Without feeding into the speculation and unknowns of the future as we’re one year away from a new decade, crossovers have enjoyed a handful of successful years. All automotive brands are moving in the direction of SUV’s ranging from small to large, economical to sporty, and now hybrid and electric. For growth to continue in this segment, adding new models and changing entire lineups isn’t necessarily the answer as consumer demands are subject to change through trends and even economic and financial climates. Generally speaking, crossovers weakest spot is their average fuel economy which could easily get exposed should there be a recession, which seems to be the buzzword for the early part of 2019. Let’s delve into why the all new 2019 Lexus UX 250h is not only the future, but also the reason why crossovers could remain being hot items in any economy.
The Toyota and Honda families have always seemed to be further ahead of the curve than most of their competitors. Throughout the years they’ve produced and sold hybrid models, and that technology is now starting to trickle down to more affordable luxury vehicles. Lexus is no stranger to offering hybrid crossovers, and with the UX 250h now beginning to arrive at dealerships, the subsidiary of Toyota is ready to change the game in more ways than one.
The Lexus UX 250h has a base price of $34k, which is more than reasonable and would be considered right around the average cost of a new car in the United States. Primarily aimed at older millennials that most likely live in urban areas, this small crossover offers versatility, luxury, and most importantly practicality. Some of the standard features you’ll find inside is Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility, dual zone climate control, a push button start and stop, and a list of safety technology that includes pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, and road sign recognition to name a few. Android Auto is not available because Lexus says 80% of their consumers use Apple products, and didn’t see the need to spend any money on a feature that a small percentage of their buyers would find relevant.
For performance the UX 250h gets a 2.0L 4 cylinder engine that gets 176 hp. This crossover is by no means fast as you can expect a 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 110 mph. Fuel efficiency is the real selling point as the 250h will receive 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. What’s also rather interesting about this vehicle is that Lexus decided to only offer AWD with the hybrid model, as the UX 200 will only be available with front wheel drive.
Hybrids will always be looked at as economical, and as just mentioned, a combined fuel efficiency of 39 mpg is going to attract buyers who may not want to drive a Chevy Volt, Honda Insight, or even a Toyota Prius. With an affordable option and the appeal of a crossover, many who seek vehicles that are powered by alternative energy and are not solely reliant on gas may gravitate towards the UX 250h, especially since it comes with AWD. For rear cargo space, this crossover will get 17 cubic ft of rear cargo room which is kind of small, but slightly bigger than what most sedans offer.
I’m not going to say that the 2019 Lexus UX 250h is the answer or necessarily the blueprint for the future crossover. There’s a number of issues that consumers will find, whether that be a lack of performance or it not offering a real luxury car experience that competitors may be offering. However, I will say that this crossover is laying the foundation for other brands to build off of. There’s not many options in the entry level luxury market that offers hybrid technology, especially in this segment and price range. Lexus is taking a huge risk, however its list of standard features and fuel efficiency might be a enough to make the UX a minor success in the United States.
One of the fears and speculations of what 2019 will bring is the growing angst that an economic recession is on the horizon. Nothing is set in stone and experts aren’t exactly sure if and when another downturn in the economy will occur, but it does make for good conversation in the automotive industry. For the last six years, the United States has experienced some very lucrative times, especially on both the East and West coasts. With that it’s brought demand for bigger vehicles, including crossovers which now dominate the roads and sales figures. However, are crossovers doomed to fail should there be another recession like 2008, and have some brands set themselves up to feel a lot of pain when bad times return?
As the saying goes, “If you fail to learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat it”, and that’s exactly where we are as we near the end of this decade. 2008 played a major role in prominent American brands being killed off by manufacturers in Detroit. Hummer, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Plymouth, and Mercury would all eventually suffer the same fate with reasons for their demise differing. Hummer is the one brand that stands out because when times were good everyone wanted one. The minute the stock market crashed, demand for the outrageously large and gas guzzling SUVs withered, causing not only the company to close its doors, but also forcing other brands to downsize.
In 2019, we’re here once again at a crossroads, having not learned anything from ten years ago. Brands all across the world have added crossovers to their lineups and for Chevy and Ford, basically the only vehicles being offered as they’re killing off sedans and hatchbacks. The Germans on the other hand continue to produce luxury sedans, and in fact Mercedes Benz is adding the very compact A-Class to their US market lineup. If anything, luxury manufacturers have covered all the bases, and if demand wanes in one segment, they have vehicles in place to feed consumer demand for whatever the next trend in buying behavior is.
You should never underestimate the planning and foresight of automotive manufacturers as they’re usually ahead of the curve when it comes to detecting high and lows in the economy. One way to battle any volatility in the markets and extreme shifts in volume of sales in the automotive industry is the new wave of compact crossover vehicles that resemble elevated cars more than SUVs.
