Cars of the Future

Cutting-edge automobiles are coming to a showroom near you. VIEW OUR GALLERY of the most innovative cars from next week's New York Auto Show, all of which will be available in the next year.

Nissan Leaf

MAKE: Nissan
MODEL: Leaf
PRICE: $25,280-$32,780
RELEASE DATE: December 2010

INNOVATION: The plug-in, zero-emissions car is no longer science fiction (in America), and Nissan hopes drivers will start thinking of their car like they think of their cellphone. For an average $2,200 on top of the sale price, a 220-volt plug is installed in the car owner’s garage that can fully charge up the Leaf in eight hours. Nissan also plans to set up quick-charge stations that can provide an 80 percent charge in 26 minutes. “This is a car that will make a statement,” says Al Castignetti, general manager of Nissan North America. Tax breaks can reduce the ticket price by more than $7,000, and buyers can get a 50 percent tax credit up to $2,000 on the cost of installing the home charger. But the technology is still developing—a full charge lasts only 100 miles.

Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford Global Focus

MAKE: Ford
MODEL: Global Focus
PRICE: $16,000-$17,000 (estimate)
RELEASE DATE: Early 2011

INNOVATION: “Its innovation is democratic,” says Jim Farley, Ford’s chief marketing officer. The Global Focus will have the same exterior design and style across borders, with engine options varying by country. It is Ford’s first automobile that will be assembly-line ready from Wayne, Michigan, to Hai Duong, Vietnam. “From China to the U.S., we’re about turn on 2 million people across the world [with the same car],” Farley says.

Courtesy of BMW Group

BMW 750Li ActiveHybrid

MAKE: BMW
MODEL: 750Li ActiveHybrid
PRICE: $107,025
RELEASE DATE: June 2010

INNOVATION: BMW luxury meets energy efficiency in the flagship hybrid vehicle from the legendary German automaker. Billed as “the fastest hybrid in the world,” the 750Li ActiveHybrid automatically changes the ratio of electricity to gas by how much pressure is placed on the brake pedal. “We take a multi-pronged approach,” says Pat McKenna, BMW’s manager of marketing communications. The model also has plenty of high-tech gizmos, including infrared technology that increases the driver’s vision at night to more than 900 feet, and cameras that monitor the rear of the vehicle.

Lexus CT200H

MAKE: Lexus
MODEL: CT200H
PRICE: $34,000-$35,000 (estimate)
RELEASE DATE: January 2011

INNOVATION: The most innovative thing about the CT200H may be its price. Making its North American debut at the New York International Auto Show, the CT200H features Lexus’ Orwellian-sounding Human-Machine Interface, with a Remote Touch controller that seeks to make controlling the climate, audio, and other functions easier and safer for the driver. The accelerator changes feel to maximize miles per gallon, with the CT200H expected to perform at 35 mpg or better.

Lexus LFA

MAKE: Lexus
MODEL: LFA
PRICE: $375,000
RELEASE DATE: Late 2011

INNOVATION: This is probably the car Bruce Wayne drives when he’s not cruising in the Batmobile. The LFA has a carbon fiber body bolted to the engine and front frame. At 3,250 pounds, it’s designed to be light, agile, and super fast—it goes to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds with a top speed of 202 mph, in case you happen to be fleeing Jason Statham. For calmer Sunday drives, the LFA has an LCD driver display and seven customizable climate zones. Forget affordability, this is Lexus’ supercar for billionaires.

Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet

MAKE: Mercedes
MODEL: E-Class Cabriolet
PRICE: $60,000 (estimate)
RELEASE DATE: Mid 2010

INNOVATION: Go ahead, have your cake and eat it too. The Aircap wind deflector and Airscarf heating system make the Cabriolet a four-season convertible. A fin across the top of the windshield and a screen between the back two seats divert wind around the cabin, ensuring that driving at fast speeds won’t interrupt passengers' conversations. Heating vents in the headrests come optional for drop-top driving during the winter.

