LOS ANGELES — Sport utility vehicles are taking over the world.
Or at least the automotive market.
On the first press day of the Los Angeles Auto Show, of the 11 automaker press conferences held, eight featured SUVs. Only four featured sedans, convertibles or subcompacts. On the second day, there were three manufacturer press conferences featuring four SUVs.
Add to that two SUVs unveiled the night before at separate events and there’s no question: 2018 will be the year of the SUV.
BMW started the ball rolling with the debut of the X7, its largest SUV to date.
Lexus continued the offensive with the RX350L, basically a stretched version of the RX350 with more cargo room (but the same wheelbase).
Then, Lincoln unveiled the Nautilus, followed by Nissan’s unveiling of the Kicks, with Jeep’s new Wrangler immediately after. Mitsubishi followed up with the Eclipse Cross, and then Volvo unveiled the XC40. Hyundai ended the SUV parade with the Kona.
The night before, Infiniti unveiled the new QX50, another crossover, and Subaru unveiled the Ascent, it’s largest vehicle ever.
Only BMW (which included an i8 Roadster, M3, M5, Mini electric and four concepts), Mercedes-Benz, Mazda and Porsche unveiled vehicles other than SUVs. Chevrolet, also on the night before, unveiled the Corvette ZR1.
So strong is the growth in the sport-utility market, Christian Meunier, Infiniti’s vice-president of global sales and marketing, pointed to the QX50 when asked whether Infiniti plans to produce a “flagship” vehicle on the scale of BMW’s 7-Series or Mercedes’ S-Class.
“The QX50 is taking the brand to the next level; it’s a flagship that represents the brand,” he said. “It’s a flagship because it represents the brand very well and what the brand is about.”
It doesn’t hurt that it’s selling into a segment that today comprises 34 per cent of Canada’s premium market (as well as 30 per cent of the U.S. premium market), which is a trend that’s only expected to keep growing.
The second day saw the debut of a revised Kia Sorrento and the new Kia Niro plug-in hybrid. As well, Toyota unveiled the FT-AC, or Future Toyota Adventure Concept. It’s only a concept right now and they weren’t talking about production, but some of their ideas for powertrains and hardware (selectable terrain modes, all-wheel drive) suggest someone, somewhere is thinking about it. A successor to the defunct FT Cruiser, perhaps?
Here’s a sample of some of the key launches in Los Angeles:
Jeep’s Wrangler, which continues to evoke images of the original Willys made famous in the Second World War and Korean War — and, of course, on M*A*S*H — gets a redesign for 2018 that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles says creates “the most capable SUV ever.”
Automotive marketers have never shied away from hyperbole, but consider the Wrangler is available with next-generation Dana axles, Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4x4 systems, a new Selec-Trac full-time two-speed transfer case, Tru-Lok electric front and rear axle lockers, Trac-Lok limited slip differential and 33-inch off-road tires.
It can ford up to 30 inches of water, has an approach angle of 44 degrees, breakover angle of 27.8 degrees, departure angle of 37 degrees and ground clearance of 10.9 inches.
It’s available with a choice of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, a 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 or a 3.0-litre EcoDiesel (due in 2019). There’s a choice of, naturally, a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic. It hits Canadian showrooms in January.
Carmakers are falling over themselves to launch smaller crossovers — Ford is, we’re told, launching EcoSport soon, Nissan has Kicks, Honda has HR-V, Mazda has CX-3 and GM has Chevy Trax/Buick Encore.
Joining the fray soon will be the Hyundai Kona. Due out just before spring of 2018, Kona comes with a choice of two engines. The first is a 2.0-litre MPI Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder (147 horsepower, 132 lb-ft. of torque) that’s mated to a six-speed automatic. Also on offer is a 1.6-litre turbo boasting 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft. of torque. It is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
All-wheel drive is an option.
As with the Tucson and Santa Fe, Kona is named after another acclaimed travel destination, this time the coastal region of the Big Island of Hawaii.
Pricing has not been announced.
