Maxima plays up sportiness, a sexy Hyundai and more

What:Premium, compact, two-door, four-seat concept car.Pedigree:Picks up design themes from Saab's Aero X and an earlier 9-X concept. Made its worldwide debut the just-ended Geneva auto show. Personality:Meant to be sporty and fun to give Saab a more youthful orientation with an eco twist. The shape is in keeping with GM's recent fixation (in its marketing) on aerospace, and its former ownership by a Swedish jetmaker. The cabin is designed to be light and airy in keeping with its Scandinavian roots, with interior lights that can be adjusted from "bright and cold" to "warm and soft." When: The concept looks close enough to a production model that it stands a reasonable chance of being built. Why:To try to amp up Saab's image as a brand that might actually appeal to the young, Ivy-league set. It's packed with electronics, such as a Sony in-car connectivity system and an electric slide out floor in the rear cargo area. Marquee feature:Shows that General Motors is taking hybrids seriously in small vehicles, not just hulking SUVs. The 200-horsepower, 1.4-liter BioPower turbo engine is particularly low on CO2 emissions if filled up with E85 fuel that's 85% ethanol. How much:Note that word "premium." Saab will expect a handsome price for a relatively small car if the 9-X BioHybrid goes into production.

Mitsubishi iMiEV

Mitsubishi Motors is testing U.S. reaction to an all-electric car at the show. The four-door iMiEV can run for 80 miles on a full charge. Mitsubishi plans to begin selling the car in Japan to fleet customers in mid-2009 and to the general public in 2010. The car will cost between $25,000 and $30,000 in Japan, or up to $7,000 more than its high-mileage, gas-powered counterpart, the i minicar.

Mitsubishi will consider bringing the car to the U.S. or Europe after 2010 if there is enough demand for a small electric car. The iMiEV is smaller than a subcompact, about the size of a four-door Smart car.

Chevrolet Malibu

What:Mainstream sedan. Pedigree:General Motors makes its stand as a contender against the Japanese sedans with a new Malibu, which it has backed with a huge marketing campaign. Several months after its coming out at the Los Angeles show, it looks like a critical and sales winner. Personality:Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet — with pizzazz. Chevy set out to show it can win at the style game, and through details, the quality game. When:Sold since November. Why:GM's future depends on it. The nation's biggest automaker stumbled into the new century on the strength of full-size pickups and SUVs. With that market declining, and cars growing, GM has to try to reclaim what it used to own. It also recognized that buyers perceived import cars as better values. Marquee feature:A new design that pushes the wheels to the corners. A two-tone interior that has a richer feel than the previous version. Huge attention to tolerances, fit and finish. How much:Starts at $19,995.

Ford Focus

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