The all new 2019 Lexus UX is the most recent arrival in this segment that combines practicality, luxury, and affordability. As a complete package, this vehicle will certainly be a survivor in the Lexus lineup should there be rough times ahead for one important reason. It’s fuel efficient. At a starting price of around $34k, this compact crossover is available with hybrid technology, which is going to give you 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Also by opting for the UX 250h, you’re getting AWD whereas with the fully gas powered engine, front wheel drive is the only drivetrain available. For rear cargo space, the UX will get close to 22 cubic ft which is certainly better than most sedans.
Other new arrivals this year to the compact crossover segment were the Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Kona. These vehicles offer crossover-like tendencies, practicality, and for the Kona, AWD. These are the vehicles that have the best chance of surviving whatever adverse times lie ahead. Can the same be said for their bigger siblings?
One thing is for sure, Americans didn’t get intimidated ten years ago and ran away from the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which are still priced reasonably for most consumers. It’s the luxury brands and even Ford and Chevy that need to be concerned moving forward. American crossovers just aren’t on par with their Japanese counterparts when it comes to interior quality, and if consumers are complaining about that now in a good economy, what will they say when they become more frugal and start looking for the most value for the price? On top of that, they got rid of all their sedans and hatchbacks which now puts Ford and Chevy in a difficult spot because they have no game plan if consumers don’t want what they’re producing.
Fuel efficiency then becomes a major factor, and generally speaking, crossovers aren’t exactly the most economical. Consumers start downsizing and for the new economic climate, it’s either sedans and hatchbacks or compact crossovers. Recently I had reviewed the redesigned 2019 Acura RDX which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, it’s the poor fuel economy that concerns me, as with AWD you can expect 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Those aren’t exactly the best numbers if people start cutting costs, which is why for the next recession, I don’t necessarily think the size of the vehicle matters, but what’s underneath the hood that will make the difference.
The Honda and Toyota families are further ahead of the curve than most automotive brands today because of their advancements in hybrid technology. A hybrid RAV4 and Lexus UX could become hot commodities as they’ll be economical and practical. Honda re-introduced the Insight which is already on pace to have its best year in sales since 2010 and generally speaking the rest of the lineup is very fuel efficient. This is why both brands survived several recessions while Ford and GM suffered greatly.
If manufacturers don’t have hybrid crossovers in their lineups by the time the next recession hits, that will be the deciding factor in how long this trend of bigger vehicles continues. That’s when consumers downsize to four door passenger cars, and until the economy gets back on its feet, crossovers may not experience the same success they have most of this decade.
At the end of the day, this is purely speculation. However, there’s been enough reasons why this should be taken seriously. All good things come to an end, the question now is how much longer do things remain the same before major adjustments to a new economic climate must be made?
If you look back at the luxury sedan market for the last 20 years, there’s been one absolute that has stood the test of time and the ups and downs of the economy. The German auto manufacturers own the compact, mid-size, and large luxury sedan segments, and that year after year it’s BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz who are fighting for the top spot. Sure, there have been a few brands that have come along to get our hopes up that maybe an Italian, British, or Swedish manufacturer would strike some fear in the hearts of the Germans, but they always fall short. But in 2019, there’s a Korean brand that goes by the name of Genesis that’s ready to compete with the perennial automotive powerhouses. With their new sedan, the G70, this small luxury brand can’t be overlooked heading into the next decade.
What makes the Genesis G70 different from the Alfa Romeo Giulia, Maserati Ghibli, and Jaguar XE? It’s pricing, performance, and luxury. With a perfect balance of all three ingredients, Genesis is a legitimate threat to German dominance in the luxury sedan segment. Despite many in the industry writing off four door passenger cars, this is the perfect time for an up and coming brand to make some noise, and Genesis has certainly learned from past mistakes by Alfa Romeo and Jaguar.
The Genesis G70 starts just under $35k, putting it in the same price range as the BMW 320i and is close to being $2k less than a base model Audi A4. Off the bat, its main competitors are either inferior when it comes to base model performance, or too expensive. The Mercedes Benz C-Class starts above $40k and you can expect a similar price tag if your upgrade to a BMW 330i. By the time you reach $45k, the Genesis G70 3.3T becomes an option, offering 365 hp which is a significant amount of power for the price that many just aren’t offering.
As previously mentioned, the G70 gets an optional 3.3 liter twin turbocharged V6 engine that will also be found in the Kia Stinger GT. However, at base price, a 2 liter turbocharged four cylinder that puts out 252 hp will turn heads because it’s paired with an optional manual transmission along with RWD. Forgetting about 0-60 times for a second, what Genesis is offering could easily be defined as being rare in the current automotive climate. While brands are moving away from manuals and embracing paddle shifters, the Korean luxury brand is tailoring to a niche market that’s been neglected. Now obviously enthusiasts would prefer a stick with the V6, but fundamentally from base to top trim this car is a compromise to appease a percentage of the market that’s gotten marginalized over the years. From 0-60 mph the G70 can achieve that speed in about 4.5 seconds with the twin turbocharged V6.
