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Friday
Jan132017

NAIAS 2017: The Vehicles

By Christopher A. Sawyer

Click here to read our analysis of the intrigue and troubles surrounding NAIAS 2017.

VW I.D. Buzz

Haven’t we met several times before?

The Buzz is, “a Microbus for a new era,” says VW, and its name a phonetic play on the word “bus” and the sound the drive system makes. Though the tires are new, the Buzz is a retread; this is the fourth concept VW concept that looks to the company’s iconic T1 microbus for inspiration. First came the Microbus Concept in 2001. Ten years later, VW dusted off the idfea to produce the Bulli Concept, and it was followed last year by the Budd-e Concept. That’s a lot of concepts on the same basic theme, but each tried and failed to find a profitable way to put this retro-look minivan idea into production. Now VW is hoping that its diesel scandal-induced electric vehicle blitzkrieg will finally push the retro MPV over the goal line. With plans to sell one million EVs per year by 2025, and eventual plans for 25% of its production to be powered by batteries alone, having a number of body styles to fit over the modular MEB EV platform isn’t a bad idea.

Of course, the Buzz isn’t exactly a lightly camouflaged production design. Take, for example, the fully flush glass with its painted on white “flit” that mimics the painted white steel of the original T1. That will never make it to production. Neither will the fully autonomous driving mode that causes the steering wheel to retract or the wood floor, and the rotating “meditating” gnome figure atop the instrument panel is a definite non-starter.

Built on a stretched ME-XL platform, the Buzz has an exceptionally long 129.9-in. wheelbase, but is less than 195 in. long overall. Width and height are nearly identical — 77.8 in. and 77.3 in., respectively. That long wheelbase let VW pack an 111 kWh battery pack along the flat floor, which it claims should give a 270-mile range on a yet-to-be-finalized EPA electric vehicle driving cycle. Each axle is driven by a 201-hp electric motor, giving the Buzz a combined output of 389 horsepower when drive losses are taken into consideration. Subframes carry the motors and suspension units, and can be swapped out to create different drive configurations. It would be just as simple to create either a front- or rear-drive Buzz with up to 268 hp, and powered by a smaller 85 kWh battery pack. Then again, given VW’s track record with the microbus concept….

VW also introduced the new Tiguan, which will be sold in the U.S. only in long wheelbase form. Nearly 11 inches longer than the outgoing model, the 2018 Tiguan has up to 57% more cargo space, sliding second row seats, and the option of a third row. Its 109.9-in. wheelbase is 4.4 in. longer than the European model.

Under the hood sits VW’s direct-injected 2.0-liter turbo motor. In this application it produces 184 hp and 221 lb.-ft. of torque, and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. (The same powertrain is used in the much larger, Tennessee-built Atlas, but produces 238 hp in that application.) Front-drive is standard, with 4Motion all-wheel drive available as an option. This option includes four selectable driving modes.

A perennial underperformer, VW is finally getting product that appeals to mainstream America. Though pricing has yet to be announced for the 2018 Tiguan, the Atlas is priced just below a comparably equipped Ford Explorer. This suggests VW finally has realized its brand can’t carry a premium price, and must compete on content and price. An aggressively priced Tiguan will do more for VW’s bottom line than a family of modular electric vehicles, even those that, once again, evoke memories of minivans past.

2018 Ford F-150

The most important vehicle no one was talking about.

Ford didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the 2018 F-150 at the show, counting on its debut during Fox’s NFL Wildcard Pregame Show and a concurrent press release to get the word out. It was short shrift for a vehicle that has been America’s top-selling truck for 40 consecutive years and the top selling American vehicle for 35 years, but its image clashes with Ford’s new positioning as a mobility company.

Each models gets a new grille, headlights and front bumper, as well as a new tailgate and taillights. Lariat models equipped with the Sport Package ditch the twin chrome grille bars for ones painted body color, and share their interior carbon fiber-like appliqués with the F-150 XLT Sport. The King Ranch edition gets new Kingsville Appointed seats, while the Platinum adds Dark Marsala seating trim and the Limited offers Navy Pier trim.

A new 3.3-liter direct-injected V6 with a higher compression ratio replaces the formerly standard 3.7-liter V6, and is expected to produce the same 282 hp and 253 lb.-ft. of torque. It seems like a lot of work and expense to undertake in order to keep the power output the same and the estimated fuel economy slightly higher. However, the real reason for the downsizing is that Ford could not get the direct-injected, naturally aspirated 3.5-liter motor to meet the EPA’s new particulate emission standards without the reduction in displacement. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost remains unchanged, and the 2.7-liter EcoBoost — rumored to be the engine around which Ford will build the powertrain for the 2020 F-150 and Mustang hybrids — adds dual port injection to its direct fuel injection system. This washes the intake runners and valves with atomized fuel droplets in order to reduce soot-causing carbon deposits on these surfaces. Like the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8, the EcoBoost motors are mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, and have standard stop-start technology.

