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European automakers bring concepts to reality

International offerings unveiled at Detroit auto show

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THERE were 59 new-vehicle introductions at the recent 2013 North American International Auto Show. Here, we round up the noteworthy reveals from European car manufacturers at the Detroit show.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen executives offered the insight that, in the grand scheme of things, Detroit is their premier SUV auto show venue. To that end, the German automaker revealed a soon-to-be-produced concept crossover, the Crossblue.

Many synergies in the Volkswagen brand are coming to bear in this vehicle. The recent focus on designing cars for the American market has paid handsome dividends for the automaker -- 64 per cent of all its current sales are from the new Jetta and Passat. While being assailed by its traditional fan base of enthusiasts, new customers have apparently embraced the cost-cutting designs of these "made-for-the-masses" models.

The new all-wheel-drive crossover was shown in six-seater configuration, but it was made clear that any production model would also arrive with a seven-seater option.

In Volkswagen parlance, the inclusion of 'blue' in the name implies some element of fuel efficiency, and the Crossblue delivers as a turbocharged diesel/electric plug-in hybrid. At the push of a button, the CUV can also run in all-electric mode for up to 33 kilometres.

Volkswagen sees the mid-sized SUV/CUV segment as having the largest growth capacity in the next decade. The automaker estimates there are currently 1.2 million mid-sized SUV's being sold worldwide and expects a 22 per cent increase by 2021.

Another production-ready model, the Passat Performance Concept, was tabled to add some zip to the family image of the Passat. Aside from some 19-inch wheels and fancy lights, the concept rides atop a sports-tuned suspension. Under the hood, a 1.8L, four-cylinder turbocharged engine churns out 250 hp compared to the 170 hp currently provided by the 2.5L inline five-cylinder power-plant.

BMW

It was so inevitable BMW would unveil an M6 version of its Gran Coupe. Based on the 650 Coupe, the four-door Gran Coupe shares most of its underpinnings with the Coupe, so the transformation to hot-rod four-door status was virtually a fait accompli.

Like the M6 Coupe, the Gran Coupe's twin-turbo 4.4L V8 is boosted to 560 hp in the transformation and there's 502 pound-feet of torque to boot. Acceleration to 100 km/h takes but 4.2 seconds, a smidgen faster than the Mercedes CLS 63 but a tick behind Audi's new RS7.

Other features include the dual-clutch manumatic transmission with paddle shifters, a change from the base version's eight-speed, which uses a torque convertor in its traditional automatic. Like the M5 and M6, the M6 Gran Coupe offers a multi-adjustable suspension system that can be accessed via steering-wheel-mounted M Drive buttons and carbo-ceramic brakes will be available

In other BMW news, the company says the 3 Series Coupe's name change to the 4 Series is not so much about the rejection of 3 but rather that "the 4 stands for greater sportiness, greater exclusivity and even clearer differentiation from the BMW 3 Series sedan range."

And, indeed, the 4 Series Concept BMW previewed in Detroit is a sleeker, edgier design than its four-door sibling, with a dramatically sloping rear roofline and sharp creases running the full length of the body. The new 4 is BMW's best stylistic rendering in quite some time. Expect the 4 Series to be powered by the complete range of four- and six-cylinder turbocharged engines motivating the current 3 Series.

Mercedes

The easy way to think of Mercedes-Benz's 2014 CLA is to picture it as a B-Class hatchback that has morphed into a sedan. The two cars use the same 208-hp, 2.0L turbocharged four and the same dual-clutch seven-speed transmission (that one hopes is better-calibrated than the B250's sometimes cranky trannie).

It also shares many of the same chassis bits and, like the B-Class, is primarily a front-driver. However, Mercedes will, for the first time, offer a 4Matic all-wheel-drive option that is based on a front-wheel-drive platform -- all previous 4Matic systems have been based on rear-wheel-drive cars).

Much of the interior is carried over from -- or at least inspired by -- the B250, including a fixed LCD touchscreen that controls functions like air conditioning and infotainment.

More importantly, it's a sleek rendering of a compact sedan. Mercedes claims the CLA has the lowest coefficient of drag for any modern production car, 0.22, thanks to extra-slippery A-pillars and a rear diffuser that reduces drag.

Official fuel-economy figures have not yet been released, but Mercedes is promising class-leading efficiency. In CLA220 CDI form, the small four-cylinder turbodiesel is rated at five litres per 100 kilometres (56 miles per gallon) in the European cycle and promises even better highway fuel economy.

