November 30, 2012 Leave a comment
Mazda: Mazda has struggled to compete against much larger rivals both in Japan, its home market, and in the US, it’s largest market. First, long-time partner and partial owner, Ford, divested its ownership interest in Mazda, ending some platform and engineering sharing agreements. Then the Great Recession hit, draining Mazda of precious resources needed for future product development.
Deep inside Mazda’s R&D facilities in Hiroshima, engineers worked non-stop to develop a new line of engines, transmissions and technologies that would lead the company into a much more cleaner and fuel efficient future. Although Mazda lacks the hybrid technology of its larger competitors, it came up with a family of new engines and transmissions marketed under the unfortunate banner of “SkyActiv” technology. The new drivetrains combine direct injection, variable valve timing, turbocharging, reduced friction, and smarter 6-speed transmissions to bring marquee fuel efficiency to its new models.
First up last year was the CX-5 small crossover that competes in one of the hottest market segments dominated by the likes of the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4. This year, Mazda is introducing the completely redesigned 2014 Mazda6 mid-size family sedan, that finally seems poised to capture consumers’ attention from perennial favorites like the Camry, Accord, Altima, Fusion, Optima and Sonata. The sexy styling reminds me of Ford’s new Fusion – something that may not be as coincidental since the last-generation Ford Fusion and Mazda6 shared the same platform.
The standard engine for the 2014 Mazda6 will be Mazda’s SkyActiv-G 2.5L 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine good for 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. Most will be sold with a six-speed automatic, although a six-speed manual will be available on lower trims. EPA figures haven’t been released yet, but Mazda expects highway fuel economy to beat 35 mpg.
However, the most important introduction will be the SkyActiv-D engine, a modern 2.2L 4-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that burns clean enough to need no additional NOx aftertreatments. This promises the fuel economy of a hybrid without all the expensive batteries and dual electric-gas drivetrains. Expect to see highway fuel economy better than 40 mpg and a substantial increase in city economy over the gasoline counterpart.
Mercedes-Benz: The largest single market for Mercedes-Benz worldwide is Southern California (thank you Fletcher-Jones in Newport Beach), so you’d think Mercedes might introduce some important products here. You’d be wrong. While I very much like the 2014 SLS AMG Black Series, it’s not like this is a volume car. It gets a few upgrades to the “standard” SLS AMG package, but the engine is the same 6.2L hand-built AMG V8 good for 622 hp and 468 lb-ft of torque. The AMG Speedshift dual clutch 7-speed sports transmission, is the same but slightly upgraded. For the extra $100,000+, the Black Series gets ceramic-composite brakes, adaptive performance suspension, lighter alloy wheels, special performance tires that wear out even faster than the standard tires. As you’d expect, it’s also the fastest SLS, leaping from a standstill to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds – performance you are sure to need while crawling on the 405 at 8:30 am.
Sure we will see a few of them in LA, but they will be owned by collectors with a dozen other exotic cars in their home garage or by misbehaving scions of Saudi royalty. The US price hasn’t been announced, however, in Germany it will be 249,900 euros, or around $322,846 at current exchange rates. Get in line now.
Mercedes showed one concept truck, the Ener-G-Force Concept Fuel Cell Vehicle. It’s said to foreshadow the styling on an upcoming “baby” G-class SUV, perhaps built on the new A-Class front drive architecture. But this is no baby. It’s quite big – bigger than the tank-like G-wagon (short for Geländewagen or cross-country vehicle) that Mercedes has been producing in substantially the same form since 1979.
The styling is quite flamboyant while fluidly-sculptural. I even like the designer LED headlights in the outline of a “G.” Overhangs are practically non-existent and this thing looks like it could climb over a Range Rover or through the hills and craters of the moon. The built-in front winch is very slick. Of course, a fuel-cell drivetrain is unlikely for any production car, at least in the near future, but it does hint at possibilities in the next couple of decades when the costs of fuel cells comes down and you can buy a hydrogen refill at every “gas” station. I have more pictures of this that I will include in another LA Auto Show post.
MINI: BMW’s British unit didn’t have any real news for Los Angeles. It was the first show for the 2013 Paceman, a 2-door version of the widely-popular Countryman SUV that has been the backbone of MINI in the U.S. since its introduction.
For some reason, the marketeers at MINI thought they needed some “news” for Los Angeles and cooked up the a variant of the Clubman 3-door wagon called the Clubvan. Essentially it’s a Clubman without the rear seats that can be used as a mini panel van. This is from the Answer to the Question That No One Asked department.
Nissan: Not much new from our friends at Nissan. The 2013 Altima was introduced and went on sale months ago. I’m not a fan of the evolution of the exterior; however, I was impressed with the look, feel, materials and quality of the interior. Now I just need to be motivated to test drive one. Nissan insists on using continuously-variable transmissions (CVTs) and I’d much prefer a 6-speed automatic in this kind of car. I think Altima’s interior is excellent – better than the new Accord, but the Honda name will sell more units.
