Compact cars anything but small at auto show

January 23, 2013 1:33:10 PM PST
''If anyone hasn't looked at a small car recently, a compact or a subcompact, you'll be shocked at how good they are,'' Joe Wiesenfelder,, said.

While hybrids and electrics have been the stars of recent auto shows, their all-gas, fuel-efficient counterparts are getting their due in 2012. On Wednesday, Hyundai unveiled Coupe and GT versions of the 40-mile-per-gallon, $18,000 Elantra, which won 2012 North American car of the year.

"I think it says that . . . we want the fuel economy, but we're not ready to pay a premium to get the hybrid," Michael Ettleson, Chicago Auto Show co-chair, said.

There are a slew of worthy, gas-sipping competitors from the Chevy Cruze to the Ford Focus and Fiesta. Even SUVs like the 2013 Ford Escape are cracking the 30 mpg barrier. The new Escape also has a pretty nifty feature for those times when your hands are full -- with a kicking motion underneath the vehicle, the truck door opens and closes.

Several stars of this year's show are assembled in the Chicago area, including the new Dodge Dart, made in Belvidere. Dodge last produced the Dart in 1976...

"It's an iconic name, and we did a lot of research with the consumers out there, and it resonated very, very well," Vince Muniga, Chrysler, said.

But this isn't your father's Dodge Dart. The new fuel-efficient $16,000 Dart has Italian sports car DNA.

"It is the first joint development with Fiat, which is their new majority owner, and it's based on an Alfa Romeo platform," Wiesenfelder said.

Also made in Chicago: the new, sportier Lincoln MKS and Ford's updated Police Interceptor, which replaces the gas-guzzling Crown Victoria.

"We already have 40 cities, municipalities, and counties just within the state of Illinois who've already ordered this vehicle," Mary Culler, Ford Motor Company, said.