Let’s put this into perspective for a minute. Fully specced out, you’re looking at a price of $52k which would also include an AWD drivetrain, Nappa leather interior, heated and ventilated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 360 degree top view camera, a head up display, and three level heated seats for passengers in the back. If you decide a base model 3.3t is enough, the amount of performance you’re getting at $43k – $46k, you’re not going to find from German competitors. The Audi S4 starts at $50k and the Mercedes Benz C43’s base price is just over $52k.
This is one of the minor weak spots for the Genesis G70 as brand loyalists to German manufacturers are unlikely to see the G70 as a superior luxury car to a Mercedes Benz C300. The infotainment system and digital information display aren’t as refined or thorough as what you’d find in an Audi, and that might turn some people off to the Genesis brand. But as I mentioned before the G70 is a compromise, and while there are certain aspects that wouldn’t be considered on par with the Germans, styling and performance are enough to make this sports sedan a very intriguing option for consumers who want to stand out from the crowd.
The Bottom Line
Genesis is a brand for people who want to stand out and aren’t effected by the badge on the front grille. German luxury brands have a certain ambience, but at $40k – $50k for a new luxury sedan, you’re not going to find the same level of compromise that the G70 offers. With Audi, Mercedes Benz, and BMW you’re getting luxury, but not necessarily performance. On the flip side you’re sacrificing some luxury aspects by going with Genesis, but when it comes to horsepower and 0-60 times, you have a car that will surprise many drivers on the road.
There’s many in the automotive industry who feel that the luxury sedan segment has become stale. The Genesis G70 is ready to change that.
The three major German luxury brands; Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Audi have built a tradition over the last 20-25 years that has resonated with a large percentage of consumers in the United States. Mercedes Benz is “The Best or Nothing”, BMW is “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, but mostly Audi’s only claim to popularity is it’s Quattro AWD system that is certainly needed in the Northeast and other colder regions of the country. This is why year after year, Audi is third in overall sales behind Mercedes Benz and BMW because in warmer climates AWD isn’t necessary.
With it being the holiday season, it’s time for the annual “Season of Audi sales event” where the brand associates their vehicles with cold and snow conditions to advertise the Quattro AWD system. Meanwhile BMW and Mercedes Benz, who lean more towards the luxury and performance aspects of the vehicles in their lineups, have always been looked upon as being the more premium brands out of the three German auto manufacturers. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Mercedes Benz has enjoyed many years of having the best interior, while BMW takes pride in their performance. However, as we look to 2019 and beyond, the status quo has significantly changed where Audi has taken great strides in a variety of ways with their updated A6, A7, A8, and all new Q8.
As mentioned earlier, Quattro was Audi’s main selling point and may still be moving forward, but it’s the redesigned classy and luxurious interior that should get a lot of attention from consumers. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is without a doubt unrivaled as the 12.3″ digital information display is the most extensive system on the market. Its high resolution in combination with Google Earth being the navigation system that can be your full display in front of you is not found in any rival vehicles.
It’s when you move over to the center console and infotainment system that you realize you’re sitting in a premium luxury vehicle. New for 2019 is dual touch screens. Yes, you read that right. There’s now two touch screens in the A6, A7, A8, and Q8 that I personally haven’t seen in a vehicle since I reviewed a 2018 Range Rover Velar. The primary screen is where your radio controls, car settings, and navigation system will be, while the secondary screen controls your dual zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, and also is where you’ll find the buttons for your drive mode selector.
For the most part, Audi never really had complex infotainment systems in the past, and overall the interiors were rather simplistic compared to Mercedes Benz. Now it’s a completely different story where you could make the argument that Audi is at least second in the most comfortable interior category as their changes overshadow Mercedes Benz’s minor facelift inside.
With winter essentially already here, it’s that time of year when you’re getting out of work at 4:30 or 5pm and the temperature reads 20 degrees, the sun is already down, and there’s traffic for miles. This is where a luxury car becomes a very welcoming sight. What Audi has done for their 2019 models is make a driving environment that’s not only comfortable, but also luxurious to the point that you’ll find yourself not wanting to let go of the steering wheel. The interior is what you expect from a $60k+ vehicle and the major upgrades that Audi implemented into their cars is going to make waves when consumers visit auto shows this winter. For me personally, I find that Mercedes Benz’s minor touchups pale in comparison to their German rival, and if Audi continues to progress in luxury and class Mercedes may longer be looked at as being the benchmark for first class comfort.
A new decade that is quickly approaching has already made car brands think futuristic. The amount of technological advances, along with the continuously added comfort features are ready to meet and pamper consumers in the 2020’s. Audi is taking a big step forward, and at the very least, has made strides to be on par with Mercedes Benz and BMW. The future for the German auto manufacturers is setting up to be fun, and the new era that awaits us will change how we define luxury and class.
For the better part of the last 20 years or so, American luxury car brands have been on the ropes due to the emergence and dominance of European luxury sedans and crossovers. To try appealing to the remaining consumer base that’s been on the fence of whether to choose a German brand over manufacturers from Detroit, companies like Cadillac have tried their best to impersonate European styling and driving feel, but continue to fall short as Americans still gravitate towards Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz. Lincoln however, is on a mission to change that by going back to their roots and provide drivers with a luxury feel only Americans can offer.
