Three hot new cars from Detroit Auto Show

8:44 AM, Jan 15, 2014   |    comments
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USA TODAY - The future is looking pretty hot for these cars at the Detroit Auto Show. USA TODAY's Chris Woodyear walks us through the features of Chevy's new Corvette Z06, the BMW M4 and Toyota's FT-1 concept car.

Chevy shows Corvette Z06: 625 hp and street-legal

General Motors this morning introduced the extra high-performance Corvette Z06, a fit-for-the-street race car boasting at least 625 horsepower.

The 2015 Corvette Z06, revealed in a press conference at the Detroit auto show, shares an aluminum frame with its high-profile sister, the Corvette Stingray, but it's distinguished by an 6.2-liter "supercharged" V-8 mated with a custom-made eight-speed automatic transmission.

The Z06 was GM's fastest car ever when engineers tested it at the Milford Proving Grounds, Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter told reporters.

It also boasts a tremendous amount of "downforce," an engineering term describing a car's ability to hug the road when it barrels around corners. Most mass-market vehicles are exactly the opposite: they have too much lift when cornering.

"It's got more downforce than any vehicle General Motors has ever tested from any manufacturer," Juechter said. "We haven't tested them all, but we've tested quite a few of them."

Production of the Z06 will start "in earnest" in the first quarter of 2015 at GM's Bowling Green, Ky., Corvette assembly plant, Juechter said.

It will be offered with a seven-speed manual transmission, or with an eight-speed automatic. It's one of GM's first eight-speed transmissions. The first was mated to an uplevel version of the 2014 Cadillac CTS.

"This is an internally designed, all-new eight-speed transmission designed essentially to the requirements of this car," Juechter said.

The new transmission, which will be built at GM's Toledo plant, should improve the car's fuel economy by 5% over the previous model's six-speed powertrain, Juechter said.

The Z06 provides the framework for the Corvette Racing C7.R, the official racing version of the vehicle.

But the Z06 couldn't have happened without the Stingray, which drew critical acclaim after it was introduced a year ago in Detroit.

GM also incorporates lessons learned in developing racing versions of previouis Corvettes. For example, Juechter said the sixth-generation Corvette racecar influenced the forward-tilted radiator, the use of carbon fiber and the tires on the Corvette Stingray.

"We use racing to drive the street car to be better," Juechter said.

Like the Stingray, the Z06 engine has direct injection, cylinder deactivation technology and continuously variable valve timing. But it has 37% more horsepower and 40% more torque than the Stingray.

"It's a mosaic of different technologies," Juechter said.

With larger tires, wider fenders, spread-out taillamps, a front splitter and separate interior color scheme, the Z06 design has carved out its own identity.

Lexus shows RC F -- its BMW M4 fighter

The Lexus RC F coupe is here, packing a 5.0-liter V8 behind the brand's new trademark "spindle" grille.

This performance version of the new RC350 coupe had its global debut Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show on Tuesday. It puts out 460 horsepower to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic, making it the most powerful Lexus ever, aside from the LFA super car.

And comes just in time for the brand's 25th anniversary in the U.S. -- it had its coming out party at this show in 1989.

Lexus has positioned RC F as a competitor to the BMW M4 and Mercedes C63 AMG. In spirit, at least, it appears to be a one: Performance stats and pricing aren't yet public, but Lexus general manager Jeff Bracken began the press conference with a tale of his first encounter with a Shelby Cobra as a young boy in Detroit, and emphasized that the passion and performance of a car like the Cobra would be apparent in the new RC F.

The V8 is unique in that it can run on either the Atkinson cycle (a high efficiency engine type typically used for hybrids), or the more conventional Otto cycle for high performance. Bracken said the car will always be rear-wheel drive only and feature a torque vectoring differential that "proactively manages traction control in, through, and out of corners."

Even the grille itself is special to this car: It's made up of small, interlocking Fs.

The RC F will go on sale this fall alongside the RC350, a tamer, V6-powered car that is based on the RC concept that debuted in Tokyo last November. Bracken said Lexus expects to sell 200 RC Fs and 1,200 RC350s each month.

The two cars are equally appealing, but the differences are immediately apparent. In order to fit in a V8, Lexus' designers had to put a bulge in the hood. The RC F's fenders are flared, the roof is made of carbon fiber, and a rear spoiler deploys at speeds over 50 mph.

Inside, a new touchpad replaces Lexus' Remote Touch mouse for infotainment control, a change previewed on the LF-NX crossover at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

Otherwise, the interior is similar to the 2014 Lexus IS, which isn't surprising considering its lineage. The RC F shares many components with the IS F, the sport sedan it replaces, from an engine block to a suspension.

Toyota's FT-1 sports car concept points to future

It's only a concept, but the Toyota FT-1 is just the kind of sports car that sets pulses aflutter at the North American International Auto Show here.

"This is the symbol of Toyota's design future," said Kevin Hunter, head of Toyota's California design studio where the FT was designed. FT stands for Future Toyota.

The car is similar to the Scion FR-S, the smaller sports car that Toyota developed for its youth-oriented line in conjunction with Subaru, which sells it as the BRZ.

But FT-1 takes it to another level with show-car design features, such a deep, sculpted scoops routing air to the rear wheels and out the back, and a spoiler wing that raises high above the rear. It also has a serious sports car interior and head-up display.

Toyota made a point of stressing that the car extends Toyota sports car heritage: Most recently the Supra, no longer made, that has become a Toyota's cult favorites among its fans. Unlike the Furia concept that Toyota unveiled at this show last year, the FT-1 isn't a slam dunk for production.

Reaction to it is going to be gauged and only then will a decision be made whether anything like it goes to production. For now, the goal was, as Hunter put it, to "create a sexy halo car" as a concept.

But Hunter said the car does demonstrates that Toyota is committed to being bolder in its car creations. "Toyota's design efforts are less reliant on consensus now," he says.

FT-1 took two years to create, a "dream mission," says Alex Shen, chief designer for the FT-1. "It gets your heart racing just to look at it."

(Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY)

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