April 11, 2012 1 Comment
Acura: How do you get people back into your showrooms if you’re the neglected quasi-luxury brand of Honda? Acura thinks the first step is to offer a luxury version of the Honda Civic and remake it’s flagship RL that could only find 38 buyers last month.
The 2013 Acura ILX is coming to showrooms in the 2nd quarter of 2012 – so soon. It will have three powertrain choices: A 2.0L 4-cylinder engine with a 5-speed automatic (Civic); a 2.4L 4-cylinder with a 6-speed manual transmission (Civic Si) and a 1.5L 4-cylinder engine with a hybrid electric motor and an automatic (CVT) transmission (Civic Hybrid). The styling and interior design far surpasses the current un-loved Civic.
Once again, Honda/Acura has rejected the idea of a proper rear-drive luxury flagship for Acura. The current RL has been languishing on the market, mostly unchanged, since 2005. No one bought the $50,000+ RL in 2005 because the TL, Acura’s version of the Honda Accord, is about the same size, equally well-equipped and is $10 – $15,000 LESS. Sales of the RL for all of 2011 were only 1,096 units. And Acura dealers probably had to give those away at steep discounts.
At the New York show, Acura previewed the new RLX in concept form. There aren’t many details, but it will continue to be a front-drive/AWD car with a V6 engine and the possibility of a hybrid drivetrain.
BMW: BMW has finally decided to bring the X1, it’s small SUV to the United States. The X1 is nearly identical in size to the outgoing 3-series wagon because it’s made on the same platform in the same factory in Germany. It weighs only 3,527 pounds, a whopping 585 pounds lighter and 6.5 inches shorter than the X3. It’s main competition will be the Mercedes-Benz GLK.
The X1 sDrive28i will be the entry-level rear-drive model with the company’s new 2.0L dual turbo 240 hp engine, starting at $31,545. BMW will also offer the X1 with its excellent 3.0L inline dual-turbo six with 300 hp, starting at $39,345. Missing, as usual, is a 4-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. The X1 hasn’t yet been officially rated by the EPA, but BMW hints that in base rear-drive form, it should get around 23 mpg in the city and an impressive 34 mpg on the highway.
Given its more compact size, low entry level price, American’s never-ending love for SUVs and impressive fuel economy, I think the little X1 will be a hit.
Buick: Oh, General Motors, I know you’re trying to get us to like Buick. You’ve put out some interesting products. The new LaCrosse is competent, as is the Regal and the all-new Verano. Sales for the first quarter of 2012 are down about 16.5% from the same period last year, so there are high hopes that the Verano and the newly-refreshed 2013 Enclave will spice up sales.
The large Enclave SUV is based on GM’s Lambda platform that underpins corporate cousins the Chevy Traverse and GMC Acadia. Here are some pictures, see if you can see if you can spot the changes (hint, they are hard to see).
Chevrolet: It’s happened, Chevrolet has made an Impala that may find a home outside its natural habitat – corporate rental fleets. Based on the same platform as the Buick LaCrosse and the upcoming Cadillac XTS temporary flagship, the handsome new Impala leaps into showrooms early in 2013 as a 2014 model.
The base engine is a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine making 195 hp and 187 lb-ft of torque. Optional will be the same 2.4 liter four with GM’s eAssist mild hybrid technology. The top engine is the ubiquitous 3.6 liter V6 making 303 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic is standard on models.
The upgraded interior materials look good and are soft to the touch. French stitching abounds over the dashtop, the instrument panel cowel and the center control panel. Another feature is the same active noise cancellation system also found in the LaCrosse.
The good news is that the Impala is finally competitive. The bad news is that its direct competitor is the Buick LaCrosse. GM’s eating its own children, again.
Fisker: The Fisker Karma is the flashy king of hybrids, but it’s also the price king. As part of Fisker’s plan to expand its line up and create a volume nameplate, Fisker had planned on purchasing and re-purposing an old GM plant in Delaware with a Department of Energy loan. The project car was code named Nina.
In a rapidly changing environment for hybrids and electric cars, Fisker is now waffling on the Delaware plant and the DOE loan has been suspended. Fisker says it has secured private funding for the new car. But to tease us all, Fisker has released pictures of Project Nina, now renamed the Atlantic.