The all new Lincoln Nautilus, which has replaced the MKX in the lineup, not only brings back American tradition by having an actual name rather than a combination of letters, but also offers a premium feel both inside and out. As we all know Lincoln is owned by Ford, which has really been a thorn in the side of the company because prior to the last few years, nothing really distinguished their vehicles form Ford’s lineup. The current MKZ is a rebadged Fusion with a different body style, just like the Lincoln Town Car was a more luxurious Ford Crown Vic. But believe it or not, the Nautilus is built on the same platform as the Ford Edge, yet even after 10 minutes of looking at it, there’s very few subtle design elements that you could potentially see the appearance of an Edge before you’re forcing yourself to see what’s not there.
For performance, you’ll have a choice between a two liter four cylinder engine, or the 2.7L twin-turbocharged V6 that’s found in the Edge ST that will get 335 hp and 380 lb ft of torque. New for 2019 is the 8-speed automatic transmission that replaces the six speed automatic found in 2018 models of the MKX. There’s also two different drivetrain options available, with front wheel drive coming standard and the ability to upgrade to all-wheel drive. Fuel economy will differ depending on which engine you choose, as the V6 will get 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
There’s three trims available for the 2019 Nautilus: Select, Reserve, and Black Label. Going with the Black Label trim will offer over-the-top, but definitely welcoming luxury features and touches that many in the industry rave about. Inside you’re greeted by Venetian leather seats with three different themes to choose from that change the interior color combinations. These seats will be heated and ventilated, and as part of the climate package, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats will also be included. You’ll enjoy the music being played on the radio as the Black Label gets the upgraded 19 speaker Revel Ultima Sound System that’s been praised by many automotive YouTubers for providing crisp audio.
The Nautilus isn’t just luxurious, but also provides a good amount of safety features. Optional is a 360 degree top view camera that’s becoming common on all new vehicles in this segment. This camera, along with front parking sensors and enhanced active park assist make up the Technology Package. As part of the Driver Assistance Package, more safety features are added that include adaptive cruise control with stop and go and lane centering, adaptive steering, and a collision mitigation system.
Besides some of the technology features that are available on the Ford Edge, the only aspect of this vehicle that resembles Ford products is the center console. Same design that you’ll find inside an Edge, with the only difference being that there’s no rotary dial to select gears, and instead you’ll have push buttons next to the infotainment system. Speaking of that infotainment system, the Nautilus gets Ford’s Sync 3 System which includes voice activated navigation along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There will also be a compartment for your smartphone that includes a wireless phone charging pad, which is all being offered on the Edge.
Overall, the Nautilus is a step in the right direction for an automotive brand that has to compete with the likes of Mercedes Benz, Audi, and BMW. What I like about this crossover is that the designers masked this vehicle to limit how much influence Ford has on Lincoln, which should draw in consumers who want to stand out from the German crossovers on the road.
At the end of the day what’s standing in the way of the Nautilus is marketing and brand image. If Lincoln tries appealing to middle-aged adults and steers further away from consumers on the edge of retirement, the Nautilus can certainly find a niche customer base and find success in this very competitive segment.
Out of the five prominent German brands, Mercedes Benz could be described as being a “tweener”, where it’s not exactly a manufacturer that attracts younger consumers, but it’s not a brand for retirees either. When looking at VW, Audi, and BMW, there’s a very strong following of millennials who are being introduced to each brand thanks to the Volkswagen GTI, Audi S3/S4, and BMW E36/E46/E92 M3’s. Porsche is in a league of it’s own, as the 911 has always been a sports car that’s pinned to the bedroom walls of car enthusiasts who dream of owning an amazing driver’s car. But where does that leave Mercedes Benz?
Besides the AMG line of performance cars, Mercedes seriously lacks a car that rivals the S3 and S4 in terms of price. Sure, you could purchase a 6-10 year old W204 C63, which personally was my favorite generation of the C-Class, but a newer B8 S4 is a more appealing option thanks to an AWD system and a list of modifications that can be done immediately to personalize the car. On paper the CLA 45 AMG seems like a good option, but ask any car enthusiast and their initial response is, “it’s not a real AMG”. If we’re looking at this purely from a young person’s perspective, there’s very little to choose from to bring in millennials and establish a new generation of Mercedes Benz consumers. But the issue isn’t that simple, and this goes beyond car enthusiasts, performance cars, and AMG.
Starting around the 2014/2015 model year, Mercedes Benz made significant changes to their lineup, slowly making the C-Class, E-Class, and S-Cass resemble each other. Last year I did a review of a 2015 C300 4Matic, and even back then the interior styling was very reminiscent to the S-Class. Prior to the W205 generation, the C-Class had it’s own unique look, and the same could be said for the E-Class. Today, the entire sedan lineup for Mercedes Benz looks outdated despite the minor facelifts each model has received over the last three years, and this is most likely magnified because they almost look identical except for size and some design cues. There’s no denying that we’re experiencing an era of styling redundancy in the automotive industry, but Mercedes Benz is arguably first in line when we talk about similarities across the board for interior and exterior appearances.
