Jaguar-Land Rover’s only all-new debut at the LA show is the mad XKR-S Convertible, which it says will be its fastest, most rigid convertible ever. And with its five-liter supercharged V8 making 550 HP, that may be an understatement: the XKR-S may be one of the fastest convertibles ever… at least it would be if Chevy weren’t showing its Camaro ZL1 Convertible at the very same show. But for fans of the Indian-owned brand, the XKR-S is just a warm-up for Jag’s first new sportscar ages, as signaled by the CX-16 Concept that debuted at Frankfurt. It’s no F-Type, but the Maserati GT-meets-Nissan Z styling should definitely help give the brand a boost. Finally, JLR is offering another look at its possible future with its Land Rover Defender DC100 Concept, which hints at a new Defender that is apparently in development. And with Jaguar-Landie once again earning profits for its corporate overlord, the future looks promising for these two brands.
What can you even say about Lincoln at this point? The brand talks up its new design studio, and then releases a “spot the changes” facelift. Critics bash the brand’s waterfall grille as “cetacean,” so for the facelift Lincoln goes and makes it look even more like baleen. Lincolns have little identity beyond Fords loaded up with there-for-the-sake-of-it technology, so they give the MKS and MKT (Ecoboost only) “Continuously Controlled Damping”… to polish their carefully-honed performance image? Because consumers were clamoring for a Lincoln, but didn’t buy because “Sport Mode” wasn’t available on its giant crossover? I know these are only holdover models, and that Lincoln will eventually come out with something all-new. I know that picking on these sales weaklings is too easy. I know that there are probably even a few folks out there that find the MKS and MKT to be the subtle-but-cosseting waft-mobiles that they’ve been waiting for… but I just can’t help myself. Especially when Lincoln’s press release on the MKS proclaims that
Refinements Signal Direction for Brand Today, Tomorrow.
Note to Lincoln: the future is not in refinements. If this brand is going to survive, it needs a clean sheet of paper.
As a small, independent, enthusiast-oriented automaker, Mazda is constantly in a fight for its life, and with its profits eaten away by a rising yen, this is more true than ever. And though Mazdas tend to consistently receive critical praise for their handling characteristics, styling has long been something of a sticking point for the brand. Last year Mazda launched a new look, called KODO, which aimed to position the company as “the Japanese Alfa-Romeo.” And though the first KODO car ever shown was a rather stunning sedan (since nicknamed the “Mazda-rati”), its first production KODO design is a rather more prosaic compact crossover, the CX-5. Which, in a way is fitting: if Mazda wants to survive to build Miatas and Speed3s, it will need to sell a grip of compact platform-variants like this one. Not only does this CX-5 look like it should sell better than the aging Escape-rebadge Tribute it replaces, its fuel economy (ranging between 26-33 for FWD/MT and 25/30 with AWD/AT) is finally competitive too. Now, as long as it drives like a Mazda…
Hyundai has been doing a lot of things right lately, but one thing they can’t do is keep a secret. TTAC showed you this car, known as the Grandeur in Korea, a year ago, warning “Buick beware.” Now that it’s arrived stateside, the threat is real and Azera is no longer the red-headed stepchild of the Hyundai family. Hyundai says the new Azera’s design was pursued following the same “fluidic sculpture” theme as Elantra and Sonata, rather than aping the Genesis and Equus’s more formal design language… although to our eyes it almost splits the difference between the two looks. Meanwhile, its 3.3 liter, 293 HP V6 separates it from its V6-free Sonata cousin, while still providing what Hyundai claims is “class leading” efficiency.
Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik says they are transitioning Hyundai from a “Value brand” to a “Valuable brand” (yes, really), and this Azera is intended to help challenge cars like the Acura TL and Lexus ES as well as the Taurus and Avalon. And with no plans for new US production capacity, despite razor-thin inventories, moving the brand upmarket makes sense for Hyundai. And replacing the old dullard of an Azera was a crucial step in that direction.
Throughout its history, Cadillac has fed the press some glorious concept cars dripping with opulence, snazzy features and WTF styling. This works when production cars live up to the concept’s hype, but a history of histrionics is less helpful when you’re launching a car that somehow defies hype altogether [Ed: see AutoWeek’s headline: “Cadillac aims its flagship XTS at imports and traditional buyers”]. Don’t get it wrong, the XTS is not intended as a true flagship for the brand (GM’s release calls it “the newest addition to the lineup” and “the most technologically advanced production car in the brand’s history”), but at the launch at the LA Auto Show the XTS’s FWD proportions, slab sides and generally predictable exterior dominated the first impressions. Put simply, the midsized sedan exudes none of the presence that makes the CTS-V coupe exciting, possibly due to the fact that it has what may be Cadillac’s shortest hood ever. No wonder GM CEO Dan Akerson warned us that the XTS “wouldn’t blow the doors off” the competition.
