New Models Unveiled at International Auto Show
Detroit’s North American International Auto Show is America’s chance to take the pulse of the auto industry. Five years ago, when the country was in the deepest grip of the Great Recession, the mood was somber and the press conferences focused mostly on each brand’s core products. The mood has improved gradually over the ensuing years, and this year was no exception. Following on the heels of the best sales year since 2007, the automakers showed off a variety of concept cars, mainstream products, and especially, performance cars during the January 13-14 press days. We were on hand to take it all in, and here we present our three favorite announcements in each of those categories.
The two most important vehicles unveiled in Detroit involved America’s best-selling vehicle, the Ford F-150, and a sleek sedan meant to get Chrysler back on the map in the midsize car market. Other notable mainstream models were a larger C-Class from Mercedes, a more efficient Fit from Honda, an entry-level small crossover from Audi, an updated Hyundai Genesis, and a pickup that mark’s GMC’s return to the midsize market. Here are our three favorites.
2015 Ford F-150
In the face of stiff competition from Ram and General Motors, Ford announced that the F-150 will use an aluminum body, which will save up to 700 pounds. That’s a game-changer in the ultra-competitive full-size pickup market, and it will improve fuel economy, handling, and towing and hauling capability. The large 6.2-liter V8 will be dropped, and the base 3.7-liter V6 will give way to a new 2.7-liter turbocharged V6; power and fuel economy numbers are not yet available. The interior will be upgraded with higher quality materials, an eight-inch “productivity screen” with customizable displays, and a 360-degree view camera. Look for the 2015 Ford F-150 by the end of the year.
2015 Chrysler 200
Chrysler hasn’t been a viable competitor in the midsize sedan market for decades. With the release of the 2015 Chrysler 200 in the second half of this year, that it is likely to change. The sleek design and coupe-like roofline should attract customers and Chrysler plans to keep them with improved quality, sophistication, and value. A 184-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder will be the base engine, and a 295-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 will also be offered, both using a nine-speed automatic transmission. Front- and all-wheel drive will be available, and line-topping 200C (luxury) and 200S (sport) models will be offered. The $21,700 base price is $95 less than the outgoing model, and that bodes well for this good-looking sedan.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
With the release of the entry-level CLA last year it’s time for the C-Class to move upmarket. That’s exactly what Mercedes appears to be doing with the redesigned 2015 C-Class. The new compact car grows 3.7 inches and promises a higher quality interior, a more dynamic design influenced by the lines of the CLA, a 220 pound weight reduction, and many of the safety systems from the E- and S-Class models. Due this fall, the C-Class will launch with two models, the C300 and C400, both with new engines. The C300 will be powered by a 235-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, while the C400 will get a 329-horsepower turbocharged 3.0-liter V6.
Automakers use auto shows to get potential customers amped up about their brands. Nothing does that like halo cars that reveal the fullest extent of a brand’s engineering capability. Several brands showed off their performance prowess in Detroit. Notable announcements included the fastest Corvette of all time, the next generation of BMW’s M3 and the new M4, a cool new coupe from Lexus, the latest Subaru WRX STI and a Volkswagen Golf R to compete with it, and a coupe version of the agile Cadillac ATS. Here are the three we like.
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Chevrolet captivated showgoers by unveiling the C7 Corvette last year in Detroit, and this year it revealed the fastest Corvette ever, the Z06. A new supercharged V8 cranks out 625 horsepower, 120 more than the 7.0-liter V8 in the last Z06. It sends its power through a seven-speed manual transmission or a new eight-speed automatic. A carbon fiber removable roof is standard and a Carbon Fiber package adds more lightweight aero components. Top performance is achieved with the Z07 package, which features carbon ceramic brakes and sticky Michelin Pilot Cup Sport tires. The 2015 Z06 goes on sale early next year, likely with a price tag in excess of $100,000.
2015 BMW M3/M4
BMW showed the next in its much-loved lineup of performance-tuned compact cars, the 2015 M3 and M4. A new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six replaces last year’s high-revving 4.0-liter V8, pushing horsepower from 414 to 425. BMW says 0 to 60 will take just 3.9 seconds with the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and 4.1 seconds with the 6-speed manual. That 6-speed will add downshift rev matching. The new engine and a reduction in weight of about 180 pounds will also help fuel economy improve by 25 percent. The M3 and M4 will hit the market early this summer.
2015 Lexus RC-F
Lexus has already announced that it will offer a coupe version of the IS sedan called the RC, and at Detroit the Japanese brand showed a high-performance variant. The RC-F rides a slightly shorter wheelbase than the IS, and it gets an updated version of the 5.0-liter V8 that powered the last performance compact, the IS-F. The engine now makes 450 horsepower, up from 416. The aggressive design features the largest version of Lexus’ spindle grille, an active rear spoiler, a carbon fiber roof, and 19-inch forged aluminum wheels. Performance figures aren’t available yet, but 0 to 60 mph should be in the four-second range. Gear up for the new RC-F this fall.
Concept cars are another great way to inspire fans of a brand, but with the economic downturn we haven’t seen that many concept cars in Detroit in recent years. This year marked a return to the concept with offerings from Kia, Acura, Toyota, Volvo, Nissan, Infiniti, Volkswagen, and Audi. Among this group, the cars from Kia and Toyota were especially inspirational, and the model from Acura was a thinly disguised version of the brand’s next midsize sedan. Let’s take a look at those three.
Toyota boss Akio Toyoda is sports car crazy, and that bodes well for a production version of the FT-1 Concept to hit the market. In fact, FT stands for Future Toyota, and we suspect it represents the next Supra, which was last offered in 1999. Designed by Toyota in California, the FT-1 takes styling cues from the Supra, as well as the 2000GT of the 1960s, and the current Scion FR-S. It’s low and lean, with scoops and ducts for cooling. Classic sports car traits include a long hood, a short deck, two seats, and a front engine-rear drive layout. No engine specs were announced, but Toyota says it would be powered by a “high-technology, high performance internal combustion engine.”
Kia GT4 Stinger Concept
If the GT4 Stinger Concept is any indication, Kia is heading in a sporty direction. Built with an eye toward weight reduction, the 2+2 coupe has all the right performance parts, including quick ratio steering, 15-inch Brembo brakes, and double-wishbone suspension front and rear. Under the hood lurks a 315-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that sends its power to rear wheels via a short-throw six-speed manual transmission. The lightweight theme continues inside, where it lacks a radio and carpeting, uses fabric straps for door pulls, and has a racing-inspired flat-bottom steering wheel. While Kia won’t confirm plans to bring this car to market, we suspect Kia will offer some type of rear-drive coupe, likely on the next-generation Hyundai Genesis coupe platform, in the next few years.
Acura TLX Prototype
Acura unveiled the TLX prototype, an almost production-ready version of the car Acura hopes will boost its sagging car sales. The prototype’s 20-inch wheels and front and rear fascias will likely change, but the mechanicals are production-ready. The car is 3.8 inches shorter than the current TL, but it has as much interior space. When the 2015 TLX goes on sale midyear, powertrain choices will consist of a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission or a 3.5-liter V6 with a nine-speed automatic. Acura says both powertrains will offer best-in-class fuel economy. Front- and all-wheel drive will be offered, as will all-wheel steering and a driver-selectable Integrated Dynamics System with four driving modes. With a four-cylinder model as the new entry point, pricing may come down, and that could help jumpstart car sales for Acura once again.