Articles

Next Dodge Challenger will get electric-motor boost

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 19, 2019

A new generation of Dodge muscle cars is coming, and it will get a boost with an electric motor.

Fiat Chrysler’s performance brand has ridden the ground-shaking, supercharged V-8 Challenger Hellcat to become the No. 2-selling sports coupe in the U.S. behind the Ford Mustang. But Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley says the clock is ticking on the car’s aging 2-ton chassis and thirsty engines, and they will be replaced in the next decade.

“The reality is those platforms and that technology we used does need to move on. They can’t exist as you get into the middle-2020s,” the new Fiat Chrysler boss said at the Detroit auto show. “New technology is going to drive a load of weight out, so we can think of the powertrains in a different way. And we can use electrification to really supplement those vehicles.”

Despite sitting on Chrysler’s 13-year-old LX architecture, the Ontario-assembled Challenger has soared in sales. The top-of-the-line $60,000, 717-horsepower Hellcat version broke the internet when it debuted in 2015.

But with government emissions standards tightening, automakers have been looking to alternative powertrains with fewer cylinders to satisfy customer performance demands. Supercar-makers like Acura, McLaren and Porsche have mated electric motors and downsized gasoline engines, with the primary purpose of the batteries being performance, not fuel efficiency. So don’t expect the next Hellcat to be an all-electric car.

“I think that electrification will certainly be part of the formula that says what is American muscle in the future,” said Manley. “What it isn’t going to be is a V-8, supercharged, 700-horsepower engine.”

Manley did not go into specifics on what the gas-engine components would be, and a Dodge spokesperson said the company had no further comment.

Ford is rumored to be working on a hybrid, turbo-4 with V-8-like power for its next-decade Mustang. And the coming mid-engine Corvette will reportedly offer a gas-electric model putting out 1,000 horsepower.

Challenger 2019 models (and their sister Charger sedans) are powered by four engines: 3.6-liter V-6, 5.7-liter hemi V-8, 6.4-liter hemi V-8, and supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. Industry analysts have expected Dodge to put a twin-turbo V-6 into performance models with as heavily updated, lighter chassis.

Ward’s Auto predicts that use of the company’s workhorse Pentastar V-6 — found in numerous Fiat Chrysler vehicles and produced at Detroit’s Mack Avenue Engine plant — will continue to grow in volume over the next decade, including the addition of the twin-turbo variant to replace the $35,000 Challenger R/T’s 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.

Bob Gritzinger, propulsion analyst for Ward’s Intelligence, suspects Dodge may mate the twin-turbo V-6 with an electric motor for peak power.

“I could see something along the lines of the Porsche model which puts a turbo V-6 together with an electric motor to create the (all-wheel drive) Panamera 4 e-Hybrid,” says Gritzinger.

With a combined gas-electric jolt of 462 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, Car and Driver hit 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds in the Panamera.

Fiat Chrysler chief Manley says electrification “can’t be the dominant part (of a muscle car). Electrification deployed to increase the performance of the vehicle as its primary goal – with the added benefits of fuel economy – is very different, instead of the other way around.”

Kelley Blue Book analyst and veteran muscle car fan Karl Brauer is skeptical that electrification and muscle can co-exist.

“There’s a long-standing rule about what constitutes American muscle, but electrification is not part of it,” he said. “I need something that gets my blood pumping.”

He acknowledges the hybridization of $100,00-plus European supercars like Porsche and McLaren, but says it has come “with a lot of added weight and cost.”

He says the last Chrysler CEO to alter the American muscle recipe was Lee Iacocca in the late 1970s. Under similar regulatory pressures, Iacocca moved away from thirsty V-8s and toward front-wheel drive V-6 platforms. Forty years later, Dodge roared back to prominence with the trusty V-8 hammer.

“The Challenger is now challenging the Mustang for sales primacy with a V-8,” says Brauer. “Who would have thought that? In terms of sales, the supercharged V-8s have worked well.”

Analysts also speculate that the entry-level $28,000 Challenger may use a version of the company’s 2-liter turbo-4 with a 48-volt eTorque mild-hybrid assist.

Manley praised the Challenger team’s leadership for elbowing into the sales battle between traditional segment leaders Mustang and Chevy Camaro.

Since 2014, Challenger sales have increased 30 percent to 66,716 in 2018 — within 10,000 units of the Ford — while Camaro fell 25 percent last year to 50,963. Only the Challenger gained sales in 2018 (by 3 percent), with 42 percent of cars equipped with V-8s.

“(The team) is incredibly creative,” said Manley. “They came up with this idea which originally was part of a mini skunk-works until it was too late to stop it. I think everyone very quickly envisioned what Hellcat would do for Dodge.”

Dodge appears poised to re-imagine American muscle again in the decade ahead.

10 must-sees at the Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 19, 2019

The Shelby Mustang GT500

Cobo’s main show floor is a different place this year. I’m tempted to tout the delicious, scissor-door McLaren 570 as my favorite car in show.

But it’s part of Envy Auto Group’s display of exotic, pre-owned cars — an exhibit from a car dealer that helps fill space left by the mass exodus of European luxury brands. Thanks to Envy, you still get to ogle Porsches and Ferraris — but they aren’t the newest stuff on the market.

For that, there are still plenty of U.S. and foreign automakers who have brought their A-games. There are the usual mighty muscle cars and trucks we expect at a Motown show. But there is also an extraordinary breadth of vehicles from electric to autonomous to V-8s appealing to the richest auto consumer market on the planet.

Here are the most important vehicles in show.

Toyota Supra

I have never seen a Toyota news conference packed with so many people. Motorheads have thirsted for the next Supra since Toyota teased the stunning FT-1 Concept in 2014. The production car holds nicely to the concept’s design with its low, racer-like hood and roller-coaster hips. A lightweight, 50-50 balanced two-seater, the Supra got an assist from BMW, which makes the 335-horse turbo in-line six-cylinder. It’s the same mill that motivates the BMW Z4. Look for this $50,000 hottie come summer.

Ford Mustang GT500

Lightweight straight-six Supra, meet fire-breathing, supercharged V-8 pony. With more than twice the horsepower of the Toyota, the legendary GT500 track monster is aimed squarely at the Chevy Camaro ZL1 across the Cobo aisle. Where past GT500s were straight-line dragsters, this athlete takes the agile GT350 platform and adds steroids. The huge carbon-fiber rear wing will help keep this 700-plus horse Snake on the ground while it inhales supercars costing twice as much.

Ram Heavy Duty 2500/3500

For a different kind of muscle, check out the Heavy Duty version of the Ram 1500, voted North American Truck of the Year. The 2500/3500 ups the light-duty’s capabilities by stuffing a 6.7-liter Cummins turbo-diesel under the hood that makes 1,000-pound feet of stump-pulling torque. Make that house-pulling. The 3500 can tow over 35,000 pounds while nurturing passengers with leather thrones and a 12-inch Tesla-like screen.

Ford Explorer

Ford also makes SUVs. The best-selling ute of all time, the Explorer is totally remade. It sits on a rear-wheel drive based chassis for better towing and design dynamics. But the high-tech interior is where it really shines: one-button access to the third-row, one-button operated self-park feature. This being Ford, the Explorer gets multiple engine options,  including a hybrid and 400-horse ST performance variant.

Kia Telluride

Kia went after the Audi A7 with its sexy Stinger sedan coupe last year. This year Kia beats the three-row Jeep Wagoneer to market with a more rugged version of the Sorento SUV. The exterior is bold and upright like a Range Rover. The interior is luxurious. Take it on a test spin on Kia’s indoor Cobo track.

Nissan IMs Concept

With the explosion in electric and self-driving technology, show-stopping concepts are back. There are a few of these envelope-pushing concepts on the floor, but my favorite is the Nissan with its spare, Caddy-like styling and suicide doors. What’s the autonomous world look like? Nissan imagines a single, rear-seat armchair where the boss sits, while the front seats swivel for assistants to take notes.

Lincoln Continental

Suicide doors aren’t just for concepts. A special edition of 80 Lincoln Continentals — celebrating Conti’s 80th birthday — is being made with stunning, rear-hinged rear doors. The palatial rear seats can comfortably fit Andre Drummond, while front-row passengers luxuriate in 30-way seats.

Cadillac XT6

The bling-tastic, three-row Escalade has long been the choice of rappers and Wall Street limo services. “XT6 takes the Escalade down to an everyday package,” says Caddy designer Andrew Smith. The handsome ute sits on the same wheelbase as the two-row XT5 for better handling, yet carves out 30 inches of third-row legroom. The CUE infotainment system can be operated by touch or remote rotary dial.

Hyundai Elantra GT N Line

This is muscle for those on a budget. The Elantra gains a hot hatch version to rival the VW Golf GTI. Loaded with standard features for just $25,000, economy buyers get 201-horsepower fun with hatchback utility.

VW Passat

While Detroit brands are emptying Midwest sedan factories, VW is sticking around with the Tennessee-built Passat. Updated inside and out, the upscale V-dub nevertheless hedges its bets by sticking with an old platform rather than the more modern MQB chassis that Europe gets.

Detroit auto show consumer guide: Trucks

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 17, 2019

There is no truck market in the world like the U.S., and no one makes trucks like Detroit’s Big Three. Mid- and full-size pickups sell nearly 3 million a year here, with the full-size Ford F-Series leading the way with some 900,000 sold. The perennial best-seller got some serious heat this year from competitors Ram 1500, Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, which all introduced new steeds.

