Eddie Cunningham: Co-existence as motoring’s multi-faceted world of tomorrow emerges
Few industries do contrast and contradiction like motoring.
Here we are at Detroit surrounded by huge ‘trucks’, muscle sports cars and powerhouse saloons. In European terms they are gas guzzlers. And with petrol prices in the US way significantly lower, these monsters are here for the long haul.
Yet waves of talk - about cutting fuel consumption, making smaller cars, more electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, fuel cells, smaller engines - lap all around the motoring behemoths.
Let’s call it co-existence as motoring’s multi-faceted world of tomorrow emerges.
And it is full of contradictions. We will buy cars not so much to drive any more but to be ferried around in. Say hello to the real-world of autonomous driving. Cars that drive themselves while you read or watch movies.
Detroit is testament, if it were needed, of how exponential the expansion of the technology and its application has been.
It’s a competitive arena and nerves as well as tempers are becoming a bit frayed. Renault-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn has poured cold water on Elon Musk’s claims that Tesla will produce a fully autonomous car much sooner than other brands.
Musk says a Tesla will drive itself across the US within three years. But Ghosn says real-world autonomy is still a long way off.
Be all that as it may but so many new cars are no longer considered ‘new’ now unless there is a ‘self-drive’ element to them.
Take the Mercedes E-Class, undoubtedly one of the stars of this show and due here mid-April.
This fifth-generation is much more dynamic than the current one as Mercedes, like so many others, attempt to woo the younger, affluent buyer.
It is now the first Mercedes to have (optional, obviously) Drive Pilot which is a big step on the old Distronic cruise control system. It means the car can follow the vehicle in front at speeds of up to 210kmh – yes effectively drive itself. And at speeds of up to 128kmh its system can intervene with braking or steering to avoid collisions.
Obviously there are other systems from other manufacturers and, some would claim, more advanced journeys already taken by some rivals. But this is still regarded as something of a milestone.
Of more immediate and practical interest are the conventional attributes of the new Merc. There is no doubting its outline being similar to the C-Class and S-Class – the sloping roofline is the common denominators.
It’s 43mm longer and the wheelbase is up 65mm with shorter overhangs. It is marginally narrower and lower.
Based on a new platform structure with more high-strength steel and aluminium it saves up to 100kg with the front wings, bonnet and bootlid made of aluminium.
There will be a 220d initially with a 200d arrive later. I’m reliably told the new mid-size saloon will be exceptionally well equipped
With as many as eight engines eventually, the new 2-litre diesel with 192bhp in the E220d will be really interesting with claimed emissions of just 102g/km. There will also, it is reported, be a 148bhp version.
There will also be a plug-in hybrid with a turbocharged 2-litre petrol engine and electric motor within the gearbox. Emissions of 49g/km are claimed.
The company’s 9G-Tronic 9spd automatic gearbox is standard.
A new air suspension will be optional. The cabin is not just roomier but smarter, taking cues from the excellent C-Class interior and of course the flagship S-Class. Watch out for the two 12.3ins monitors in the digital panel. A touchpad between the front seats and a rotary dial lets you control the new Comand infotainment system with a sweep of the thumb. They claim they have put a lot of effort into the new seats too.
Also revealed here was the AMG S65 Cabriolet and the SLC which replaces the SLK as part of a mid-life facelift.
Volvo are entitled to be thrilled with the reception their XC90 large SUV has received since launch. I can understand their eagerness to tap into the fruits of its multi-billion platform development with a strong order bank already in place for the large S90/V90 saloon and estate. They are unveiled here today too and will be in Ireland from July/August. Expect them to be priced closely to Audi’s A6 saloon – around the €45,000 mark. The S90 will have a 9ins touchscreen, Sensus connectivity and collision avoidance for pedestrians and cyclists as standard. It will also be semi-autonomous at speeds of up to 130kmh. As I’ve said there is a lot of emphasis here on autonomous and semi-autonomous driving.
First of the S90s on the Irish market will be the 2-litre D4 190PS and D5 235PS engined versions with the T8 407PS plug-in petrol hybrid and the D3 150PS following.
There will be further drivetrain options but it is safe to expect several four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines with turbochargers to boost power outputs. There is also talk of a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol as part of a less expensive hybrid set-up. From large to little and BMW showed off its performance M2 coupe pocket rocket motor to rival the Mercedes-AMG A45, Audi RS3 and Porsche Cayman. It’s due in Ireland in April.
The successor to the 1-series M has a 3-litre 6cyl engine (365hp). And the X4 M40i sport crossover, based on the X4 xDrive35i, has a turbocharged 3-litre 6cyl with 355hp.
The Volkswagen stand was packed – make of that what you will. But when all the hype settled we were shown another example of their hybrid model offensive with the unveiling of the Tiguan GTE Active concept. It uses a modified version of the system we know from the Golf GTE – so it can use front, rear or four-wheel drive depending on driving mode.
Interesting that for all the scandal and furore, the Volkswagen Group still sold more than 9.93 million vehicles worldwide last year.
Ford’s Fusion facelift hints at a future look for mid-life changes to the Mondeo. It has a Jaguar-like gearchange twirl-knob. Will we see that in the Mondeo? You never know.
But of great interest too was the company’s unveiling of a new, lighter EcoBoost concept that can run on two cylinders. Some fascinating technology in the background there.
Audi’s h-tron quattro concept really caught my eye. It looks stunning. It has the next-generation hydrogen fuel cell technology and we can expect to see it by 2020.
The h-tron uses the same MLB platform as the all-electric e-tron quattro concept. The latter’s batteries, mounted low down for better centre of gravity, will be replaced with hydrogen fuel cells.
The A4 Allroad quattro high-riding estate was also shown.
Porsche continues to roll out variants of its re-engineered 911. The 911 Turbo (now 540hp) and Turbo S (580bhp) make their world debut here with more power, design changes and more driving dynamics. They come as coupes or convertibles. Despite their massive power, Porsche say, they are more economical.
See what I mean about contrasts and contradictions?