It has strong design ties to the Karma, but this “affordable” plug-in hybrid – an extended range electric vehicle – is supposed to have a price tag in the $45,000 range (half the price of the Karma). It ditches the 2.0L GM EcoTec engine in the Karma in favor of a BMW-sourced 2.0L inline 4 cylinder engine. A123 systems is still scheduled to supply the battery pack, but after the problems with the battery pack on the Karma, that could change too.
Behold the Karma Atlantic:
Hyundai: While Hyundai didn’t wow us with a flashy show car or a zippy variant like the Veloster, we did get to see the 2013 Santa Fe, which is a key crossover in Hyundai’s portfolio. The big news, besides the fresh, “Fluidic Sculpture” sheet metal and upgraded interior, was that the Santa Fe would be available in normal and long-wheel base versions. This sets the stage for the exit of the Hyundai’s large crossover, the Veracruz, which found only 622 homes last month. In other words, everyone forgot it existed.
The two row Santa Fe Sport has a base 2.4L direct-inject 4-cylinder engine good for 190 hp. A 2.0L direct-inject turbo four making 264 hp is optional. The three row Santa Fe’s only engine is a 3.3L direct-inject V6 good for 290 hp. All versions have a standard in-house sourced six-speed automatic and are available in both front and all-wheel drive. The base Sport with front drive is good up to 33 mpg. The Sport Turbo is only slightly less at 31 mpg.
As a sign of a new automotive trend, the 2013 Santa Fe Sport is 266 pounds less than the outgoing model. Less weight = more efficient. Prices haven’t been released, but the base Santa Fe Sport shouldn’t be much more than the outgoing base Santa Fe which is $23,225.
Infiniti: Nissan’s electric branch grew a new Leaf and this time it’s called the LE. Wow, Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury division, couldn’t come up with a better name than that? While the Nissan Leaf can charitably be described as “geek chic,” the Infiniti LE got all the designer duds and more LED bobbles than Lady Gaga at a rave.
The Infiniti LE Concept is around the size of the Leaf, but it has a trunk, not a hatchback and bears more than a passing resemblance to the Hyundai Elantra. Hyundai calls it “Fluidic Sculpture” while Infiniti calls it “Hamon” (ripple) design. Based on the Leaf’s platform, the LE packs a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack good for a claimed 100 miles. Nissan claimed the same thing for the Leaf, but 70 miles was more realistic in normal driving in So Cal warm weather.
The headline technology is the wireless inductive energy flow charging system. A pad would be installed on your garage floor, connected to the electricity source. Park your EV over the pad and a receptor at the bottom of the car siphons electrons through microwaves. Nissan says the LE could be in showrooms in two years; however it’s unclear which will be ready first: the car or the charging system.
Infiniti isn’t talking price, but the Leaf SL starts at $37,250. Figure the Infiniti has to be at least $10,000 more.
Lexus: With the new Toyota Camry introduced last year, it was only a matter of time before a new Lexus ES rolled out. The 2013 Lexus ES350 is a welcome change to its dowdy predecessor. The new ES sports modern fluidic styling favored by Asian manufacturers, along with the slightly risky “spindle” face first introduced earlier this year on the larger rear-drive GS350. Power will come from an updated version of Toyota’s 3.5L direct-inject V6. In the Camry, the non-direct injection engine makes 268 hp and in the GS the direct inject engine is rated at 306 hp.
However for me, the real “excitement” (if that word can be applied to a Lexus) is that the new ES gets a much needed, sweeping revision of its interior. Banished to history is the ugly center stack tombstone in favor of the handsome horizontal dash lines first seen in the GS.
For others, though, the big news was that there will be an ES300h hybrid for the first time. Naturally, it will be based on the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid, so it won’t be saddled with the unpopular wildebeest-look of the hybrid-only Lexus HS250h. The Camry Hybrid has a combined fuel economy of 40 mpg, so I’d expect the heavier Lexus to be slightly less.