Right now younger consumers are gravitating towards VW, Audi, and BMW even if they’re not purchasing S3 and S4’s or M3’s. This may be due to the older cars from these brands that are available to them, and as they start working, they’re trading up to a newer 3 Series or A4. Another indication that Mercedes is becoming an old person brand is that 20-30 year old car enthusiasts are more apt to purchase a BMW 340i over a C43 AMG despite a discrepancy in horsepower and torque figures. Whether this has anything to do with, “it’s not a real AMG” or not, Mercedes Benz just isn’t drawing interest by millennials for their consumer vehicles, and the only enthusiasm young drivers have towards Mercedes is for the C63, E63, and AMG GT which is well out of reach for them financially.
What’s even more alarming is the bloodbath Mercedes is experiencing when it comes to sales. So far this year, they’re down 14% and in the month of August, sales dropped 26% from July. Meanwhile, Audi and BMW are still experiencing gains, further backing up the observations that there’s been a shift in buying behavior, and a lot of that has to do with Mercedes Benz failing to draw in young buyers. This may also be effected by the aging lineup, and as mentioned before, there hasn’t been any significant changes to the appearance of Mercedes Benz models since 2015.
Needless to say, there is a transition period happening right now. The completely redesigned CLS and GLE are set to hit showrooms soon along with the all new A-Class, which should usher in new generations of other models in the near future. The real question is whether these changes will make an impact and reverse the sudden drop in sales, but more importantly attract buyers who are 40 years old or younger.
Ask any car enthusiast what their thoughts are on crossovers taking over the automotive industry and they’ll all reply with a worrying comment that it’s the end of cars and sedans. While the average consumer has become addicted to crossovers and brands who once only produced cars like Porsche, Jaguar, and Maserati catering to that demand, has certainly concerned gear heads. When Ford announced they were no longer selling the Fusion, Focus, Fiesta, and Taurus in the US, that’s when speculation went rampant that other manufacturers would follow suit. Despite the perception of dark times and the dominance of SUV’s, there’s been a small glimmer of light coming from unexpected brands who’ve made sedans once again appealing.
German auto manufacturers like BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz have committed themselves to producing crossovers in every segment of that market. It could be argued that while new models of SUV’s are being released almost every two or three years, their sedans have become quite stale, and are more of an afterthought and just a filler in their lineups. This has certainly exposed a weakness in what was once a German dominated luxury sedan market, and now there’s new players in the game ready to check in that are slowly turning heads.
2019 Volvo S60
The Volvo S60 was always priced in the mid $30k range, yet never got any attention because of an outdated generation that lasted almost a decade. With a complete redesign, the S60 now shares a similar appearance to it’s bigger sibling, the S90. Most importantly however, this Swedish sedan is now beginning to raise questions whether paying $40k for a base model BMW 330i or Mercedes Benz C300 is even worth the cost. With a price tag just under $36k, the S60 has the 330i beat by almost $4,500, which allows consumers to add packages to their S60 that might offer more features than what they’d get on a BMW 3 Series.
When adding the Audi A4 into the equation, the comparison in terms of price and standard features then become more interesting. However, Volvo still has the A4 beat because when we start looking at $40k+, the S60 T6 then comes into play, offering 316 HP and AWD. Optional technology and comfort features for the Volvo adds similar technology that can be found on the A4, making this a very tough decision for car buyers in this segment.
Also new for this generation is the 400 HP hybrid T8 engine that can be found in most vehicles in the Volvo lineup. Volvo claims the S60 T8 will do 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, and it’s going to be interesting to see how consumers perceive this performance sedan, as Swedish cars have never been known for their straight line speed.
The redesigned S60 is a breath of fresh air and has certainly taken this Swedish mid-sized luxury sedan to a completely different level than its predecessors, but it’s not the only sedan entering the market that’s ready to make a big splash.
Much anticipated the last few weeks has been the arrival of the Genesis G70 models at dealerships. The all new entry level sedan for the Genesis brand is going to start just under $36k, and just like with the Volvo S60, undercuts its German rivals by almost $5k. But excellent pricing takes a back seat on this one, as the G70 comes with an optional manual transmission which should appease car enthusiasts. This good news could have been better had the manual transmission been paired with the optional 3.3L V6 engine that gets 365 HP instead of the 2 liter four cylinder engine, but as the saying goes, “You can’t have it all”.
The cost for a manual transmission on the Genesis G70 will set you back almost $46k, but you’ll get nappa leather seats and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. Standard features for the G70 include: power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, and some safety features such as emergency automatic braking.
In an age of crossovers, Genesis’ decision to release another four door luxury sedan in their lineup to compete with the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes Benz C300 is almost a throwback to what the automotive industry used to be. Before the days of crossovers, luxury brands would compete with each other in all segments of sedans, and between Volvo and Genesis adding legitimate competition into the mix of German luxury sedans, this is like reminiscing back to the old days.
