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Going mainsteam at Houston Auto Show: The hot trucks, cars and new Mustangs you can actually afford

Fueled by a resurgent automotive industry the 2014 Houston Auto Show is the biggest ever with more than 34 manufactures displaying hundreds of vehicles over the entire 700,000 square foot floor in the Reliant Center. It can be overwhelming for sure, but auto writers Nic Phillips and Kevin McCauley are here to guide you to the don't-miss cars of the show.

In the second of a two-part series we turn our camera past the luxury and exotic focusing in on the best of the mainstream.

It's a big year for Ford as it launches the 2015 Ford Mustang.

The most liked car on Facebook, this is the first all-new Mustang since 2005. It's leaner with the modern face of Ford as its intended to be more a global car suppressing the retro looks typically associated with current Mustangs. 

It features more electronic innovation, a new fuel effiicient 2.3L 4-cylinder Ecoboost engine and, for the first time ever, a fully independent suspension.

This Mustang is more akin to a Nissan 370Z than an American muscle car.

Fresh off its dramatic reveal just a week ago in Detroit, the all-new 2015 Ford F-150 is here. With more than 500,000 Ford F-150 sold in Texas alone, it's the most significant introduction at the Houston Auto Show as well.

What's the big deal? Aluminum.

With the material once reserved for the likes of the Audi A8 or Range Rover, the new F-150 is the first large volume, let alone pickup truck, to use aluminum for its body.

The result is massive weight savings — some 700 pounds — ultimately resulting in improved driving dynamics and fuel economy without compromising its "Built Ford Tough" durability. 

Styling incorporates quite a lot of what was shown in Ford Atlas concept truck revealed just last year at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Look for it to hit dealerships in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Chrysler brings a new 200 completely redesigned to compete in the midsize segment. With a number of innovations like a 9-speed automatic and high-end paint finishes, it's nothing like the current 200 popular only with rental car companies. 

With the likes of the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Mazda 6, we're seriously questioning whether or not it's improved enough to seriously challenge though. 

Just named North American Truck of the Year, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado hits the floor directly across from the aluminum technology laden 2015 Ford F-150. 

You decide.

One good thing GM does have going for it in trucks is the introduction of the GMC Canyon bringing modern looks and technology to the otherwise neglected mid-size pickup category.

Competing against the aged Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier in a segment that's been decidedly shrinking over the years, the Canyon's a handsome package for those who want a nimble, efficient tool.


Mazda is hot ,setting sales records with stylish, fun to drive yet efficient models winning awards left and right.

New this year the Mazda 3 compact is completely restyled in the "Kodo: Soul of Motion" design theme featuring SKYACTIV fuel-saving technologies throughout. 

Mazda is now the most fuel-efficient brand in America and we're huge fans of the new 3 hatch and sedan models.

Where's the beef?

Try the MIni booth where they've wrestled up an all-new Mini Hardtop that doesn't look all that new but keeps the venerable little car at top of the hot hatch heap.

The new Rouge headlines at Nissan as the auto maker updates its compact crossover to modern specification. 

Here it is. The re-envisioned  2014 Toyota Highlander their answer to the CultureMap CUV of the Year Hyundai SantaFe, Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer that had caught up and passed Highlander — the inventor of the full-size crossover.

It's updated throughout complete with all sorts of innovative touches  for the Texan family. 

Is it enough?

Volkswagen introduces its 2015 Mk.VII Golf GTI with new engines and a 220-pound weight loss.

We've driven this new model and it's a potent package so well sorted it's right there with today's Audi models.

Later we'll see the introduction of the new TDI Clean Diesel engine in the Golf and while no figures are official quite yet, we expect to see highway economy just shy of 50 MPG.

Seriously. Hot. Wheels.

The 2015 WRX STI is the unpractical, barnstorming model in the otherwise practical Subaru lineup.

Shown is the 2015 WRX STI Launch Edition in WR Blue Pearl Exterior with gold-finished forged BBS wheels reminiscent of Impreza World Rallye Cars of the past.

Limited to just 1,000 and sold over the next  three months only, the Launch Edition is the tuner car star of the year.

The 2014 Houston Auto Show runs through Sunday at Reliant Center.  The hours are noon to 9:30 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets are $10 for adults and kids six to 12 years old are $5 — CASH ONLY at the door. Parking at Reliant Center is another $10.

If you missed it, see part one of this series.

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