Posts Tagged ‘Volkswagen’


Sometimes prayers are answered. The rest of the world has had the pleasure of powerful, clean and ultra-efficient diesel engines for decades. The Germans, masters of diesel technology, steadfastly refused to bring diesel power to the U.S. market because they don’t think that we will buy them.

School_Bus_diesel_ExhaustThey do have a point. I mean, ask the average American driver about diesel and they conjure up images of billowing clouds of black, noxious smoke, belching trucks and busses and the dreaded diesel chatter. Even people not alive during the 1970s or 1980s have a visceral negative reaction to diesel, probably a byproduct of their parents’ prejudices or maybe from getting stuck behind a diesel school bus on a two lane road with no passing possibilities. Roll up the windows and press the recirculation button.

But the whole diesel question kind of goes back to the chicken and the egg paradox. We aren’t going to buy diesel-powered cars if they aren’t available, right? And what do we make of the fact that, for many years, Volkswagen dealers have been quietly selling out of every TDI (VW-speak for turbo-charged direct injection diesel technology) model they can get in inventory?  Conclusion: There is a small, but growing market for diesel power and efficiency.

VW EA288 2.0L TDI engine

VW EA288 2.0L TDI engine

The fact is that diesel power never left the truck market. Diesel is still the engine of choice for heavy-duty pickup trucks that need lots of low-end torque for towing and carrying heavy cargo. Almost all big rigs are still diesel-powered.

For most of the 1980s, 1990s an early 2000s, gasoline was so cheap in the U.S. that manufacturers didn’t see the need to offer efficient diesel models. Diesel engines are more expensive to manufacture and are heavier than their gasoline counterparts.  Pollution control regulations also killed diesel offerings as most couldn’t meet California’s emission standards and without sales in California, it didn’t make economic sense to federalize a diesel engine.

And then there was the dirty diesel fuel itself. It wasn’t until 2007 that the U.S. implemented ultra-low sulfur (15 ppm) diesel fuel, a necessary step before European diesel engines could function properly.

The cleaner diesel set the stage for a renaissance of European (mostly German) diesel-powered cars to return to the U.S. and to meet ever-increasing federal and California emissions standards. In California (and the states that follow California emissions laws), a diesel-powered car must meet the same standards as a gasoline-powered car.

Up until 2013, if you wanted a 4-cylinder turbo-diesel powered-car, you had to buy a front-drive Volkswagen (the Audi A3 TDI was discontinued in 2013).

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

To help boost corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) rating, the Germans have chosen V6 diesel power for their larger, heavier SUVs such as the Mercedes-Benz ML350  and GL350 BlueTec, the BMW X5 xDrive35d, VW Touareg TDI, the Audi Q7 TDI and the Porsche Cayenne Diesel.  However, the seemingly-obvious application of a high-mpg 4-cylinder diesel for volume models like the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-Class was inexplicably absent.

2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC has a 3.0L V6 twin turbo diesel engine making

2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC has a 3.0L V6 twin turbo diesel engine delivers 240 hp and a massive 455 lb-ft of torque and is EPA rated at 20/23/28 mpg.

That’s all finally changing for the 2014 model year.

Over the summer, Mercedes-Benz introduced a 2.1L 4-cylider twin-turbo diesel engine in the 2014 GLK250 BlueTEC and now, the same engine is in the 2014 E250 BlueTEC sedan, which went on sale last month. I’ve driven the GLK250 BT and loved it, so I have no doubt that the same engine, making 195 hp and a whopping 396 lb-ft of torque, will be fully-capable in the new E250 BT. Both models use Mercedes’ excellent 7-speed automatic transmission with adaptive logic.