But the big news is the addition of a 3.0-liter V6 Power Stroke diesel to the F-150’s engine lineup, and yet Ford said very little about the engine. Like the gasoline motors, it will be mated to the 10-speed automatic and have automatic start-stop standard.

Ford also made passing mention of a new Ranger pickup and Bronco SUV,  to be introduced in 2019 and 2020, respectively. These dates have slipped a year, suggesting the work necessary to refit the Michigan Assembly Plant and redesign the in-name-only Global Ranger to meet U.S. safety standards is taking longer than expected. As for the Bronco, don’t expect it to be a small retro-styled two-door like the 2004 Bronco Concept. Word is it is little more than the next-generation of the Ford Everest SUV with a new badge.

2018 Honda Odyssey

Can Magic Slide seats outdo Chrysler’s Stow and Go?

From the B-pillar forward, the new Odyssey shares its underbody with the Pilot crossover. From there back, however, it’s a unique vehicle. Ultra-high-strength steel, aluminum and magnesium are used to reduce weight (up to 96 lb., depending on trim level) and increase torsional rigidity 44%. In addition, the 280 hp direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 has 32 more horsepower. Upper grade models get a new 10-speed automatic gearbox, while lower trim levels make do with Honda’s current nine-speed automatic transmission.

A new suite of connectivity technologies make the 2018 Odyssey more powerful than some police surveillance vans. CabinWatch uses a camera to let the driver and front passenger keep an eye on the rear cabin day or night via the front 8.0-in. display screen. CabinTalk allows the driver to speak to second- and third-row passengers via the rear cabin speakers or rear entertainment system headphones. Updates to the Display Audio and rear infotainment systems can be accomplished via in-vehicle 4G LTE, WiFi or USB. CabinControl uses an app to control the rear entertainment system, rear cabin climate control and send destination information to the vehicle navigation system via a smartphone. And those in the second and third rows can view streaming video on a ceiling-mounted 10.2-in. screen through the optional in-vehicle WiFi, public WiFi or the user’s cell phone data plan.

However, it is the Magic Slide second row seating that may tip the balance — for or against — for buyers. Removing the center seat allows the outer seats to slide side-to-side in one of five positions. Honda says there is enough room when they are at their outermost positions for an adult to pass easily to the third row, even with two rear-facing child seats in the second row. Buddy Mode removes the center seat and puts the outer seats together where the occupants are within easy reach of the front seat passenger, especially when the second row seats are in their most forward position. In addition, with the center seat removed, the driver’s side outboard seat can be set to its walk-in position (full forward and with the seat back tilted) for access to the third row. However, those who need to remove the second row seats in order to increase cargo capacity may not like the fact that each of the second row seats are six pounds heavier due to the fact that the seatbelts are now attached to the seats. For them it may be enough to tip the balance toward the Chrysler Pacifica and its Stow and Go second row seating.

Audi Q8 Concept

Ur quattro meets luxury SUV.

Think of this as an Audi Q7 coupe with a higher price tag. Surprisingly, the Q8, which will go on sale next year, is nearly the same size as its sibling. The Q8’s wheelbase is 0.3-in. shorter (why bother?), 1.6-in. shorter and 1.3-in. lower, but the coupe crossover is a full 2.9-in. wider than the Q7. Much of that extra width comes in the form of square-shouldered fender flares that mimic the look of the classic 1980s Ur quattro rally car. Ditto the broad, raked C-pillars, and the intakes above the toothy eight-point grille.

The show car sports a hybrid powertrain, which is just one of the combinations you can expect when the Q8 reaches production. The turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 produces 333 hp, and is supplemented by a 134-hp electric motor packaged inside the eight-speed automatic transmission. This gives Audi’s range topper (until the Q9 arrives later this decade, that is) just under 445 hp and 520 lb.-ft. of torque. Plus, the lithium-ion battery pack is powerful enough to give the plug-in 37 miles of all-electric driving when fully charged. Despite the fact that U.S. Audi (and VW) buyers still want a diesel option, it appears increasingly unlikely that VW’s consent agreement with the EPA and CARB will allow this to happen, no matter how clean that powertrain can be made. Thus, you can expect both V8 and V6 gasoline engines to be offered alongside the plug-in hybrid, as well as a more conventional non-plug-in hybrid model. And, of course, sometime in the future Audi undoubtedly will unleash a high-output RS version.

