This is why we don’t screw around on the freeway.
America might be awash with cheap gas, but China’s appalling smog problem and the growing backlash against diesels in Western Europe’s crowded cities have forced Germany’s premium automakers to re-evaluate their markets, especially since last year the Chinese bought more than 22 million vehicles and the Europeans bought 14 million.
The major players in Munich, Stuttgart, and Ingolstadt are spending big on electric vehicles, which are expected to comprise up to 25 percent of new vehicle sales by 2025. Seeing how the combustion engine will be with us for decades to come, these manufacturers are inventing distinct, flexible vehicle architectures that meet the needs of the old and new worlds alike.
It has yet to be decided if Audi or its sibling Porsche will develop a bespoke premium EV platform for Volkswagen Group. The platform will have to be low, sleek, and easily adaptable because designers need these elements to make noncrossover EVs look good. Until the group bosses make a decision, Audi and Porsche are heading in different directions in terms of EV development.
Audi could easily justify an exclusive, tailor-made, EV-compatible matrix for almost all of its models, A4 through Q8, replacing the MLB components they’re currently built on. However, if the A4 moves to the cheaper MQB architecture and the Q7 and Q8 SUVs plus the A8 sedan move to the front-engine, rear- or all-wheel-drive MSB hardware, that complicates matters. Audi is basing its midsize electric SUV, due in 2018, on the MLB Evo architecture used in the all-new Q5, and that same hardware will also be used for the Audi ESS (electric sports sedan) due in 2019, which is basically a battery-fed A7 look-alike. Both models can be built on existing assembly lines, but because they are based on MLB Evo, they’ll be heavier and less space efficient than they should be. Audi will also collaborate with VW on a five-seat, zero-emission crossover that will likely be badged EQ4 when it arrives in 2020.
After losing a lot of money on the ambitiously over-engineered Project i, BMW is now refocusing its efforts on more affordable EV architectures. The first to make its debut will be the highly autonomous i20, a coupe-like crossover due in 2021. A couple of inches taller yet barely longer than a 3 Series, i20 is as roomy inside as a long-wheelbase 7 Series, sources say, and it features a signature front end, eye-catching taillight design, and sexy proportions. Three versions are rumored: base, sport (both with two rear-mounted motors), and max (one motor up front, two in the rear). The motors are BMW’s own design, rated at 80 hp, 120 hp, and 148 hp with a max 444 hp combined available. The i20 will forgo the carbon-fiber platform concept used for the i3 and i8 in favor of a new aluminum-intensive platform, FSAR, which incorporates elements of existing front- and rear-wheel-drive architectures, FAAR and CLAR. FSAR will also use high-strength steel and composites, and its side panels will be made from carbon fiber.
The second-generation i3 is scheduled to go on sale in 2022. It will be redesigned from bottom to top, grow at least half a size, and get a new model designation. Described as a premium urban EV, the new i3 features a monolithic under-floor battery pack. The side panels are recycled carbon fiber, the roof aluminum, and the FSAR chassis steel. Driving range will be between 250 and 370 miles, depending on specification. The exotic i8 is going to evolve into the high-performance electric sports car it should’ve been from the start. There’s been talk of a plug-in hybrid successor developed in conjunction with McLaren, but BMW’s inline-six won’t fit, an inline-four lacks prestige, and a V-8 is overkill, so an all-electric supercar makes sense. Not expected before 2024, the new i8 should benefit from significant reductions in battery weight, size, and cost. Two different concepts are under evaluation; one uses three high-revving motors to generate 750 hp combined, and the other has a motor at each wheel, creating a total system output of more than 1,050 hp.
For elegant styling, slick aerodynamics, good rigidity, and a low center of gravity, most of the batteries will be installed in a center tunnel.
Mercedes will launch 10 new EVs by 2025. The EQC SUV, a direct descendant of the 2016 Paris Show’s EQ concept, will appear in 2019. The top-of-the-line model gets an 80-kWh power pack and two 201-hp motors. In late 2018, the automaker plans to launch an experimental low-volume fuel cell EQC spin-off to test customer response and charging infrastructure.
The EQC will be followed by heavily modified A- and B-Class variants: the 2020 EQA, which is effectively an electric GLA, and the 2021 EQB, based on the seven-seat GLB. They will share their architecture with the front-wheel-drive MFA2 family, and both will be equipped with 60-kWh battery packs and 201-hp motors that should allow the crossovers to cover up to 300 miles between charges.
The dedicated EVA2 electric vehicle architecture comes out in 2020. EVA2 is a relatively straightforward modular arrangement designed to accommodate three battery sizes (60, 80, and 110 kWh), three electric motors (188, 241, and 335 hp), and deliver driving ranges of between 250 and 360 miles. For elegant styling, slick aerodynamics, good rigidity, and a low center of gravity, most of the batteries will be installed in a center tunnel. EVA2 will make its debut as a large sedan badged EQS, followed by a shorter version of the sedan known as EQE. The bigger model aims at the gap between E- and S-Class while the smaller model straddles C- and E-Class. In 2022, Mercedes intends to add EQS and EQE crossovers that offer as much interior room as today’s GLS and GLE models, despite smaller overall sizes. AMG is already toying with hotter S models complete with motors for each rear wheel and a third driving the front axle.
More than 600 HP, 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds, 300 miles of range, and an 80 percent charge in less than 15 minutes. Bring it to life already, Porsche.
Although the 2021 Macan will have an EV version built on a modified version of its present architecture, Porsche’s new Mission E, due in 2021, rolls on the bespoke and highly flexible J1 EV platform with a massive, T-shaped battery pack that feeds powerful front and rear motors. J1 may turn out to be one of VW Group’s best EV platforms; Audi Sport has expressed interest in a J1 spin-off, Lamborghini would love an electric Espada reincarnation, and Bentley may be tempted to convert its Speed 6 into an EV.
