The Chrysler Pacific kicked off the North American International Auto Show by receiving the first ever North American Utility of the Year Award. The jury of journalists likely recognized the goodness of the overall package, but no doubt were influenced by the class-exclusive plug-in hybrid drivetrain. The Pacific Hybrid offers an all-electric driving range of 33 miles and delivers an overall EPA rating of 84 MPGe. The overall driving range with combined electric and gas power is a respectable 566 miles. The gas side of the hybrid equation is an upgraded 287 horsepower 3.6L Pentastar V6 mated to a 9-speed automatic. The battery pack locates under the floor, so minivan buyers in love with the stow-and-go seating will have to sacrifice that versatility. Eight passenger seating also is not available on the Hybrid so you’ll have to limit your passenger count to seven. It appears that with the Pacifica Hybrid, the inventors of the modern minivan are not content to give up their stronghold on the market.
Audi claims that 54% of premium new car sales are actually crossovers. It is no wonder then, that Audi unveiled a concept version of a future crossover, the Q8. Painted in a bright Bombay blue, the Q8 slots above the Q7 in status, but sports a chopped cargo compartment rather than a cavernous cargo hold good for transporting occupants in a third row of seats. The Q8 looks like pure Audi featuring a massive octagonal grille and vintage-Quattro inspired boxed fenders. The interior features an enormous black panel incorporating all gauges and infotainment screens. Motivation is provided by hybrid combination of a 333 horsepower 3.0L V6 and a 100 kW electric motor. Audi claims fuel efficiency of a 102.3 mpg an CO2 emission of 85.3 g/mile. Batteries are able to be recharged in about two and a half hours. Audi executives stated that the Q8 concept is a preview of a production vehicle. We expect that vehicle will share the concepts powertrain since the internal combustion portion of the package is a parts bin component. Now, will the production vehicle come in Bombay blue?
In recent years automakers have expanded the use of the term coupe to include sedans and crossovers with cut-down rooflines. As the number of offerings in those niche markets expands it is refreshing to see Audi remain faithful to the classic two door coupe and convertible market with the A5 and S5. While Audi took the wraps off the coupes several months ago, their convertible (cabriolet in Audi-speak) companions were unveiled at NAIAS. These coupes and convertibles have always been a favorite of enthusiasts and the updated cars follow so close to the formula of the original that it has us asking “what’s new?” The four cylinder in the A5 provides a respectable 252 horsepower while the V6 in the S5 adds a significant 102 horsepower to that figure. The A5 briskly hits 60 mph in 6.0 seconds while the S5 achieves that same speed in a blink-and-you’ll-it 4.8 seconds. Alas, no manual transmission is available. A 7-speed auto is offered with the A5 while the S5 features an extra gear. Audi’s signature Quattro all-wheel drive is standard on all variants and handling has been improved with both a wider track and wheelbase. In case the classic coupe formula limits your lifestyle too much, the A5 and S5 are also offered in 5-door coupe format, which in Audi terminology is designated “Sportback.” This essentially means that you get an extra set of doors and useful hatch to access the expandable cargo hold. Whether you like the flair and independence of the two door or the versatility of the 5-door, the A5 and S5 offers performance to match the good looks.
One of the highlights of the Audi brand was that it offered wagons that were somehow even more beautiful than their sedan counterparts. Then, the world fell in love with crossovers and we were introduced to the don’t-call-it-a-wagon Q5. Audi took the wraps of the high performance 2018 SQ5 which manages to be both good looking and fast. The SQ5’s turbocharged 3.0L V6 propels this small crossover to 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds. It comes as no surprise that all-wheel-drive is standard and an available air ride suspension allows the ride height to be lowered and firmness to be adjusted. Audi claims the new SQ5 features a more spacious interior before and has dished out the techno-goodies such as a Bang & Olufsen® sound system, Apple CarPlay™, and Google™ Android Auto integration. A virtual cockpit provides a lap timer and a heads up display is optional. While crossovers don’t generally cater to the enthusiast, the SQ5 promises to deliver.
Lexus owes its existence to the flagship LS so they take their time developing replacements and leave it up to consumers to decide if the wait was worth it. With the 2018 LS 500, the wait was a particularly long one and until we drive it the jury will remain hung on the verdict. Our problem with the styling comes down to the greenhouse as it approaches the c-pillar and the substantial window tracking required on the rear doors. Its a surprisingly inelegant wart on an otherwise polished design. The already substantial wheelbase grows to 123 inches and a twin-turbo 415hp V6 is the only power plant. We found that interesting since the closely related LC Coupe is launching with V8 power. Will it matter to the average Lexus buyer? Probably not as long as the 10 speed automatic shifts unobtrusively and no noise makes it into the cabin. Look for the next LS in showrooms this fall.
