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En Route: Mid-2014 & Early 2015 Auto Debuts

You don’t have to wait for fall to get a jump on your next ride. For midyear automobile introductions, you’ll find models that have been tweaked with a focus on engines and transmissions that aim at better fuel economy without diminishing performance.

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U.S. motorists replaced their vehicles at a sizzling pace throughout 2013. Now, manufacturers are tempting consumers with summer loves. Although many automakers are gearing up for big fall releases, closer on the horizon are some “wants” and lifestyle choices, not the basic “needs” of transportation. Personality, performance and prestige will arrive in all sizes starting in May 2014.

Audi A3 Cabriolet


The 2015 A3 Cabriolet is the latest in a planned Audi family of front-wheel-drive compact vehicles, including a sedan, a crossover SUV, a performance model and a five-door hatchback plug-in hybrid. The four-seat A3 Cabriolet has appealing refinement and desirable appointments, including standard leather-trimmed upholstery and Internet connectivity. At launch, two models will be available that will give you a choice of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines (a 1.4 liter and a 2.0 liter) and a six-speed dual-clutch (automated manual) transmission. We anticipate that the bigger 2.0-liter, 220-hp engine will provide brisk acceleration. When the insulated cloth top is down, the trunk’s 9.2 cubic feet is just 1 cubic foot less than what you’d get in the larger A5 Cabriolet.
You can see it in showrooms: Fall 2014
MSRP: $35,000 (estimated)


Subaru Legacy


What had been a sensible midsize sedan emerges from the chrysalis looking like a power player. The re-engineered 2015 Legacy has about the same exterior dimensions and wheelbase as it did before, but it now has 1.6 cubic feet more cabin space beneath its shapely, arching roofline. The all-wheel-drive Legacy adds an improved EyeSight driving-assist system and a new rear radar system that includes blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. Also new are front seat-cushion air bags that help to prevent occupants from sliding out of their seat belts during a crash. The Legacy has a choice of two “boxer” engines (horizontally opposed pistons), which were updated to improve fuel economy over previous versions, and a continuously variable transmission. The 2.5-liter, 175-hp four-cylinder engine has estimated fuel economy of 26 mpg city/36 mpg highway, an improvement of 5 mpg in the city and 7 mpg on the highway from the 2014 Legacy’s ratings. Fuel-economy estimates for the 3.6-liter, 256-hp six-cylinder engine improve by 10 percent over the 2014 model to 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway. As of press time, Subaru hadn’t made this vehicle available to test-drive, but we expect it to be quieter than the previous version is, because it has an acoustic windshield (that is, laminated to reduce noise) and liquid-filled engine mounts.
You can see it in showrooms: Summer 2014
MSRP: $22,000 (estimated)

Lincoln MKC


Lincoln’s 2015 MKC compact crossover SUV shares underpinnings with the Ford Escape, but it’s about 1 inch wider, with a 1-inch wider wheel track and a 1-inch lower roofline. The five-seat MKC will have front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive optional ($2,495). Two turbocharged four-cylinder engines are available: the standard 2.0-liter version or the optional 2.3-liter, 275-hp powerplant ($1,140). Each engine is joined with a six-speed automatic transmission, which seems dated given competitors’ move to seven, eight and nine gears. (Lincoln says it’s developing nine- and 10-speed transmissions but didn’t give a timeline. For now, it says, the turbocharged engines meet its expectations for performance and fuel economy.) What separates the MKC from competitors, such as the Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLK, is its focus on more high-end luxury. It’s the first Lincoln to include the brand’s new “Deepsoft” leather, and it comes with wood trim and neatly stitched and pleated materials that give the impression that they’re hand-crafted.
You can see it in showrooms: Summer 2014
MSRP: $33,100

BMW i8


Admittedly, the 2015 i8’s hefty price is beyond the reach of most consumers. However, some of the electric coupe’s technology will show up in other BMW models in the near future, particularly its lightweight construction and the 1.5-liter, turbocharged three-cylinder gasoline engine that powers its rear wheels. The gasoline engine supplements electric motors that drive the front wheels. BMW couldn’t tell us about future models, but the engine is being used in BMW’s small-car division, MINI, for its redesigned 2014 Cooper Hardtop. The i8 keeps its weight down via aluminum and thermoplastic body panels, a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic passenger compartment and an aluminum drivetrain housing. The car is similar in size to the Cadillac ELR extended-range electric vehicle—but 772 pounds lighter and 3.7 inches wider. Based on those specifications, we anticipate nimble handling and good elbow room.
You can see it in showrooms: July 2014
MSRP: $135,700

