On the second day of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the sensational new products (and a few questionable ones) kept coming. Honda showed off its new Accord Coupe Concept to mixed reviews, horrified Maserati fans got a closer look at the new Kubang SUV based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Lincoln was finally given new life in the form of the strikingly-beautiful MKZ Concept mid-sized sedan.
Audi continues on its steamroller trajectory with the thinly-veiled Q3 Vail Concept and A4 Allroad. The Q3 officially went on sale last year in Europe and Audi hadn’t confirmed US sales plans until this week. The Q3 is based on the Volkswagen Tiguan platform, but it’s wrapped in Audi chic sheet metal and a vastly superior interior (it will cost a lot more too – count on it).
The Q3 Vail Concept borrows the beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountain ski resort’s name to remind you that its compact luxury SUV can play in the snow and schmooze with the 1% on ski vacations. Other car companies offer heated and cooled cupholders, but the Q3 Vail uses a separate battery to heat and cool your beverages while the car is shut off so when you come off the black diamond slopes you can still have a hot cappuccino waiting for you.
Audi has confirmed that a US-spec Q3 will come to these shores at the end of 2013 as a 2014 model. Both the Vail Concept and production Q3 will get Audi’s 2.5 L 5-cylinder turbocharged direct-inject engine currently found in the TT RS. While the TT RS engine is tuned to 360 hp and 343 lb-ft of torque, the unit for the production Q3 Quattro will likely be tuned down some. I predict that a base Q3 will be offered with a less powerful 2.0T engine like in other Audi products. I think the Q3 is a sure hit for the US market.
The original Audi Allroad was Audi’s first baby step into the SUV world. The last Allroad sold in the US was in 2005 and it was basically an A6 Avant (wagon) on steroids. Allroad hardcore fans will be thrilled to know it’s making a comeback. This time, it’s based on the A4 Avant, which has grown in size to match the original A6 Avant and it will replace the lovely A4 Avant in Audi’s line up. Apparently Americans won’t buy the wonderful A4 wagon, so they have to lift it a few inches to give it SUV height without competing directly with its own Q5 SUV.
In showrooms this spring, the new Allroad is wider, taller and has more ground clearance than the standard A4 Avant. Power will come only from Audi’s standard 2.0L direct inject turbo four rated at 211 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission will be an 8-speed Tiptronic and quattro all-wheel drive is standard. It also gets some skid plates and side sills, roof rails, and other cosmetic styling details. A panoramic sunroof , eight-way heated power seats and upgraded infotainment are options. Prices haven’t been announced yet, but it will be more expensive than the outgoing A4 Avant that starts at $36,400.
The new 2012 BMW 3-series got its first US display in Detroit. I’ve already posted pictures and details about the new 3 and you can check those out here.
The “big” debut for BMW in Detroit was the 2012 ActiveHybrid 5 sedan coming in at a lofty base price of $61,845. Why BMW insists on giving us these cars is mystifying. That’s $14,945 more than the base 528i, $8,500 more than the mid-range 535i and nearly the same price of the V8-powered 550i.
The ActiveHybrid 5 is based on the 535i with BMW’s lovely 300 hp in-line six with TwinTurbo power, direct injection engine and BMW’s slick valve-timing software. The hybrid sandwiches a 55 hp electric motor between the engine and the ZF 8-speed automatic. A compact lithium-ion battery takes up some trunk space. The total package is good for 340 hp and fuel economy of – wait for it – 23 mpg city, 34 mpg highway.
While those numbers sound good in a vacuum, bear in mind that the base 528i sedan, with a new twin-turbo 2.0L four is rated at 22 mpg city, 32 highway and the standard 535i is rated at 21 city, 31 highway. If fuel economy is your concern when buying or leasing the BMW 5, then you will be hard-pressed to understand why you should pay such a lofty premium for barely a tick up in fuel economy. BMW can’t sell the ActiveHybrid 7 and it has HUGE incentives tacked on to move it off dealers’ lots. I see the same fate for the ActiveHybrid 5.
GM has doubled down on Buick in the US and has showered the venerable division with three new products in the past few years – the LaCrosse, the Regal and the Verano. For some unknown reason, GM thinks that Buick needs a small B-segment crossover, the Encore. The little ‘ute is based on the spiffy Chevy Sonic platform and GM’s marketing minions think that it will occupy a “white space” in the”luxury small crossover” market. “White space” is marketing lingo for a niche in the market that hasn’t been filled. The closest competitor will be the MINI Countryman, at least until the Audi Q3 (see above) and the BMW X1 hit the market.