The fast-growing midsize segment got more crowded as the Ford Ranger and Jeep Wrangler pickups elbowed in — but Toyota (which struggles to sell its Texas-made full-size pickup) still dominates midsizers as the Tacoma towed a 23 percent increase in sales. Yee-haw!

Ram Heavy Duty 2500-3500

What it is: Ram follows its North American Truck of the Year award-winning 1500 with the 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty trucks. The 3500’s 6.7-liter turbo-diesel Cummins V-8 hits the magic 1,000 pound-feet of torque threshold — the most powerful truck ever. A Power Wagon trim is available with Jeep Wrangler-like off-road tricks like locking front and rear axles. But the big fella isn’t all brawn; there is also a premium, black-trimmed 2500 Laramie Black edition that shows off the truck’s quiet interior and air suspension.

Payne’s take: Ram Heavy Duty numbers are eye-popping: 7,680-pound payload, 35,100-pound towing capability. It’s 10 decibels quieter inside, Ram says, with best-in-class .409 drag co-efficient. It has tire-pressure monitoring for up to 12 wheels including trailer, and a 12,000-pound Warren winch.

Jeep Gladiator

What it is: Detroit gets its first look at the long-awaited Jeep midsize pickup that debuted in Los Angeles last fall. Like the Ram Heavy Duty, it goes right at Ford for best-in-class metrics, boasting 7,650-pound towing capability and 1,600-pound payload capacity. The pickup will come in familiar Wrangler trims including premium Sahara and off-road Rubicon. It will be powered by a base Ecodiesel 3.6-liter V-6 that grunts out 442 pound-feet of torque.

Payne’s take: Determined not to repeat the Scrambler debacle of the early ’80s, the Gladiator is much more than a Wrangler with a bed. Jeep fortified the rail-frame structure to 212 inches in length to outfit a proper 60-inch bed. Jeep is late to a fast-growing midsize pickup segment swarming with Chevy Colorados and Toyota Tacomas, but Jeep has high expectations for this bruiser.

Detroit auto show consumer guide: Concepts and EVs

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 17, 2019

Concepts are dead, long live concepts.

With accelerated production cycles and reduced budgets, wild design concepts were thought to be a thing of the past. But with automakers exploring electric power, concepts are in again as designers explore the design envelope — and try to get consumers interested in a promised new era of electric vehicles.

Infiniti QX Inspiration Concept 

What it is: The minimalist QX follows its sister Q Inspiration concept sedan that debuted at last year’s show. Where the sedan previewed Infiniti’s innovative variable-compression turbo gas-engine technology, the QX debuts the brand’s electric architecture. The batteries hide in the floor, allowing for a lounge-like (if entirely sci-fi), roomy interior. The egg-like body is daring in its lack of common features like a grille — though the side gashes look like they were punched in by a forklift.

Payne’s take: Infiniti promises that half its 2025 sales will be electric, which seems ambitious given that its EV sales today are nearly nonexistent. Still, like the Teslas and the Hyundai Kona EV before it, the QX Inspiration is another intriguing design study of cars without gas engines. NBA megastar Steph Curry broke the internet after posting video of a QX delivered to his driveway.

Nissan IMs Concept

What it is: Not to be outdone by richer bro Infiniti, Nissan brings its own EV concept to the show with chiseled features and a lower, longer sedan profile than the QX Inspiration ute. The IMs sits on big 22-inch wheels (designers love those), while a monster 115-kWh battery and two motors put 483 horsepower to the ground with all-wheel drive. Range is estimated at 380 miles.

Payne’s take: Nissan has been more aesthetic of late with the Murano concept and stylish Altima sedan. The IMs is a huge step beyond those renderings with its simple, Cadillac-like design. This is an old-fashioned, sci-fi dreamboat right down to its yoke steering wheel.

GAC Entranze Concept

What it is: From China’s fifth-biggest automaker, the battery-powered autonomous Etranze Concept isn’t so much a car as it is a family pod on wheels. GAC says the three-row cockpit is inspired by an airline fuselage. Particularly striking is its use of cork in the interior — part of the concept’s vow to use sustainable “green” materials.

Payne’s take: The Entranze joins a group of four more-familiar production vehicles at GAC’s display as the Chinese brand pushes toward a 2020 product launch in the U.S. Three of the vehicles are already in production in Asian markets: a three-row SUV (which should be the first volley here), compact ute and minivan. Concept designer Pontus Fontaeus is an industry veteran who previously worked on interiors for Ferrari and Volvo.

Lexus LC Convertible Concept

What it is: Toyota’s luxury division teases a Roadster version of its halo LC sports car. With 22-inch wheels and white leather seats with yellow stitching, the Convertible brings even more drama to Lexus’ sexiest vehicle. With a 2+2 configuration like the Coupe, the rear seats are nevertheless even more cramped by the foldaway top — think of them more as a storage shelf. With the Coupe starting north of $93,000, expect the sure-to-be-production convertible to top the six-figure mark.

Payne’s take: The Darth Vader grille of the Lexus has been the centerpiece of the brand’s dramatic, polarizing design direction. It ain’t pretty — except on the LC sports car, where it fits nicely with the car’s organic lines. The LC Convertible adds more curb appeal by going topless, though the added weight will make this already-heavy cruiser even porkier. Still, if Lexus equips the Roadster with the same growling, 471-horse V-8 as the Coupe, the Convertible will make beautiful music with the top down.

Detroit auto show consumer guide: Sports cars

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 17, 2019

America is experiencing a second golden age of sports cars (the 1960s was the first). With gas prices low, the economy revvin’ and track events galore, there have never been more reasons for enthusiasts to push the performance envelope.

And what an envelope. The Detroit auto show will feature everything from a $25,000 Subaru BRZ to the $500,000 Ford GT supercar. The absence of Europe’s luxury brands on the Cobo floor will mean less eye-candy this year, but there are still plenty of roller skates to get your heart racing. Modern electronics are enabling hybridized cyborgs from the future — but are also allowing drivers to safely manage unheard-of 700-horsepower from old-fashioned V-8s.

What it is: This is the most powerful Mustang ever. Although Ford has yet to finalize the numbers, the GT500’s horsepower will eclipse 700 thanks to a supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 nicknamed the Predator. But there’s more here than just predatory acceleration numbers. The wicked-looking pony comes with a Track Pack option that adds aero bits — including a huge rear wing — to 12-inch gummy tires and 16.5-inch brakes to help this thing carve up apexes.

Payne’s take: The Ford Mustang is the best-selling sports car in the world, and Ford is determined to keep the hits coming. For the first time in 50 years, a powerful GT500 will be in showrooms alongside its legendary track-rat little brother, the GT350. But this time the GT500 is the total package as Ford takes aim squarely at crosstown rival Chevrolet’s 650-horse Camaro ZL1 1LE.

Toyota Supra

What it is: First seen at the 2014 Detroit show as the dazzling FT-1 Concept, the Supra is a dramatically styled two-seat, rear-wheel drive sports car. Sharing a chassis with the BMW Z4, the Supra brings super handling with weight distributed 50-50 front-to-rear. Under the sculpted hood is a 335-horse inline V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic. Four-pot, fast-stop Brembo brakes are standard. The interior is driver-centric with bolstered seats, a rotary-button infotainment controller and available heads-up display.

Payne’s take: The Supra slots in above the Toyota 86 as a premium sports car (see that BMW-developed engine, Nurburgring-tested portfolio) in the Toyota lineup. It re-establishes Toyota’s sports chops among Japanese rivals like the Acura NSX and Nissan GTR. The purposeful styling is unique, drawing on Toyota’s LeMans prototype for inspiration with narrow nose, big hips and aerodynamic trunk. A composite hatchback adds welcome cargo functionality.

Lexus RC F and RC F Track Edition

What it is: Lexus coupe’s F performance trim gets a mid-cycle upgrade with subtle design changes, light-weighting and an apex-carving track edition. Design upgrades include stacked front LED lights and more-chiseled tail lights. Launch control will boost standing-start zero-60 times to 4.2 seconds. That number drops below 4 seconds with the Track Edition, which is draped in lightweight carbon fiber from hood to roof to big rear wing. To go with all the cool black stuff outside, the Track Edition adds an all-red interior.

Payne’s take: The RC F is Japan’s version of the Detroit muscle car with a honkin’, stonkin’ 472-horse, 5.0-liter V-8 to wake up the neighbors. It goes like stink in a straight line, but its weight has been a liability — an issue the new Fs address with more aluminum, and in the case of the Track Edition, carbon fiber. Did you ever think ol’ vanilla Lexus would have a Track Edition? It’s not vanilla anymore.

Subaru Impreza WRX STI S209 

What it is: The S209 is special-edition track version of the superb, if aging, Subie WRX STI. The S209 is strapped down with multiple suspension tweaks and body braces to the STI’s already rally-tested bod — and brings a whopping 31 more horsepower to the Subie’s standard, 310-horse, 2.5-liter turbo-four. You’ll know it by the strut-mounted rear wing, which replaces the standard, curvy aerofoil.

Payne’s take: As Subie fan boys wait impatiently for the all-new STi, based on the superb, stiffened bones of the current Impreza, Subie is slaking their thirst with special models like the S209. The S follows last year’s RA-Type, which jacked up the horsepower to 325, but was generally panned as not being “more” enough.

