The 2014 North American International Auto Show—the most important event on the U.S. automotive calendar—this week in Detroit is showcasing a new crop of light, lean cars that are still breaking a few speed records.
Rising fuel prices, climate change worries and recessionary fears have led automakers to showcase sensible, high-gas mileage cars in recent years at the show in recent years. But in 2014, lighter (and pricier) building materials are putting muscle and performance back in the driver's seat.
Rather than relying on bigger engines, BMW and Mercedes designs—even Ford trucks—are using a lot more aluminum and carbon fiber. That means faster, stronger cars that drink less.
This year's Corvette Z06, for example, has less horsepower than last year's ZR1, but its lighter build means the Z06 will steal the mantle of Corvette's fastest model from the reigning champion.
It has been a good week in Detroit for Chevrolet. The company has taken both top awards at this year's show for models it introduced last year.
The 2014 Corvette Stingray won the award for best car, and the Silverado pickup helped Chevrolet edge out rival Ford for truck of the year. That's is a boost after the recent recall of thousands of Silverados after Chevrolet had determined that they could unexpectedly burst into flames.
Take a look at these new models, all on the market this coming year. Then check back for updates throughout the week.
About half of the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class is made from aluminum, allowing the car to shed 220 pounds even as designers added a few inches. The company says the longer, taller C-Class is meant to accommodate rising height averages and especially makes a difference to the often- shortchanged backseat passengers.
The dropped weight help the car use 80 percent of the fuel it used to and lowers its center of gravity for tighter turns at high speeds.
The C-Class is Mercedes' best-selling series, and for the first time it will be American-made—in the company's factory in Alabama—rather than shipped from Europe.
While the 2014 Corvette Stingray took home the trophy for Car of the Year, the 2015 Corvette Z06 is stealing this year's show. With 625 horsepower and 635 pound-feet of torque, the Z06 is the fastest Corvette ever.
Though the Z06 engine has 13 fewer horses, the company says the car has posted faster lap times than the ZR1, Corvette's previously reigning speed champion.
The Z06 won't be available until late 2014. There is no official sticker price yet, and detailed specs are scarce. Last year's Z06 started at just under $80,000, which is still $20,000 less than the ZR1.
Ford's F-150 is probably this show's biggest loser: The 2014 model dropped a whopping 700 pounds from the previous version. The body is made with an aluminum alloy, but the frame is composed of a light, high-strength steel.
The company also added a few bells and whistles, including loading ramps that integrate into the truck bed, LED headlamps and a camera that gives a bird's-eye view of the truck as you park it.
Oh, and you can lower the tailgate via remote.
Also using aluminum, BMW chopped 176 pounds off last year's M3, and added a carbon fiber roof to both the M3 sedan and M4 coupe.
The M-Series models also share a 431 horsepower engine with 406 pound-feet of torque. That may not sound like much next to the Corvette Z06, but the new M-series can move from zero to 60 in 4.1 seconds while using just 75 percent of the fuel that predecessors consumed.
Don't let the regal interior and British pedigree fool you. The Bentley Continental GTC V8 can go from zero to 60 in 4.6 seconds, topping out at 188 mph. The engine is quite appropriate for a car that's a massive 15 feet 9 inches long.
It's not exactly stealing the show in Detroit, but the company claims the new model has achieved a 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency—meaning you can drive 530 miles before having to refill the tank.
Plus, come on, it's a Bentley.
The Cadillac ATS is essentially a two-door version of the CTS, which was called "the fastest production sedan on the market" after setting a track speed record in Germany.
While the CTS has garnered its share of praise, the ATS offers a lot of the same punch but with sleeker styling than the hard geometric lines Cadillac has become known for.
You can choose from a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with 272 horsepower or a 321 horsepower V6, though only the former comes with a manual transmission option.
The ATS has high-end Italian-made Brembo brakes and a magnetic suspension system, but most notably, the rear end of the car is shaped to act like a hidden spoiler, according to the the company.
Not to be confused with the RC coupe, which the automaker released a few months ago, this "performance" version 5.0-liter V8 engine with paddle shifters offers something entirely new to Lexus: Torque Vectoring Differential.
That means the all-wheel drive car can change the amount of power delivered to each wheel, which can dramatically improve handling. It has a standard setting, a slalom setting for tight turns and a track setting for extra stability.
Perhaps Audi will realize just how well a production version of this concept—a plug-in hybrid wagon that can go off-road—could sell.
Like so many other makers this year, Audi used carbon fiber and aluminum materials to keep the vehicle's weight down, and the relatively small on-board batteries allow a driver to go 31 miles before burning any gas. But you can still zip from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds if you want.
As a salute to the rally car racing roots that helped make the WRX famous, the limited release STI Launch Edition will be painted "World Rally" blue and come with gold-colored wheels and a huge spoiler. Subaru tightened up the steering to make it more responsive when engaging all 309 horsepower under the hood. With a price tag expected to be near $40,000 for a fully-loaded model, the compact can handle muddy racing tracks as well as a slickly paved freeway. Oh, and it comes with manual transmission only.
There has been a lot of buzz about the Chrysler 200. The car comes in four models, but the best two are the 200S, which comes with an inline four-cylinder engine and a sport-tuned transmission, and the deluxe 200C, which carries a garrulous V6 engine.
The company hails the "darker, more sinister" design character of the sporty 200S version. Despite the edge, and the higher torque available in both models, the 200 still sensibly stays above 30 miles per gallon in fuel economy. And despite the fact that Chrysler is now partially owned by Italian automaker Fiat, all four 200 models are built in Michigan.