2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC

2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC

But what should turn heads is the EPA numbers for the rear-drive 2014 Mercedes E250 BlueTEC sedan: 28 mpg city, 45 mpg highway, 34 mpg combined. That’s right, this 4,200 pound sedan offers fuel economy better than most hybrids, and if you drive mostly highway miles, you will likely do better than 45 mpg.  Mercedes also priced the diesel E-Class as its entry-level model, $500 less than the $52,825 E350 V6 which tops out at 30 mpg and sucks down premium fuel, which is often the same price as diesel.

Not to be outdone – finally some competition – BMW introduced its first 4-cylinder diesel engine in the US market in the 2014 3-Series. The 328d sedan enlists a brilliant 2.0L turbo-diesel engine making 180 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. A ZF 8-speed automatic is standard.  The 328d is EPA rated at 32/37/45. That’s far better than 328i which is rated at 23/27/35. The 328d, starting at $39,525, is $1,300 more than the 328i. However, if you drive around 12,000 miles a year, you could easily recoup the diesel premium in three years.

BMW 2.0L Dual Turbo diesel engine.

BMW 2.0L Dual Turbo diesel engine.

2014 BMW 328d Sedan

2014 BMW 328d Sedan

It’s a mystery why anyone would buy BMW’s ActiveHybrid 3, which uses a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain, when it gets only 33 mpg highway and starts at $50,825, a whopping $11,300 more than the 328d. Oh wait, I forgot. No one is buying the ActiveHybrid 3 and dealers can’t give them away – what few actually exist.

More German luxury diesel competition is either here today or coming soon. Audi already sells 3.0L V6 TDI variants of the A6, A7, A8, Q5 and Q7.  In 2014, we should see an Audi A4 2.0LTDI (probably a 2015 model).  In addition, Audi has hinted at gracing our market with a 2.0L TDI version of the lovely A4 Allroad wagon.

2014 Audi A6 TDI

2014 Audi A6 TDI

The all-new (Gen-4) 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, to be built for the North American market at Mercedes’ Vance, Alabama plant, will likely get 2.1L BlueTEC diesel engine. If it does, its power and fuel economy could trump the BMW 328d. Unfortunately, the wagon variant of the C-Class won’t likely be sold in the US.

Leaked image of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Leaked image of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Porsche already sells a diesel Cayenne running a specially-tuned version of VW’s corporate 3.0L V6 TDI engine. The Porsche version has 240 hp with a staggering 406 lb-ft of torque.

2014 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

2014 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

The 2015 Porsche Macan, a baby Cayenne based on the Audi Q5, will get its world debut at the upcoming 2013 LA Auto Show.  Starting at around $40,000, when the Macan goes on sale early in 2014, it is likely to become the best-selling Porsche, feeding Americans’ insatiable desire for compact crossovers.  Of course, there will be a diesel Macan (a given for the European market) running the same 3.0L V6 diesel found in the Cayenne Diesel; but it’s not likely to be sold in the US — at least not immediately.  I think the Macan Diesel will come to the US, maybe a year from now, possibly as a 2016 model.  I’d like to see it with the VW corporate 2.0L TDI engine; but I don’t think that’s going to happen unless Audi drops one into the Q5.

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

I saved my favorite diesel development for last. BMW has always made a sweet compact 3-Series sports wagon. However, in the US, it’s been on the endangered species list for a while now.

As background, BMW used to sell a fantastic 5-Series mid-size wagon in the US; however, in 2009, it was discontinued in favor of the butt-ugly 5 GT (big mistake) and the few wagon customers were either forced to visit a Mercedes-Benz dealer for the E-Class wagon or buy BMW’s X5 SUV.

When BMW introduced the sixth-generation (F30) 3-series in 2012, the company also announced plans for a 3 GT. The 3 GT has a longer wheelbase, 4-doors, extra back-seat room (mostly for the Chinese market) and a hatchback with extra cargo space.

Wagon lovers feared the worst. Oh god, is BMW going to force a 3 GT on us? Didn’t they get the hint when no one wanted the 5 GT? Maybe the powers-that-be heard the prayers of us wagon-lovers and for the 2014 model year, the 3-Series Sports Wagon returns to BMW’s US lineup.

