Some standouts from the auto show
Each November, the Connecticut International Auto Show transforms the Convention Center into a giant showroom filled with shiny, dream-worthy new models. What caught our eye this year? Following is a sampling.
Jeep Renegade. Built by Fiat in Italy, the Renegade is small and relatively fuel-efficient, yet quite capable off-road. The black 2016 model drew crowds at the auto show, but we managed to slip into the front seat for a quick test and found it to be quite roomy, even for six-footers. With a markedly different personality from Jeep's other small SUV, the Patriot, its base price is just $18,000 for a front-wheel-drive model, and even the rugged Trailhawk model starts at just $26,355.
Nissan Leaf. Connecticut and the U.S. government offer substantial rebates and/or tax credits to people who buy new electric vehicles (EVs), and the Leaf is tops in its class in terms of style, versatility and value. We thought the Leaf could have used an inch or two more legroom in the driver's seat, and its 107-mile range, though improved from previous models, could be better. But it's a sharp-looking little four-door that has enough range to serve as a reliable commuter car for most working people. Before rebates and tax credits, the Leaf has a base price of $29,010.
Volvo XC90. Critics have been saying the XC90 SUV is behind the times. “Ancient and uncompetitive,” groused Consumer Reports magazine in April. The redesigned XC90 on display at the auto show was as exciting as the 2014 model was tired and dated – tweaked but never fully redone since 2003. This luxury SUV, with three rows seating seven, starts at $49,800 and is rated at 20 mpg city, 25 highway, substantially better than its predecessor. The XC90 has a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged, bringing it to 316 horsepower. Also available is a plug-in hybrid version.
Ford C-Max. We were drawn to this model in part because we just haven't seen many around or heard much about it. With little advertising or media buzz, this compact fuel-sipping wagon manages to finish around the middle of the EV/hybrid/plug-in hybrid pack with several hundred sales per month. (Its best month was August, with 723 units sold.) The C-Max is available as a hybrid (42 mpg in the city) or plug-in hybrid (95 mpg equivalent in the city). It's priced at $24,170 for the hybrid model and $31,770 for the plug-in hybrid, which is eligible for a $1,500 rebate from Connecticut's CHEAPR program.
Land Rover Discovery Sport. The old Discovery, dating from the early 1990s through 2004, was a popular model despite its poor fuel economy, inefficient design and reputation for unreliability. American drivers came to appreciate its ruggedness and all-weather capability. The new model is easier on the eyes, with styling cues from the British automaker's shapely Evoque, yet it's at least as rugged as the original. The Discovery Sport has half the number of cylinders of the old Disco (four), but more horsepower (240), and dramatically better fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 26 highway. The base price is $37,455.
Honda Civic. We didn't expect to encounter much eye candy in the Honda section, but the redesigned Civic took our breath away. “Profoundly improved,” says www.edmunds.com. The new Civic looks, and is, bigger than its predecessor, and it has a style and swagger we never expected to see in a Civic. Yet it's rated at 42 mpg on the highway. The starting price is an un-Civic-like $18,640, but we came away with the impression that the Civic no longer is confined to the compact class it once occupied. It has come up in the world. If the drive is anything like the look, this one will be a winner in the long term.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.