You need look no further than the 2013 New York International Auto Show media preview this last week to see that automakers are aggressively laying out multiple paths to get to the fuel economy goals of the U.S., Europe and Japan. Electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, hybrids, diesels and advanced gasoline engines (as well as other technologies) point to a diverse future and potentially even some confusion for car buyers looking to choose high-mileage replacements for their current vehicles.
The good news is high-mileage vehicles are coming in a variety of configurations, offering buyers choices that vary from the expected subcompact sedans to larger sedans, crossovers and fully off-road capable SUVs. Maybe the best way to attack the variety of news is to look at highlights alphabetically by manufacturer.
Audi showed off its A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid and told us that it would be coming to America at some point in the new future. It will likely feature a 1.4-liter TSI 4-cylinder engine mated to a 75 kW electric motor when it arrives, producing 204 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, a prodigious performance package for the small subcompact. Until the plug-in arrives, Audi offers the redesigned 2015 A3 that will arrive in early 2014 with either a 1.8-liter TFSI gas, 2.0-liter gas, 2.0-liter TDI diesel or, in S3 trim, a high-output 2.0-liter TSFI gas engine. In European trim the gas engines can hit 40 mpg and the diesel deliver above 60 mpg on the highway. Even if the U.S. numbers are less than the usually generous European ones, it looks like the 2015 models will offer a good boost beyond the current 42 (for the TDI) and 28 mpg (for the 2.0-liter TFSI) highway numbers.
BMW rolled out its latest diesel version of its top-volume 3-Series, the 328d. It features a four-cylinder turbocharged engine that’s smaller than the last generation 335d’s six, but still powerful enough to fit in the BMW performance pantheon. BMW officials said they expect 45 mpg on the highway from the engine, which takes it almost into Prius territory.
Also on the stand in New York was the company’s Active Tourer concept car, which showcases the powertrain what will be in the company’s first plug-in car, the i8, which is set to debut next year. It features a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack so it will produce an estimated 190 horsepower while delivering up to 95 mpg.
The luxury division of Nissan introduced its third hybrid, the 2014 QX60 Hybrid, the sister SUV to the Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid also shown in New York. It features a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT (continuously variable transmission) along with a 15 kW electric motor in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive models. Combined horsepower for the two-motor system is 250, delivering an expected 26 mpg combined for either model and a range of more than 500 miles.
The QX60 Hybrid, which replaces the old JX35 model in Infiniti’s new numbering system, will cost about $3,000 more than the non-hybrid version. Its fuel economy is 24% better, according to Infiniti. The company claims its fuel economy will be the best for a seven-passenger luxury crossover/SUV. It also added that placing the lithium-ion batteries under the third-row seats means no sacrifice of interior space to accommodate the hybrid technology.
Chrysler re-introduced the mid-size Jeep Cherokee name for the Liberty replacement, which it claims will get 31 mpg on the highway from its standard 2.4-liter MultiAir2 TigerShark 4-cylinder engine, which is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. The new powertrain improves fuel economy by 45% compared to the older model. The SUV also has an optional V-6 engine that provides 271 horsepower and additional towing capability while delivering an estimated 29 highway mpg.
Mercedes showed off an all-electric B-Class and announced it would be on sale in the U.S. by the end of this year. The five-door wagon-like subcompact model, which Mercedes also used as a base for its fuel cell electric cars, will have a 177-horsepower electric motor that will accelerate it from zero-to-60 mph in 10 seconds. In European testing it claims a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles).
Mercedes also introduced the latest generation (gen 3 for those keeping track) of the all-electric Smart Fortwo ED. The two-passenger minicar uses lithium-ion batteries and a 75-horsepower motor and a range of 145 kilometers (90 miles).
Mitsubishi debuted its new Mirage minicar at the show. The car will feature a 1.2-liter three-cylinder gas engine designed to deliver a combined fuel economy of 40 mpg (37 city/44 highway). It will have a CVT and is expected to be priced in the low $10,000s. Mitsubishi also showed off its upcoming plug-in hybrid Outlander SUV.
Like Infiniti (above), Nissan introduced a crossover/SUV hybrid that will take on the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and maybe the VW Touareg Hybrid. The specs for the Pathfinder are identical to the QX60–it will have a 2.5-liter gasoline engine and 15 kW electric motor turning out a solid 250 horsepower while delivering a combined 26 mpg (25 city; 27 highway). Nissan said it would be priced about $3,000 more than the comparable non-hybrid V-6 Pathfinder. One of the most significant parts of the package is that the lithium-ion batteries for the energy storage reside under the rear seat of the seven-passenger vehicle. and don’t intrude on people or luggage space.
Subaru moves into the hybrid age with the announcement in New York that they will bring hybrid model to the U.S. in XV Crosstrek Hybrid. It will feature a combined 31 mpg from its 2.0-liter boxer engine, 13.4-horsepower electric motor, CVT transmission and nickel metal hydride battery pack, about a 3 mpg improvement from the standard Crosstrek. It will go on sale in the fall of this year. Subaru claims it will be the most fuel-efficient compact crossover on the market.
Toyota introduced the next generation (2014) Highlander Hybrid crossover in New York. The company didn’t release fuel economy numbers, but its 3.5-liter V-6 and CVT powers a larger, eight-passenger vehicle now, so it is unlikely to boost fuel economy much beyond the current edition’s 28 mpg (a figure delivered across the board in city and highway driving). The new Highlander will hit showrooms in early 2014.
VW introduced its seventh generation Golf that will arrive here next year as a 2015 model; it also collected a World Car of the Year award. The restyling is mild, but the focus on fuel economy is not. Even though this version of the Golf is bigger than its predecessor, it weighs less. Like its Audi cousins, the new Golf will be powered by three new engine choices, two gas and one diesel, the latter of which will boost its highway fuel economy into the mid-40s while maintaining or improving its power.
The New York Auto Show saw a substantial number of high-mileage introductions as well as re-introductions of key high-mileage vehicles. Of course, there were also plenty of high-horsepower, adrenaline-soaked models as well. But the course is clear; automakers are moving steadily to incorporate better fuel economy across their product lines, expanding beyond entry-level models to mainstream sedans, people-haulers and even full-size pickups and work vehicles. It’s a trend that is only going to accelerate as we move further into this decade. The end result will be some great choices for consumers, who will no longer have to sacrifice functionality for fuel economy.
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