Auto show compacts, sedans: Trending to sleek, powerful


Americans are OMG for SUVs, so sedans have refocused on looks and performance to counter their more utilitarian ute cousins. The result are sleek, toned bodies, like the Ford Fusion and Chrysler 200. On the performance side, familiar badges like the VW Golf now produce two steroid-fed variants (the GTI and Type R), as does Ford (the ST and RS). We’ll miss Mini Cooper at this year’s show, but there is no shortage of fun compacts for budget-conscious 20-somethings.

Chevrolet Cruze hatchback

What it is: The completely redesigned, 2016 compact Cruze gets a hatchback for 2017 as Chevy’s perky compact tries to keep up with class-leading Honda Civic and its own expanding wardrobe. Powered by a 1.4-liter inline 4-cylinder, the Cruze went on a 200-pound diet from the previous generation, yet boasts 42 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats down and lotsa rear legroom with the seats up.

Payne’s take: The Cruze may look like a Corolla, but it distinguishes itself with a cabin-full of high tech, including Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, Wi-Fi hotspot, rear cross-traffic alert and a teen driver feature. I hope Cruze keeps expanding its options to match Civic’s performance Si and Type R models. A hot hatch SS, perhaps?

Ford Fusion

Ford Fusion

What it is: The all-new Fusion dropped jaws when it debuted in 2013 with its Aston Martin grille and fastback good looks. For its mid-cycle refresh, the Fusion expands its model line with a Sport, premium Platinum and electric plug-in variations. Offered in AWD and FWD, the Fusion’s breadth of product is breathtaking — positioning it for a full-on assault of the segment.

Payne’s take: Like its midsize SUV cousin Explorer, the Fusion become virtually its own brand with a price ranging from mid-$20K to north of $40,000. Hailed as the best looking midsize sedan in the show, the Fusion’s Aston Martin-derived good looks are little changed.

2017 Forte Sedan

Kia Forte

What it is: The Hyundai Elantra’s comely Kia cousin gets fascia upgrade, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, and a sport model. The standard engine bumps up to a 147-horsepower, 33 mpg four-banger from the 1.8-liter old nail.

Payne’s take: Check out the sporty Forte5 SX — a hatchback model with a 200-horse, 1.6-liter turbo and optional manual tranny. It offers five-door room with vroom.

Smart Fortwo Cabriolet

Smart fortwo Cabriolet

What it is: The remade 2016 Fortwo goes topless. The cloth top can be removed in 12 seconds, revealing a wee tanning booth so short it can be parked sideways at the curb. Fortwo is wider than previous versions so driver and passenger aren’t rubbing shoulders — and the 89-horse, three-banger’s automatic transmission will shift gears without a pregnant pauses.

Payne’s take: Didn’t know this little cutie had been redesigned last year? You’re not the only one. Ubiquitous in cramped European cities, the fortwo is a fish out of water in the U.S. Still, the brand isn’t giving up and is giving Americans what they want — less plastic inside and more sun outside.