Alternative-power cars debuting in Toronto

The vehicles making their Canadian debut at the 2009 Toronto auto show include these five greenmodels.

  • transportation, future technology and vehicle concept - man using car control panel

Gas is now almost half the price it was last summer and the stalled economy is keeping new-car buyers out of showrooms. But more stringent government fuel-economy and emission regulations, coupled with the public’s desire to be environmentally friendly, mean there are still people looking for the most fuel-efficient vehicle they can afford.

The vehicles making their Canadian debut at this year’s Toronto show include these five “green” models:

2010 Audi A3 TDI

After years of multimillion-dollar clean diesel racing efforts at race tracks like LeMans and Mosport, Audi finally seems ready to walk the walk and sell performance clean diesels here in Canada.

A clean diesel Q7 SUV will soon be available and by this time next year Audi’s more relevant and accessible compact A3 five-door hatchback will offer a 2.0-litre TDI clean diesel engine.

Canadian model specs haven’t been confirmed. However, because the A3 TDI exists solely for fuel efficiency, Audi in the U.S. says it will only offer a single model with front-wheel drive and the S-tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Shared with the VW Jetta TDI, the A3’s 2.0-litre TDI engine sports 140 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque. Based on Jetta ratings, expect 10.6 L/100 km city (26.6 m.p.g.), 7.0 L/100 km (40.4 m.p.g.) highway and around eight seconds from 0-to-100 km/h in the A3 diesel.

You can also expect to pay a premium over a similar A3 2.0 TFSI/DSG gas model that starts at $33,450.

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

There’s a good reason why Toyota’s hybrid version of its Camry mid-size sedan is a popular choice over the iconic Prius: It functions (and, maybe more importantly, looks) just like a normal car while delivering exceptional fuel consumption. Ford hopes to replicate that winning formula with its 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid.

For starters, Ford says its hybrid sedan gets better fuel economy than Toyota’s hybrid sedan: 4.6 L/100 km city (61.4 m.p.g.) and 5.4 L/100 km (52.3 m.p.g.) highway versus 5.7/5.7 L/100 km (49.6 m.p.g.) for the Camry.

Secondly, the $31,999 Fusion Hybrid is priced right at the $30,660 Camry Hybrid.

Technically – like the Camry and Nissan’s Altima Hybrid – the Fusion marries a four-cylinder gasoline engine with two battery-driven electric motors and a continuously variable transmission. The Ford uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder gas engine that makes 156 hp and 136 lb.-ft. of torque. Combined with the electric motor, the total drivetrain puts out a combined 191 hp.

Outstanding fuel economy aside, the Fusion Hybrid benefits from many of the changes that were made to the refreshed 2010 Fusion range.

Externally, the design has been updated to better match a new global corporate look that can also be found at the Toronto show in the form of the 2010 Taurus.

Inside, it receives a new instrument panel, including what Ford calls SmartGauge, a digital driver instrumentation interface designed to encourage more efficient driving techniques.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

If you believe the hype, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid will single-handedly save General Motors from its crisis.

While no one model – especially a vehicle that’s more than a year away from production and is expected to be sold only in limited quantities – can be expected to achieve such a lofty goal all on its own, the significant progress of the Volt from only a concept over two years ago to the production prototype making its Canadian debut in Toronto should not be ignored.

As a refresher: The Volt uses electricity to move its wheels at all times. Electrical power stored in its lithium-ion battery can be used for trips of up to 64 kilometres.

When the battery’s energy is used up, a gasoline/E85-powered engine generator creates electricity to power the Volt’s electric motor while simultaneously sustaining the charge of the battery. This extends the range of the Volt for several hundred additional kilometres, or until the vehicle’s battery can be plugged into a home charging station.

In addition to the Volt, GM has also shown Opel, Saturn and Cadillac versions with an eye toward expanding the Volt’s technology through its other brands.

Volt production is slated to begin in late 2010. Although pricing has not been announced, some analysts predict the Volt will be leased or sold at a price in the range of $40,000 to $50,000.

2010 Honda Insight

One of the biggest arguments against the economics of hybrid ownership has been the ransom automakers have traditionally charged for the vehicles.

But Honda’s second-generation 2010 Insight looks ready to loosen those financial handcuffs,just a little.

Unlike the two-seat 2000-06 Insight, the 2010 model is a five-seat hatchback. Honda says its revolutionary FCX Clarity fuel-cell car inspired its aerodynamic design.

As part of Honda’s updated Integrated Motor Assist system, the Insight uses a 1.3-litre four-cylinder gas engine mated to an electric motor. Combined peak power ratings are 98 hp and 123 lb.-ft. of torque.

While the new Insight’s estimated fuel economy (4.8 L/100 km city, 4.5 L highway; 58.9/62.8 m.p.g.) can’t match the current Prius (4.0/4.2 L/100 km; 70.6/67.3 m.p.g.) or the forthcoming 2010 Prius (3.8 L/100 km; 74.3 m.p.g.), the Insight will be priced considerably lower.

When it goes on sale in Canada this April, Honda says more cost-efficient production methods will allow the 2010 Insight to be priced below today’s $26,350 Civic Hybrid, already the least expensive hybrid on the market.

2010 Toyota Prius

Already in its third generation, Toyota is one product cycle ahead of every other hybrid automaker.

Like Volvo’s dogged determination to make the world’s safest cars, team Prius has what can only be described as an obsession with keeping its iconic car the most fuel-efficient vehicle you can buy.

First up, the 2010 Prius jettisons the old 1.6-litre four-cylinder gas engine in favour of a 98 hp 1.8 L unit that uses electric power-steering and water pumps, both of which Toyota says improve efficiency and help eliminate the need for accessory belts.

Next, Toyota says a better aerodynamic package on the new Prius means it can boast of having the lowest drag coefficient of any production car in the world.

A few electronic tricks (such as a solar-powered remote air-conditioning system and LED exterior lighting or the new EV-Drive Mode that allows the Prius to run solely on electric power for approximately one kilometre) also help the new Prius achieve a segment-best 3.8 L/100 km (74.3 m.p.g.) combined fuel-economy rating.

All this – and a 9.8-second 0-to-96 km/h time (faster by more than half a second) and 142 litres of additional interior space in a footprint about the same size as the current model – means the 2010 Prius looks ready to raise the bar again in the green car wars.

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