The CLA250 should land in Mercedes dealerships by fall, with the all-wheel-drive version to follow in the spring of 2014.

Besides the CLA and new E-Class Coupe and Convertible (as well as the E250 turbodiesel version of the sedan), Mercedes also took the wrappers off a new E63 AMG sedan.

Available with as much as 577 turbocharged horsepower (in the extra-boosted S trim), the big news is the high-performance E will be available with 4Matic all-wheel drive newly recalibrated for use in an ultra high-performance sedan. Besides benefitting handling, all that traction helps the E63 S-Model scoot to 100 km/h in less than four seconds. The S-Model also gets the full gamut of the Mercedes performance hardware with a limited-slip rear differential, sports suspension with rear air springs and optional, 400-millimetre AMG carbon-ceramic brakes.

Audi

Holy cow! Holy freakin' cow! In one fell swoop, Audi's swoopy A7 goes from somnolent also-ran to speedy front-runner in the ultra-sporty four-door-coupe segment.

Thanks to a massive influx of turbo boost, the Audi S7's previously lightly pressurized -- to the tune of "only" 420 horsepower -- 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 has been boosted to a M6-challenging 560 hp. That's enough to tie the resultant RS7 with the GT version of the company's R8 V10 for the most powerful Audi offered in North America.

And not only is there a massive increase in horsepower, but maximum torque is also bumped up to 516 pound-feet, and 25 kilograms of unwanted avoirdupois have been shed. That means the RS7 can scoot to 100 kilometres an hour in less than four seconds and scream to an almost 310 km/h top speed if fitted with the speed de-restricted Dynamic Plus package.

Befitting its performance image, the RS7 gets handling advantages such as adaptive air suspension, a sport differential and firmer suspension. And while the Audi is the most subdued externally of the CLS 63/M6 Gran Coupe/RS7 triumvirate, it does come standard with ginormous 21-inch wheels with even larger 21-inchers available.

A word of explanation regarding Audi's appellations might help in emphasizing how special the RS7 is. Only three RS's have previously been imported into Canada -- the RS4, TT RS and the RS5, which is just now making its way to these shores. The confusing aspect is that Audi also has numerous S models, which one might think are equivalent to BMW's M models and Mercedes-Benz's AMG variants. Instead, Audi's S trims denote the highest level of its standard models.

Thus, while an A7 (powered by a 3.0T V6) might be equivalent to, say, a BMW 640 Gran Sport (not imported by BMW Canada), the S7 is Audi's competitor to the V8-powered 650i Gran Sport. Only the RS models do battle with the M brand, in this case the RS7 going head-to-head with the newly-introduced M6 Gran Coupe.

Also on the Audi stand at the Detroit show was the new -- and somewhat awkwardly named -- Audi SQ5. As one might expect, it's an upgraded version of the Q5 compact ute, albeit not quite to RS (or M or AMG) standards. Instead, it gets Audi's ubiquitous supercharged 3.0L V6. Its 354 hp is enough to propel the eight-speed SQ6 to 100 kilometres an hour in 5.3 seconds.

Maserati

As part of an ambitious initiative to increase global sales from around 5,000 a year to 10 times that number by 2015 -- and fend off financial losses from a collapsing European new-car market with luxury car sales in foreign markets -- Fiat-owned Maserati is counting on three new models: the Jeep Grand Cherokee-based Levante SUV, the entry-level Ghibli sedan and the new 2014 Quattroporte, the only Italian-brand vehicle revealed at this year's Detroit auto show.

Loosely based on the Chrysler 300 platform, the sixth-generation Quattroporte sedan will offer a six-cylinder (a 404-hp twin-turbo 3.0L) with optional all-wheel drive for the first time, in addition to a topline, rear-drive V8 model.

With 523 hp, Maserati says the new twin-turbo V8 Quattroporte scoots from zero to 100 km/h in 4.7 seconds. The V6/AWD version is only 0.2 seconds behind, while the RWD six model takes 5.1 seconds.

Larger in almost every dimension compared to the model it's replacing, the new Quattroporte offers newfound adult-friendly rear legroom but is apparently 100 kg lighter.

To take on rivals like the Audi A7, BMW 6 Gran Coupe, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class and Porsche Panamera, the Italian-built Quattroporte will offer standard kit like a touchscreen infotainment system, four- or five-passenger seating, adaptive suspension, 20-inch wheels and Brembo brakes, among other modern touches.

When it goes on sale later this year, 2014 Quattroporte pricing is expected to range roughly between $130,000 and $190,000.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2013 F7

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