Top 10 Tech Cars to Watch for in 2018

In 2018, look for more cars with hybrid engines, EVs with 200-plus miles in range, more compact and subcompact crossovers, and more cars with better fuel economy. Every automaker knows it’s got to get better mileage and reduce pollution. If not in the US during the current administration, then everywhere else in the world.

At the same time, we’ll see more honking big SUVs and pickups. That’s what buyers want, and need, given that the average American male is 25 pounds heavier than a half-century ago. Here’s our take on the most important cars due out in 2018. Look for the first of them to debut during press days of the Frankfurt Auto Show this week.

BMW X7: Big SUV to Challenge Mercedes GLS

It took them long enough: BMW now will have its own Shamu-class SUV, the BMW for Americans (especially) who just can’t get an SUV big enough to carry a lot of people and a lot of suitcases, tennis racquets, and iPads. Expect it to be around 205 inches long (the X5 is 193 inches) with three rows of seating. This, not the 7 Series sedan, should be BMW’s technology flagship. The Cadillac Escalade and Mercedes-Benz GLS will each sell 25,000-30,000 units this year in the US; the best-selling luxury sedan, the Mercedes S-Class, might do 16,000 units in 2018.

The X7 will likely have six- and eight-cylinder variants, possibly a diesel, probably a hybrid variant. The price would start around $ 80,000. The photo shows the X7 Concept teased ahead of the Frankfurt Auto Show. It looks production-ready, although the concept grille is massive. But buyers have been griping about new-look BMWs since the early 2000s.

1969 Chevrolet K-5 (full-size) Blazer. The name went away after 2005.

Chevrolet Blazer Returns to Life

Gone since 2005, the Chevrolet Blazer is expected to return next year as a midsize SUV with mainstream-emulating-upscale design and features, meaning like the Nissan Murano or Ford Edge. The Blazer will be bigger than the new Chevrolet Equinox (188 inches) and smaller than the also-new, full-size Chevrolet Traverse (204 inches). It will likely share the basic architecture of the GMC Acadia (194 inches). Expect a full suite of driver assists for long-distance cruising.

The Blazer will be less truck-like than the Equinox or Traverse, much as the Nissan Murano is sleeker (looks, ride) than the Nissan Pathfinder. Unlike the Murano or Edge, the Blazer may squeeze in a barely usable third row. It’s hard to make a three-row SUV comfy in less than 200 inches. Ford meanwhile, will resurrect the similar Ford Bronco (1966-1996) in 2019 as a 2020 model. Some reports have Honda doing a Murano-like midsize vehicle as well, notwithstanding that the midsize Honda Pilot was made considerably less truck-like in its current incarnation.

Dodge Ram Pickup Plays Catch-Up

Ram pickup is the engine that drives Fiat Chrysler Automobiles these days. In a vehicle whose design dates to 2009, RAM is No. 1, outsells FCA’s No. 2 Jeep Grand Cherokee by better than 2-1, and nearly outsells the entire seven-vehicle Dodge line. A half-million Rams will go out the door this year. Look for the 2019 model to be introduced in January at Detroit’s auto show and on sale early in the year. It can’t come too soon. FCA previously pushed back the new Ram to save money.

The competition has improved. Ford F-150 has gone to an all-aluminum body. Ram 1500, the mainstay pickup, will likely get some lighter weight parts, but the body panels and truck bed remain steel. The front grille and headlamp clusters get smaller for aerodynamics, based on spy photos, but the cab in some shots looks bigger, suggesting Ram Mega Cab comes to the Ram 1500 from the RAM 2500/3500. FCA three years ago filed for a patent on a mult-function split tailgate that could either fold down or swing out; we’re still waiting to see it come to market. Another patent would allow the rear seat to fold flat with the floor, a la Chrysler Pacifica, allowing a two-rider team to drive and sleep nearly around the clock.

The cockpit appears to continue with Garmin-based Chrysler UConnect infotainment (a winner) and a rotary gearshift selector (theoretically easy to use). It’s unclear if Ram will continue using the existing 5.7-liter Hemi engine or go to a newer version. It also may be a turbo-six can develop V8-hemi level power. There’ll be a diesel, too. The bigger 2500 and 3500 Rams should be upgraded in 2019.

The Ford EcoSport will compete with Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, and the Nisan Rogue Sport.