Lincoln: Can Ford’s renaissance spread to Lincoln? Ford’s only remaining “luxury” brand is Lincoln. The venerable luxury brand, once famous for such amazing products as the 1938 Lincoln-Zephyr or the 1963 Continental “slab side” “suicide door” convertible (think Kennedy assignation), has been used and abused for decades and is in the hospital on life support.
Every current Lincoln is a rebadged Ford and Lincoln has been starved of a proper flagship rear-drive sedan for decades. It’s going to take time and money, lots of money, to revive Lincoln and find new customers. The last of Lincoln’s old-school customers were abandon when Ford threw the last shovel of dirt over the long-dug grave of the venerable rear-drive Town Car/Crown Victoria. Somehow, a rebadged Taurus – the MKS – was supposed to take its place. It didn’t.
The first step for the new, new Lincoln is the 2013 MKZ. Still saddled with the ridiculous three letter meaningless nameplate, the MKZ is, once again, a rebadged Ford Fusion. However, this time, Ford thinks that there is enough sheet metal, interior and engine distinction to quell the critics and be the platform for another “relaunch” of the brand.
The new MKZ’s base engine will be Ford’s excellent 2.0L direct-inject EcoBoost good for 240 hp. While the Fusion doesn’t get a V6 this time around, the Lincoln MKZ will be available with a 300 hp 3.7L direct-inject V6. The MKZ hybrid will have the same system in the Fusion Hybrid that Ford says will be good for 41 mpg in the city/36 highway.
Lincoln also promises all the latest in electronic safety wizardry, active noise cancellation and, for the first time, “world-class customer service,” all-new showrooms and a staff trained at the (groan) Lincoln Academy. In short, Lincoln is going after a Lexus customer experience. Hum… we will see how that works out.
Overall, I love the new MKZ, but its Fusion sister is also sensational. At least this time around, you can’t go wrong with either product.
Mercedes-Benz: Mercedes is revamping its SUV line up. First was the ML, followed by the GLK (to better compete with the BMW X1 and now the full-size GL). I’ve always liked the GL because it seems to wear its angular styling like a beautiful Hugo Boss suit. The styling for 2013 continues the previous angular styling language, but with rounded edges and a more prominent nose similar to what we first saw on the 2012 ML.
The three-row, seven seat 2013 GL comes with three engine choices, as before, but with some new hardware. The GL350 BlueTec diesel is powered by a revised 3.5L V6 common-rail injection turbo-diesel good for 240 hp and an intoxicating 455 lb-ft of towing torque. As you’d expect, the diesel will be the fuel economy leader. The GL450 has a 4.7L V8, as before, but this time it’s part of Mercedes’ all-new architecture that uses direct injection and twin turbos to pump out 362 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. The top-line GL550 ditches the naturally-aspirated 5.5L V8 in favor of the same 4.7L V8 twin-turbo in the GL450, except the output is up to a whopping 429 hp with a gut-wrenching 516 lb-ft of torque, surpassing the diesel (but much more thirsty). All engines are mated to Mercedes’ latest 7-speed automatic transmission with 4-Matic all-wheel drive as standard equipment.
As usual, Mercedes-Benz promises the very latest in advanced safety technology, including a slew of airbags and air curtains, optional blind-spot detection, lane keeping assistance, cross-wind stabilization and Pre-Safe Braking that will stop the car for you if it senses an eminent crash.
My favorite new option, however, is the optional Designo quilted seats. Expect them to be expensive.
The GL is assembled at Mercedes’ Tuscolusa, Alabama plant for the worldwide market. Expect the GL350 diesel to start around $63,000, the volume leader GL450 to start at $64,000 and the mighty GL550 to start in the $87,000 range.
Nissan: Nissan is rolling out five new or refreshed models in the next 15 months. First up is the company’s volume leader, the Altima. The Altima is an all-important vehicle for Nissan as it accounts for roughly one third of its total U.S. sales. Last year, Nissan sold 268,981 Altimas.