Well, we should have seen this coming. After following the pattern Toyota set forth over 25 years ago with the Lexus line, Hyundai has spun its Genesis sedans off as a separate brand. Heralding the debut of this new premium brand is the G90. The G90 is effectively the replacement for the value-priced but ambiguously styled Equus executive sedan. Where the Equus styling was contrived and cluttered, the G90 is stately and sports what Genesis calls ‘athletic elegance’. The G90 will be accompanied by the current Hyundai Genesis sedan which will be rebranded as the Genesis G80. Genesis will then add a G70 sport sedan and an ‘N’ performance trim to various models in its lineup. No word beyond the initial three sedans but we would be surprised if Genesis doesn’t branch out into other vehicle segments. No word on G90 pricing but we would expect it to be in line with the Equus which starts around $61,000. Propulsion is provided by means of a 3.3L twin turbocharged V6 or a Hyundai’s 5.0L V8. Expect a suite of safety technology such as automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, smart cruise control, stop/start, blind spot detection, and lane keep assist. We look forward to seeing how Hyundai’s new brand develops.
Not wanting to hear the letters TDI, Audi made sure we were talking about some other form of fuel when it rolled out the h-Tron concept that uses a 5th generation fuel cell to provide 148 hp to electric motors on the front and rear axles. Combined with a lithium-ion battery on board that can provide another boost of 134 hp when needed, the h-Tron could handle itself well in the real world. Three storage tanks take only 4 minutes to fill and the total range is 373 miles. That’s highly commendable for a fuel cell. Useful technology like a solar panel sunroof that could give a driver 621 miles of free range each year and a 60 mph run of less than 7 seconds makes this a future concept worth developing. With low gas prices hydrogen fuel cells aren’t going to be displacing petroleum anytime soon, but it’s nice to see automakers still developing the technology.
It’s hard to stay mad at Volkswagen over the diesel emissions scandal when they follow through and put whimsically nostalgic concepts into production with special editions like the Beetle Dune and Beetle Denim. Offered as a coupe or a convertible the Dune is a largely an appearance package, running a standard powertrain devoid of all wheel drive, though available engines and transmissions have yet to be disclosed by VW. We suppose that is appropriate since Beetle-based dune buggies typically took advantage of the VWs light weight and made do with two-wheel drive. Physical upgrades include a wider track and raised suspension. Interior details unique to the Dune are special sport seats and dune badges. Offering a unique Sandstorm Yellow paint scheme, LED taillights, black honeycomb front grille, massive rear spoiler, and a new wheel design, the Dune promises to keep the familiar Beetle shape fresh.
Though no diesel models were on the show floor this year, it was hard to ignore VW’s diesel scandal. The VW executives spent a good portion of their 20 minute press conference talking about what they are doing to correct the distrust created by the diesel calibration that cheated emissions regulations. Still, Volkswagen has significant product that utilizes conventional gasoline and the Passat is the most significant vehicle in its US lineup. The Passat remains a unique model built at the Chattanooga, TN assembly plant. Conservative, but handsome, styling has been updated for 2016 and tragically not only loses its diesel engine options but no manual transmission is any longer present on the option sheet. The Passat starts at $22,440 and offers the 1.8L turbo 4-cylinder that provides 170 horsepower and an impressive 38 mpg highway. Buyers can upgrade to the 3.6L V6 model and be propelled forward by 280 horses achieving a much more modest 28 mpg highway. The V6 can only be acquired when the top line SEL Premium trim is selected at a much less value-focused $36,835. Will the Passat still attract buyers while losing its most distinguishing powertrain options? Only time will tell.
Lincoln’s big unveiling at this year’s North American International Auto Show was clearly the all-new Continental. But Lincoln chose not to leave the smaller MKZ without updates of its own. Strategically featuring a grille mimicking the flagship Continental Lincoln will have a uniform styling language with this pair of 2017 sedans (the MKS is not expected to survive past 2016). Astonishingly, the mid-size MKZ will offer 400 horsepower with a 3.0L V6 driving all four wheels. While Lincoln executives literally scoffed at the focus of Nürbugring lap times during their press conference they clearly recognize even buyers of ‘quiet luxury’ cars don’t want to be left at the stoplight. Buyers can also opt for the available Driver’s Package that combines dynamic torque vectoring, sport-tuned suspension with continuously controlled damping, a unique grille, 19-inch wheels, and painted brake calibers. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound like ‘quiet luxury’ to us, but more like ‘hot rod Lincoln.’ Seems to us like Lincoln is due for a proper rear wheel drive sport sedan, lap times included.