Ford EcoSport Gets Ford into Compact SUVs

Based on the Fiesta sedan, the 2018 Ford EcoSport gives Ford an entry in the US subcompact SUV market. It will be powered by a three-cylinder, 1.0-liter turbocharged front-drive engine or a 2.0-liter non-turbo with all-wheel-drive, both with six-speed automatics. This a new model, a redesign of the EcoSport that has been offered around the world the last decade.

A well-optioned EcoSport will have Sync 3 with an 8-inch LCD, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, B&O Play premium audio, and FordPass to manage the car with a smartphone. The entry EcoSport will have Sync classic and a 4- or 6-inch LCD. The side-hinged tailgate may be polarizing, because it takes up more room when open; the Toyota RAV4 ditched it five years ago. The EcoSport is made in India. The Segment is led by the Honda HR-V, Nissan Rogue Sport, and Buick Encore; the Mazda CX-3 is the most poised of the group that will grow about 14 percent in the US this year.

Genesis GV80, here in swoopy concept form, will likely be more squared off to hold a third row.

Genesis GV80 Could Upset Luxury SUV Market

The Hyundai Genesis sedan in 2009 provided much of the comfort and luxury of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, if not the sporty ride and handling, for half to two-thirds of the price. Genesis is now its own brand, and its first SUV will be the GV80, a midsize vehicle competing with the BMW X5, Lexus RX, and Mercedes GLE.

The concept car introduced at the 2017 New York International Show in April is swoopy and sporty, with two rows and a hydrogen fuel cell for propulsion. That the GV80 may have when it launches late 2018 or early 2019, but it will need a more traditional combustion engine or plug-in hybrid if it’s going to sell more than a couple hundred a year. Fans of Hyundai’s no-nonsense reliability and bang for the buck have been hoping for a more upscale version of the Hyunda Santa Fe with higher-end trim and noise insulation. But it’s not yet clear if this the SUV equivalent of the Genesis GV80 sedan ($ 43,000 base price) or something far more upscale. Some reports say the flowing design will be scaled back to allow for more carrying capacity and utility, including seating for six to eight.

Jaguar I-Pace: Tesla has more competition

Jaguar i-Pace EV with Tesla-Like Backlog

Jaguar’s i-Pace electric vehicle is fast becoming a small-volume competitor to the Tesla Model X crossover. Already there 25,000 confirmed orders (about two years worth of production) with customers said to be putting down “four-figure deposits.” The i-Pace is on an all-new platform, which allows for a lengthened wheelbase with the 90-kWh battery in the floor between the axles, and a shortened hood, since there’s no bulky combustion engine up front. The specs, according to Jaguar: 0-60 mph in 4 seconds, at least 220 miles on a charge. The front and rear axles each gets an electric motor, each producing 200 hp. The price will be somewhat under $ 100,000, with production beginning in mid-2018.

Jaguar insiders say the concept car, initially shown 10 months ago at the LA Auto Show, is pretty much what the production i-Pace will look like, minus the rubber band tires on 23-inch wheels. This is the future look and feel of Jaguar, which says half its 2025 production will be electrified.

Flagship Lexus LS drops the V8 for a twin-turbo V6.

Lexus LS 500 Pushes Luxury, Tech, Performance

This is the fifth generation of the Lexus flagship that revolutionized the luxury market a quarter century ago. It is ahead of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz in dropping V8 engines; the 3.5-liter V6 will produce 415 hg with twin turbos, a 10-speed automatic (a first in the premium luxury market), and a 0-60 time around 4.5 seconds. There will also be a hybrid version and an F Sport performance version (the signature color: “Ultra White”). The car is 200 pounds lighter, lower, and longer (206 inches).

Tech features include a large head-up display, 12.3-inch center stack touch screen, and an optional air suspension. Lexus (and all Toyota) make a lot of safety gear optional. On the LS, the Lexus Safety System + will include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert. Optional is pedestrian detection with auto-braking and potentially “steer[ing] around the person while staying in the lane.” The new Lexus arrives just in time (late fall): Lexus LS sales last year tumbled 23 perecent to 5,514 in a luxury market down 9 percent — good for a distant third behind the BMW 7 series (9,292) and the Mercedes S-Class (21,936).

Mazda Skyactiv-X prototype: the next Mazda3?