Detroit auto show consumer guide: Sedans

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 17, 2019

Sedans have taken a backseat to SUVs in U.S. market share. The iconic BMW 3-series, for example, is now outsold by the boxier X3 sport ute. The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have gotten sexier remakes in recent years to emphasize the inherent beauty of the low sedan shape, but even they are outsold by SUVs in the lineup.

Detroit brands are leaving the U.S. sedan market, but Asian and European automakers see an opportunity with sedans to bring in new customers.

What it is: The Prius family gets its first all-wheel drive for northern climates like Michigan. The feat is accomplished by changing from lithium-ion batteries to nickel metal-hydride (better for cold weather) and adding an electric motor to the rear (look ma, no prop shaft to the rear to save interior space). Mileage suffers a bit compared to front-wheel drive, but it still hits the magic 50 mpg number. Other upgrades include refreshed styling for a less-angry face and black console to replace that blinding white-porcelain sink look.

Payne’s take: Rejoice, northern tree-huggers, the all-wheel drive Prius has arrived! Don’t expect Jeep Wrangler off-road capability, though. For a $1,400 premium over a standard $25,000 Prius, the all-wheel drive system is designed to optimize grip on snowy roads, not traverse the Yukon. The all-wheel drive system reverts to front-wheel drive (unless necessary for added grip) over 6 miles per hour, and ceases working altogether over 43 miles per hour. With Prius, fuel economy is always the priority.

Volkswagen Passat

What it is: The roomy Passat gets styling and interior upgrades for 2020, though it maintains the car’s aging, eight-year-old NMB architecture rather than shifting to VW’s modern MQB chassis that undergird its Golf and Jetta brethren. Premium styling updates include a new fascia and “Passat” letters across the trunk lid. A big, standard eight-inch screen dominates a redesigned upscale dash. Power comes from the good ol’ 174-horse turbo-4 mated to a 6-speed tranny. Alas, the optional 280-horse V-6 has been put out to pasture.

Payne’s take: Detroit automakers are shelving their sedan lineups, the Japanese are all in with all-new cars … and, well, VW is somewhere in between. The Passat is a half-hearted upgrade as VW won’t retool its Tennessee plant for production on the brand’s sensational MQB chassis. Clearly, VW doesn’t see the payback in the U.S. market on the investment. I drove the MQB-based version of Passat in Europe a few years back and it was sensational — an Audi in V-dub clothing with nimble handling and digital instrumentation. The new Passat will soldier on in the U.S. market, but it’s not the best VW can do.

Lincoln Continental Coach Door Edition

What it is: For Lincoln’s 80th anniversary (the nameplate got its start as an exclusive car made for Edsel Ford in 1939), the Continental will produce a special edition on 80 cars with rear coach doors — popularly known as suicide doors — which are hinged toward the back. The car will be fully loaded to Black Label specs, including 30-way front seats, acres of white leather and a 400-horse, twin-turbo V-6. Price: north of $100,000.

Payne’s take: Lincoln’s got its groove back with the sexy Navigator and Aviator SUVs, and the flagship Continental is getting in on the action. The sedan joins the Rolls-Royce family (which debuted its suicide door-equipped Cullinan SUV at the exclusive Gallery showing ahead of the auto show) as the only vehicle in production equipped with suicide doors. To prevent the doors from dangerously swinging open at speed, they won’t operate over 2 miles per hour.

Detroit auto show consumer guide: SUVs and crossovers

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 17, 2019

The automotive landscape has been transformed by SUVs since the Great Recession. Essentially the rebirth of station wagons — except more rugged-looking and riding higher for better visibility — the five-door box is America’s family favorite.

New utes abound at this year’s show as automakers try to fill every niche from subcompact SUVs to giant, soccer-team haulers. Here are the latest in Detroit.

Ford Explorer

What it is: Where to begin? The best-selling SUV of all-time has been redesigned from stem to stern. Shared with Lincoln’s Aviator, the three-row SUV chassis is now rear-wheel drive biased with all-wheel drive optional. Extensive use of aluminum saves 300 pounds, which will assist first-ever ST performance and fuel-efficient hybrid models. Inside, the Explorer bristles with high-tech gadgets from one-button park-assist to third-row access with the touch of one button. The Explorer is immediately recognizable by its signature “flying c-pillar,” but the front grille is deeper with more-integrated headlights.

Payne’s take: The Explorer has always been a poor man’s Range Rover, and now with its Rover-like rear-wheel drive chassis it is more Rover-like than ever. Standard features abound, including blind-spot assist and auto high-beams. But load up the handsome $55,000 Platinum trim with seven drive-modes and park-assist. and you have Rover specs for half the price.

Cadillac XT6

What it is: The three-row XT6 is Cadillac’s first non-truck based, three-row ute. It slots in between Caddy’s best-selling XT5 and the GM pickup-based Escalade. Based on the same architecture as the smaller XT5, the Cadillac nevertheless manages to carve out a third-row seat roomier than a base Escalade. A much-improved CUE infotainment system is standard with touchscreen and remote-rotary knob operation. The big rig is powered by a a 310-horse V-6 engine mated to 9-speed auto tranny.

Payne’s take: Every SUV that Cadillac introduces right now is important for a brand that is way behind in the SUV game. While the King of Bling Escalade will remain Cadillac’s SUV flagship, expect the XT6 to draw more buyers looking for better fuel economy, ride and park-ability. The XT6 faces formidable competition from the Audi Q7 and reborn crosstown-rival Lincoln — but it should be a winner if priced right.

Lincoln Aviator

What it is: Lincoln likes to talk about the owner experience, not Nürburgring lap times. Call it “quiet flight.” Approach the Aviator and the mirror projects an image of the Lincoln logo on the ground. The doors unlock. The car kneels to help you get in if you opt for air suspension. Open the door and a chime recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra plays. As for the oily bits, the Aviator will be powered by a healthy turbo V-6 pumping out 400 horses mated to a smooth, 10-speed tranny.

Payne’s take: Call it Navigator Jr. Like its extravagant big brother, the Aviator wraps you in luxury with 30-way massaging seats and tasteful touches like a tablet screen. But the Lincoln shouldn’t be shy about its chassis engineering, either. Its platform is rear-wheel-drive based (with all-wheel drive optional), which gives it Range Rover proportions, good towing capacity and lots of rear cargo room. Lincoln touts the plug-in hybrid version as the most powerful in the segment with 450 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque.

Kia Telluride

What it is: Following sister-brand Hyundai’s jump into the three-row crossover space with the Palisade (first time in Detroit after its Los Angeles Auto Show debut), Kia introduces its own jumbo-ute. Built at the same Georgia plant as Kia’s stylish mid-size Sorento SUV, the Telluride has a more rugged view with boxier styling and a more-powerful turbo engine option.

Payne’s take: While producing sexy sedans like the Stinger coupe and Optima, Kia is keeping up with the Joneses with another family ute. The Telluride brings Kia’s stylish look to a growing segment with household names like the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. Boxier than its elegant Sorento sister, this bro brings an off-road Jeep Wagoneer vibe a year ahead of the Wagoneer’s expected intro. Ride it on Cobo’s Telluride Torque Track.

Kia Niro EV

What it is: The third member of the Niro crossover family after the gas-engine and plug-in hybrid versions is a 239-mile-range EV. You’ll know it by its closed-off cheese-grater grille and blue accents. True to Kia’s vibe, it promises fun-to-drive characteristics like a regenerative paddle on the steering wheel so you can bring the car to a stop without ever touching the brake pedal.

Payne’s take: The 239-mile range of the Niro EV (subtract about 30 percent in Michigan winter) is Kia’s answer to the Chevrolet Bolt hatchback. The front-wheel drive EV offers an impressive 291 pound-feet of torque and can be fully recharged in about 10 hours if you have a 240-volt charger in your garage. Expect a price around $38,000 before federal tax credits.

Kia Soul

What it is: The third generation of Kia’s compact hamster-mobile makes its first Detroit appearance after bowing in at the Los Angeles show. The exterior gets a cool, edgy remake with thinner headlights, horizontal upper grille and rad boomerang tail lights. The signature “island” remains in the rear hatch. The roomy millennial-friendly interior is less changed while offering lots of safety features like blind-spot assist and adaptive cruise-control. New X-line and GT-Line trims are added — the latter primed for performance when matched with the top-of-the-line 201-horse turbo mill. The base engine squeezes out 147 ponies and has a hamster-friendly $18,000 starting price.

Payne’s take: Long live the box! The Kia Soul has proven resilient as other cubes hit the ditch: Nissan Cube, Scion xB, Honda Element. The third-generation Soul looks poised to boogie on with a stylish exterior remake, two sporty trims and a peppy turbo-4 option. Alas, weary winter-weather wanderers, the Soul doesn’t get all-wheel drive. For that, you’ll have to get the slightly more conventional-looking Kona ute.

Detroit auto show consumer guide: Smaller show, big acts

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 17, 2019

People check out the vehicles and other attractions in the Ford Motor Company exhibit space at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in Detroit on Wednesday, January 16, 2019.

The 2019 Detroit auto show is diminished this year, a victim of the exodus of foreign luxury-makers and the transition to a new June format 18 months from now.

But though this year’s show speaks softly, it carries big sticks.