Kia Stinger GT
The argument could be made that the Stinger GT isn’t a luxury car, and that’s completely understandable. However, the last few years we’ve seen the rise of sportbacks from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz that’s begun to take the automotive design of four door cars by storm and has influenced the appearance of the current Honda Accord. Where the Stinger GT is priced, it takes on the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 430i Gran Coupe and out performing both with it’s 3.3L V6 engine that gets 365 hp. This is the same engine that is offered on the Genesis G70.
The Stinger GT, for the time being and maybe even 5-10 years from now, could be a car we remember as being a risk taken by Kia that actually succeeded. While the Stinger was in the works for years, you could question whether brands like Kia are seeing the opportunity to sneak into the sedan segment and slowly take market share away from German luxury automakers who seem more focused on crossovers at the moment.
Genesis, Volvo, and Kia are taking the unconventional approach and putting time into the sedans they’re releasing. Despite Volvo having a crossover for every segment, they didn’t abandon their mid-sized sedan, and instead improved it unlike the current BMW 3 Series and Mercedes Benz C300. On a side note, BMW is working on the next generation 3 Series, and I’m interested to see what changes they make to take on new upcoming rivals. But this renaissance of sedans doesn’t just pertain to luxury or performance cars; this is quietly happening elsewhere.
Toyota and Honda
Earlier this year I raved about the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6. A sedan that gets 301 HP, an optional two-toned exterior with red interior, and paddle shifters. A sedan that got absolutely no love in the car community has certainly garnered some attention by drivers who want to have some fun behind the wheel, but not necessarily desire the stares from fellow motorists. The design is sleek, almost resembling a Lexus, which is most likely Toyota’s goal, and for the first time making this sedan attractive to consumers in any age demographic.
For the 2019 model year, Honda is reintroducing the Insight. Remember the days when this hybrid was a small two-door, computer mouse-shaped alternative energy vehicle in the early 2000’s? Or when the second generation took on the appearance of a Toyota Prius to try making strong gains in the hybrid segment? Well now it’s a four-door sedan that I’d argue is the best looking hybrid under $30k right now.
Built on the same platform as the Civic, the Insight gets many design cues from it’s compact vehicle relative which should draw in consumers who are on the fence of whether to purchase a gas powered car or make a commitment to hybrid technology. Highlighting the features on the Insight is its exceptional fuel efficiency with the LX and EX trims getting 55 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway. The Touring trim will get slightly lower numbers due to the upgraded 17″ alloy wheels, but with a base price of just over $22k for the LX, this is one hybrid that’s going to the Prius a run for its money.
Despite the claims made by some automotive journalists and car enthusiasts, the four-door sedan isn’t going away anytime in the near future. If anything, the crossover craze has opened the door for manufacturers to not rush their products, and instead continuously improve the sedans they have in their lineups. Toyota still sells 200,000+ Camry’s per year, and Nissan has similar numbers with the Altima. There’s been no steep decline in the sales of these models over past decade, which should indicate that there’s still a demand for sedans in a crossover dominated automotive market.
Since the mid 90’s, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz have enjoyed two decades of dominance in the luxury sedan segment after toppling the American automotive giants based in Michigan. What has seemed to be an unstoppable force is now ripe for the picking as we get closer to 2020. In recent years, German automakers have put a lot of emphasis on their crossovers and trying to one up each other with every new model they release. Meanwhile, scattered across the European continent, Volvo, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Jaguar have made strides in the US, but only Volvo has taken the initiative to go all in and take on the Germans singlehandedly.
Volvo’s all new lineup is just about ready to be completed with the redesigned S60/V60 hitting the market later this year. The XC40, XC60, and XC90 are positioned perfectly to compete in all segments of the crossover market, while the S90/V90 flagship brings Swedish luxury and design to German dominated full-sized sedan and wagon segments. But it’s the S60 that’s going to be a significant competitor; one that will certainly make consumers very conflicted on whether to buy a BMW 3 Series, or go with a Swedish car instead of being mainstream.
Having seen the new S60 in person at Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, MA during Swedish Car Day, my initial impression is that this car is purposely built to rival any compact to mid-sized sedan Audi, Mercedes Benz, and BMW have to offer. With a starting price just under $36k, the standard equipment on the S60 should already draw interest by consumers. LED headlights, a panoramic moonroof, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, an 8″ digital information display, and dual zone climate control are the highlighted features on a “base model” S60 T5 Momentum.
If 250 hp isn’t enough, you can option for a T6 with AWD that gets 316 hp and 295 lb. ft. of torque for an additional $4,500. Optional features that are also available on the T5 include: 19″ alloy wheels, exterior styling kits that give the S60 a more sporty appearance with a different rear diffuser and slightly aggressive side skirts, and a multimedia package that adds a 12.3″ digital instrument cluster, a Harman Kardon Premium Audio system, and a navigation system. Volvo has built a brand on safety, and it shouldn’t be surprising that additional safety technology such as blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, and a 360 degree birds eye view camera are available as well.