But it gets better – the award-winning 2.0L TwinTurbo diesel engine is available in the form of the 328d xDrive Sports Wagon. You lose a couple miles per gallon to the all-wheel drive system, but it’s that rare beast that will likely remain on the endangered list as long as it’s for sale. But for now, it’s the Holy Grail for wagon-lovers.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

You have to look closely to see the "d" in the badge for the BMW 328d. The exterior is indistinguishable from the gas-powered 328i.

You have to look closely to see the “d” in the badge for the BMW 328d. The exterior is indistinguishable from the gas-powered 328i.

BMW 3-series wagons have always been compact, fun and full of utility. I like the styling better than the X1, although the X1 has more cargo capacity.  The 328d wagon drives better than the X1.

BMW 3-series wagons have always been compact, fun and full of utility. I like the styling better than the X1, although the X1 has more cargo capacity. The 328d wagon drives better than the X1.

I drove the 2014 328d xDrive Sports Wagon (starting at $43,875) and it was sublime. The average driver wouldn’t have a clue that it was diesel powered. You barely hear the distinctive diesel low frequency throbbing and engine and standard 8-speed automatic transmission work in perfect, steady harmony acceleration across the entire RPM range. It feels faster than the 328i (even if it isn’t) and with the urea-based injection system scrubbing the emissions, there is absolutely no diesel exhaust odor.

I’m feeling faint and nearly powerless to resist ordering a 328d – you may need to wake me from this little wagon’s intoxicating charms with a real whiff of diesel. Right now, it’s the most delicious diesel-powered car on the market.


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.

The 2014 Mazda6 with SkyActiv-D technology.  It should be available by mid-2013.

The 2014 Mazda6 with SkyActiv-D technology. It should be available by mid-2013.

The front of the 2014 Mazda6 sedan.

The front of the 2014 Mazda6 sedan.

The rear of the 2014 Mazda6 diesel sedan.

The rear of the 2014 Mazda6 diesel sedan. Mazda calls its new styling language “KODO” – Soul of Motion.

The interior of the 2014 Mazda6.

The interior of the 2014 Mazda6. The plastics look and feel class-leading and the switchgear feels precise and well-made.

 

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.

2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series

2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series

That rear wing is a sure giveaway that this 2014 SLS AMG is the Black Series, not the run-of-the-mill SLS Gullwing.

That rear wing is a sure giveaway that this 2014 SLS AMG is the Black Series, not the run-of-the-mill SLS Gullwing.

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.

The Ener-G-Force Concept SUV from Mercedes-Benz.

The Ener-G-Force Concept SUV from Mercedes-Benz.

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.

2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman.

2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman.

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.

2013 Mini Cooper S Clubvan.

2013 Mini Cooper S Clubvan.

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.

2013 Nissan Altima

2013 Nissan Altima

2013 Nissan Altima interior.

2013 Nissan Altima interior.

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.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder - front

2013 Nissan Pathfinder – front

2013 Nissan Pathfinder - Side. She's a big girl. Good thing you can get a "Bird's-Eye" camera system that shows you the outside from all angles.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder – Side. She’s a big girl. Good thing you can get a “Bird’s-Eye” camera system that shows you the outside from all angles.  It reminds me of the Chevy Traverse, which has been in the market for almost 5 years now.

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder shares much in common with other Nissan products. There are lots of buttons here, but all seem logical and easy to grab.

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder shares much in common with other Nissan products. There are lots of buttons here, but all seem logical and easy to grab. I’m never a fan of plastic-looking wood.

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.

2014 Nissan GT-R rear.

2014 Nissan GT-R rear. It’s still Godzilla in a suit. And still over $100,000.

2014 Nissan GT-R interior. Still nice. Still six digits.

2014 Nissan GT-R interior. The carbon fiber (yes, it’s real) is a nice touch for the GT-R.

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.

