Originally published Tuesday, Jan 12 on SHEIMagazine.com.
SHEI Magazine had the opportunity to cover this year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) during the show’s press preview days Jan 11 & 12, 2016. Because we were on limited passes and only had two hours of floor access per day, dividing the show in half was necessary to do it justice.
On Monday Jan 11 (Day One), we focused on the newest offerings from the major European luxury marques. This year’s big stories: the all-new BMW M2, Mercedes’ best looking E-Class ever, a redesigned Audi R8, Porsche goes turbo, and more. Read on below.
It’s safe to say that no single brand had a bigger 2015 than BMW. In a mere 12 months, the Blue Roundel launched a brand new 7-series sedan, the “i” series electric vehicle line, and also took home the vaunted title of “World’s Top Luxury Brand” by sales. Not bad for a down economy.
Now, BMW is poised to keep that momentum going with the launch of an all-new performance car from its M Performance arm. The BMW M2, unveiled to the public on Monday, is an aggressive 365-bhp short wheelbase coupe that promises 0-60 in 4.1 seconds at a piggy-bank-preserving $51,700 MSRP. Those are Porsche 911 numbers. For two-thirds the price. Whoa. And since $52k is firmly within Corvette C7/special edition Mustang territory, the 2016 “attainable dream car” category is about to get electrified. How electrified, you ask? Just look at that hue.
Speaking of “electric”, BMW’s i8 hybrid supercar enters its second year on the market in 2016. The i8 has won international acclaim for its blend of ecology and performance as well as its avant garde design. Looking at a BMW i8 in the company of other cars ages everything in the room – it is, by all accounts, lightyears ahead of its time. Not much has changed since its debut, however: the i8 is still a vision of a future promised, and still sold out basically everywhere.
We were, however, able to get inside the carbon-bodied spaceship for around 20 seconds at this year’s show rather than being told an outright "no." Much like the innovative i8 itself, progress takes all forms.
Since the 2015 launch of its latest halo car (the AMG GT-S, which we covered during last year’s show), Mercedes-Benz has taken concentrated steps to reassert market share in fields other than “white-knuckle performance.” Notable introductions include the widening of the GLE/GLC range and the introduction of the first ever S-Class convertible. Now, facing stiff competition from both home (BMW/Audi) and abroad (Cadillac/Lexus), Mercedes is out to reassert its roots.
On Sunday night, the Triple Star revealed the latest step in their heritage of sedan craftsmanship: a redesigned E-Class for MY 2017. The all-new E-Class is a gorgeous and sumptuous luxury midsize poised to silence all doubters. Sweeping lines and split headlights lend the car a decidedly high-tech feeling. Likely intended, seeing as this is the most technologically-advanced E-Class Merc has ever launched. A whole host of passive electronic features from the S-Class (like Active Lane Assist, the original Tesla Autopilot a whole year before Elon Musk got on his soapbox about a common luxury feature) make their debut in a car you might actually take home from the dealership.
The S-Class similarities don't stop there. Inside, a miniaturized version of the S-Class’ flagship electronic suite ties together a cabin draped in an Argentine ranch’s worth of leather. Under the hood, a turbo four-cylinder (base model) churns out 241 bhp. Even under falling gas prices, the days of your grandpa’s V8 lux-o-barge have come and passed. Comfort through efficiency is the new opulence; intelligence is the new black. Given the planned range of plug-in hybrid E-Class models available when the vehicle hits dealerships later this year, I’d wager that Mercedes would agree.
Editor’s note: On the “white-knuckle performance” side of things, Merc also unveiled a special-edition S63 AMG coupe to commemorate the 130th edition of the first automobile (invented in 1886 by one Karl Benz). 4WD, 585bhp, 4500 lbs moving 0-60 in 3.9 seconds.
I also pushed the “push to start” on an AMG GT-S. It started. My hand shook. That is all.
I will not spend this space discussing anything related to the VW Emissions Scandal. The automotive press has beaten this to pieces, Audi/VW have apologized, and other scandals unveiled this year have taken human lives. That’s all I should have to say. On a more positive note: Audi’s new R8 is sublime.
The lumpy, disproportioned VW Beetle that once passed for a supercar has been sharpened on the outside and absolutely weaponized under the hood. 2017 editions of the R8 V10 Plus (the only R8 worth getting) shackle wild Lamborghini performance into a restrained German package – but only from the curb. Laser headlights, a dashboard straight out of Iron Man’s HUD, and a sharply geometric design language throughout hint that the relatively-docile R8 of year’s past is history the second you jam the throttle.
