A funny thing about the overall reception of Lexus among those who write about cars. For a long time, it has been given the Toyota treatment, wherein there is no criticism about the quality, durability and reliability of the vehicles, but simply a blanket criticism of bland styling and the lack of driving dynamics.
Seems like the Toyota and Lexus people have gotten tired of hearing that. Now there is a situation wherein the styling of both brands is causing even the most skeptical of skeptics to have a bit of a jaw-drop, and certainly in the case of Lexus, with cars like the IS and the RC, this whole driving dynamics issue has been addressed, as well.
But then there is the bread-and-butter vehicle in the Lexus lineup, the one that really put the division in a place where the competitors—U.S. and German alike—weren’t, and which continues to be dominant in the segment: the RX.
Listen to Jeff Brackin, group vp and general manager, Lexus Div.:
“It was 17 years ago when Lexus saw an untapped opportunity in the market and ignited a category called luxury crossover when we launched the RX 300.
“Since then, the RX has dominated that segment, setting standards for style, function and luxury.
“And the RX quickly became a core model for the Lexus brand, driving both volume and loyalty over the course of three generations.
“In fact, RX is responsible for bringing over 2.1-million customers around the world into the Lexus family. It’s easy to see why others have entered this segment.
“Since 2005, the RX has maintained about 25% of the sales in the mid-size luxury crossover segment, even though the number of competitors has risen to 16.”
That last statement is nothing but astonishing. The competitors keep coming. The RX keeps competing.
By the end of the year the fourth-generation RX will be launched.
It will come with a bigger wheelbase (~2 inches), a 300-hp engine and eight-speed transmission or as a hybrid, a suite of safety technology that’s probably more important to most of the people who buy an RX than how wheel it can carve the corners at Willow Creek, and the edgier styling that is now a characteristic of the brand.
And no doubt with all of the quality, durability and reliability that it’s always had.
The third-generation Volkswagen Beetle went on sale in the U.S. in September 2011, and early on, sales absolutely rocketed.
That is, for 2012, when there was a full year of the new model, sales were up 351.1% compared to 2011. A total 29,174 Beetles were sold in 2012.
2013 was even better, when there were 43,134 Beetles sold in the U.S.
But last year. . .well, not so good. Sales were off 32.3%. It was back to almost exactly the 2012 number: 29,182.
Clearly, although the first-generation vehicle was almost timeless, having a run greater than half a century, now things go more quickly.
Which may explain why Volkswagen has developed four Beetle concepts, which it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see in production form in the future.
There’s the Pink Color Edition. A real car, not Barbie’s Dream Car. It has a Pink Metallic exterior with contrasting gray mirror housings and trim. Inside it is black, chrome, aluminum, and. . .pink.
There is the Beetle Convertible Denim. Volkswagen has been using denim for concept Beetles since the mid-1970s, when it unveiled the Jeans Bug. This is a truly blue car, with blue fabric for the convertible top and “Stonewashed Blue Metallic” paint for the exterior. The seats are a combination of dark and light blue, with white piping. There are denim-like pockets on the seats.
(Which leads to a somewhat related digression. People often wash their cars. This would undoubtedly be the case were someone to own a Beetle Convertible Denim. In a recent issue of Fortune magazine, Charles V. Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss, wrote: “if the average American washed their jeans after every 10 times they wore them rather than every two times as they do today, it would decrease their energy and climate change impact by 80%, according to the life-cycle assessment study conducted by Industrial Ecology Consultants and Levi Strauss & Co.” Just imagine how much water would be saved by reducing car washes.)
Another convertible concept is the Beetle Convertible Wave. This is something of a throwback look. The exterior color is Habanero Orange Metallic with chrome wheels and mirror housings. But inside, there are hound’s-tooth fabric seat inserts. There is a surfboard-like wood dash pad. It’s all very early ‘60s chic.
Finally, there is a performance variant, perhaps trying to get some of the oxygen that is pumped into the Golf models in the VW lineup. This one is the Beetle R-Line concept. It is powered by a 217-hp, 2.0-liter, direct injected, turbocharged engine. It has bumpers with large air vents up front. It has high-gloss black molding along the sills. There is a rear defuser and a large rear spoiler. And the R-Line concept is even 0.6-inches wider than a standard Beetle.
Inside there are spot bucket seats and carbon fiber trim.
What are the odds we see at least one of these Beetles? Probably darn good.
Upon revealing the 2016 iM and the iA, Doug Murtha, vice president, Scion Div., said, “they’re just the first signs of renewed momentum you’re going to see from Scion.”
2016 Scion iM
2016 Scion iA
One might wonder about Scion and Newton’s First Law of Motion (Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it) because since mid-2012, when the 2013 FR-S came rolling out, there hasn’t seemed to be a whole lot of momentum going for it; last year, Toyota sold more Avalons than all the Scions in the showroom (67,183 vs. 58,009).
But Toyota isn’t giving up on its youthful initiative. Arguably, it is doubling down, given that both cars are to hit the streets this fall, and how often does a vehicle manufacturer put out two distinctly different cars—cars that arguably will compete for similar buyers (i.e., there are probably those who will go into a Scion showroom and those who simply won’t)--at the same time?
The Scion iM is a hatchback with a 137-hp, 1.8-liter engine and a standard six-speed manual that will have a starting MSRP of under $20,000.
