10 cars to watch in the next 24 months

Automobile Staff
Automobile Magazine

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)

Acura NSX
When: 2015
Why: Acura needs a performance halo car--even more so now than when the original NSX debuted back in 1990.

MORE AT Automobile Magazine

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.

Bentley Falcon
When: 2015
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."

Buick Riviera
When: Late 2015
Why: Buick needs a flagship to solidify its premium-brand credentials, and the name Riviera still has cachet.
Flashback: The seminal '63-'65 Riviera was a design icon.

The Enclave is currently Buick's most expensive offering and the LaCrosse its biggest sedan, but neither is a proper halo model for the brand. When General Motors reregistered the Grand National and GNX names, rumors erupted that a hot-rod Buick would return. GM has reregistered the Riviera name, too, and it's this car that would best serve as a halo Buick. Folks in the know tell us that the new-age Riviera is a larger four-door coupe--perhaps much like our illustration--in the mold of the Mercedes-Benz CLS-class, BMW 6-series Gran Coupe, and Audi A7, although considerably cheaper. Overall length will be in the 195-to-200-inch range, placing it in the same full-size category as the Chrysler 300, for example. We expect the venerable 3.6-liter gasoline direct-injected V-6 to be the only engine. A Riviera GNX could be the division's riff on the Cadillac V-series, but it would likely have a turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6 instead of a small-block V-8.

The question is which rear-wheel-drive GM platform the Riv would ride on. GM's flexible Alpha architecture already underpins the Cadillac ATS and will support the next Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac CTS with its longer-wheelbase iteration. But even in that form, it might be too small. The Chevy SS's Holden Zeta platform is larger, but its long-term future is uncertain. Cadillac's Omega platform for the upcoming S-class fighter makes the most sense. That may sound expensive for a Buick, but the added volume would bring down its per-unit cost, and it would recall top-of-the-line Buicks from the time of the early Roadmaster to the 1963-1977 Riviera, which were only a half notch below Cadillac in prestige.

Ford F-150
When: 2014
Why: Ford can't afford to let the F-series franchise grow stale.

Ford's next F-150 faces quite a balancing act. It must maintain supremacy as the nation's best-selling vehicle without diminishing the kind of profit margins that come from cheap-to-produce body-on-frame construction. That's good reason to question rumors that the new F-150, as previewed by the Atlas concept, will be made mostly of aluminum. The hood and maybe the door panels, sure, but whole bodies and frames? Seems unlikely.

We do expect the 2015 F-150 to grab design cues from the Atlas, such as its profile, huge grille, and LED head- and taillamps. A next-generation EcoBoost engine powers the concept, and although Ford won't elaborate on what that means, stop/start technology will be part of the package. The six-speed automatic in the Atlas suggests that Ford won't follow the new Ram with an eight-speed.

Features such as active grille shutters, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist, trailer-backup assist, power-deployable running boards, and an electronic parking brake are more likely. The concept's active wheel shutters and drop-down front chin spoiler wouldn't help a tall vehicle with so much extra space around the tires.

The Atlas concept's 150-inch wheelbase is 5.5 inches longer than the current (and most comparable) short-bed F-150 SuperCrew's and would take advantage of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy "footprint" rule. Even with the longer wheelbase, the concept's overall length and height are similar to today's F-150, although it is even wider than a Raptor. To get a better idea of how the next F-150 will look when it goes on sale about mid-2014, imagine the concept about eight inches narrower.

Ford Mustang
When: Early 2014
Why: Fifty years after the Mustang's blockbuster debut, expect Ford to set off some fireworks around the 2015 model.

The most certain thing we know about the 2015 Ford Mustang is that it will premiere at the New York auto show on April 16 or 17, 2014. April 17 will be fifty years to the day that the original Mustang made its world debut in that city. That car had a base price of $2368. (How about $23,680 for the base '15 Mustang?)

We're also reasonably certain that the new Mustang will edge away from the current car's heavily retro appearance and possibly look like our spy illustration below. Our sources tell us that the new pony will be slightly smaller and lighter and will come close to retaining the current car's muscularity. Several years ago, Ford separated North American designers who would work on U.S.-focused models such as the Mustang and the F-series from Euro-centric One Ford designers. However, Ford will sell the all-American Mustang in other markets, including Western Europe.

The '15 Mustang will be trim enough that the current Shelby GT500's supercharged 5.8-liter V-8 won't fit. The big engine for low-volume, high-performance 'Stangs is tipped to be a 5.0-liter turbocharged V-8, the "EcoBoost Coyote," with a normally aspirated Coyote for versions like the Boss 302. From there on down, mainstream Mustangs are expected to come with Ford's 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, the normally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6, and the EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder. In other applications, those engines make 365 hp, 305 hp, and 240 hp, respectively, so they'll cover a wide variety of Mustang variants, including performance versions. The new Mustang finally gets an independent rear suspension, too. This opens the door for a much-needed rear-wheel-drive Lincoln flagship sedan built on the same platform, although we know of no plans for one yet.

Jaguar F-type coupe
When: 2014
Why: Jaguar's new sports car would miss half the market without a hardtop, which should be an even more focused driver's car.

Jaguar has big plans for the F-type as it tries to follow the much-envied Porsche 911 approach by spinning out a plethora of high-profit variants. The 2011 concept that previewed the F-type was a hardtop, and it's easy to see how well that roofline works with the production F-type. So, with the roadster hitting showrooms this summer, the coupe will be the next model. The production coupe will debut at the Frankfurt show in September--probably looking a lot like this illustration--and roll into dealerships several months later. Expect it to offer the same supercharged engines as the roadster: a 3.0-liter V-6 (340 hp or 380 hp) and a 5.0-liter V-8 (495 hp). The latter should bring the 0-to-60-mph time down close to 4.0 seconds. The coupe will likely follow current Jaguar practice by being a bit more affordable than the roadster, whose base price range extends from $69,875 to $92,875. Jaguar, however, will be eager to bring out costlier temptations, offering all-wheel drive, hotter R iterations, and even an ultraextreme GT street racer. As the F-type lineup fleshes out, watch for the next-generation XK to edge away from sport and toward luxury--and to also move up in price.

