerne, Cadillac DTS and STS.

Also meeting their end were the Chevrolet HHR compact hatchback, the cubic Honda Element and the shapely Mitsubishi Eclipse coupe and convertible.

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