2013 Porsche Cayman

2013 Porsche Cayman

2013 Porsche Cayman.

2013 Porsche Cayman. Like the Boxster, the rear spoiler is integrated with the taillights and center stop light. The lines flow beautifully.

The interior of the 2013 Cayman is nearly identical to the Boxster - which is a good thing.

The interior of the 2013 Cayman is nearly identical to the Boxster – which is a good thing. This Cayman had the 6-speed manual shifter but the upgraded 2-tone leather interior and Porsche’s excellent navigation system.

The side scoops that are accentuated with the deep creases in Cayman's door sheet metal, is how the engine breathes.

The side scoops that are accentuated with the deep creases in Cayman’s door sheet metal, is how the engine breathes.

This screaming yellow Porsche is the Cayman S. It also took center stage with the “base” Cayman above. The engines and transmissions are identical to those found in the Boxster and Boxster S.

That big lump in the back of the 2013 Cayman S is the engine cover. Like the Boxster, the Cayman has a mid-mount engine which makes it the best handling Porsche. Just don't say that to the Germans at the show as they will always tell you that the 911 is the best. All the car magazines say otherwise.

That big lump in the back of the 2013 Cayman S is the engine cover. Like the Boxster, the Cayman has a mid-mount engine which makes it the best handling Porsche. Just don’t say that to the Germans at the show as they will always tell you that the 911 is the best. All the car magazines say otherwise.

You could call it the Convertible Cayman or just the Boxster.  I love this 2013 Boxster S this special silver color.

You could call it the Convertible Cayman or just the Boxster. I love this 2013 Boxster S in this special GT Silver Metallic color.

There was no sticker on this 2013 Boxster S; however with the PDK transmission, navigation, power seats, full leather, etc., there is probably another $25,000 in options added to the base $60,900.

There was no sticker on this 2013 Boxster S; however with the PDK transmission, navigation, power seats, full leather, etc., there is probably another $25,000 in options added to the base $60,900.

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.

Except for the diesel badge, the 2013 Cayenne Diesel looks almost exactly like the Cayenne V6.

Except for the small diesel badges on the front side fenders, the 2013 Cayenne Diesel looks almost exactly like the Cayenne V6.

2013 Cayenne Diesel

2013 Cayenne Diesel

Also making its North American debut is the 911 Carrera4, 4s and Cabriolet variants.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet

Except for a special torque split gauge, in the instrument panel, the interior of the 911 Carrera 4S is the same as the "regular" 911 Carrera.

Except for a special torque split gauge, in the instrument panel, the interior of the 911 Carrera 4S is the same as the “regular” 911 Carrera.

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.

2013 Range Rover HSE

2013 Range Rover HSE

The split clam-shell that makes for a good picnic table hasn't changed for the new Rangy.  This black one is the top-of-the-line Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography.

The split clam-shell that makes for a good picnic table hasn’t changed for the new Rangy. This black one is the top-of-the-line Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography.

The instrument panel and dash of the 2013 Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography

The instrument panel and dash of the 2013 Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography. I don’t like the “magic” cylinder that rises out of the console to shift between Drive, Reverse and Park. It’s clumsy in practice and more gimmicky than useful.

The oddities of the last Range Rover have carried over to the new one. The memory seat buttons are on the arm rest where the window switches should be.

The oddities of the last Range Rover have carried over to the new one. The memory seat buttons are on the arm rest where the window switches should be.

The Range Rover's window switches are on top of the window sill, in a very awkward position. I know it's "tradition" but this one needs to be thrown out.

The Range Rover’s window switches are on top of the window sill, in a very awkward position. I know it’s “tradition” but this one needs to be thrown out.

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.

2013 smart fortwo ED (electric drive) coupe. Base price $25,750.

2013 smart fortwo ED (electric drive) cabriolet. Base price $28,750 (before federal tax credit).