The refreshed styling looks much more like Nissan’s flagship sedan, the Maxima. That’s a bit odd because the Maxima is getting a bit tired and in need of its own refresh. The 2013 Altima comes standard with a new 2.5L inline four with variable valve timing, but no direct injection. It pushes output up to 182 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. Mated to another continuously variable transmission (CVT), Nissan says the Altima will return 27 mpg city/38 mpg highway – a marked increase over the outgoing model. Nissan’s 3.5L V6 carries over and with the CVT, it has improved fuel economy of 22/30.
The Altima also went on a diet and lost 79 pounds while increasing the use of high-strength steel leading to a claimed 30% increase in structural rigidity. A sophisticated multi-link rear suspension is good news for both ride and handling. NissanConnect is standard, and with Bluetooth 2.0, makes fast and easy connection with smartphones. The base Altima comes in at $21,500, just $1,000 more than the last generation base model – but you do get more kit and a better car for the money.
I think it’s a good, safe refresh and it will continue to be a volume leader for Nissan.
SRT: Street and Racing Technology. Historically, SRT was the in-house tuning brand applied to all Chrysler Group brands. However, about a year ago, Ralph Gilles, the talented designer of the original Chrysler 300 and the Senior Vice President of Design for the Chrysler Group, was asked to lead SRT into its own brand identity. Gilles is now President and CEO of SRT in addition to his VP of Design duties. Lucky man.
Rumors were flying that the new Viper would be built on an Alfa Romeo 8C platform, but that was all a smoke screen. The Viper has updated the outgoing chassis and upgraded the Viper’s signature V10 engine. Here are the numbers: The all aluminum 8.4 liter V10 engine packs 640 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. All that power is sent to the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual transmission. At launch, no automatic or dual-clutch automated manual is available. Yet.
For the first time, the Viper will get stability control; however, there is an off switch. It also gets a much more civilized and handsome interior. It weighs approximately 3,350 pounds and balances the weight at nearly a 50/50 ratio, front to back. SRT says the Viper should top out at 206 mph. Prices haven’t been announced, but Car and Driver estimates a price tag in the $120,000 range. Get in line, they will all sell.
Subaru: Last year, Subaru introduced an all-new Impreza, its volume sedan and hatchback. Variants inevitably follow any new Impreza and first up is the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek. It’s basically an Impreza Sport (a 4-door hatchback) that’s raised 9 inches with a black-cladded sill, cool new wheels and roof rails.
The XV Crosstrek has the same 2.0L 148 hp, 145 lb-ft of torque boxer engine found in the Impreza. Transmission choices are a 6-speed manual or Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT. Of course, the company’s symmetrical all-wheel drive is standard. No matter how you slice it, you won’t be breaking any speed records and climbing steep grades will tax the engine. The XV is a “active lifestyle” vehicle, ready to carry a surfboard or bicycle, go camping or skiing. Cargo is good at 52 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat.
Subaru says the XV Crosstrek is good for 25 mpg in the city and 33 mph on the highway. It should start around $23,000.
There is no question that the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek will be a hit with the Subaru faithful. The Impreza Sport is always in short stock, many selling even before they are delivered to the dealer. The XV will enjoy the same high demand.
Toyota: Toyota surprised everyone in New York with the redesigned Avalon. The Grand Dowager of Toyota has traditionally been a Buick for customers who gave up on Buick. Large, spacious, cushy and semi-plush defined the interior while deadly boring styling clad the exterior. Well, no more.
The 2013 Toyota Avalon is a complete re-imagining of the Toyota flagship. While the styling is derivative – I see a Camry nose on top of the new Fusion’s trapezoidal grille and from the rear it looks like the all-new Hyundai Azera. The sweeping headlights have the look of the new Lincoln MKZ. All this is a good thing, because it makes the Avalon competitive in this larger near-luxury sedan category that includes the redesigned 2013 Hyundai Azera, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse, the Chrysler 300 and the 2013 Lincoln MKZ.
Toyota was short on specifics, but since the Avalon is built on the Camry platform, it’s likely to have at least the corporate 3.5 liter V6 engine, which in the Camry, has 268 hp and 248 lb-foot of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission.
From the pictures, you can see that the new interior is about as close to a Lexus as a Lexus. The current base Avalon is $33,195 and I’d expect the new Avalon available late this year to be in the same price range.