The Encore is bestowed with GM’s 1.4L turbocharged Ecotec engine making 140 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission will be a GM 6-speed automatic. It will have all the now-familiar Buick styling cues: lots of shiny (fake) chrome, a waterfall grille, fluid lines and fake portholes on the hood.
To further appeal to luxury buyers, Buick uses “active noise cancellation” to quiet the cabin using microphones to listen for noise and computer-generated sound waves to cancel the noise through the car’s audio system. Cool stuff. Note to MINI: this would be very helpful for your noisy products.
Buick calls the interior plush and many luxury options not normally available on smaller cars will distinguish the Encore from competitors. It will be equipped with Buick’s voice-activated IntelliLink infotainment system that will use Bluetooth or a USB port to connect to your smartphone.
Buick says the Encore should go on sale in the first quarter of 2013. Prices haven’t been announced. The market for such a car in the United States is untested and Buick is going to ask younger buyers to help it blaze a trail. All I can say is I wish them luck.
Oh Honda, where did you go astray? I used to really like your products. You had the cool factor nailed. Each new car was bristled with fun, great engines and transmissions and a cut-above high-tech interior. A decade ago, it seems that Honda decided to play it safe and just take evolutionary steps. It followed rather than lead. The bold designs of the past were replaced with play-it-safe styling and less innovative drivetrains.
The 2012 “all new” Civic failed to impress new buyers. In fact, your long-term bromance with Consumer Reports seems to be fading as CR ‘dissed the Civic and didn’t “recommend” it. It wasn’t the earthquake that hamstrung Honda, it was its own internal myopic view of the competition who, while you weren’t watching, blew by you and spit dust and exhaust fumes in your corporate tailpipe.
I’m just saying that Honda chose an evolutionary approach while its competitors chose to revolutionize their mid-size offering.
Enter the all-new 9th generation Honda Accord, due to go on sale later this year. To hint at the coming excitement, Honda showed the Honda Accord Coupe Concept in Detroit. To say the shape looks familiar is an understatement. Not that the outgoing Accord is horrible, it’s just boring. The new Accord lines look sharper and the haunches appear beefed up; but it’s definitely an Accord.
The good news is that the Accord gets two new engines. The base engine will be its new 2.4L four-cylinder direct-injected engine with 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. It will be offered with either a 6-speed automatic (finally) or a “fun” CVT. I have yet to drive a fun car with a CVT. Honda will also offer its re-engineered 3.5L V6 engine with your choice of six-speed automatic or manual. Of course, Honda claims all models will be more efficient and “class leading” – whatever that means.
The best news, however, is that there will be an Accord Hybrid again. This time, it will be a plug-in hybrid that will be able to operate in three modes: pure electric drive, hybrid and “direct drive” which is by gas engine only. Honda will use a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine coupled with a 120 kW motor and a 6 kWh lithium-ion battery. Honda claims it will drive up to 15 miles in pure EV mode at speeds up to 62 mph. Honda will also introduce Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning and LaneWatch blind spot display. In other words, it’s catching up to the competition.
I’ve been very excited about the visual appeal and rice rocket potential of the all-new Hyundai Veloster that is on sale now. However, the big complaint was that the car looked faster than it drove. That’s been remedied with the introduction of the 2013 Veloster Turbo. The 1.6L direct-injected turbo engine produces 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque and it’s mated to a new six-speed sequential-shift automatic transmission. Now it’s a suitable rival for the VW GTI, Honda Civic Si and MINI Cooper S.
The Veloster went on sale in September 2011 and has already sold more than 9,000 units. The Turbo, complete with the two new paint colors, including a matte finish, will go on sale sometime this summer.
Ford has neglected Lincoln. Once the proud icon of American Luxury, Lincoln was relegated to rebadged (think MKZ) and blinged-out (think Navigator) Fords. Lincoln hasn’t had a proper rear drive flagship in over a decade (excluding the Town Car which was a thirty year old design, mostly sold to fleets for black car or livery service. It was finally discontinued in 2011).