2018 Lexus LS

The fifth generation of relentlessly pursuing the luxury car crown.

When Lexus launched its brand with the LS 400 in 1989, it offered a Japanese Mercedes clone with impeccable build quality and Toyota’s reputation for durable reliability. At first, BMW and Mercedes laughed derisively, but quickly changed their tune as more buyers checked out what the new boy had to offer. It forced the Germans to raise their game, offer more for the money, and build their cars to a higher standard. The LS also single-handedly pulled the final leg out from under the domestic luxury brands, offering first cabin luxury and quality at discount prices.

The 2018 LS shares its platform with the LC 500 coupe, which promises new levels of dynamic performance in a car never known for it. Claimed to be the stiffest LS platform in history, the new car sits on a 123-in. wheelbase (+1.3 in.), and uses ultra-high-strength steel and aluminum to good effect. The 2018 model is a claimed 200 lb. lighter than its immediate predecessor, and has a lower center of gravity. Height has been reduced by approximately 0.6 in., the hood is 1.2 in. lower and the trunk is 1.6 in. lower than on the outgoing model. Active anti-roll bars and four-wheel steering are available, while the front are rear suspensions are multi-link designs (the front features dual ball joints) made from aluminum. And, since it’s lower than the previous generation LS, the optional air suspension can be raised to ease ingress and improve egress.

Gone is the V8, replaced by a new twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 located behind the front wheel centerline. It produces 415 hp and 442 lb.-ft. of torque, and is mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission. The projected 0-60 time for the new LS is 4.5 seconds for the rear-drive model. Fuel economy should be better, but those numbers will have to wait until the 2018 LS goes on sale.

Buyers can order 28-way front seats that heat, cool and massage their occupants, as well as heated and cooled massaging rear seats that can be reclined up to 48 degrees, raised 24 degrees, and come with a raised ottoman. Art Wood Organic, Art Wood Herringbone and Gray Sapele Wood with Aluminum are the new interior trim patterns, while the optional Mark Levinson 3D audio system includes an array of speakers in the headliner. If that’s not enough, the 12.3-in. wide navigation display can be augmented by an optional 24-in. color head-up display.

2018 Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Terrain

Three different ways to say “bold”, but only Toyota comes close to hitting the mark.

Like the latest Prius, the 2018 Camry is built on the modular TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform. A clean-sheet design, the new Camry lowers the hip points of the front and rear seat passengers by 1.0-in. and 1.2-in., respectively, drops the overall vehicle height by 1.0 in., and lowers the hood 1.6 in. The beltline is lower, the sweeping instrument panel more compact, and the hood, cowl and instrument panel height have all been lowered for improved forward visibility.

The 3.5liter V6 and six-speed automatic transmission are carried over from the previous model but the inline four is new. The 2.5-liter Dynamic Force Engine (no, really) has a long stroke, high compression ratio, multi-hole direct fuel injectors, the latest generation of Toyota’s Variable Valve Timing-intelligent Electric (VVT-iE), variable cooling system, and high-tumble in-cylinder air-fuel charge. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic with direct lock-up on all but first gear. The same engine is at the art of the Camry Hybrid, mated to a CVT that can simulate six sequential shifts in Sport mode. To improve handling and trunk space, the battery pack has been moved from the trunk to beneath the rear seat.

The styling was created in Japan under the direction of an American from Toyota’s CALTY design studio in California. it features creases on the C-pillars that are meant to suggest motion, and also act as a lower boundary for the optional black roof band. On the sportiest model, black vent motif cuts through the taillights and rear bumper like a gang member’s tear tattoo, adding a gentle curve in an area intersected by sharp creases. The front fascia has large ducts below the headlights, and an upper and lower grille area tailor made for a Lexus spindle grille. This should make porting the ES 350 grille a relative cinch.

The GMC Terrain, on the other hand, follows Nissan and Lexus down the “floating roof” trail, and uses a kick up in the shoulder line to try and hide its crossover boxiness. Shorter and less severe looking than its predecessor, it’s also less distinctive, though GMC buyers will appreciate the tasteful and abundant chrome detailing while cursing the small rearmost side windows.

The Terrain’s true boldness takes place under the hood. There you will find a choice of two gasoline and one diesel engine, each with a turbocharger, and a nine-speed automatic mated to the gasoline units while the diesel makes do with a six-speed. Rather than use the seemingly ubiquitous rotary dial to select a gear, the Terrain uses pushbuttons and switches to free up center console space. The base 1.5-liter four produces 170 hp and 203 lb.-ft of torque, while the 2.0-liter engine makes 252 hp and 262 lb.-ft. The diesel. on the other hand, puts out 137 hp and 240 lb.-ft. of torque.