Nissan completely redesigned the 2013 Pathfinder too. No longer is it a bulky truck, made for off-road duties but civilized enough for the more likely on-road family-hauling. The all-new Pathfinder – which shares almost everything with its more expensive cousin, the Infiniti JX – is a 7-passenger crossover with car-based rather than truck-based credentials. This is the Pathfinder’s first major auto show, but, like the Altima, it was introduced a couple of months ago and is already on-sale at your local dealer.
Nissan’s big reveal was an updated GT-R sports car. You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between this 2014 model and the 2013 model.
Porsche: Although pictures had been leaked ahead of the LA Auto Show, the big news was the 2013 Porsche Cayman. The Cayman, the hardtop version of the Boxster, always appears several months after the introduction of a new Boxster, so it wasn’t as much of a surprise as it was just a treat to see in person. The Cayman starts at $52,600. The Cayman S starts at $63,800. Unfortunately, like every Porsche, you have to add at least $20,000 of options to make it the car you’d like it to be. Porsche can teach a doctorate level class in nickle and diming.
Another previously announced Porsche is the Cayenne Diesel, which starts at $55,750 (a relative bargain in the Porsche Universe). Power comes from a Porsche-tuned version of the VW Group’s 3.0-liter V6 turbo-diesel engine with a common-rail injection system. Its turbocharger features Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG). The EPA has rated the Cayenne Diesel at 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway. That sure beats the Cayenne S with a V8 rated at 16 city, 22 highway.
Also making its North American debut is the 911 Carrera4, 4s and Cabriolet variants.
Range Rover: Now that Land Rover has made Range Rover its own sub-brand, the name Land Rover was almost non-existent at Press Preview. All emphasis was on the 2013 Range Rover which is trickling into dealerships as the LA Auto Show opens.
Smart: The diminutive smart fortwo hasn’t been updated much since its introduction 3 years ago. Colors and options change and Mercedes says it’s updated the horrible automated manual transmission, but it still jerks around with little finesse.
The big news for the LA Auto Show was the 2013 fortwo ED (electric drive). Apparently there were so many bad reviews of the 2012 (and first) version of the car that the whole electric drive system has been revised and the battery range has been extended to around 68 miles. The coupe version starts at $25,750 (before the $7,500 federal tax credit) Smart also offers a 240 volt home charger for $1,300.
Just for fun, smart showed a Jeremy Scott designed Special Edition of the fortwo. You won’t miss this one coming at you.
Subaru: I keep hoping that Subaru will find its way in the design and styling department, but each time a new model rolls out, I’m disappointed. The media dutifully attended Subaru’s introduction of the 2014 Forester, but there wasn’t much buzz or hurried Tweets of the homely model that was unveiled this week. The Forester is basically a tall Impreza wagon
Toyota: When Toyota introduced the RAV4 in 1996, it was the first small SUV based on a car (the Corolla) platform. The small crossover segment is red hot. The Honda Civic, Ford Escape and RAV4 each sell more than 200,000 units a year. A few generations later and well over a million units sold, Toyota rolled out the 2013 RAV4 for its world premiere at the LA Auto Show. The simple fact of the matter is that Toyota had to keep up with the competition. Ford has a new Escape that is selling very well. Honda redesigned its CR-V a year ago and it too is burning up the sales charts. As of September 2012, Honda had sold 100,000 more CR-Vs than the RAV4. The new little SUV aims to reverse that trend.
Volkswagen: VW finally introduced the convertible version of the Beetle. It will be on sale just in time for convertible season in sunny states like California. All the engine options are the same as on the Beetle – 2.5L 5-cylinder, 2.0L Turbo and 2.0L TDI. The top faithfully recreates almost the exact silhouette of the hardtop Beetle and it lays nearly flat; however you still have to cover it yourself with a piece of snap-in vinyl. Prices start at $24,495.
VW also showed its first gasoline-electric hybrid car, the 2013 Jetta Hybrid. It starts at $24,995. VW mates a 1.4L turbocharged and direct-injected TSI gasoline engine to an electric motor. The combination is good for 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. A 7-speed dual clutch transmission is standard. VW says the 2013 Jetta Hybrid will drive up to 44 mph in EV mode, zero to 60 in 9 seconds flat and deliver a combined 45 mpg. It should be arriving in VW showrooms now.
Volvo: Poor Volvo. Ever since Ford dumped Volvo to the Chinese, Volvo North America has been starved for new product. The best the company could muster at the show was a custom-built Concept S60 with Polestar performance upgrades. It has a 2.0L inline 6 cylinder turbo engine making an astounding 508 hp with a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission. Power is routed to all wheels through a 4th generation Haldex XWD system. It can race from zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds and the top speed is 186 mph. The cost is said to be around $300,000. Volvo is testing interest in a performance version of the S60, but it would have to be much less than $300k to get me interested.