Showgoers will encounter a growing pack of hybrids and all-electric vehicles - from the tiny Nissan Leaf to the luxury-weight Fisker Karma - as well as many more eco-minded, gas-sipping combustion engine rides from household names such as Chevrolet, Ford and Buick. The latter have the smarts to turn off the engine at a red light and otherwise enhance miles per gallon (to almost 40 mpg on the highway) with a small, "regenerative power" electric booster engine. As pundits are predicting a gallon of regular unleaded will settle at $4 by 2013, that's reason alone to be thinking about scrapping the old gas guzzler.
Also appealing to the techie in us are all the golly, gee whiz electronics filling the cabins of today's new personal transport vehicles. Even econo-boxes from Kia and Spartan symbols of utility from Subaru now offer high-powered satellite and HD radios, iPod connections, navigation systems and wireless Bluetooth connectivity to your mobile phone for safe and legal "hands-free" conversation through the stereo system.
Many's the magical 2012-2013 ride that will also let you bark orders at its computerized "infotainment system" to dial a call, change the radio (or web-streamed) channel, alter the climate or help find a gas station or alternate route home. Everybody's heard the word about Ford's voice-activated SYNC and MyTouch screen controls "powered by Microsoft." But now there's also Cadillac CUE, Chevy Mylink, Hyundai Blue Link, Toyota Etune, Volvo Sensus and the Mercedes Benz mBrace 2 to check out.
The latter even connects a driver to Facebook - good gawd! - at autobahn speeds in the latest 429-horsepower SL super roadster.
Smarter, accident avoidance "telematics" are also getting a bigger push - not just with the backup view cameras that ought to be on every big mutha SUV and minivan, but also with bumper- and side-mounted sonar and radar detectors that correct course if you drift out of a lane. They even apply the brakes if you're getting tooclose to a slow-moving car or inanimate object dead ahead.
More prevalent in luxury vehicles from Lexus and BMW but also an option in the affordable 2012 Ford Focus, the same breed of detectors can also be called upon to automatically parallel park for you, slithering the vehicle into a space just three feet longer than the ride itself, with your hands off the wheel.
And parents of teen drivers gotta love the special Smart Key also available with some Ford models. When used to start the car, Smart Key prevents the vehicle from going above a preordained speed. So even miles away, you can be back-seat driving on date night without having to suffer the odorific Axe cologne.
More new car smells
That reminds us: For the first time, the Philadelphia car show will offer test rides inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, as well as outside in the adjacent neighborhood.
You read that right. Taking advantage of the facility's new western expansion all the way to Broad Street, Toyota has claimed a 31,000-square-foot driving range for the "Toyota/Monopoly Hybrid Ride Experience." A company rep will be behind the wheel, driving a Monopoly game-themed course, while showgoers riding shotgun and in the rear seats experience how quiet, pollution free and economical the third-generation Prius, roomier Prius V, Camry Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid are. Pass "Go" and collect a lot more than $200 in gas savings.
Outdoor ride and drive opportunities will take off from the loading dock directly behind the Cadillac booth, where showgoers can experience the newest charms from Cadillac, GMC and Kia.
Also a gift of the convention center's expansion, all 700 new car and truck samples from the 40 participating brands will now be in one wide-open hall. The floor space has been newly reallocated, too, so brands that court the same market (family haulers, luxury temptations) are grouped together.
This should ease your comparison shopping for best back seat legroom or most accommodating trunk. And floor walkers won't miss makers that in years past hid out in the convention center's lower level (now dedicated exclusively to the classic car and touring Dub Magazine-sponsored custom car displays) or across the bridge in the two-level "Grand Hall" (the former Reading Terminal shed).
Don't miss these
Which cars qualify as "must-sees" at this year's show? I'm most curious about preproduction models staging coming-out parties at the Philadelphia show.
Arriving at dealers first, in just a month or two, the Toyota Prius C is a smaller, five-door (hatchback) version of the popular hybrid targeted to urban dwellers. By shaving off 900 pounds of stuff, the vehicle scores better than 50 mpg and hits a $19,000 opening price point, even with enhanced dash tech treats.
Stretched to 190 inches and swoop shaped for dramatic effect, the 2013 Ford Fusion four-door coupé is as handsome as an Aston Martin and will be offered with two varieties of hybrid powerplant - one plugging in at night for longer battery-only run times and "nearly 100 mpg equivalent" bragging rights. Next fall's Fusion also will be available with conventional but "eco-minded" combustion engines combinable with optional all-wheel drive.
Also hot from Ford, the 2013 C-Max Energi plug-in and whole-hog-eatin' 2013 Mustang Boss 302 and 2013 Taurus SHO.
Back after a 36-year layoff (for bad behavior?) the all-new 2013 Dodge Dart is the first love child produced from the mating of Chrysler Corp. and Italian giant Fiat. Boasting the innards of a sport-tuned Alfa Romeo, the Dart could win the hearts of many.
Chevrolet's 2013 Malibu Eco is one of that new-breed combustion engine cars that shuts the engine down at traffic lights and squeeze out 37 mpg on the highway. Up-to-the-minute innards include a 7-inch touch display offering access to Stitcher and Pandora streaming music. This U.S.-designed world car will be exported to 100 markets.
Previous efforts to make a small-sized luxury car failed miserably for Cadillac. (Everyone knew the Cimarron was really an "econobox" inside.) Now GM is putting its best foot forward with the altogether posh 2013 Cadillac ATS, a "mid-$30,000s" (to start) rear-wheel-drive aiming to steal away customers from the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. Are you duly impressed, import lovers?