Ram Power Wagon


When it absolutely, positively has to be hauled out, hitched up or climbed over, the 2014 Power Wagon can get it done because of its 6.4-liter, 410-hp Hemi V8 engine and new coil-spring suspension, front and rear. Based on the heavy-duty Ram 2500 four-wheel-drive Crew Cab pickup that has a 6-foot bed, the Power Wagon is built for access to extreme terrain. This pickup has a towing capacity of 11,000 pounds, which compares with 8,000 pounds for Ford’s F-150 SVT Raptor, which is the only other extreme off-roader that’s in production. Unsurprisingly, the Power Wagon’s fuel economy is abysmal, even with the inclusion of revised gearing and cylinder deactivation, which switches between four and eight cylinders. Our testing of the previous model was in the range of 9–10 mpg combined.
You can see it in showrooms: Now
MSRP: $50,000 (estimated)

Porsche Macan


As Porsches have become bigger, more powerful and more expensive, the Macan compact crossover SUV might bring a return to simpler sportiness. This 2015 model will be sold in two all-wheel-drive versions. You’ll have a choice of two twin-turbocharged, six-cylinder engines that have automatic stop-start at idle and a seven-speed dual-clutch (automated manual) transmission. The base Macan S has a 3.0-liter, 340-hp V6 engine that’s said to be capable of delivering a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.2 seconds. The company says the 3.6-liter, 400-hp V6 Macan Turbo will get to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, or 4.4 seconds with the Sport Chrono option. The Macan is a stout package, weighing 4,100–4,600 pounds, depending on the engine choice, the tire and wheel options and accessories. It’s 6.5 inches shorter and 363 pounds lighter than Porsche’s midsize Cayenne crossover SUV is. We anticipate that this stance will deliver sharper handling when compared with that of the Cayenne. All in all, the Macan should live up to its name, which in Indonesian means “tiger.”
You can see it in showrooms: Mid- to late May 2014
MSRP: $49,900

Cadillac ATS Coupe


Cadillac made strategic choices to reach the enthusiast driver with its compact, four-seat 2015 ATS Coupe. The ATS Coupe, which is based on the Consumers Digest Best Buy ATS Sedan, will have a 2.0-liter, 272-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine or an optional 3.6-liter, 321-hp V6 engine. (Both engines are more powerful than the four- and six-cylinder engines that are available in the BMW 4 Series coupe.) The ATS Coupe will be available in rear- or all-wheel drive with the choice of a six-speed manual transmission and the four-cylinder or a six-speed tap-shift automatic transmission with the V6. As of press time, the vehicle was unavailable to test-drive, but we expect that this car’s power, particularly with a manual transmission, will provide a lively ride. Run-flat, all-season tires are standard on the vehicle’s 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. Estimated fuel-economy ratings are 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway for the 2.0-liter engine and 18 mpg city/31 mpg highway for the 3.6-liter engine. The coupe has roughly the same exterior size as the 4 Series coupe does but notably less headroom, back-seat space and trunk capacity. Still, the ATS Coupe dares to compete with the European brands, even if its styling isn’t as striking as that of Cadillac’s larger CTS Coupe.
You can see it in showrooms: Late summer 2014
MSRP: $35,000 (estimated)

Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive


You shouldn’t expect Mercedes’ first electric vehicle to be merely a short-trip alternative to riding the bus. Because its drive system comes from Tesla Motors, this 2014 subcompact four-door hatchback uses that company’s 174-hp motor, which Mercedes says will pull the B-Class Electric Drive to 60 mph in an estimated 7.9 seconds. That isn’t exactly sports-car quickness, but, because an electric motor provides instant acceleration, we expect real punch from zero to 30 mph. The five-seat B-Class Electric Drive’s lithium-ion battery is sandwiched beneath the cabin floor, where it doesn’t take away from cabin or cargo capacity. The battery can produce a cruising range of 100 miles, the manufacturer says. Charging a depleted battery from a public or home 240-volt system takes about 4 hours, Mercedes says, or you can get 60 miles with a 2-hour charge.
You can see it in showrooms: July 2014
MSRP: Low $40,000s (estimated)

Chrysler 200


Finally, we get an innovative and reasonably attractive midsize sedan from Chrysler. Based on an Alfa Romeo chassis, like the Dodge Dart’s, the 2015 Chrysler 200 should provide capable handling. The 200 will have two engine choices—a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder model that generates 184 hp, and a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 295 horses. The 200 also comes with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive and a new nine-speed automatic transmission, which aims at fuel economy. Chrysler pegged the fuel economy of the version that’s equipped with the standard 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine at 36 mpg highway. Handsome interior materials and technological design features will give the 200 some distinction in this highly competitive segment. Standard features include an electronic parking brake and a space-saving rotary gear-selector dial instead of the traditional shift lever that’s located on the console. That console has been rethought to include rear pass-through storage, a covered charging station and sliding cup holders. Options include parallel- and perpendicular-parking guidance—firsts for the 200.
You can see it in showrooms: Summer 2014
MSRP: $21,700

Mark Maynard is the automotive editor at U-T San Diego and the host of “Maynard’s Garage Radio” at wsradio.com. His articles are syndicated across the United States.

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