Jan 15, 2014

Detroit debuts sexy sports cars.

Austerity is over. With a megafast track ready Corvette, a muscular new Mustang, and a tougher WRX, the auto industry put on its best display of speed and power in years at its annual Detroit show.

Around a dozen high performance production cars and concepts were introduced this week, with mixes of raw power, agility and styling to give even the most mild-mannered drivers itchy fingers.

It was another sign of confidence that at least the giant US market is fully back to health and ready to enjoy the thrill of driving faster and more furiously.

Headlining were two new versions of the Corvette Stingray.

One was Chevrolet's official new endurance racer, the CR.7, which it will put to the test at the end of this month in the Rolex 24 hour race in Daytona, and possibly later this year at Le Mans.

The second was the street-legal version of that car, the 625 horsepower Z06, dubbed the "American Supercar."

It is built on the same aluminum frame and with much of the same speed features as the CR.7 that make it the fastest 'Vette ever. It will be on the market in 2015.

"Racing motor sports and winning is a part of who we are," said Mark Reuss, General Motors' head of global product development, citing the previous Corvette's many victories on US tracks.

As much a head-turner was Toyota's almost over-the-top FT-1 concept, a racer that started in a fantasy video game but could one day become a successor to the company's long-missing Supra.

With stealthy angles and more vents than a heating system, it garnered raves and pleas to bring it to production.

Kia shed its humble reputation with the aggressive GT4 Stinger concept, a pocket rocket wearing lines like a Porsche or a Maserati and carrying a turbocharged 315 horsepower, 2.0 liter engine.

Subaru meanwhile showed up with a new version of the WRX, the rally driver favorite.

The Japanese manufacturer has still done little about the car's homely looks, but the new WRX promises a stiffer ride, tighter, more stable turning and firmer braking.

Other new sports cars included BMW, with the new 2 Series, and a new M3 and M4; Porsche's 911 Targa; Nissan, with its sports car concept believed to herald the next Maxima; Mazda's Club Sport3 concept; and Jaguar's F-type coupe.

Some industry analysts said the plethora of new sports cars shows the auto industry letting loose after the hard years of 2008-2011.

Dave Sargent, an auto industry analyst at JD Power, said the rise in concept cars "are signs the industry is feeling fairly good about itself.

"Particularly in Detroit we had a few years with hardly any concepts and most of the products were fairly main stream and focused on practicality," he said.

There was added engine power all around, some of it born of technology advances as the industry tries to meet tougher fuel consumption standards without sacrificing power to the wheels.

But concept sports cars are often simply to help build a brand's image and never come to the market commercially, warned Jessica Caldwell of auto industry specialist Edmunds.com.

Nevertheless, she said, there is some underlying demand growth as the US economy revives.

"The market has more consumers out there willing to buy sports cars than a few years ago," she noted.