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Detroit Auto Show: More Prius Models, New Honda Civic

Though electric cars grabbed the biggest headlines, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week also showcased a selection of new cars likely to be in more driveways soon than the plug-in models.

The Chevrolet Volt, an electric car with backup gasoline generator, won the Car of the Year award. Ford revealed its new all-electric Focus model. But the Volt and its competitor Nissan Leaf will have only a small volume of sales this year to buyers who already reserved them, and the electric Focus debuts in 2012. Meanwhile, Toyota extended its hybrid Prius nameplate into a family of cars. And Honda showed off the latest version of its Civic, long the most stylish of small cars. Chrysler revealed its redesigned 300 sedan. And, as usual, various manufacturers displayed concept models for possible future cars.

Here's a closer look at these new models.

Toyota Prius Despite its recall woes, Toyota has continued to boost sales of Prius hybrids. Now it hopes to capitalize on its reputation as the leader in hybrids (a Consumer Reports survey of car buyer perceptions shows that Toyota still leads in the "environmentally friendly" category.) Of the new models, the Prius V (right) -- with cargo space approximating that of a crossover SUV -- will go on sale this summer. (Toyota has not yet announced pricing, but it presumably will be above the $22,800 starting list price of the Prius sedan). In 2012, Toyota will bring out the Prius C -- a smaller car version similar in size to the current Toyota Yaris. Toyota says the C (left) will be the cheapest and highest-mileage hybrid sold in the U.S. Also due in 2012 is a plug-in version of the Prius sedan, which will be able to go farther on battery alone than the standard hybrid.

Honda Civic The Civic, long the favorite of those who want a stylish small sedan (below right) or coupe, has new competition in the compact class. The just-introduced Chevrolet Cruze and the soon-to-come Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra all show stylish flashes. So with the new regular and sportier Si versions, Honda is aiming at something for everyone. It says the Civic will come in regular gas-powered and hybrid versions. In addition, the low-emission Civic powered by natural gas -- now sold in just four states -- will be widely available. Honda says it expects its gasoline Civics to be rated at 40 mpg for highway driving.

Chrysler 300 Since being taken over by Fiat and emerging from bankruptcy, Chrysler has been pushing to introduce at least partially redesigned models. Its made-over Jeep Grand Cherokee sold surprisingly well in 2010. Now the 300 -- the best-known Chrysler brand model -- gets a makeover. The 300, on sale this spring, continues its muscular look (below left) that attracted athletes and hip-hop artists when originally introduced. In addition, the 300 adds safety features like adapative cruise control and forward collision warning systems now found mostly in luxury brands. (See Car Safety: New Systems Could Save Drowsy Motorists). Its 292-horsepower V-6 is rated at a respectable 18 mpg in city driving, 27 highway.

Future Cars As usual, companies displayed concept cars in Detroit that may or may not become models for sale. The sleekest was the Porche 918 RSR, a race car that might eventually morph into a 918 Spyder model. Ford showed a model called Vertrek (at right) a possible future replacement for Escape as its crossover small SUV. But Ford is not saying when or even if that is going to happen.

As car sales recover, buyers will have some new choices soon.

Photos courtesy of the manufacturers

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