Maserati Ghibli
When: Late 2013
Why: Maserati needs a sedan in this volume segment if it's ever to become more than a bit player among luxury brands.
Second Act: This is actually the second time Maserati has resurrected the Ghibli name. The first was in the early 1990s on an evolution of the much-unloved Biturbo.

As the new Maserati Quattroporte has increased in size to better match up against the Mercedes-Benz S-class and friends, it opens up room for the Ghibli, a second Maserati sedan that will compete in the heart of the luxury-sedan market against Mercedes' E-class and the like. The Ghibli could resemble the spy illustration above.

Although the name was first used on the classic late-1960s GT, the modern Ghibli is exclusively a four-door based on the same platform as the new Quattroporte (the next GranTurismo coupe will also use that platform). That means its chassis employs a control-arm front suspension and a multi-link rear. For European markets, the Ghibli is expected to be powered by Maserati's first-ever diesel, a 270-hp, 3.0-liter V-6. For America, though, the Ghibli will have a direct-injected, 3.0-liter V-6 bolstered by twin turbos. The 60-degree V-6 has an aluminum block and cylinder heads and will appear first as the base offering in the new Quattroporte, where it is expected to produce 404 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, which flows to the rear wheels through ZF's familiar eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive will be optional. A plug-in hybrid powertrain is also expected, along with a so-called efficiency pack that includes auto stop/start, brake-energy regeneration, a coasting mode, and on-demand auxiliaries.

Maserati hopes that the Ghibli will sell in volumes of more than 20,000 units per year, as it's the key player in the company's planned march to 50,000 units per annum--from only 6300 in 2012.

Mercedes-Benz SLC AMG

When: Late 2014
Why: Like so many others, Mercedes-Benz wants a Porsche 911 competitor, and neither the SL nor the SLS hits that target.

The SLS was the first car wholly developed by AMG, and it won't be the last. The next product of the busy complex at Affalterbach will be the SLC AMG. Although it steps in as the SLS departs, the SLC is not a direct replacement. Instead, it will be less expensive (starting just north of $100,000) and will have conventional doors and, for now at least, coupe-only bodywork (like the illustration at left). The 3400-pound SLC is the first AMG model to use the new 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. The 90-degree V-8 should be good for 480 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, which will flow to a rear transaxle. Oh, and if that's not enough, there are rumors of a Black Series that would put out roughly 575 hp and 550 lb-ft.

Porsche 918 Spyder
When: Late 2013
Why: The dream of a latter-day Carrera GT was too strong to deny.
What's in a number?
918 isn't just the model designation, it's also the production start date (9/18/2013) and the build quantity: 918 units.

Porsche's new supercar, the 918 Spyder, is nearing production readiness, but are buyers ready for it? The concept car was first revealed at the 2010 Geneva auto show. Three years later the idea is intact: an ultra-high-performance successor to the 2004-2006 Carrera GT that uses a hybrid powertrain rather than a V-10, bringing the supercar firmly into the modern idiom.

The hybrid powertrain marries a mid-mounted 4.6-liter V-8, alone good for 570 hp, with two electric motors, bringing the total output to 795 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic handles the shifting. Top speed is said to exceed 202 mph, and the electric motors can push the car beyond 90 mph by themselves. Porsche is estimating a fifteen-mile electric-vehicle range (although presumably not at 90 mph). There is a plug-in charger and an optional fast charger; brake-energy regeneration also recharges the batteries.

The high-revving V-8 (redlined at 9000 rpm) utilizes dry-sump lubrication and an aluminum block, heads, and crankcase. It drives the rear wheels on its own or together with one electric motor. The second electric motor can drive the front wheels, creating on-demand all-wheel drive and torque vectoring. The front motor is the primary power source in EV mode, but the rear motor can kick in, too. That means the 918 Spyder can be rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive, depending on the circumstances.

A steering-wheel-mounted joystick allows the driver to choose from several operating modes: E-Power, Hybrid, Sport Hybrid, and Race Hybrid. Additionally, a Hot Lap button taps the full power output of the batteries to supplement the gasoline engine.

Riding on a 107.5-inch wheelbase, the same as the Carrera GT, the new two-seater is 1.2 inches longer and 0.8 inch wider than its exotic predecessor. A carbon-fiber monocoque, a two-piece lift-off roof, (optional) magnesium wheels, and body panels of carbon fiber, magnesium, and aluminum are all employed to help keep mass in check. With the 330-pound battery pack and electric motors, total weight is expected to be 3750 pounds (which is still some 600 pounds more than the Carrera GT); 57 percent of the weight is over the rear wheels.

The 918 Spyder will use four-wheel steering, which makes its debut on the 911 GT3. The rear wheels countersteer at low speeds to aid maneuverability and turn in sync with the front wheels at high speeds for improved stability. Porsche has stated that the 918 Spyder will lap the Nürburgring in 7 minutes, 14 seconds (handily beating the Carrera GT's 7:32).

For all that, the question is whether the faithful are waving their checkbooks for a chance at this pinnacle of Porsche engineering. Not according to what we're hearing. Word is that supercar buyers are unconvinced by the hybrid concept and put off by the pricing, which starts at $845,000 and doesn't include extras like the fast charger and fancy metallic paint. Perhaps it will take a test drive to convince Porsche-philes to open their wallets, or maybe Porsche will find that the air is just too thin at this lofty altitude.