Though the Chevrolet Traverse shares its platform with the Terrain’s Acadia big brother, it’s not diminished in size. Its wheelbase is a stunning eight inches longer than the Acadia’s, and two inches longer than the vehicle it replaces. It’s so much bigger that Chevy is considering building its own version of the  Acadia in order to add a model between the full-size Traverse and the more compact Equinox.

Weight is down more than 350 lb., depending on model, bringing weight more in line with that of the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. Most models are powered by a 305 hp/260 lb.-ft. 3.6-liter V6 mated to a nine-speed automatic, wheel the supposedly sporty RS version comes in front-drive only, and is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four with 255 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. It also uses the non-speed gearbox.

The nose is a bigger version of that found on the Equinox, while the body sides are boxier and punctuated by large, integrated fender blisters front and rear. The look is handsome and truck like, if not exceptionally bold, and stops short of being generic. There’s room for seven or eight, depending on the seating arrangement chose, though the flip-and-tumble second row seating function is only available on the passenger side of the vehicle to limit passenger exposure to passing traffic.

2018 Kia Stinger


The big small sport sedan.

Six years ago Kia showed a four-door coupe concept called the GT that is surprisingly similar in detail to the production Stinger sedan shown this year in Detroit. But while both cars have taillights that extend forward along the rear fender to encompass the side marker lights, a lower front fender vent, and broadly similar roofline, the production version looks fussy and overstyled. And the fender vents that were so original in 2011 now look like knockoffs of the latest BMW 5 and 7 Series sedans, but applied to a rear-drive Optima.

Kia says its four-door hatch is a competitor to Audi’s A4, BMW’s 3 Series, the Mercedes C-Class, Alfa Romeo Giulia and Cadillac ATS. Only the Stinger is larger than this competitive set in most dimensions. It sits on a long, 114.4-in. wheelbase, and spans 190.2-in. overall, making it nearly half a foot longer than the Mercedes. It’s also lower, with a height of 55.1 in. And that Audi A7-like hatch makes accessing the luggage area simple, while the long wheelbase makes the rear seat area roomier.

Power is supplied by either a 255 hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four, or a 365 hp 3.3-liter V6. Both are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and each powertrain is available with rear- or all-wheel drive. Kia won’t be bringing the diesel-powered Stinger to the U.S., not will it offer the option of a manual transmission. Order the larger motor — good, Kia hopes, for a 5-second 0-60 time and a top speed of more than 165 mph — and you get 19-in. wheels and uprated Brembo brakes with four-wheel vented discs and four-piston front calipers. The suspension is by front struts and a multi-link rear, and computer-controlled adjustable dampers are available as an option. The Stinger goes on sale this summer.

Nissan Vmotion 2.0 Concept and Rogue Sport

Meet the next Altima and the U.S. Qashqai.

If anything, Nissan’s Vmotion 2.0 Concept suggests a move from the bizarre to the refined for Nissan’s sedan styling. Unlike the Maxima, which is the pinnacle of Emotion 1.0 and a riot of creases and shapes, the latest iteration appears as though it will be more cohesive and tasteful. And it will debut on the next-generation Altima sedan, though not quite in the form shown here.

Production models won’t have suicide doors, gigantic front brake cooling scoops, impossibly deep body sculpting, and impressively thin roof pillars. It will, however, share many of these features (except for the doors) in toned-down form, and continue the “floating roof” styling of which Nissan designers are so enamored. The dimensions will be similar, though the production car will have smaller wheels and tires, more room for an actual powertrain, and an interior that retains the general theme but not details like wooden floor panels and a pass-through center console.

The Rogue Sport, on the other hand, is our version of the Qashqai sold in much of the rest of the world. Built on the same platform as the Rogue crossover, the easier to spell Rogue Sport has a 2.3-in. shorter wheelbase, 12.1-in. shorter overall length, and shares the same strut/independent multi-link suspension. Though it opened up a new segment in the compact car market in Europe by combining crossover styling and available all-wheel drive capability with the function of a hatchback, it could not do the same in the U.S., where Buick’s Encore (sold as the Opel Mokka in Europe) accomplished that same task.

The Rogue Sport is powered by a 141 hp/147 lb.-ft. twin cam four mated to a CVT transmission. Available with both front- and all-wheel drive, the Rogue Sport comes in three trim levels — S, SV and SL — and offers just five optional equipment packages. It is built in Kyushu, Japan, and will go on sale this spring.

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