From the ferocious Ford Mustang GT500 to the stump-pulling Ram Heavy Duty pickup to the long-awaited return of the Toyota Supra sports car, Cobo Center is full of the good ol’ muscle the event has long been known for. It’s also a family-fun destination with utes galore and enough rides, rope courses (yes, rope courses) and high-tech to keep the young ‘uns stimulated the whole afternoon.

Enter Cobo from the Washington Boulevard Garage/Cobo Roof into Hall A and it’s not immediately apparent that anything has changed.

The aisle between the Ford and Chevy exhibits is like a moat between warring armies: Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs and pickups bristle like heavy artillery. But while GM’s stand looks familiar from last year, Ford has a fresh look to go with its new state-of-the-art Mustang and Explorer weapons.

The stand is arranged with “shipping containers” full of product: an F-150 over here, a ‘Stang GT500 over there. In the middle of it all is a huge stage that re-creates — twice-an-hour — Ford’s media reveal of its all-new GT500 and Explorer. The simulated helicopter drop of the GT500 is not to be missed.

The second floor of the old Ford exhibit is gone, replaced by the “Ford Scramble Net” ropes course and virtual-reality Explorer drive. The kids will spend hours crisscrossing the roped net dangled high above the floor. Or you can pack the whole family into the Explorer, strap on virtual-reality goggles, and take an 11-minute ride into America’s national parks.

Behind the Ford exhibit is Fiat Chrysler’s display, once the envy of the show with its floor-to-ceiling, Times Square-like light displays. This year’s exhibit is de-tuned, though the product is not with enough Hellcat, SRT and Ram horsepower to blow the roof off Cobo.

There are plenty of themes to watch for. Here are my favorites.

Muscle Beach

The Dodge display ripples with biceps. Check out the 797-horsepower Challenger Red Eye.

But the new kid on the beach is the Ford Mustang GT500. This isn’t your father’s snake. Past GT500s were Woodward Avenue dragsters that left track-carving to the GT350. The new generation is an all-around athlete aimed squarely at the hyper-speed Camaro ZL1 1LE across the aisle.

If stump-pulling power is more to your taste, the Ram Heavy Duty 3500 generates 1,000 pound-feet of torque. That magic number bests every pickup in the business, and Ram does it with the stylish design and interior that just won its 1500 sibling the North American Truck of the Year prize.

On the other side of Cobo is another tasty morsel. Toyota teased the next-gen of its legendary Supra with the FT-1 concept sports car five years ago. It followed through this year by bringing in Formula One superstar Fernando Alonso and Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda (the funniest CEO in auto today) to introduce the curvaceous, 335-horse, $50,000 Supra hatchback.

“It’s not just fun to drive,” the hip 62-year old CEO said. “It’s totally lit.”

Envy Auto Group is new to the main floor. The exotic-car dealer used to exhibit in the Cobo basement. They were brought upstairs to plug the space left by the exit of BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Porsche, Mini-Cooper, et al.

But what a collection of cars Envy has: McLaren 570S, Ferrari 488, Lamborghini Huracan, Aston Martin Vantage S. It has the exotics usually only seen in the exclusive $500-a-ticket gallery gala at the MGM Grand casino that takes place before the show.

It’s a reminder that whatever the show’s circumstances, show-goers come to see the hardware.

Ute nation

We show-goers love glitz, but sport utilities pay the bills. There are new utes everywhere you turn.

The Chevy Blazer is a knockout with Camaro-like, aviation-style climate vents. The rear-wheel drive based Ford Explorer has technology that will embarrass luxury cars costing twice as much. The Kia Telluride beats the Jeep Wagoneer to market as a rock-chewing, three-row SUV. Even China’s GAC brings two utes aimed at the U.S. market that it says it intends to enter.

My favorite crossroads in Cobo is between the Cadillac, Lincoln and Buick stands where Detroit’s newest three-row luxury-SUV entries can be compared face-to-face-to-face. Each brings seriously competitive vehicles (note the similarities between the new Cadillac XT6 and Buick Enclave). You will be blown away by Lincoln’s resurgence, including the Lincoln Aviator that debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and is being shown in Detroit for the first time.

Tech-tastic 

The merger of technology and autos is moving fast, and the Detroit show abounds with cutting-edge examples.

Toyota is going to flood the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo with autonomous cars and driverless pods. For a glimpse of what’s coming, check out the snow-white, lidar-crowned Lexus LS 500h.

Then there’s Nissan’s cool, autonomous IMs Concept with suicide doors, a retractable steering wheel and single rear throne for maximum comfort when the car is self-driving.

My favorite tech piece isn’t an automobile at all, but a two-seat, eight-rotor, hybrid chopper called the SureFly Octocopter. You’ll find it across from Lexus. Each of its eight rotors is controlled by electric motors, giving it drone-like maneuverability — and backup battery-power should the gas engine fail. Market target: 2022.

The kids will love it. Just as soon as you extract them from the Ford Scramble Net.

Payne: Where NACTOY awards went right… and wrong

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

People check out the 2019 Ram Power Wagon after its introduction Monday.

The 2019 North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year were announced Monday, and what you want to know, dear Detroit reader, is why we jurists voted Ram the King of Trucks. A lot of angry Chevy and GMC partisans are banging on my car window.

I’ll get to that.

But first, I feel like the movie fan who wonders how “Blade Runner 2049” or “Wonder Woman” didn’t get an Oscar nomination for best movie in 2018, but “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” did.

Similarly, my fellow NACTOY jurors snubbed some impressive, mainstream models for car and SUV of the year when voting for three finalists from each category.

Not that the finalists weren’t good cars. In this hyper-competitive age, today’s vehicles are remarkable pieces of hardware with even the cheapest compact getting technology and styling luxury-makers would have dreamed of last decade. Car nominee Honda Insight, for example, is light years beyond the first, 2000-model year Insight in style, power and capability.

But how did voters pass over the Mazda 6, a stylish mid-size sedan with luxury looks, great handling and technology for $20,000 less than a comparable Audi A6? The Mazda was the sedan I benchmark all cars to this year (along with the Honda Accord, which won 2018 Car of the Year).

The Mazda 6 was passed over for the Volvo S60 and Insight which are fine, but hardly class benchmarks. I voted for the eventual winner, Genesis G70, an impressive debut by Hyundai’s upstart luxury brand in the compact sedan segment. But, so good is the 250-horsepower Mazda, that I would buy it over the smaller, pricier 252-horse Genesis.

Even more puzzling were the finalists for utility of the year.

How does Jeep Wrangler not make the best movies — er, SUVs — list? The Jeep icon is an adventure film all in itself with astonishing off-road capability, an open-air interior and updated creature comforts for daily driving.

For 2019, the Jeep went on a 200-pound diet, introduced a turbo-4 engine with better fuel economy, and upgraded its best-in-class UConnect infotainment screen while not sacrificing its drop-the-front-window, lock-the-axles, let’s-rule-the Rubicon athleticism.

Wrangler, benchmark is thy name.

Other brands from Ford (Bronco) to Toyota (4Runner) covet the Jeep’s cred. Sure, the Jeep is pricey (a $2,500 premium bump from the last generation), but icons are like that.

Another hometown favorite of mine was the Cadillac XT4, the brand’s first compact SUV and a real find with class-competitive room, look-at-me styling and user-friendly infotainment. Alas, the bigger Acura RDX was an even more impressive bargain with sharp, AWD handling, standard moonroof and tech galore for an absurd $38,000.

In NACTOY’s tightest race to the wire the Acura got bronze (156 points) to the electric Jaguar I-Pace’s (181 points) silver and gold-medalist Hyundai Kona (202). The Kona’s affordable EV variant put it over the top with jurors.

Which brings us to the truck wars. What a heavyweight battle it was. Well, on paper anyway.

Ram, Chevy and GMC have been chasing Ford since 2015 when the F-series shocked autodom with an aluminum-bed truck. The Chevy Silverado responded with an even lighter truck, shedding 450 pounds while still rolling its brawny bed out of steel. Coupled with an upgraded V-8 that can run on one cylinder for fuel efficiency, the bow-tie bruiser was impressive.

The GMC got brother Chevy’s steel treatment, but the Sierra made its own headlines with a Swiss Army knife-like, “MutliPro” tailgate that could be configured six ways. To me, pickups are about the bed and the Sierra’s new benchmark plus sharp styling was my pick.

But my picky peers couldn’t get past the GM twins’ static interiors — little changed from last gen.

This is where Ram shined with good looks, a huge Tesla-like console screen and tech-terrific features like rotary shifter and adaptive cruise-control. The Ram has flown off the shelves and become the driveway pride of truck guys across the land.

Voting wasn’t even close, with the Ram pounding the General’s boys into the ropes with a total of 407 points versus just 69 for the Chevy and 64 for the GMC. Ouch.

I have to say, the Ram would look really good in my garage — right next to a Mazda 6.

 

Monster Mustang Shelby GT500 revealed at Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

The Mustang GT500 is revealed Monday at the North American International Auto Show media preview at Cobo Center.

Detroit — Fear the Snake. Ford Motor Co. unveiled the most-powerful Mustang ever, the 700-plus horsepower Shelby GT500, at the Detroit auto show Monday morning.

The muscle car will take its place atop a Mustang lineup that includes a turbo-4 powered base Mustang, V-8 powered GT and high-revving GT350. For the first time in 50 years, the legendary GT350 and GT500 badges will be on sale together in Ford showrooms.