Mazda3 with HCCI Gasoline-Diesel Engine

Mazda is on a technology roll. The Mazda3 compact sedan, beloved by reviewers although 10th in sales among mainstream compact sedans, is due for a new design in the first half of 2018, likely as a 2019 model. Mazda will work on its jinba ittai, or horse and rider (driver), theme with a more rigid chassis, new seats promoting a natural S-curve to the spine, and more linear energy transfer from a road bump to the springs. The first 2019 model-year Mazda3s get a traditional gasoline engine.

Mazda Skyactiv-X gasoline diesel engine.

Then in calendar 2019, Mazda is likely to install first in the Mazda3 SkyActive-X, its homogenous charge compression ignition (HCCI) engine: a gasoline engine that most of the time ignites the fuel-air mixture by compression, just as a diesel does, but without the emissions challenges. The HCCI engine does use a spark plug when the engine is cold or when starting off. Mazda envisions 20-30 percent increases in fuel efficiency. All this represents an triumph of tech knowhow for the company that outsells only Mitsubishi among Japanese automakers in the US market.

The 2019 production Nissan Altima may sit midway between the current car and the Vmotion 2.0 design statement.

Nissan Altima Chases Accord, Camry

2017 Nissan Altima

The midsize sedan segment is soft, down 22 percent in the first half of 2017. The 1-2 sellers, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, were redesigned this year. It’s Nissan’s turn in 2018 with Altima, the No. 3 midsize sedan. In January 2017, Nissan showed the stylized Vmotion 2.0 concept, a stalking horse for the swoopier five-passenger Altima sedan that actually goes to production. The concept hinted at bigger and possibly more cockpit displays, a floating roof, roomier cabin, “Vmotion” grille, and more safety assists.

Previous Nissans introduced over the past five years, such as the upscale Murano midsize SUV and the Maxima midsize sedan, have used edgier designs to stand out. Watch to see if Altima matches and raises the competition on safety offerings made standard on all but the entry trim line: the Camry (Toyota Safety Sense) and Accord (Honda Sensing) include stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and collision warning/emergency braking, but not blind spot detection. The Altima may well get Nissan’s latest tech: ProPilot Assist (semi-autonomous single-lane driving), Intelligent Rear View Mirror or I-RVM (wide-angle rear camera display in the mirror), Rear Door Alert or RDA (so you don’t walk away and leave your kids inside), and Automatic Emergency Braking or AEB.

The 2019 Subaru Ascent three-row SUV.

Subaru Grows Bigger with Ascent 3-Row SUV

Since the demise of the Tribeca in 2014, Subaru lacked a midsize SUV/crossover of 190-plus inches and capable of holding three rows of passengers. That changes in the spring with the arrival of the Subaru Ascent, a largish midsize sedan of 199 inches, about the same size as the new Volkswagen Atlas and the current best-selling midsize Ford Explorer.

The Ascent gets all-wheel-drive (it’s a Subaru), a turbocharged boxer engine (think V4 engine laid flat, not at 90 degrees), and a choice of seating for seven or eight. It will be built in Indiana and sold in the US only. If the Ascent takes off, it could push Subaru past 700,000 sales a year, especially with a new Subaru Forester compact crossover coming next year, too.

The Nissan Kicks is already offered outside the US. It will be about 10 inches shorter than the Rogue Sport.

Also in 2018 …

Here are some other notable vehicles arriving next year:

Nissan will bring the subcompact crossover Nissan Kicks to the US in 2018. Nissan already has the Nissan Rogue Sport at 172 inches that is shorter than the Rogue and borders on subcompact territory, plus the Nissan Juke (163 inches) that is a rounded, stylized crossover but not sold as a mainstream small SUV. The Kicks will be the crossover sibling to the Nissan Versa sedan, also due for a 2018 redesign.

Buick will deliver a midsize station station wagon, the Buick Regal TourX, that Buick says is a crossover. (Not at 58 inches high when the Buick Envision is 7 inches taller.) There’ll be a hatchback version, too.

BMW is busy in 2018. It will do full redesigns of the X4 fastback compact SUV, X5 midsize SUV (BMW’s best-selling SUV), 3 Series compact sedan (BMW’s best-seller), X3 compact SUV (already announced; shipping mid-fall), 8 Series (luxury coupe revived after two decades), and 4 Series (compact two-door coupe). Many will be based on the CLAR (cluster architecture) combining lightweight steel, magnesium, and carbon fiber. Don’t confuse this with the Mercedes-Benz CASE strategy: connected, autonomous, shared (architecture), electric.