Courtesy of BMW Group

Mini Countryman

MAKE: Mini
MODEL: Countryman
PRICE: $21,150-$24,900
RELEASE DATE: February 2011

INNOVATION: Mini plans to hit the electric car market at some point, but for now the Mini E is still in field trials. Its most innovative model coming to a dealership near you is the Countryman. A slight departure from the company’s, well, mini models, the Countryman will be the biggest vehicle in the Mini fleet at 13.4 feet long, and with a hatchback design, it should appeal to families. Another family-friendly feature: the tracked center console, which allows passengers to slide cup holders and trays horizontally.

Jin Lee / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

MAKE: Volkswagen
MODEL: Touareg Hybrid
PRICE: $50,000 (estimate)
RELEASE DATE: April 2010

INNOVATION: The Touareg Hybrid is Volkswagen’s entry into the energy-efficient SUV club, joining Honda, Chevrolet, and Lexus, among others. The Touareg can go up to 31 mph emissions-free before the fossil fuel kicks in. But the Dynamic Light Assist system (also on the non-hybrid version) is the new spec other car makers may take note of. The system uses a small camera to detect oncoming traffic and adjusts the main headlight beams to avoid glare.

Carlos Osorio / AP Photo

Audi A8

MAKE: Audi
MODEL: A8
PRICE: $80,000-$85,000 (estimate)
RELEASE DATE: Fall 2010

INNOVATION: “In Russia, car drives you.” That famous one-liner from Yakov Smirnoff was apropos in the 1980s. Today in America, the Audi A8 drives you. OK, not literally, but its adaptive cruise-control system uses radar to detect stopped or slowed traffic up to 328 yards away, and automatically brings the car to a stop (the system can be overridden by tapping the brake). The A8 also features lane assist, which shakes the steering wheel if the car veers off road, and side assist, which senses blind spots. So sit back and let the A8 do the driving for you. Sort of.

Land Rover 2010 Range Rover Autobiography

MAKE: Land Rover
MODEL: 2010 Range Rover Autobiography
PRICE: $109,625
RELEASE DATE: Out now

INNOVATION: Land Rover takes the path well-traveled with the Range Rover Autobiography, which features a virtual dashboard display, push-button ignition, and driver choice of internal color scheme. And leather-covered glove boxes. Land Rover will catch up to the rest of the pack when its hybrid LRX goes from concept to showroom floor—a Range Rover based on the LRX concept is slated for production sometime in 2011.

Courtesy of Jaguar

Jaguar XJ Supersport

MAKE: Jaguar
MODEL: XJ Supersport
PRICE: $112,000
RELEASE DATE: Fall 2010

INNOVATION: Sitting in a Jaguar XJ Supersport is a little bit like sitting in the cockpit of a really fancy private jet. The air vents have a rounded design, like those found in commercial airliners, and blue halo lighting gives the interior a soothing, spacey feel. The panoramic virtual dashboard has gauges that can be moved at the driver’s pleasure. Sure, switch the mph with the gas gauge, the Supersport is your virtual oyster. Take the car for what it is: At 16 mpg city (25 mpg highway), there’s no attempt from Jaguar at an environmentally conscious hybrid, just pure, unadulterated status symbol.

GM

Chevrolet Cruz Eco

MAKE: Chevrolet
MODEL: Cruze Eco
PRICE: $18,000-$20,000 (estimate)
RELEASE DATE: Late 2010

INNOVATION: Following a rough 2009, which saw General Motors file for bankruptcy, and a better 2010, which saw it reemerge with billions in hand, the Chevrolet Cruze Eco is GM’s most innovative new offering. It’s big breakthrough: An air shutter on the front grille of the Cruze Eco closes at high speeds to improve aerodynamics and efficiency, akin to wing flaps on an airplane. Don’t be fooled by the name—the Cruze Eco is not a hybrid, though the manual transmission version is expected to get 40 mpg highway.