But where previous generations of the GT500 were drag-strip brutes compared to the more nimble, track-focused GT350, Ford says the third-generation GT500 will be an all-around athlete.

“Historically, the GT500 was about straight-line speed. Now this thing does everything — it’s a no-compromise muscle car,” said Ford Performance marketing chief Jim Owens. “Somewhere in heaven, Carroll Shelby is smiling. The GT500 was his favorite car.”

Shelby was the legendary performance guru who took Ford racing to another level in the 1960s with the LeMans-winning Ford GTs and steroid-pumped Mustangs. After the first GT500 was produced from 1967-1970, the badge was shelved until a 2007-13 production run.

The third-generation car takes aim squarely at the current king of muscle, the Chevy Camaro ZL1 and winged ZL1 1LE.

Like the 650-horsepower Camaro, the Mustang will get its 700-plus horses (the final number is still to be determined by Ford’s engineering team) from a massive supercharger atop of its V-8 engine. Engineers say the final torque number will be close to the Camaro’s 650.

The GT500 uses the same 5.2-liter block as the GT350’s 526-horsepower “Voodoo” V-8 (Ford engines get menacing nicknames). But its unique “Predator” engine will forgo Voodoo’s exotic flat-plane crankshaft, opting for a more familiar cross-plane crank instead.

Hyundai scores auto show double award, Ram is king of trucks

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

Reid Bigland, head of Ram brand, accepts the award for the 2019 North American Truck of the Year for the Ram 1500 on Monday in Detroit.Ram won the Detroit truck wars to take the North American Truck of the Year Monday, but Korea’s Hyundai dominated the car and SUV awards.

Genesis, Hyundai’s young luxury arm, won for car with its compact G70 sedan. Then its parent brand followed with SUV of the Year for the Hyundai Kona. It’s the first time an automaker has won two awards since Chevrolet won the car and truck awards in 2014.

It also establishes Hyundai as a multi-threat Asian automaker on par with Honda, Toyota, and Nissan which also have award-winning mainstream and luxury divisions. Honda and its Acura brand were also finalists in this year’s competition.

The prestigious North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year awards — celebrating its 30th anniversary — kicked off the Detroit auto show at Cobo Hall.

The Ram 1500 held off the General Motors siblings, the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, to take truck honors.

“Consumers are seeing the same thing this jury saw in the Ram truck,” said RAM chief Reid Bigland. “In the last three months sales were up 20 percent and in the last month sales were up a whopping 47 percent.”

The Ram truck wowed jurors with its sculpted styling, tablet-like infotainment screen, and tech-tastic standard features. The truckmaker hopes to ride its NACTOY success into the launch of its heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 models which RAM is touting with a staggering 1000 pound-feet of torque at this year’s show. The GMC Sierra also impressed the jury with its six-way, MultiPro tailgate.

The Genesis G70 beat out the Honda Insight and Volvo S90, an impressive accomplishment for a young brand competing against giants like BMW and Audi. The Nurburgring-tested G70 impressed jurors with its nimble handling, manual-exclusive Sport model, and affordable price.

“This is very meaningful for us. This is only our third year as a brand and this really means a lot,” said Genesis North America brand chief Manfred Fitzgerald as he accepted the award on stage.

The Hyundai Kona compact SUV, which starts at just $20,000, bested the more premium Jaguar I-Pace electric car and Acura RDX. Loaded with standard features, solid handling and a long-range EV model, the volume-selling Kona proved irresistible to buyers over the lux brands.

“This is very unexpected,” said William Lee, Hyundai North American boss. “We developed the Kona to be stylish and comfortable with an electric version that has over 250 miles of range.”

NACTOY President Lauren Fix was also surprised by the Hyundai’s win.

“We knew the G70 and Ram would be tough to beat,” said the popular author of The Car Coach website, “but I was really shocked by the Hyundai. It packs great utility as a great price.”

The NACTOY awards, called the Oscars of the auto industry, are the only U.S. prizes judged by an independent panel of TV, Internet, and print journalists from across North America. The jury, including the author of this article, convenes every fall to drive the best new model year cars — then winnows the list down to three finalists from each category.

Finalists are announced at the LA Auto Show in November before the Detroit show.

FCA debuts new Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty pickups

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

People check out the 2019 Ram Power Wagon after its introduction Monday.

Detroit — The Ram 1500 pickup picked up the 2019 North American Truck of the Year trophy to open the 2019 Detroit auto show, and the brand will look to build on that success with its redesigned heavy-duty pickups.

Boasting a stunning, best-in-segment, 1,000 pound-feet of torque from its turbo-diesel engine, the Ram 2500 and 3500 debuted Monday in Cobo Hall.

“Manufacturers like to come to the Detroit auto show and go big,” said Ram chief Reid Bigland on Ram’s big stage. “Well, you don’t get much bigger than the Ram 2500 and 3500.”

Ram also rolled out a brooding, luxurious 2500 Laramie Black edition as well as a turf-pounding Power Wagon model. The Power Wagon features front and rear locking axles, and front detachable sway-bar for serious off-roading.

Long the third-place finisher in the truck wars, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has said it is looking to unseat at least one of its hometown competitors. After the success of the high-tech, luxurious light-duty Ram 1500, the 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty are engineered and designed to steal market share from FCA rivals Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co.

Ram came out swinging last year at the North American International Auto Show with a completely redesigned 1500, which gave GM and Ford a run in 2018.

The big Rams are the first heavy-duty trucks to cross the 1,000 torque threshold with a new 400-horsepower 6.7-liter Cummins High Output Turbo Diesel engine available on five of the six trims

“We are looking to raise the bar across the board,” Bigland said. “It starts by taking the performance barrier and shattering it. This is the most powerful heavy-duty trick. Ever. We are announcing power that some thought was not even possible a few years ago.”

Standard on the Ram heavy-duty trucks is a 6.4-liter, 410-horsepower Hemi V-8, which delivers 429 pounds-feet of torque. The highest-performing trucks can tow up to 35,100 pounds and haul 7,680 pounds of payload.

The Ram 2500 and 3500 carry over the big-rig styling on the outside, with a 30-percent larger grille that’s more aerodynamic.

Active noise cancellation, anti-vibration devices and acoustic glass make for a quieter cabin, the company says, so the truck doesn’t sacrifice comfort for capability. Interior noise has been reduced by 10 decibels. The standard, gas-powered, 6.4-liter V-8 delivers power through a new class-exclusive TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic. Ram says a new suspension with frequency-response damping shocks improves ride quality.

“No longer do you have to drive a heavy-duty and beat yourself to hell,” Bigland said.

The 12-inch touchscreen that debuted on the light-duty trucks will be featured on all six of the heavy-duty trims — starting with the Tradesman work truck and working up to the more luxurious Laramie Longhorn and Limited models. The screen is now leveraged for utility in the heavy-duty trucks, clustering more of the controls in one place.

“All of the controls that are customary to somebody hauling a large trailer will be right there at the driver’s fingertips,” Bigland said.

A redesigned center console has 12 storage configurations. Leather and wood-grain come with the higher-end heavy models. The Laramie Longhorn trim, for instance, will have barn-wood accents, metal buckles on seatback pockets, and wrapped and stitched leather throughout the interior.

Ram pickup sales, including light- and heavy-duty models, increased 7 percent in 2018 to 536,980 to capture 18 percent of the pickup market. In the last month alone, sales were up 47 percent. That’s on the heels of Chevrolet’s Silverado that sold 585,581 units, while the Ford sold 909,330 F-Series trucks.

Fiat Chrysler will build the new heavy-duty pickups at its plant in Saltillo, Mexico, where the previous-generation heavy-duty trucks will be immediately phased out. A manufacturing spokeswoman for the automaker says it still plans to bring heavy-duty production to Warren in 2020, but CEO Mike Manley has said he is rethinking that strategy.

The Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty go on sale in the second quarter.

Cadillac XT6 makes live debut ahead of Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

From left, Tennessee Gov.-Elect Bill Lee, Cadillac President Steve Carlisle, current Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee Commissioner for the Dept. of Economic and Community Development Bob Rolfe, and Cadillac Design Executive Director Andrew Smith gather around the newly unveiled 2020 Cadillac XT6 Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019 at the Garden Theater in Detroit.

Detroit — The Escalade’s stylish little brother, the Cadillac XT6, made its live debut Sunday at the Garden Theater ahead of the Detroit auto show.

Cadillac’s first unibody three-row SUV, based on the same architecture as the two-row XT5, will play an important role in the Detroit luxury brand’s growing SUV lineup.

Through clever packaging the XT6 manages to add third-row of seating to the 112.5-inch wheelbase of the XT5 with more legroom than the base, 116-inch wheelbase Escalade.

The 2020 XT6, however, is smaller in cargo and legroom than its three-row GM siblings, Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse. It sets itself apart from those offerings with Cadillac style and technology. The big crossover will feature the latest application of Caddy’s CUE infotainment system with touchscreen-and-remote-rotary dial operation, electronic dampers and a standard panoramic sunroof.

“The XT6 takes the Escalade’s scale down to an everyday package,” says Andrew Smith, Cadillac’s global design chief. The family-hauler will compete in a dog-eat-poodle segment that includes the the Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and crosstown rival Lincoln Aviator.