For the Inscription and R-Design trims an all new T8 plug-in hybrid engine is going to make the S60 one stealthy performance sedan on the road. 400 hp and 495 lb. ft. of torque will leave fellow motorists bewildered and speechless as Volvo’s aren’t known for their quick 0-60 accelerations. For this type of performance you’re looking at a price tag around $55k which is in line with the Audi S4.
Where the Volvo S60 is really going to excel at is right around the $40k price range. To put this into perspective, the base price for the S60 would get you a BMW 320i xDrive sedan, a front wheel drive Audi A3 and A4, or a CLA 250 4MATIC. The standard equipment alone puts Volvo at an advantage, and if you went with a T5 engine, you’d have the additional $4,500 to spend on packages before you reach the price of an entry level C300 and BMW 328i. When doing a quick comparison, the Audi A4 would probably be the closest competitor to the S60 at this price range which offers some similar features. You could probably make a case for the A3 to be in this conversation, but then we’d be comparing a compact sedan with an S60 that is the A4’s Swedish counterpart.
The S60 is priced to succeed in a segment that gets little to no attention. While the Germans have been set in their ways, Volvo made crucial changes that will immediately turn heads. Geely did the best they could with the remains of the Ford DNA in Volvo vehicles, and now that these models are built on their platform, Volvo can attract a new generation to a brand that’s appealed to older consumers for decades.
At the end of the day Volvo has been a feel-good story. From being on the ropes a few years ago to now producing classy and luxurious vehicles, the Swedish automaker hasn’t even hit the ceiling of potential. There’s plenty of excitement surrounding the brand, and with the redesigned S60, 2019 could be a very good year for Volvo.
It’s 1996 and you’re sitting in your living room watching the Olympics. During a commercial break, BMW’s award winning commercial for their redesigned BMW 5 Series shows the streets of New York City flooded with water, but most notably boats floating up and down city streets with the E39 540i navigating its way trough maritime traffic. It’s possible that at this point in time, the viewers who saw this commercial that summer had no idea of the ramifications the 5 Series would have on the automotive industry, while also ushering in an era of European luxury cars dominating the market.
Before dissecting this commercial and then fast forwarding to the present day, 1996 was a year of transition for the American auto market. Japanese manufacturers like Toyota and Honda are continuing to grab market share away from Ford, GM, and Chrysler due to their cheaper and practical cars, which is creating a seismic shift in consumer behavior as even in the mid 90’s, Americans were still loyal to auto manufacturers based in Detroit. As history tells us 20 years later, this transition will continue at a rapid pace leading to Toyota and Honda becoming prominent brands in the US Market.
It’s in this same year that BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Porsche unleash two seater convertibles: the Z3, SLK Class, and the Boxster. The Z3, already receiving notoriety after being featured in the James Bond movie “GoldenEye”, arrives at BMW showrooms shortly after the release of the movie. The Porsche Boxster will soon play a significant role in the German brand’s emergence in the US, and is just one of the few surprises Porsche is going to release within the next 10 years. The Mercedes Benz SLK is often the forgotten one out of the three, mostly due to the Z3 getting the spotlight, but also by the new millennium the redesigned SL is going to take center stage, overshadowing the SLK’s existence.
However, there’s still one segment Ford and GM own with a tight grip, and that’s the luxury sedan market. Lincoln, Mercury, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Chrysler (to an extent) are the old giants that stand in the way, and BMW is ready to accept the challenge with their E39 5 Series.
Back to analyzing the commercial, the boats signify the American luxury cars of the day. We can joke about the modern day Challenger being a boat, but the Lincoln Town Car and Continental, Mercury Grand Marquis, Cadillac Deville and Fleetwood were all bigger cars with boxy exteriors. Seeing the BMW weave through traffic with ease was meant to show it’s maneuverability, and not be a huge car that couldn’t get out of its own way. The last statement made in that commercial was, “Why float through life, when you can drive?”. This would resonate with younger consumers who really had a limited selection of luxury cars to choose from, especially if they didn’t want to drive cars their grandparents and aging parents owned.
The E39 540i/M5 wasn’t just a four door performance car that even today we marvel at, but the E39 in general was a luxury sedan that would reshape the automotive industry forever. In 1996, Mercedes Benz and Audi hadn’t found their way yet, but they too would be emboldened to compete with BMW by the end of the decade. This would then lead us to almost 18 years of competition between the German brands, which eventually dragged Jaguar, Maserati, and Volvo into the mix by 2014. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.
The 540i that was shown in that commercial was priced at $50k, but the 5 Series in 1996 had a base price of around $38k which was right in line with American luxury sedans. While the US economy was very different 22 years ago, the slow progression to European luxury cars dominating the market can easily be attributed to the E39 5 Series, and it was the beginning of bigger and better vehicles from Germany that would continue to put nails in the coffin of American automotive giants that ruled for over 60 years.