The smart ED bicycle is a fantastic design. The reps told me that it will be sold in the U.S., but there is no specific launch date. It will be expensive, probably in the $3,500 range.

The smart ED bicycle is a fantastic design. The reps told me that it will be sold in the U.S., but there is no specific launch date. It will be expensive, probably in the $3,500 range.

Just for fun, smart showed a Jeremy Scott designed Special Edition of the fortwo. You won’t miss this one coming at you.

smart fortwo Jeremy Scott Concept

smart fortwo Jeremy Scott Special Edition. I think this thing is actually a driver that is used to promote both the smart brand and the Los Angeles-based designer.

Check out this interior of the smart fortwo Jeremy Scott Special Edition. No expense was spared here.

Check out this interior of the smart fortwo Jeremy Scott Special Edition. No expense was spared here.

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

2014 Subaru Forester - Front. Is it that different from the current model?

2014 Subaru Forester – Front. Is it that different from the current model?

Here's the 2014 Subaru Forester from the rear. Again, no new ground broken here.  I think that Subaru likes the formula for the Forester and is going to stick with it as long as customers keep buying it.

Here’s the 2014 Subaru Forester from the rear. Again, no new ground broken here. I think that Subaru likes the formula for the Forester and is going to stick with it as long as customers keep buying it.

The interior of the 2014 Subaru Forester is mostly lifted from the Impreza. The infotainment system is easy to use, but lags behind the competition.

The interior of the 2014 Subaru Forester is mostly lifted from the Impreza. The infotainment system is easy to use, but lags behind the competition.

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.

2013 Toyota RAV4 SUV. The looks are fresh, if not exciting.

2013 Toyota RAV4 SUV. The looks are fresh, if not exciting.

2013 Toyota RAV4 side-rear. Note that the spare tire has moved from the rear door to under the cargo floor. The rear tailgate is now hinged at the top like the competition.

2013 Toyota RAV4 side-rear. Note that the spare tire has moved from the rear door to under the cargo floor. The rear tailgate is now hinged at the top like the competition.

The 2013 RAV4's interior looks and feels upgraded. While there is still lots of cheap plastic, soft-touch and textured panels populate the areas you see/touch the most.

The 2013 RAV4′s interior looks and feels upgraded. While there is still lots of cheap plastic, soft-touch and textured panels populate the areas you see/touch the most.

The RAV4's dash has many horizontal layers that I think work. The center controls are easy to reach and mix both hard knobs and buttons with some functions on the touch screen.

The RAV4′s dash has many horizontal layers that I think work. The center controls are easy to reach and mix both hard knobs and buttons with some functions on the touch screen.

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.

2013 VW Beetle Convertible. This one has the 2.0L turbo gasoline engine.

2013 VW Beetle Convertible. This one has the 2.0L turbo gasoline engine.

The 2013 VW Beetle Convertible has better rear visibility than the last version. However, the top still doesn't lay perfectly flat.

The 2013 VW Beetle Convertible has better rear visibility than the last version. However, the top still doesn’t lay perfectly flat.

The interior of the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible is pretty much the same a the hardtop version. The color-matching interior parts is a nice touch.

The interior of the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible is pretty much the same a the hardtop version. The color-matching interior parts is a nice touch.

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.

2013 Jetta Hybrid

2013 Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

The interior of the 2014 Jetta Hybrid looks like a nicely upgraded Jetta - much closer to the Jetta GLI. I hope it gets better fuel economy that the company's TDI models.

The interior of the 2013 Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium looks very nice. It should for around $32,000. At least you can get automatic climate control in this Jetta!

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.

This is the Volvo S60 Polestar Concept Car. Would you buy one?

This is the Volvo S60 Polestar Concept Car. Would you buy one?

Volvo Concept S60 Polestar from the rear.

Volvo Concept S60 Polestar from the rear.