Built on the same bones as the Chevy Silverado pickup, the hulking bling-tastic Escalade has long been GM’s SUV icon — a favorite of well-heeled suburbanites and rappers alike. With the XT6, Cadillac fills out its soccer mom-oriented crossover lineup with the XT5 and compact XT4 below it.

“The XT6 is exactly what Cadillac needs at exactly the right time,” said Brian Moody, an automotive analyst for Cox Automotive. “Expected to be more affordable than the Escalade, the XT6 fits perfectly between that full-size SUV and the smaller XT5.”

Like its retiring sedan compatriot CT6 (Caddy sedans use the CT moniker, while XT applies to SUVs), the XT6 offers the biggest canvas to apply its Escala concept-inspired design. The XT6’s fascia plants the Escala’s large grille/thin LED headlight sculpture to an upright SUV fascia. Vertical LED running lights on the front corners maintain Cadillac’s signature vertical design cues and will make it instantly recognizable at night.

RELATED REPORT: Cadillac shows new EV as brand looks to electric future

Spanning the XT6’s 16-foot-5-inch length, bold shoulder lines extend over standard 20-inch wheels. Out back, the XT6 eschews the Escalade’s vertical taillights for more modest T-shaped lamps.

“The taillights are more like the CT6,” says designer Smith. “All our SUVs have their own unique appearance.”

Unlike the CT6, which pioneered an all-new, rear-wheel drive, mixed-material chassis, the XT6 will be built on the familiar bones of other GM SUVs. Its horizontally mounted, 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 engine — the only offering for now — is also common to the smaller XT5. Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive as an option.

In contrast, Lincoln’s all-new three-row Aviator — which will show in Detroit for the first time this week — boasts a RWD platform shared with the Ford Explorer.

The XT6 adopts Cadillac’s new, simplified trim offerings of Sport and Premium models. The Premium model will feature a crest-crusted grille and prominent chrome trim, while the Sport model will carry a more macho, blacked-out theme with black-mesh grille, black window trim and black-rimmed tail lights.

Sport is the pricier of the two trims as it gets standard upgrades like all-wheel drive, electronic shocks and quicker steering to aid its athletic aspirations. The AWD system packs sophisticated, twin clutches in the rear that electronically direct 100 percent of torque to either rear wheel in order to prevent tire slippage in, say, icy conditions.

Inside accents will differ depending on trim, with the Premium available with four species of exotic woods and the Sport outfitted with black leather and carbon-fiber inserts.

The XT6 console will show off the latest in Cadillac User Experience, aka CUE. The system was maligned for its maddening haptic-touch interface when it debuted on the 2014 CTS sedan. The new system offers the choice of operating the infotainment screen by touch or rotary dial. The new CUE debuted on the XT4 this year, and the XT6 upgrades the dial with BMW-like jog functionality for better menu navigation.

The Cadillac’s electronic, 9-speed shifter ditches cable operation and opens up purse-friendly storage underneath the console.

The third rows is easily accessed via a one-pull tab that tips and slides the middle seats. A standard, two-pane, panoramic roof stretches across the cabin.

As is common now on luxury as well as mainstream vehicles, the Caddy comes with a basket of standard safety features including blind-spot assist, automatic emergency-braking, automatic windshield wipers and lane-keep-assist. Optioning a radar and a driver-assist package brings gizmos like adaptive cruise-control. An available visibility Tech Package adds features like heads-up-display, rear-view camera mirror and park-assist into parallel parking spots.

Pricing will be available closer to when XT6 hits showroom floors this summer. The XT6 is assembled in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

Steph Curry’s Infiniti concept slam dunk ahead of Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

NBA basketball superstar Stephen Curry got the Detroit auto show reveals rolling from California on Friday with a sneak peak of the Infiniti QX Inspiration concept that will debut in Cobo Center Monday.

NBA basketball superstar Stephen Curry got the Detroit auto show reveals rolling from California on Friday with a sneak peek of the Infiniti QX Inspiration concept that will debut in Cobo Center Monday.

The viral selfie — which the Golden State Warrior guard posted to his Facebook and Twitter pages — is an indication of how social media is changing auto shows. Automakers are increasingly debuting products way beyond the traditional show floor in order to get exclusive attention.

Like Infiniti’s assist to Curry and his 8.2 million Facebook followers and 13 million Twitter followers.

“I got a nice little sneak peek of the QX Inspiration — they brought it in my driveway. This is absolutely insane,” said Curry. He’s an Infiniti spokesman who has done a TV ad with a QX50 crossover.

The QX is an electric concept that follows the sexy Q Inspiration sedan that Infiniti brought to the Detroit show a year ago. Infiniti says the models represent a new era of electrification for the brand.

With its batteries in the floor, the QX Inspiration showcases a palatial, lounge-like interior. Curry was impressed.

“An amazing futuristic approach that looks like you’re in first class in a nice airline,” Curry said.

An Infiniti rep couldn’t have said it better on a Cobo stage.

Lexus tests a sexy LC Convertible Concept coupe

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

The Lexus LC Convertible Concept will make its debut at the 2019 North American International Auto Show.

Just days ahead of the Detroit auto show, Lexus released photos and specs on a Convertible Concept version of its gorgeous LC coupe.

Dressed in 22-inch wheels and white leather seats with yellow stitching, the topless LC brings even more drama to Lexus’ sexiest vehicle. Judging from photographs, the roadster looks close to production, although Lexus was skimpy on product details like which drivetrain it will house.

The rear-wheel drive LC 500 coupe currently employs a throaty 471-horse V-8 and also offers a 354-horse hybrid option powered by a V-6 engine and two electric motors. With a 2+2 configuration like the coupe, the convertible’s rear seats look to be cramped by the foldaway top, making them more appropriate for storage than passengers.

The convertible sports Lexus’ huge signature spindle grille, which is nicely integrated with the car’s flowing lines and broad hips.

“This concept takes the unmistakable design of the LC coupe and re-imagines it as a future convertible,” said chief designer Tadao Mori.

Expect the drop-top to be heavier than the 4,380-pound LC coupe, but nicely mannered given its state-of-the-art suspension and chassis engineering. The coupe starts north of $93,000 so the roadster will surely eclipse six-figures.

The car will have its live debut Monday afternoon at the North American International Auto Show, alongside an updated RC F coupe.

Once Cadillac’s show-horse, CT6 limps to its last Detroit show

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

The 2016 Cadillac CT6 at the 2015 New York International Auto Show.

For four years, the Cadillac CT6 has been the brand’s show-horse. From New York to Detroit to Los Angeles, the flagship has introduced the latest in Cadillac technology, electronics, engines, even nomenclature. Yet, in a sign of how quickly sedans have fallen from grace in the U.S. – and how Cadillac has struggled to gain market traction — the CT6 will take its final bow at this year’s auto show.

When the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant idles indefinitely this summer, the CT6 will cease production and relinquish its halo.

While Cadillac continues to try to reinvent itself as a cutting-edge luxury maker worthy of  taking on the Teutonic trinity of Mercedes, BMW and Audi, the loss of the CT6 leaves a void. Its passing not only buries the brand’s most ambitious automobile, but also, ironically, passes the flag to its oldest ship — the Chevy pickup-based Escalade SUV.

Cadillac will take the first step to fill the void in Detroit on Sunday with the introduction of another three-row sport utility, the XT6 — the first three-row ute based on a unibody  from the brand. But the front-wheel drive based XT6 reportedly will be built on the same bones as the Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave, a far cry from the CT6’s sophistication.

It’s not clear yet what kind of technology the XT6 will include when it reveals at the Winter Garden Theater in Detroit on Sunday, but Cadillac has said it will start expanding the hands-free driving technology across the lineup in 2020.

It is hard to underestimate the role the CT6 played in Cadillac’s reinvention.

The sleek sedan was unveiled ahead of the 2015 New York Auto Show just six months after Cadillac moved its headquarters to the Big Apple. The CT6 was introduced at Cadillac House in the city’s Soho neighborhood.

At the time, its highly-touted president Johan de Nysschen, ex-captain of Audi’s U.S. success story, proclaimed: “The CT6 is nothing less than an entirely new approach to premium luxury — and an approach only Cadillac can offer. It is a bold endeavor that reignites a passion for driving in large luxury vehicles. In short, it is prestige luxury re-imagined.”

It was also Cadillac re-imagined.

The lightweight, rear-wheel drive based Caddy was an engineering tour de force. Its aluminum-intensive “Omega” architecture was a study in materials engineering as it combined high-strength steel and aluminum. It used laser welding and jet fighter-like steel adhesives. Despite being a size segment above Cadillac’s mid-size CTS, it tipped the scales at the same 3,700 pounds. Its tear-drop LED headlights were a new look. As were its all-new V-6 engines.

“The CT6 is the finest car we have ever made,” says Cadillac of Novi General Manager Ed Pobur matter-of-factly. Cadillac of Novi is the country’s largest Cadillac dealer.

Body shops had to be Cadillac-certified to handle the space-age materials repairs. The list of new gadgets pioneered by the CT6 was exhausting. Among them:

  • The first rear-view inside camera-mirror offering the driver an unobstructed view behind the car
  • A console touchpad that could recognize handwriting
  • A heat-sensing Enhanced Night Vision system

The flagship sedan also reset Cadillac’s three-letter nomenclature, replacing it with the alphanumeric CT6, which would be followed by smaller CT5, CT4, etc., sedans. (Along the same lines, SUVs would be designated XT6, XT5, and so on.)