Acura CDX concept.

Acura will redesign the RDX, the compact upscale SUV, its best-seller and second to Lexus NX among small luxury SUVs. The new RDX returns to the turbo-four design from the 2007-2014 first generation. Acura went to a V6 in 2013 as others downsized to turbo fours. Acura may bring the subcompact CDX to the US in late 2018 or 2019. And it will take another whack at improving sales of the Civic-based ILX (14,597 sales last year to Civic’s 366,927) with a redesign.

Cadillac gets the XT4 in the second half, a compact crossover to go with the existing midsize XT5. Cadillac in 2018 will have SUVs that are small (XT4), medium (XT5), and quite large (Escalade). There’s still room in the Cadillac lineup for a 196- to 200-inch SUV between the XT5 — sleek, but not competitive in passenger or cargo capacity — and the Escalade. The existing CT6 sedan will be the first car to get the semi-autonomous Super Cruise self-drive system late this year. The 2018 XTS sedan should be the first to get the next version of Cadillac’s infotainment system; the current Cadillac CUE is a high-tech marvel that demos great in the showroom and owners quickly learn to dislike.

The Toyota RAV4 compact passed the Camry to be Toyota’s best-seller, and this year RAV4 is the industry’s best-selling compact SUV, ahead of Honda CR-V. In 2018, the RAV4 moves to TNGA, the Toyota New Generation Architecture, and goes to market as a 2019. The RAV4 has a bulletproof reliabity record, and the hybrid RAV4 is well-integrated (preferable to the gas-engine model). As in years past, Toyota needs to inject a dose of adrenaline into the line to combat Honda and upstart Mazda. After telling Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to buzz off (so Toyota infotainment didn’t look like everyone else’s), Toyota is having second thoughts. The RAV4 might be the first to get it.

Hyundai Kona subcompact crossover.

Hyundai hopes to fix its sales softness, down 15 percent year-to-date, caused by over-reliance on sedans with the new subcompact Hyundai Kona SUV. Hyundai redesigns the midsize, two-row Santa Fe Sport (the three-row Santa Fe gets a full makeover in 2019). The Tucson hydrogen fuel cell SUV will be replaced by a standalone (separate model) fuel cell crossover in 2018 with a range estimated at 360 miles and a $ 50,000-$ 60,000 pricetag, in line with the  Honda Clarity Fuel Cell and Toyota Mirai (both sedans). There may be a pickup called Santa Cruz, repurposing a Hyundai SUV name. The Sonata-size upscale Hyundai Azera sedan was killed for the US market.

The Audi A8, the S-Class-size flaghship sedan, gets the industry’s first Level 3 autonomous drive system, Traffic Jam Pilot. TJP self-drives on divided highways, but only up to 37 mph (60 kph). The redesigned A8 ships in the second half. The new Audi Q8, a sportback crossover (coupe-like) arrives late next year and will offer a plug-in hybrid version.

Chrysler gets a full-size crossover somewhat like the popular Pacifica minivan, but without sliding doors. The Jeep Grand Cherokee gets a full redesign, and a Jeep-branded pickup, based on Jeep Wrangler, debuts.

The aging Infiniti QX50 (nee EX), the compact SUV, gets a redesign in 2018. It is expected to get Infiniti’s turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine with variable compression, called VC-Turbo. Infiniti says VC-Turbo offers the “torque and efficiency of an advanced diesel powertrain, without the equivalent emissions.” Unlike others who are adding SUVs and crossovers, Infiniti will pull the plug on the Infiniti QX70 (FX), but it still offers the three-row QX60 and QX80.

Corvette’s 2018 65th anniversary Carbon 65 Edition. Mid-engine Corvette is possible in 2019.

2019 Car to Watch: Mid-Engine Corvette

Six decades after the Corvette’s original designer envisioned Chevrolet’s two-seater as a mid-engined exoticar, Zora Arkus-Duntov gets his wish. A separate mid-engine model, still called Corvette, will arrive. It’s unclear if this Corvette gets a turbocharged DOHC (double overhead-camshaft) V8 or uses Chevy’s traditional pushrod V8. The $ 100,000 pricetag would be high for a Corvette — and a bargain were it a Porsche or Ferrari.

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