Automobile Magazine selected the most promising production cars slated for release in the next two years, as part of its annual sneak peak issue. (Illustrations by: Larson/Autobild, Radovan Varicak, Scott Olsen)
Why: Acura needs a performance halo car--even more so now than when the original NSX debuted back in 1990.
As the crucial halo car for Honda's premium brand, the mid-engine Acura NSX will combine the magic of the original, aluminum-bodied NSX sports car with the technology of a hybrid whose electric motors power the front wheels and provide for torque vectoring, as well. Think Porsche 918 Spyder at one-seventh the price. The NSX is expected in showrooms by 2015 and will look much like the 2012 concept, which was updated with a sumptuous two-seat interior for the 2013 Detroit show. United States-based designers and engineers are leading development of the sports car, which Acura will assemble in Ohio. The '15 NSX is expected to have a 3.7-liter V-6, two electric motors for the front wheels, and a rear motor providing a combined 480 hp fed through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. A 370-hp, 3.5-liter version of this powertrain is found in the all-wheel-drive iteration of the Acura RLX luxury sedan. Late last year, American Honda's president, Tetsuo Iwamura, hinted that since the RLX is also available in nonhybrid form with front-wheel drive, it's possible that we could see a nonhybrid NSX with rear-wheel drive only. True, it would have less power, but it would be lighter and, thus, very true to the original NSX.
When: 2014 (coupe, sedan), early 2015 (convertible)
Why: The M3 is an icon for BMW, which makes the name change for the two-doors tricky business.
Know the code
Whereas the 3 Series is known internally (and among BMW fanboys) as the F30, the M3 takes the development code F80 and the M4 is the F82.
Ever since the arrival of the new BMW 3-series sedan (and maybe even before), those who worship the blue-and-white roundel have been waiting for the next M3-and M4, as it turns out. With the standard two-door's change in designation from 3-series to 4-series, the two-door M versions will follow suit: the coupe (illustrated below by a spy artist) and convertible will be called M4; the sedan will remain M3. It's a risky move for a model designation that is held in such esteem, but the car to which the badge is affixed ought to satisfy the faithful.
The upcoming M3/M4 is slated to switch from the current normally aspirated 4.0-liter V-8 back to a straight six, albeit one bolstered by twin turbos. Displacing 3.0 liters, its output of approximately 420 hp will be slightly higher than the current 414 hp, but M is not gunning for ultimate bragging rights in this department (leaving that to Mercedes-AMG). Instead, it has focused on reducing weight and improving overall performance-as well as fuel economy. "It needs to be lighter; it needs to be more powerful," M division executives acknowledge. It also needs to have a manual transmission, because the North American market (in particular) demands it-although we don't demand it as much as we used to. On the E46-chassis M3, manuals accounted for 50 percent of sales; for the current-generation E90, it's more like 20 to 25 percent. Still, that's enough to keep it in the mix. "As long as there is demand for a manual," said the division's bosses in a recent interview, "then we [will do] the right thing by offering it." Ergo, we will see a six-speed stick along with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, which supplants the current seven-speed. Aluminum (door skins) and carbon fiber (roof, hood, trunk lid, and brake discs) serve the cause of weight reduction. The goal is to bring the weight below 3300 pounds, down from 3700 today. What about an über-M4, akin to AMG's Black Series line of cars? BMW would point out that it has had the M3 GTS/CRT models, but those cars were never sold in the United States. Expect that situation to change next time.
Why: Because no luxury brand can resist the siren's call of the SUV.
Plans for Bentley's first-ever SUV hit a bump in the road when the EXP 9 F preview concept suffered cripplingly bad public reaction, but the project has been merely delayed, not derailed. The exterior is being redone by Luc Donckerwolke, Bentley's recently installed chief designer, so what you see here is the concept's interior, which is likely to remain intact as the vehicle transitions to production. The Bentley SUV will share a platform with the next-generation Volkswagen Touareg, Audi Q7, and Porsche Cayenne. Conveniently, Bentley's current head of engineering, Rolf Frech, comes from Porsche, where he was director of engineering during initial development of the Cayenne. Frech recently spoke with us about his role at Bentley and the new SUV.
What do you bring to Bentley?
"I bring the experience from a company [Porsche] that grew from two car lines to three, to four, and then to five, as you see today. Of course, I bring the experience of the SUV to Bentley. That's essential to Bentley at this time."
What are the differences between developing a new Bentley versus a Porsche?
"The value of the Bentley brand is luxury performance. If we are bringing a Bentley SUV, it has to fulfill brand value and be the most 'luxury performance' SUV on the road. From the engine to the interior, we need to be the pinnacle of the segment. The Cayenne Turbo S is a fabulous SUV, but we want the Bentley to be above that in areas like interior execution. We want to be above the Porsche with a twelve-cylinder engine, with the interior, with everything."
Is off-road ability important?
"We have to show that it is possible. It's like a 911 and the racetrack. How many customers are really going on the racetrack? The key is they know that, if they want to, they can."
Any interest in diesel?
"I think it makes the most sense for the SUV. We are looking at this and at a plug-in hybrid."
Why is an SUV appropriate for the brand?
"Looking at our customers, many of them already own an SUV. Why should it be a Range Rover or a Cayenne? It should be a Bentley."