The innovation kept coming.

For the 2017 New York show, CT6 introduced SuperCruise, a bold leap into semi-autonomous driving that allowed extended, hands-free driving on divided highways and interstates using a cocktail of infrared, radar, GPS and mapping technologies.

Cadillac promised the technology would trickle down through its lineup. GM said in June it plans to expand SuperCruise across the Cadillac lineup starting in 2020, and later to other GM brands.

Then, just last year, de Nysschen used New York’s stage to spotlight a fresh 550-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 mill in the CT6 called the Blackwing. Naturally, the super-CT6 used the occasion to unwrap a new performance badge called V-Sport.

Then suddenly, the CT6 was sunk, swept away by GM’s November announcement shuttering the Hamtramck plant and four others to restructure costs. GM is abandoning its New York headquarters and retreating back to Michigan. De Nysschen is gone.

“The issue is that sedan sales just keep falling,” IHS Market auto analyst Stephanie Brinley said of the Hamtramck plant that also makes the slow-selling Chevy Volt, Chevy Impala and Buick Lacrosse. “You can’t justify keeping a plant open to do just one vehicle.”

The CT6 is also made in China. Brinley believes the already-unlikely possibility of importing it is made more remote by the U.S.-China tariff spat.

Cadillac says Hamtramck will have enough inventory after it shutters CT6 production in the second quarter to supply dealers for the rest of the model year. GM will continue to service vehicles with new parts.

Cadillac of Novi’s Pobur laments the CT6’s passing, but says his dealership moved just five to 10 a month. Despite being competitive with its German rivals in sales, it was outsold in 2018 by the Escalade SUV nearly 4-to-1.

Brinley says that when the 2020 Escalade debuts later this year (built on the same all-new lightened pickup chassis as the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra), it will inherit the CT6 tech halo. Speculation centers on possible upgrades like a 48-volt battery system or perhaps plug-in hybrid model.

A Cadillac spokesperson says that despite the demise of the CT6, Cadillac is still committed to four-door cars. “We’re not abandoning sedans, but retooling our Lansing plant to make replacements for the CTS and ATS cars.”

Those midsize and compact cars are expected to be called, respectively, the CT5 and CT4. They are part of Cadillac’s commitment to refresh its lineup with a new vehicle every six months through 2020.

Just don’t expect a CT6 to be among them.

Payne: Porsche Cayenne gets brains with its brawn

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 10, 2019

Cayenne Fr3 4

I shouldn’t be able to go this quickly in a big ute.

Through the writhing, undulating valley roads of northern California, I whipped the all-new 2019 Porsche Cayenne five-door steed. The 10-piston brakes pulled the eyeballs out from my head. The laser-like steering placed the beast — there! — at the apex. Ample torque to all four wheels helped power-drift on exit.

Cayenne’s sports car-like handling comes naturally. After all, its father is the Porsche 911, the best-handling supercar on the planet.

Payne, have you gone mad? Flogging a 4,300-pound SUV through the wilderness?

Well, the world has gone crazy for a while now. Blame Stuttgart, which in 2003 went off the sports-car reservation (some thought off its rocker) and invented the Cayenne, a midsize performance SUV. Like driving each new generation of the $100,000 Porsche 911, I make it a point to get in the latest Cayenne cyborg because, for two decades it has been the standard by which all performance SUVs are judged.

The uber-ute was infused with Porsche DNA reaching back to the famous LeMans-winning 906 and 908 prototypes I once piloted on the vintage racing circuit. The Cayenne was big, heavy … but unmistakably the Porsche of its class.

Customers gobbled it up.

The more consumers grinned, the more the executive suite smiled. The Cayenne made Porsche sustainable by expanding its demographic beyond hard-core sports car enthusiasts — and providing a steady stream of income to fuel the brand’s essential, brand-defining motorsports efforts.

Over the last 15 years, nearly every performance brand has followed Porsche’s lead. Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari. Your humble News columnist has urged Corvette to build utes.

But most of the aforementioned brands have built compact SUVs to help craft an automotive oxymoron: nimble SUV. Even Porsche, which in 2012 introduced the compact Macan (the brand’s best-seller in the best-selling luxury segment).

Which makes the Cayenne in my hands all the more remarkable. This is a midsize SUV built on the same platform as Audi’s three-row Q7, for goodness sake.

The first-generation Cayenne was a pig in tennis shoes. At a rotund 4,800 pounds (the same weight as a base Ford F-150) it was a locomotive in a straight line — but also was a heavy locomotive in the corners. Porsche had engineered the Cayenne with the rugged outdoors in mind, a place customers rarely ventured. So for Gen 2 it concentrated on Porsche’s core principle: handling.

Job One became reduced mass and Cayenne 2.0 went on a 300-pound diet. I drove the all-wheel drive, 2015 Cayenne S back-to-back with an all-wheel drive VW Golf R hatchback and came away stupefied at how well it handled twisty mountain roads.

Cayenne 3.0 has further reduced the weight gap between the 3,300-pound Golf R by shedding another 120 pounds while maintaining the same wheelbase so my 6-foot-5-inch frame can slip comfortably into the rear seat. That’s still a lot of mass, but under its typically conservative exterior upgrade (save for the thin, horizontal tail lamp, the SUV is virtually indistinguishable from Cayenne 2.0), Porsche has brought major engineering improvements.

The mostly-tin skin now covers a 47-percent aluminum chassis. The front suspension has evolved to a sophisticated, multi-link setup to assist that precision e-steering, and the V-6 engine has been turbocharged to a healthy 340 horses and 331 pound-feet of torque (up 15 percent).

Speed freaks will get access to even more asphalt-gobbling toys when the Cayenne S and Turbo models come out next year: toys like four-wheel steering and 450- and 550-horsepower turbocharged mills and serious performance rubber.

But some of this sci-fi weaponry is also available on the base $68,000 V-6: Gadgets like the Sport Chrono package found on the Boxster and 911 speed demons.

Embedded in the steering column like Iron Man’s arc reactor, the Sport Chrono button glows red. Push it and the digital instrument panel begins a 20-second countdown. Countdown to do what?

Luffing along behind a semi-truck in sixth gear through the curvy Alexander Valley, a brief, dotted center-line straight stretch opens up. Push the button. Tiptronic tranny instantly shifts from sixth to third gear. Floor the throttle.

Zot!

I am past the semi in a flash — with 15 seconds more boost if I want to ingest other cars ahead. Call it push-to-pass like the Formula One technology. On the 550-horse Turbo I imagine it will take me across Michigan in about 30 minutes.

The arc reactor can also be used for standing-start launch control. Rotate its rim dial to Sport Plus. Floor brake and throttle simultaneously. Revs peg to 3,000. Release brake. Zot!

The Cayenne also has a toy for stopping: the 10-piston brake caliper. Stretching across the brake disc like a partial solar eclipse, the huge caliper provides instant stopping power for the 4,300-pound projectile.

In typical Porsche fashion, these accessories come alone — $1,200 for the Sports Chrono, $3,500 for the brakes. With sales of just 15,000 a year — roughly the same number as Ford F-150 Raptor sales — Porsche’s ethic is not unlike a high-end restaurant. Order fast food and choose your package — I’ll have No. 3 with two sides, drink and dessert, please. Order from Porsche Bistro and it is a la carte. Even adaptive cruise control. Happily, steering wheel is standard.

Porsche brings more innovation inside, though the results are mixed.

The performance brand long coasted on signature interior touches like left-hand key (just like the LeMans-winning racers!) and a console sleeve of performance buttons. But the electronic age has forced Porsche to catch up and it does so with stunning, digital, 10-inch and 12.3-inch color instrument and console displays with endless layers of customizable features.

My favorite is Auto Rest, which will channel the residual heat from your engine into the cabin so you can stay warm for 20 minutes in the parking lot even after the engine’s been turned off.

Ergonomics do not match the engineering. Haptic-screen control buttons are located awkwardly behind the monostable shifter. And 20th-century audio commands control the 21st-century features.

Overall, however, the machine’s pure joy on the road overcomes such minor grievances. For 80-grand, it is the Porsche of performance utes.

And if that’s too rich for your blood, then check out the similarly sized, $40,000 Ford Edge ST funbox. Another spawn of Porsche’s performance SUV revolution. Danke schön, Stuttgart.

2019 Porsche Cayenne

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $66,750 base including $1,050 destination fee ($84,240 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, turbocharged V-6

Power: 335 horsepower, 332 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.6 seconds (mfr.); Tow capacity: 7,750

Weight: 4,377 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: 19 city/23 highway/21 combined

Report card

Highs: I-can’t-believe-it’s-a-ute handling; tech-tastic features

Lows: Awkward console ergonomics; poor voice commands

Overall: 4 stars

No Detroit stand, no problem: Mercedes CLA debuts in Vegas

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 9, 2019

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Mercedes won’t be at the Detroit auto show this year, part of a mass exodus by European luxury brands. Detroit’s loss is Las Vegas’ gain.

The German brand is using the Consumer Electronics Show in Sin City this week to roll out the second generation of its redesigned entry-level CLA four-door coupe.

Six years ago, Mercedes pulled the wraps off the front-wheel drive CLA in Detroit. At $29,900 before destination fee, it was the cheapest Mercedes sedan then offered in the U.S.

