Don’t believe that high gasoline prices and stringent fuel-economy standards will push the automotive market into uniform drabness. Our investigations indicate just the opposite.
From compact electric cars, such as a version of the Fiat 500 that has batteries and an electric motor, to thundering supercars that produce more than 600 hp, a variety of interesting choices are on the way.
For example, the Viper is back after being rescued by Fiat/Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne to give Chrysler Group a needed halo car. Chevrolet is designing another generation of its Corvette, and Acura is reintroducing the NSX supercar but this time with a hybrid powertrain.
Meanwhile, the Chevy Impala, which is a storied family-car name, has been given a much-needed redesign. And the Camaro, which has a narrow sales lead over the Mustang in the pony-car segment, is being prepared for a 2015 showdown when the ’Stang celebrates its 50th anniversary in April 2014.
Full-size pickups aren’t vanishing anytime soon, nor is the traditional large SUV, at least if General Motors has it right with its next round of time-honored, body-on-frame family-size haulers. And speaking of large SUVs, Mercedes-Benz is developing one; so is Tesla, although the latter is a full battery-powered electric.
Boring? Hardly. What’s on the automotive horizon is excitement on wheels.
The slow-selling RL, which is the largest sedan that’s in the Acura lineup, will be replaced by the RLX, which will be introduced in the form of a hybrid model. For 2013, the RLX’s all-wheel-drive version will have a 3.5-liter V6 engine and three electric motors that will generate roughly 370 hp. Because it will be matched with a seven-speed dual-clutch (automated manual) transmission, the company says the RLX will provide V8 acceleration and an estimated city/highway fuel-economy rating of 30/30 mpg. A front-wheel-drive version will generate 310 hp, although the company hasn’t said when that version will hit dealerships. The RLX will be the same length as the current RL is but lighter and will have 2 inches less hood ahead of the front wheels. The 2-inch-longer wheelbase will translate into more welcome legroom.
Looking Ahead: Two Likely Concepts
Arrives in showrooms: Early 2013
Cost: $48,000 (estimated)
The next-generation A3 will come to North America as a four-door sedan, while the familiar four-door hatchback will remain in Europe. The new small Audi sports a trapezoidal grille that’s reminiscent of larger Audis. But Audi tells Consumers Digest that the 2013 A3 will be roughly 200 pounds lighter than the current model is and thus will have improved handling, thanks to the use of more aluminum and high-strength steel. We expect to see the same engines that the current A3 has: a 2.0-liter diesel engine and a 2.0-liter gasoline engine. And we expect electric and hybrid versions, too. You also will see more connectivity inside of the new A3, including Wi-Fi.
Arrives in showrooms: Late 2012
Cost: $28,000 (estimated)
With the withdrawal of the A3 four-door hatchback from the United States, Audi hopes that the 2014 Q3 will both satisfy hatchback lovers and sway buyers away from BMW’s new X1. Audi gave strong hints of what a production Q3 would look like when it unveiled the Q3 Vail “theme” concept vehicle (dressed up for ski and snowboard enthusiasts) in January 2012 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It’s compact (roughly the same size as the X1 is), but it has plenty of storage space for your gear, because engineers did a good job of optimizing its square shape. Audi is raising the ride height of the Q3 by about 2 inches more than the A3’s to provide more ground clearance for driving in snow or on dirt roads. You can expect the turbocharged five-cylinder diesel engine that was specified for the concept vehicle to be replaced by a choice between Audi/Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter diesel engine and 2.0-liter gasoline engine.
Arrives in showrooms: Late 2013
Cost: $30,000 (estimated)
Camaro fans can start to plan for the next-generation Camaro, which is due to arrive as a 2015 model. Although the automaker refuses to provide details, it says the styling won’t stray far from the current look. That’s no surprise to us, because Camaro leads Mustang in sales, so we believe that Chevy is leery of messing with the formula. The new Camaro still will be powered by a V6 engine that produces more power than a V8 engine once did, but limited-production models will get a hyperpowered V8. The big challenge will be to reduce weight to improve handling and performance as well as fuel economy, so look for the use of more aluminum and ultrahigh-strength steel.
Arrives in showrooms: 2014
Cost: $24,000 (estimated)