Lap of luxury, seat of power
The world of luxury and sports cars is an exotic one, filled with high performance, extravagant interiors and rarefied prices.
But, like other parts of the car and truck market, fuel economy is forcing these vehicles to change, and soon our idea of luxury will change as well.
Fuel economy mandates have forced high-end brands to introduce small models at the bottom of the luxury market, with small displacement engines that return good fuel economy to balance out thirstier, larger vehicles. At the same time, these models attract customers who might not have otherwise considered buying one.
But the same marketing magic won't work when it comes to sports cars. So, manufacturers are using expensive lightweight materials to reduce weight and fuel consumption without affecting performance. Also, many carmakers are expanding their use of the dual-clutch transmission – a manual transmission that lacks a clutch pedal.
This is what will be facing consumers who want to drive only the best.
Let's take a test drive.
–Acura RLX: Acura's flagship, the RLX, gets a thorough reworking for the new model year, most notably in size, growing 2 inches in wheelbase and 1.7 inches in width. Styling revisions both inside and out bring the car up-to-date, as do a host of driver assistance and safety amenities. Like previous Acuras, the RLX is front-wheel drive and is powered by a 310-horsepower V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
–Audi A3: The Audi A3 returns in early 2014 as a four-door sedan with a 170-horsepower, turbocharged gas engine or a 150-horsepower turbocharged diesel engine. In addition, a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine will be offered in the A3 quattro and S3 quattro. All engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The previous version of the A3, now known as the A3 Sportback, will return as a plug-in gas-electric hybrid.
–BMW 4 Series: For 2014, BMW has renamed its 3 Series Coupe. Now known as the 4 Series Coupe, it's larger in width and wheelbase than the outgoing 3 Series Coupe. The 4 Series will be offered as both a 428i, featuring a twin-turbocharged, 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, and as a 435i, with a twin-turbocharged 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter six. Both will be available with a standard eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. Both models will also be offered with a choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
–Cadillac CTS: The third-generation CTS sedan grows 5 inches in length for 2014, while shedding weight in the process. A new twin-turbocharged 420-horsepower V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission are standard in the new CTS Vsport, which reaches 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. Other CTS models get a 321-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 and the eight-speed or a 272-horsepower, 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder and six-speed automatic used in the smaller ATS, which shares its rear-wheel-drive platform with the CTS.
–Chevrolet SS: Chevrolet may not be a luxury nameplate, but it's offering a sedan that – in price and performance – competes with them. The SS is Chevy's first rear-drive performance sedan since 1996. Power comes from a 415-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 and a six-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually through paddle-shifters mounted on the steering wheel. Chevrolet says the new SS can reach 60 mph in 5 seconds. The SS also gets a system that allows the car to park itself, unusual in a car for drivers who should know how to do it without assistance.
–Infiniti Q50: The Infiniti Q50 replaces the G37 in the Infiniti line-up, but the G37 will continue to be sold at a lower price alongside its replacement for 2014. The Q50 sedan is offered with a 328-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 or 360 horsepower, 3.5-liter hybrid driveline. The Q50 will be offered with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. A new steering system allows drivers to adjust the amount of power assist and response, while a new camera-based system can steer the car back into its lane.
–Lexus IS: The smallest and least-expensive rear-wheel-drive car in the Lexus lineup returns, wearing the styling of Lexus's larger LS, GS and ES sedans. The IS is offered solely as a sedan with engines that carry over from last year. The IS 250 has a 204-horsepower, 2.5-liter V-6 and a six-speed automatic transmission, while the IS 350 receives a 306-horsepower V-6 mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. A manual transmission is not offered and neither is a hybrid – unusual for a Toyota or Lexus vehicle.
–Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: For the first time, Mercedes-Benz is marketing a front-wheel-drive sedan, the entry-level CLA. Taking its look from the larger CLS, the CLA will be available with optional all-wheel drive. The CLA250 will come with a 208-horsepower, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Need more power? The CLA45 AMG will come with world's most powerful four-cylinder engine. With 355 horsepower, the CLA45 AMG reaches 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.
–Mercedes-Benz S-Class: The flagship of the Mercedes-Benz line-up is what it's always been: the luxury sedan other automakers measure themselves against. This year's signature features are a semi-autonomous driving system that assists in cornering by steering itself, and a lane-sensing system that can steer the car back into its lane. On a more frivolous note, an aromatherapy system is a new option. A twin-turbocharged, 455-horsepower V-8 is standard on the S550. The high-performance S63 AMG 4MATIC will offer 577 horsepower and all-wheel drive.
–Audi RS 5: An open-air variant of the high-performance RS 5 arrives with a 450-horsepower V-8 mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and quattro all-wheel drive. The RS 5 Cabriolet sprints from 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, 0.4 seconds slower than the RS 5 Coupe. Both models have an electronically governed top speed of 174 mph. The best part? The RS 5's EPA-estimated fuel economy of 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway – and no gas-guzzler tax.
–Chevrolet Corvette Stingray: The 2014 Corvette regains the Stingray moniker. Important? You bet. That means GM threw everything at it to ensure its performance credibility. The results are impressive. Its V-8 engine produces 460 horsepower when mated with the seven-speed manual transmission and performance exhaust system. That ensures that it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, run the quarter-mile in 12 seconds at 119 mph, achieve 1.03g in cornering grip and stop from 60 mph in 107 feet, yet return 17 mpg city, 29 mpg highway.
–Ford Mustang: Yes, a new one is coming. What it will be like is anyone's guess.
–Jaguar F-Type: When the Jaguar E-Type debuted in 1961, it quickly became iconic, a lifestyle prop to swinging London. So what do you do for an encore? The answer arrived in June: the 2014 F-Type. Base cars get a 340 or 380 horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V-6, good for a 0-60 mph run in 5.1 or 4.8 seconds respectively. The feral cat of the family is the F-Type S V-8, with 495 horsepower, 20-inch wheels, and a 0-60 mph run of just 4.2 seconds. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard. A manual transmission is not offered.
–Porsche 911: As expected, Porsche adds new performance models to its redesigned 911 line-up: the 911 Turbo gets a 520-horsepower, turbocharged, 3.8-liter six-cylinder; the 911 Turbo S gets another 40 horsepower. Need more power? The new GT3 was built for you, with 475 horsepower, a 0-60 mph time of 3.3 seconds and a 195 mph top track speed. Of course, these models get a host of performance enhancements over other 911s and a standard seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. A traditional manual transmission is not offered.
–Porsche Cayman: With a longer wheelbase, new chassis and new lightweight body construction, the redesigned Cayman weighs 60 pounds less than the outgoing model, allowing for better performance. Powering the base Cayman is a 275-horsepower, 2.7-liter, six-cylinder engine. Cayman S models get a stronger 325-horsepower, 3.4-liter, six-cylinder engine. Both cars come with rear-drive and a six-speed manual transmission or optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that improves performance and fuel economy. Adaptive cruise control is a new option for 2014.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at email@example.com.
(c)2013 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services