In a rapidly changing landscape, automakers have more options today to introduce autos. The explosion of internet media and video streaming has allowed brands to showcase a new car to media outside the clutter of auto show floors.

The high profile of CES and favorable demographics of shows like New York and Los Angeles bring luxury automakers closer to their customers. Other foreign automakers expected to make news at CES this week include Nissan (the extended-range Nissan Leaf), Hyundai (Nexo hydrogen car) and Audi (infotainment system).

Mercedes says CES is ideal for the CLA’s debut because members of the news media are in Vegas to see the latest electronic innovations from chipmakers to automakers. Vehicle interiors have become digital devices on wheels. Mercedes wants to show off the evolved version of its MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment system, which made its debut on the CLA’s compact sibling, the A220, at the New York show last year.

With its emphasis on consumer tech toys, CES also offers a youthful customer demographic that Mercedes is trying to attract to its brand with the relatively affordable CLA.

“The new generation of compacts has made a key contribution to the rejuvenation and image change of the Mercedes-Benz brand,” said Mercedes in a statement. “At peak times, more than two-thirds of CLA buyers in the U.S. came from competitors. On average, CLA customers in the U.S.A. are around 10 years younger than the typical Mercedes-Benz customer.”

The German automaker has flooded our shores with an expanded SUV, sedan and sports car lineup this decade — often with a sedan and coupe offered in the same segment. Thus, the similarly sized A220 and CLA250 offer customers both a sedan and sexier coupe model for about the same price. Other examples include the GLC and GLC Coupe SUVs, and the GLE and GLE Coupe utes.

The Mercedes CLA is dramatically updated inside and out.

The CLA250 and A220 tout MBUX, which includes an “Interior Assistant” that responds to gesture controls to operate different interior features such as turning on a light when the driver reaches to open a purse in the passenger seat.

Interior Assistant also allows passengers to communicate to the vehicle with voice commands like Apple’s Siri or Samsung’s “Hey, Google.” Say “Hey, Mercedes” and the driver can ask specific navigation instructions like: “Find child-friendly Asian restaurants nearby with a 4-star rating which are neither Chinese nor Japanese.” Or Assistant will answer questions like: “What is the fat content of an avocado?”

Interior design has been upgraded after criticism that the first-gen car looked cheap with ill-fitting gaps and a tacked-on dash tablet. The new CLA features an electronic  instrument and infotainment display housed in a broad glass screen, just like upscale Mercedes.

The CLA Coupe’s exterior is still its calling card. Its long, fluid shape and star-logo grille echo signature features of the brand’s flagship S-class.

“As a four-door coupe, the new CLA intrigues with its puristic, seductive design,” says design boss Gorden Wagener. “The CLA Coupe has the potential to become a modern design icon.”

Significantly, Mercedes has upgraded CLA’s backside which appeared to sag. The 2020 CLA  tightens up the rear lines with bold haunches and higher, straighter tail-lamps.

Mercedes is light on engine details, but expect the CLA — which will also be offered with all-wheel drive — to share the same 188-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 as found in the A220. A fire-breathing, AMG CLA45 performance variant will likely push 400 horses.

When it goes on sale in late 2019, expect the price of the CLA to creep up from its current $34,095, a jump from the entry-level CLA of six years ago.

Bad guys, beware: Ford Interceptor reporting for duty

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 9, 2019

Police 2

Dearborn — Developing an all-new Ford Explorer SUV not only meant engineers could design a roomier, techier three-row ute for families — it also meant they could make a faster, leaner Police Interceptor to chase down the bad guys.

Ahead of the much anticipated Explorer’s debut next Wednesday at Ford Field, Ford gave media a sneak peak Friday at the tough Interceptor now being purchased by police agencies around the country.

This thing is a tank in gym shoes.

Like American consumers, police departments have moved to SUVs as their mainstay police vehicles given their rugged on-and-off-road abilities and five-door utility. Gone is the old Crown Vic sedan, though Ford still markets Ford Fusion Hybrids to police as well.

But with the addition of Explorer’s first-ever hybrid, the 2020 Police Interceptor now adds fuel economy to its benefits. Ford expects the Interceptor hybrid — equipped with a 3.3-liter V-6 mated to a 10-speed transmission — to get 24 mpg, a 41 percent improvement over the outgoing 3.7-liter V-6 Interceptor.

“We never do a police car on our own, because we get so many benefits from Ford’s production program,” says Interceptor vehicle engineer Allen Magolen, who works in the company’s police vehicle department. Ford currently provides about 65 percent of police vehicles in the US.

Police can buy a cheaper, 3.3-liter V-6-equipped Interceptor, but given the extended idling and long road miles logged by police units, the hybrid will make up its sticker premium in a year — that’s about $3,500 in annual fuel savings, Ford estimates. As a result, most police departments are opting for the hybrid.

The new Interceptor hybrid benefits, not only from the drive-train’s increased fuel economy, but from its added torque for performance.

In bruising track tests conducted by Michigan’s finest performance cops at Grattan Raceway outside Grand Rapids last summer, the 318-horsepower Interceptor hybrid was quicker than its V-8 Chevy and Dodge SUV competitors. Zero-60 blew by in just 7.27 seconds and 100 mph in 17.69 seconds.

Only the Police Interceptor equipped with a third drivetrain option — the same 400-horse, 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6 monster found under the hood of the forthcoming Explorer ST — was quicker. The latter clipped the zero-60 tape in a breathtaking 5.7 seconds (100 mph came in just 13.59 seconds).

Ford says the turbo is preferred by western police departments that have to do prolonged, high-speed interstate chases. Crooks are going to have a tough time out-running this ute.

In addition to new drivetrains, the Interceptor achieves its performance numbers by going on a 200-pound diet, the result of the Explorer’s extensive use of aluminum and lightweight steel. With suspension and drivetrain tweaks for immediate pursuit capability, engineer Magolen says the Explorer drives like the performance Explorer ST model.

Inside the back seat, the bad guys won’t find the Interceptor nearly as hospitable as the family Explorer. The third-row seat is removed, as are all cupholders (“to keep anyone from hiding a stash of something,” says Interceptor marketing chief Stephen Tyler). Even the door latches are covered over so no one can escape.

The fold-flat second row is popular for use with K-9 unit dog cages, while cargo space increases by 4 cubic feet for law enforcement equipment.

Doors can be optioned with level-four armor plating. Other options include a giant front push-bar and steel center-cap hubs to augment the Interceptor’s tough shell. The SUV can tow up to 5,000 pounds and is hardened to take a 75-mph rear impact  above and beyond the federal 50 mph standard.

Up front, officers are surrounded by a moat of cutting-edge Ford technology, a hallmark of its production SUVs that have pioneered systems like self-park assist and auto-raise tailgates. The police ute gets Police Perimeter Alert, which uses motion-detection sensors to register a threat 270 degrees around the vehicle — and then automatically lock up the Interceptor.

“Whether patrolling or sitting idle, the all-new Police Interceptor Utility will change the way officers work,” says Bill Gubing, chief engineer for the Explorer. “Everything about it was designed for keeping police officers safe, comfortable and ready for action.”

Detroit auto show: Infiniti previews electric future with SUV concept

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 9, 2019

Infiniti Qx Inspiration 2k Embargoed Jan 4 8 01 Am Est1

Taking another step toward an electric future, Infiniti on Friday revealed the QX Inspiration electric concept ahead of its of its introduction at the Detroit auto show on Jan. 14.

The QX Inspiration SUV is Infiniti’s second design concept in as many North American International Auto Shows, following the sleek Q Inspiration sedan that debuted in January 2018.

With the U.S. auto market hog-wild for utes, the QX Inspiration positions the automaker to go into production with its first electrified vehicle for the 2021 model year.

With its Q-ship, Infiniti hopes to catch up to luxury competitors in hot pursuit of EV pioneer Tesla. Jaguar brought its first crossover EV, the I-Pace, to market in late 2018 and Audi is following it with the e-tron SUV this year. Other manufacturers including Porsche and China’s Byton have products in the pipeline for 2020.

“QX Inspiration is the beginning of a new era for Infiniti and an illustration of where we want to go with the brand,” said design chief Karim Habib, “New technology has given us the opportunity to evolve our design philosophy – and the new vehicle communicates the serene strength at our core.”

The grille-less, narrow-headlight face of the QX Inspiration mirrors that of the Q concept, but the body rides higher than the more athletic-looking, four-door coupe concept.

Where the 2018 Q Inspiration debuted the company’s compact, fuel-efficient, variable-compression turbo gas-engine technology, the QX concept showcases an all-electric drive-train. Infiniti has said battery power will come in two forms — all-electric or with battery-power assisted by a small gas engine.

By 2025, Nissan’s luxury automaker expects that half of its sales will be battery-powered.

Without a gas engine under the hood, Infiniti also says the QX Inspiration foreshadows production vehicles with “spacious, lounge-like interiors.” Infiniti only released a photograph of the QX concept’s exterior, but expect the interior to contain elements of the Q sedan concept’s roomy interior, including a wrap-around dash screen and hand-crafted design touches.

In production trim, the QX Inspiration will parallel the brand’s successful gas-powered SUVs. The mid-size, two-and-three-row Infiniti QX60 SUV was the brand’s best-seller in 2018.