The new car oozes futurism in a way that’s more “Ghost in the Shell” than “Jetsons” – it is streamlined, it is dangerous, and it is waiting. Unlike its wild-child cousin, the Lamborghini Huracan, the new R8 V10 Plus does not broadcast its aggression. You’d have to start the fight before the R8 ended it.
Porsche purists must have the worst job in the world. Every five years, a team at Stuttgart burns midnight oil to reinvent some aspect of the world’s favorite sports car. Porsche purists then crawl over every inch of a by-all-accounts superb new product, and with every fiber of their beings, try to destroy something they love. It’s like a middle-aged father not acknowledging that their grown child doesn’t want unsolicited advice let alone need it. You have to trust and let go - this is Porsche, for crying out loud. They know how to make a sports car. They’re the winningest manufacturer in racing history. And with the single exception of the pre-remodel 996 (*shudders*), they do things right.
So when the Stuttgart performance marque announced that the base model of the 2016 911 Carrera (the 991.2) would be going turbocharged, Porsche purists didn’t just perform the duty of the worst job in the world – they embraced it. Automotive blogs lamented the “low” 7500rpm rev limit. Anxiety over turbo lag ran rampant. Old school 911 fans cried heresy. Somewhere, Steve McQueen rolled in his grave. All before a single factory car ever hit a reviewer’s hands.
One year after the supposed Porschepocalypse, Steve McQueen has stopped spinning and the sports car world has returned to peace. As it turns out, modern ECU software is so good at managing turbo lag that adding blowers to the 911’s engine didn’t result in thewaitforitwaitforitwoosh of a tuned Supra. Quite the opposite – the new 911 is more powerful (20bhp improvement) than the old, with a linear power curve to boot. It is also more economical: the EPA estimates 28mpg highway, putting a 911 in sensible commuter car territory. (Porsche purists: back away from the keyboard - that was a joke.)
The only downside of turbo proliferation is a muddled-up naming convention. New for Detroit 2016 is a pair of range-topping supercars based on the 991.2. In past lives, we’d simply have called these twin-turbo twins “911 Turbo.” But now, even your dentist’s retirement splurge is technically a 911 turbo. What, then, are we supposed to call the new Turbo and Turbo S, Porsche’s just-revealed flagships?
911 Extra Turbos?
911 Turbo: The Revenge?
Perhaps Porsche “540bhp for $160k/580bhp for $190k out of a variable-geometry turbine 3.8L flat-six” Turbo will do. It’s a mouthful, but the important stuff is there: racing pedigree; engine output; unabashedly six-figure price tag. With earth-shattering performance comes a sticker price equivalent to my college education.
The historic Italian automaker reentered the US market in 2014 with the introduction of the 4C Coupe. It was quick; it was light; it could hold exactly one friend if neither of you had luggage. So when Alfa unveiled the four-door, 510bhp Giulia sedan, I was intrigued. When Alfa unveiled the Giulia’s Nurburgring record for “fastest time by a production four-door” (a Panamera Turbo-shaming 7:39), I was enraptured. Seeing it in person, I’m… honestly ambivalent. The Giulia is certainly a performance car – its collection of vents and scoops label it as such. But there’s just something about the pursed grill, bland haunches, and BMW-inspired rear quarters that don’t make it a particularly exciting performance car.
It’s the same issue I have with the Maserati Ghibli: past eighth-grade chorus, simply putting on a dress shirt and tie isn’t enough to render you well-dressed. To get the results you want, you have to present a holistic image rather than simply display traits of group membership. The Nissan GT-R has a free pass to be boring: it's a linear algorithim with wheels, and every GT-R buyer knows this fact well when they sign the title. This Alfa Romeo is a fiery, passionate Italian supersedan; but you'd only know that by looking at the red calipers. Putting it in the same exhibit as a 1968 Alfa Type 33 Stradale (universally considered to be one of the most beautiful cars ever made) only highlights this discrepancy.
In its day, the Type 33 was the fastest commercially available production car at the standing kilometer, and it achieved this feat in an aluminum body that rendered it dressed to kill. I am gobsmacked by the performance of the Alfa Romeo Giulia. I just wish it looked more the part.
Enjoyed Day One of our 2016 NAIAS coverage? Stay tuned for Day Two coverage of American/Japanese Performance coming tomorrow. Need to pass the time? Catch up on some other SHEI Features, or visit the author’s website for more great articles.