Ford realized the error of its ways and hit the reset button. It hired a team of dedicated, talented designers and engineers to remake Lincoln. It will take significant investment and hard work to replace Lincoln’s tired portfolio, but this week, Ford laid out its vision for the future of Lincoln with the stunning MKZ Concept.
Based on the all-new Ford Fusion, the MKZ is no longer a rebadged Ford. It has its own unique look and distinct styling, inside and out, that will challenge the established luxury players in this near-luxury or “smart luxury” category. It makes the Lexus ES350 look instantly obsolete, Acura ‘s TL looks common and the Germans look austere (which, to be fair, is probably what the Germans are for). In short, its both modern and futuristic.
The face is familiar as it has already shown up on the mid-life facelift for the MKT and MKS. I’m not a fan of the grille, but with so much more visual interest on the concept, I’ll go with it. Lincoln designers have taken note of the four-door coupe movement with slick cars like the Mercedes CLS, the Audi A7, the Volkswagen CC, the BMW 6 Gran Coupe. The steeply-raked windscreen connects to a fantastic glass roof which sweeps all the way back to the trunk lid. Full-width taillights evoke past Lincolns and LEDs, front and rear, abound.
The concept features Lincoln Drive Control and an adjustable suspension with Continuously Controlled Damping. This is probably similar to magnetic ride control or computer-controlled air suspension systems found on other luxury cars.
The interior is filled with leather wood, soft-touch surfaces and all the requisite luxury touches. The instrument panel is now a 10.1″ TFT screen. It will be equipped with the latest version of MyLincoln Touch infotainment system as well as all the latest electronic nannies, driver aids and safety devices also found in the new Fusion. These days, it’s getting harder and harder to find stand-out technology that hasn’t already been invented.
Lincoln gave few details about the drivetrains that will be available; however, it’s a safe bet that they will be similar to the five options on the new Fusion. For more information on the Fusion, see our previous post. The production version of the MKZ will likely show up later this year in another US auto show (maybe New York?) and it should go on sale before the end of the year.
Maserati used the Detroit Auto Show to remind us that it plans to produce the Kubang SUV based on the new Jeep Grand Cherokee which shares a platform with the new Mercedes ML. The engine will be sourced from sister company Ferrari and Maserati engineers will be responsible for steering, brakes and suspension. The only transmission will be an 8-speed automatic, probably similar to the ZF 8-speed currently being deployed on many Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles.
The Kubang will be built at Chrysler’s Jefferson North assembly plant (just outside Detroit). That’s good for US jobs, but the volume will likely be pretty low. But if it’s not built at a Maserati factory in Italy, is it really a Maserati?
Maserati loyalists are retching, but like the Porsche Cayenne, it will probably sell.
The new baby Prius, the Prius c, has already been plastered all over the airwaves and internet, so it seems almost anticlimactic with its debut in Detroit. It’s a smaller version of the standard Prius but has the same powertrain. The difference is the cheaper interior and missing amenities like automatic climate control. It’s still plenty versatile as a 5-door car, but rear seat passengers will be squished.
Toyota says the Prius c, starting at $19,000, will carry a combined rating of 50 mpg and it’s rated at 53 mpg on the highway. The standard Prius is also rated at a combined 50 mpg; however, the Prius c has a price advantage of more than $4,000.
It appears as if Toyota felt it needed a smaller Prius to compete with the Honda Insight (itself a Prius clone) on both price and content. However, since few people are interested in the Insight (2011 sales of 15,549, a 25% drop from 2010), it remains to be seen if the Prius name and lower price is the magic tonic to propel sales of the Prius c.
More interesting was the NS4 Advanced Plug-in Hybrid Concept that Toyota says is a plug-in hybrid “separate from the Prius family.” Hum… It’s exactly the same size as the current Prius and it wouldn’t be a leap to believe that the new styling direction will be seen on the 4th generation Prius.
The NS4 features a next-generation hybrid system with smaller and lighter components, and with better fuel economy and greater range in pure electric mode. Of course, it will have next-generation lithium-ion batteries.
Toyota says the NS4 has a touch-screen that reduces driver distraction (ha!) and has cool new glass technology from supplier Ashai Glass, including anti-ultraviolet, anti-solar, anti-fog and raindrop-elimination features. It could also end up as a Lexus design; but it’s more likely to be a new shared platform for the Prius and other variants, including a Lexus version.