It is the more aggressively styled of the two cars, as hatches ought to be.
The iA is a sedan. It will be priced in the vicinity of $16,000, according to Murtha. It comes with a 106-hp, 1.5-liter engine and a six-speed—manual or automatic.
Unusually, it comes standard with a low-speed pre-collision system that uses lasers and cameras to help the driver avoid collisions and to help minimize damage in the event of an accident. While this is certainly something that sets it apart, and while no one can be opposed to anything that enhances safety, Murtha described the iA customer as someone who “is all about individual expression and selective indulgence. Whether it’s the latest must-have ticket in town or the hottest fashions they want it all--high form and high function while still meeting their needs for practicality.” I’d guess they’d probably be more interested in a high-end audio system than a pre-collision system.
Of course, that criticism is a variant of the Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. They did one thing, I suggest another.
Still, it is encouraging to see that Scion is putting some new cars on the road. The last time the company did two cars at once was at the start, with the 2003 xB (the boxy one) and the xA (a hatch). Word is that they’d expected that the xA would take off, but the xB left it way behind.
It will be interesting to see what happens this time.
The 2016 Cadillac CT6 is the real deal. It is a car with engineering execution that is nothing short of being the “Standard of the World.”
Travis Hester, executive chief engineer, and his team have created a multi-material structure for what will become Cadillac’s flagship that is the result of 50-million hours of computational analysis, including 200,000 structural simulations. The lights in Warren, Michigan, probably dimmed when the guys at the GM Tech Center cranked up the computers.
Not only did they develop a full-size car that has an all-new architecture (Omega), but they also developed 21 patents.
With the CT6 Cadillac is unapologetically and quite openly calling out its German luxury car rivals. That is, they’re pointing out that the dimensions are on par with those of the short-wheelbase BMW 7-Series (the CT6 is 204 inches long, has a 122.4-inch wheelbase, is 74 inches wide, and is 57.9 inches high), but that it is lighter than a BMW 5-Series or 6-Series, Mercedes E-Class, and an Audi A6 (they’re estimating the curb weight to be less than 3,700 lb.).
They even developed a new engine for the CT6, an (estimated) 400-hp, 400 lb-ft turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 with cylinder deactivation.
It is available with an active, on-demand all-wheel-drive system that features a continuously variable clutch. There’s Active Rear Steer and Magnetic Ride Control.
While much of that is about driving, a luxury car is also about being driven. So there is an Articulating Rear Seat Package that provides 3.3 inches of seat travel, lumbar adjustment, tilting cushions, massage, and heating and cooling. The rear infotainment system has articulating 10-inch-diagonal screens in the front seatbacks. Quadzone climate system. A Bose audio system with 34 speakers.
Because luxury cars are undoubtedly the sorts of things that brigands like to make off with, the surround-view video recording system that can be used while driving—presumably to get some GoPro-like shots—is also activated should the vehicle’s security system get tripped.
Johan de Nysschen, president of Cadillac, described the CT6 by saying, “It is a bold endeavor with unmatched dynamism that reignites a passion for driving in large luxury vehicles. In short, it is prestige luxury reimagined.”
With cars like the CTS and the ATS, Cadillac is offering cars that are every bit as good as their German competition. With the CT6 Cadillac is venturing into a higher realm, but one that it is confident it can ascend to.
Lincoln is in a peculiar position.
For the past several years it was pretty much not much more than a brand that produced cars that were either painted black and driven by people who made their living driving or thinly veiled versions of Ford products.
That began to change, as the Town Car went out of production and as design became more pronounced at Lincoln such that even if one were to know that the MKZ is based on the Ford Fusion, the contrast was sufficiently profound such that the veil is rather game-changing.
The word is that in order for Lincoln to attain credibility in the luxury space, or regain it, a large sedan is needed. It has a large sedan, the MKS. That isn’t getting it done. Last year, it delivered 8,160 units, which makes it better only than the somewhat ill-conceived MKT, which had sales of 4,800 units. It would be one thing if the MKS demanded big money, but the starting MSRP is just $38,850, so it isn’t like they’re overstuffing a vault in Dearborn.
So Lincoln will be getting something that it needs next year, something that looks like this:
The Lincoln Continental Concept.
Specifics are few.
The concept (and likely real car) has a 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine. It has 30-way adjustable seats. Revel audio. LED matrix headlamps with laser-assist high beams.
Here are a couple of quotes that strongly indicate where Lincoln is going:
“Luxury at its best is about simplifying and quietly exceeding expectations, rather than being the loudest statement on the road. The Continental Concept showcases the promise of quiet luxury from Lincoln going forward. It also is a strong indication of what’s to come next year as we introduce our new Lincoln Continental full-size luxury sedan.” So said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company president and CEO.
Note the “quiet.” (Which may be an ill-conceived term, given that someone might point out that that is a muffled drum that Buick has been beating for some time with its “QuietTuning.”)
“Some brands talk about ‘the machine.’ Lincoln is different. For us, it is about more than the machine. It is about what our vehicles do for our clients.” So said Kumar Galhotra, Lincoln president.
Clearly, this is not a vehicle to go after the market of The Ultimate Driving Machine.
Elegance. Serenity. Technology. Here’s guessing that Matthew McConaughey isn’t going to get the gig next year.