Illustrations: BMW/Jan Schmitt; Mercedes/Jean Francois Hubert
The post These Radical EVs From Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche Arrive in Just a Few Years appeared first on Automobile Magazine.
PORTLAND, Oregon — “Geez, this road is narrow,” I said to my co-driver Jeff as I put the Countryman’s left tires over the double yellow line. And then, with a glance in his direction: “Did I just say that? In a Mini?”
Though it wasn’t obvious from Jeff’s reply (“Straight! Drive straight! Don’t look at me, look at the damn road!”), I knew he agreed with what I was saying, just as I knew that his fearful cringe was a nonverbal acknowledgement that we’re driving the largest Mini ever and had nothing to do with his side of the car edging closer and closer to a solid concrete wall.
How big is the new 2017 Mini Countryman? Compared to its predecessor, it’s 8.1 inches longer (2.9” of that in the wheelbase) and almost an inch and a half wider. When you think about it, it makes sense that Mini would grow the Countryman: The first-gen version was introduced in 2011, before subcompact crossovers were a thing. Today, the market is crowded with players like the Audi Q3, Honda CR-V, and Jeep Renegade, and the new Countryman casts a similar-sized shadow.
But, as I often told the people I dated, during my college days, size does not matter. What matters about this Mini — or any Mini, for that matter — is the way it drives. And the way it drives is pretty darn good, provided you pick the right engine.
The all-new Countryman is built on the same modular architecture as other Mini models and uses the same engines — specifically the 134-hp 1.5-liter turbo-three and the 189-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four. (A 228-hp John Cooper Works is in the works, as is a plug-in hybrid.) I’m partial to three-bangers — call it a quirk; that’d make you more charitable than most — and I quite like Mini’s in the hardtop Cooper. But the Countryman outweighs the little two-door by as much as half a ton and that puts a hurt on the engine’s 162 lb-ft of torque. If you’re a stick-shift aficionado who likes working the gears, there’s some fun to be had, especially if you enjoy the three-banger’s leisurely growl, but I often found myself with my foot to the floor waiting for a burst of high-RPM acceleration that never came.
If you go for a Countryman All4, you receive an eight-speed automatic that does a good job delivering power, but front-drive variants have to make do with a six-speed. For most buyers the best bet will be the four-cylinder-powered Countryman S. It accelerates like a Mini ought to in both manual and automatic guise, though, for reasons no one from Mini was able to adequately explain, the front-drive variant is automatic-only. EPA fuel economy estimates are similar for the two engines and I saw MPG in the high 20s from both.
Chassis behavior is what we want (and expect) from a Mini. The Countryman responds to steering commands like it has attention deficit disorder, eager to chase after whatever has distracted it, and the body maintains its composure no matter how quickly it’s being dragged in a new direction. The ride is very firm, though it does a decent job of filtering out all but the most severe impacts. It’s a big improvement over the outgoing Countryman, even if the new car isn’t quite as good at squeezing into narrow places.
To be fair to Mini, they’ve put the extra size to good use. Back-benchers benefit the most: There’s a surprising amount of legroom in the second row, even when the front seats are adjusted for taller drivers, and the standard-fit panoramic sunroof makes the cabin feel open and airy. Too bad about the seatbacks, though, which are firm and thinly padded — a reminder that this supposedly English Mini was designed by Germans.
Up front, the Countryman is a replay of Mini’s greatest hits, with a colorful center-mounted infotainment system (now with a new interface and touchscreen functionality to supplement the dial controller, but still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), a gauge pod that moves with the adjustable steering column, and those funky toggle-style switches. Material quality is excellent and the Countryman frames the driver’s view of the world in a short, rectangular windshield, just as a proper Mini ought to do.
Trunk space is a little shy at 17.6 cubic feet, but the boot is usefully shaped and free of obstructions. Mini says their customers value versatility, which the Countryman delivers with standard-fit 40/20/40 split-fold rear seatbacks, extra storage space under the trunk floor, and LATCH anchor points that are clearly marked and easy to use.
Mini has priced the new Countryman mid-way between blue-collar entrants like the HR-V and Renegade and luxury players like the Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. The entry-level Countryman lists for $26,950 (including destination), while the Countryman S All4 has a sticker price of $31,950. Those prices are before options, and this being a Mini, there are more extra-cost bits and bobs than the human mind can safely contemplate. Check too many boxes and you can easily get the Countryman well over $42,000. That’s a lot for a small crossover; for comparison, it takes a concerted effort to get the sticker price of a Mazda CX-5 too far above $30,000.
Mini expects the Countryman to appeal to urban and suburban dwellers who need the space of an SUV but don’t want to fuss about where to park it. That’s pretty much what the Countryman delivers — but then again, so does every single one of its competitors in this increasingly crowded segment. With the Mini no longer any more mini than its rivals — a point I had time to contemplate when the Countryman was unable to fit through what should have been a Mini-sized gap between a pickup and the curb, forcing me to wait to make my right turn like a commoner — all that’s left to differentiate the Countryman is style and price. We’ll have to see if buyers think the Countryman offers enough of the former to justify the latter.
2017 Mini Cooper Countryman Specifications
|ENGINE||1.5L turbocharged DOHC 12-valve I-3/134 hp @ 4,400 rpm, 162 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm
2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/189 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 207 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic, 8-speed automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||21-24/31-33 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||169.8 x 71.7 x 61.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.8-9.5 sec|
|TOP SPEED||122-137 mph|
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First Drive: 2017 Mini Countryman