Auto show notebook: New Prius gets 50 mpg; more

DETROIT -- Unsure what to look for at the North American International Auto Show this year? USA TODAY has you covered with the hottest debuts and most stylish vehicles. Check back regularly for show updates. The Detroit auto show kicks off its media preview Sunday and is open to the public Jan. 17-24.

Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrids

Toyota's redesigned 2010 Prius gasoline-electric hybrid, on sale this summer, will be rated 50 miles gallon in combined city-highway driving and more than 50 in town, the automaker said as it unveiled the Prius re-do Monday.

That bests the current version's rating of 48 mpg in the city and 46 in combined city-highway driving and would make it the most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S. by a significant margin. Honda's new Insight hybrid, Prius' closest direct competitor, is rated in the 40s. Volkswagen's Jetta diesel is in the 30s. Insight goes on sale April 22. Jetta's on sale now.

Toyota didn't provide highway mileage for the 2010. It's 45 mpg for the '09.

The automaker said it wouldn't disclose prices until closer to the on-sale date. The current version starts about $23,000. Waiting to announce pricing gives Toyota a chance to see where Honda prices the Insight.

The redesigned Prius has about five cubic feet more space inside and is about the same overall size outside.

The improved mileage comes with a more powerful gasoline engine, but less powerful electric motor. The 2010's gasoline engine is rated 98 hp, vs 76 for the '09, and has 105 pounds-feet of torque, vs. 82 lbs. ft. The electric motor has 80 hp and 153 lbs.-ft., vs. 67 hp and 295 lbs.-ft in. the '09.

Bob Carter, general manager of the Toyota brand in the U.S., says studies showed that fuel economy remains the top concern of likely hybrid buyers, despite today's sub-$2 gasoline prices.

The Prius unveiling comes a day after Honda quietly put its hybrid-only 2010 Insight on display.

The pair, along with the 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid, set up a three-way race for marketing superiority for fuel-stingy family sedans.

Honda expects 40 mpg in the city, 43 highway when Insight, classed a compact and thus not a direct rival of the Prius or Fusion for space-conscious buyers, goes on sale in April. Fusion has been rated 41 mpg city, 36 mpg highway.

Honda engineers say the smaller Insight doesn't have mileage ratings as high as the Prius and Fusion because they tuned the Insight hybrid system to give a little more punch at the expense of fuel economy.

Honda hasn't disclosed pricing yet, but says it will pitch the Insight as an affordable, high-mileage small car that just happens to be a hybrid.

Honda has ambitious Insight sales hopes: 200,000 worldwide the first 12 months it's on sale, 90,000 of those in the U.S. That'd be about 2 1/2 times the sales of the Civic hybrid. Toyota sold about 159,000 Priuses in the U.S. last year. Ford expects to sell just 25,000 Fusion hybrids annually, including the nearly identical Mercury Milan version.

Lincoln C concept

The Lincoln C concept is Ford's attempt to show that small cars can be worth a premium price.

With the footprint of a Ford Focus, the C boasts an engine that gets 25% better fuel mileage, a six-speed transmission and a glass roof.

If it were ever built as a production car, it would be aimed at upscale urban buyers.

The sedan has features like a webcamera for talking over the Internet, center-opening doors and LED headlights, yet would get 43 miles per gallon on the highway

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