OK, how’s this for an exercise in semantics? Nissan is killing the Juke and introducing Kicks, but Kicks isn’t replacing Juke. With me?
Kicks might best be described as an almost-SUV, a crossover wannabe. It’s compact, fitting into the lineup, size-wise, as smaller than the Qashqai. It has the high seating and higher roofline that seem to be driving the demise of sedans, but you can’t get it with all-wheel drive.
In that way, it joins the Toyota CH-R as a front-drive-only crossover. Nissan Canada president Joni Paiva explained the platform for Kicks — derived from the Micra — doesn’t allow for a driveshaft to the rear, and he expects buyers of Kicks to be just fine with that.
Paiva said he thinks it will appeal to buyers who want the high crossover seating but don’t want the added maintenance or fuel costs associated with all-wheel drive.
It’s powered by a 1.6-litre double-overhead-cam inline four mated to an Xtronic continuously variable transmission. The engine delivers 125 horsepower and 115 lb-ft. of torque, and is expected to achieve a combined fuel economy of 7.1 litres per 100 km.
It will come standard with automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning.
Pricing will be announced closer to launch in spring of 2018.
Do I see a ride-and-drive event for Kicks happening on Route 66? Stay tuned.
Lincoln has officially abandoned the alphabet soup naming convention it has used for much of the last decade. The new MKX is called Nautilus, and it officially kicks off a return to actual names.
True, Lincoln already has the Navigator and Continental in the lineup, but spokeswoman Rose Pao said those were one-offs capitalizing on the history of both names. Only with Nautilus has Lincoln decided on a wholesale conversion to actual names.
MKZ, MKT and MKC will remain with their current names until each is redesigned, at which point they each will get names.
Two engines are offered on Nautilus, a 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbo four (estimated at 245 horsepower) and a 2.7-litre turbo V-6 (estimated at 335 horsepower and 380 lb-ft. of torque), while each offers auto start-stop and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
While the outside has been completely redesigned, and offers clear visual distinction from its Ford Edge cousin, the interior will look very familiar to Lincoln fans. The same prominent centre stack, with push-button gear selector on the left side, remains, as does the Sync3 touchscreen and climate controls below.
As with the MKX it replaces, Nautilus will be built in Canada, at Ford’s Oakville assembly plant.
It will appear in showrooms in the summer of 2018.
Kia took the cover off the 2019 Sorento... and it looked very familiar.
To be fair, it’s touted as a tweaking, not a full redesign. There’s a subtle facelift, including changes to the grille, front and rear bumpers, headlamps and wheel design. It also receives LED taillights.
Inside, it’s nearly identical to the 2018 model as well, but the interior does get some tweaks, including what Kia says is a more sophisticated, premium look and feel it ties to a number of upgrades, including a new steering wheel, improvements to the seats, centre fascia and console.
The biggest changes are under the hood, with a new eight-speed automatic transmission and a diesel offering joining the lineup at an unspecified point in the future.
Kia Niro PHEV
The popular Niro gets a plug-in hybrid variation for 2018, Kia announced.
That version will have a total range of more than 900 kilometres and an electric-only range of 41 kilometres, enough that many urban dwellers can drive a typical day on electricity only.
“Packed with the same Guinness world-record functionality and fun drivability of our popular Niro hybrid, the new Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid will offer even greater fuel economy when it arrives in Canada,” said Ted Lancaster, vice-president and chief operating officer of Kia Canada.
The plug-in version retains much of the Niro’s look, but adds some PHEV-unique touches, including a modified grille, hybrid blue exterior accents, available LED headlamps, a charge door on the driver’s side front fender and an available seven-inch colour cluster with digital tachometer.
It can be charged fully in 2½ hours using a 240-volt Level II charger and in nine hours using a Level I charger.
Kia didn’t release more details on the engine, but it’s mated to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The electric motor is a 60-horsepower model, with a larger 8.9 kWh lithium-ion battery.
Launch is set for “sometime in 2018” and more details and full specifications will be released later.