Too often we look at the E39 from a performance aspect, and some believe that the Chevrolet SS is the only car since 1996 that most resembles the E39 5 Series. However, when it comes to defining a luxury sedan, that’s where BMW reshaped an entire segment. Luxury cars in the 90’s were boats, much like their predecessors before them. While cars were slowly downsizing, the E39 accelerated the change by not only being smaller than a Lincoln or Cadillac, but also being sporty. If we walk into dealership showrooms today, luxury cars come with optional sports appearance packages and engines putting out impressive horsepower numbers. It wouldn’t be a stretch to go back 20 years and attribute that to the 540i.
Indirectly, the success of the 5 Series kickstarted the beginning of an arms race between the German auto manufacturers which then got the rest of Europe involved by the late 2000’s to early 2010’s. Mercedes Benz and Audi started producing sleek cars to compete against BMW, Jaguar then replaces the S-Type with the XF and later the XE enters showrooms, Maserati releases the Ghibli, Alfa Romeo reemerges in the US with the Giulia, and now under the ownership of Geely, Volvo is ready to be a legitimate threat to German manufacturers with a very impressive redesigned S60.
Jaguar, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Volvo were really niche brands, and even today they still are to an extent. I’m not going to downplay the effect crossovers have had on these brands, which is a story for another day as BMW and Mercedes Benz could be the patriarchs of a luxury SUV craze that swept through an entire industry with the X5 and ML Class hitting the market in 1998-1999. However, the E39 has certainly played a role, whether directly or indirectly, in the decision to produce four door sports cars that also have luxury car qualities, and the Audi B9 S4 is the perfect example of that.
At the end of the day, no matter which car you want to pinpoint as the culprit for the modern day four door luxury sedan, the E39 5 Series challenged the status quo, making luxury cool for younger consumers and not just a vehicle for aging Americans 65 and older. The performance side of the 540i/M5 certainly helped grab attention from drivers who wanted an exhilarating and engaging driving experience. This car’s massive impact on the automotive industry shouldn’t be overlooked, and as car enthusiasts who now have a variety of luxury sports sedans to choose from, we owe that to the E39 5 Series.
With the recent announcement that Ford will cut the Taurus, Fusion, and Fiesta from their lineup starting in 2020 to focus more on crossovers and SUV’s, the direction of the automotive industry is becoming clearer. In the last 2 to 3 years, car brands have continued to grow their crossover lineups while transitioning to emerging segments such as the gran coupe and sportback. Despite the negative feedback that Honda has received with the redesigned Accord, it’s apparent that even in failure, automakers are experimenting with new designs that maximizes overall practicality when it comes to four door sedans.
Honda’s risk taking may have been too much for their consumers, but Kia is reaping the benefits of the all new Stinger. In the few short months since its arrival to car dealerships, The Stinger outsold the Audi A5/S5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. This segment has continued to grow which is slowly beginning to influence car brands to start adding sportbacks to their lineups. If the all new Mercedes Benz AMG GT63S isn’t enough proof that gran coupes and sportbacks are the future of four door cars, maybe the Porsche Panamera or Audi RS5 Sportback is.
When did this all begin? It’s a question that many have begun to ask themselves, and it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact timeframe when sedans were slowly getting phased out. This goes far beyond the emergence of crossovers, as 2018 is seeing a resurgence in station wagons. The Buick Regal TourX was one vehicle that certainly raised eyebrows, as it’s the first station wagon in a GM lineup in two decades. Volvo’s V90 and V60 along with Jaguar’s XF S Sportbrake and Mercedes Benz E-Class Wagon are bringing luxury and performance to the segment, and at the same time are offering an alternative to crossovers.
Then there’s the hatchbacks. Toyota’s all new Corolla hatchback impressed many at the New York Auto Show when it was unveiled in late March. Chevrolet added a hatchback variant for the Cruze which is already in dealership’s showrooms. The Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf and GTI are hot sellers, which also offer performance trims to appeal to a younger market. These vehicles add practicality and styling, making compact sedans almost obsolete.
Lastly we have the newest trend and segment, which is the compact crossover. This includes the all new Hyundai Kona and Volvo XC40. They’re bigger than compact sedans, have more cargo room, and are more practical. When it comes to sedans they’re getting hit from all angles, not just from crossovers, so fingers can’t be pointed in one direction.
When taking a step back, it does appear that we’re seeing the slow demise of the traditional four door sedan. However, there are many car brands that haven’t made any plans to go in the same direction as Ford, at least for the time being.
Before getting too somber or overreacting to the changes we’re seeing in the automotive world, there’s been highs and lows throughout the last 30-40 years. Large American cars were replaced by small imports and German luxury vehicles in the 90’s and when the recession hit in 2008, SUV’s were dealt a difficult blow. Now with a stable economy, consumers are gravitating towards crossovers that provide practicality, but are not necessarily the most economical. Everything happens in waves and trends. Station wagons were once cool in the United States and then disappeared for a while. Sedans may be going through the same situation.
If there’s any silver lining at the end of the day, car brands are offering performance crossovers. Twenty years ago consumers would trade in their sports cars for minivans and SUVs when they started having families, which ended the days of having fun behind the wheel. With the Porsche Macan, Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrofolio and Maserati Levante, you can still be cool even at the drop off line at your children’s school.