Fiat’s 500 may be flopping early in the game, but then, what do you expect from a car with barely 100 horsepower? Though I’m sure the Cinquecento is better with a stick shift, my brief time in an autobox version left me feeling that Fiat’s italophile morsel could use considerably more brio. Well, consider the problem solved, as the 160 HP Abarth version has finally been shown in US-market spec, and sales should start sometime early next year. And based on European reactions to the Abarth, it should be a little firecracker. So, enthusiasm solved… now Fiat just needs to do something about its high prices, uninspiring fuel economy and wretched marketing. Then everything will be just fine… although I still wouldn’t hold my breath for 50k units per year.
Ford’s outgoing Escape is neither the newest, nor the nicest compact crossover on the market, but man does it sell well. How something so relatively old and uncompetitive maintained such strong volume in the market has long been a bit of a mystery, but my theory is that the Escape offered two basic attributes that the market desires: low price and SUV looks (without SUV efficiency). And by combining Escape with Europe’s Kuga to create one global compact crossover, Ford has been forced away from those two basic attributes: Escape likely won’t be cheap with its turbocharged engines and upscale interior (though pricing hasn’t been released), and it definitely doesn’t look like an old-school SUV anymore. Will a new approach to the compact crossover segment pay off for Ford, or is this Escape too “global,” or too similar to other “cute utes” to succeed in the US market? Is this the point at which the “One Ford” ethos crashes against the rocks of America’s appreciation for boxy, rugged utilities?
Take Buick’s LaCrosse, load it up with a fancier interior materials, wheels and trim, and what do you get? No, not a Cadillac XTS. The XTS, you see, is a fancier Buick LaCrosse for a different kind of buyer. The XTS is for people who might want a fancier LaCrosse, but with some “red blooded luxury” flair. This LaCrosse “GL” concept is for those who want a fancier LaCrosse which retains Buick’s “inviting luxury” vibe. See the difference? GM’s decision to keep Buick in its brand portfolio has worked out fairly well thus far, bracketing the luxury market with very different brand images and products… thus far. But with Cadillac dipping into Buick territory with its midsized XTS, now does not seem to be the time for Buick to move upwards by showing an ultra-luxury version of its midsized LaCrosse. Luckily this LaCrosse GL is just a concept, but it should remind The General that a two-brand approach to the luxury market has to be especially careful: swallow too much of the “different brands for different buyers” Kool-Aid and overlap becomes unavoidable. Appealing though it may be, this LaCrosse GL sounds a warning…
Mitsubishi didn’t exactly light the world on fire when it released its Global Small concept (left) at this year’s Geneva Auto Show… but now that concept has become reality (right), it’s even more clear that Mitsu’s mojo has been lost in the unglamorous world of basic transportation for emerging markets. It’s not clear if the Thai-built Colt/Mirage will make it to the brand’s US lineup, but if it does i certainly won’t help turn around Mitsubishi’s dowdy image here. The only way to make this car any more mundane would be to debadge it completely. Slightly less prosaic but still quite underwhelming: the Grand Cherokee-meets-Range Rover Evoque update to the Outlander, shown in the plug-in hybrid concept PX-MIEV II. Though none of Mitsu’s new designs are actively offensive, their dullness speaks to some serious creative malaise… especially in contrast to the vibrantly creative Japanese designs that are headed to the Tokyo Auto Show. Perhaps we’ve solved the mystery of Mitsubishi’s disappearing US sales staff?
Have you heard? The New Look Of Lincoln is coming, and everyone’s talking… about how much Lincoln has to prove. And after seeing these teasers, the topic will likely remain how much Lincoln has to prove. We’d probably better bite our tongues until the LA Auto Show, when the 2013 MKS and MKT actually take the stage; “teaser” photos can only convey so much. But given the wider “Lincoln situation,” it’s hard to imagine either of these new cars being able to fundamentally change perceptions of the brand. The Look Of Lincoln needs a clean-sheet reboot that I’m just not seeing here…