Weekend Roundup: 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, Chevrolet Volt Fires, 2013 Subaru BRZ Driven

December 2, 2011
2012 Subaru BRZ Front Three Quarters On Track
Been away from your computer this week and missed all the automotive news? We’ve gathered a few of the top stories of the past week for your convenience.
We scoured the floor at this week’s Tokyo Motor Show to bring you photos, news, and more live from Japan. Take a look at everything from quirky concepts like the Nissan Pivo3 and Toyota Fun-Vii, to production cars like the Audi A1 Sportback and Subaru Impreza S206.
As the company works with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate the risk of fire in the Volt electric car after a side-impact crash, Chevrolet will offers customers a free loaner car if they’re uncomfortable driving the Volt. The announcement comes after government crash tests showed that the Volt’s battery pack could catch fire after a severe crash. Chevrolet also is developing post-crash safety protocols so that the battery packs can be “de-powered” after an accident. So far, no recall of the Volt has been announced, and Chevrolet officials assert that the car is safe to drive.
This week we got our first chance behind the wheel of a new sports car, as well as another opportunity to drive an attractive crossover. The 2013 Subaru BRZ proves that a sports car can thrill its driver even without sledgehammer-like horsepower. Light weight, a low center of gravity, and nimble suspension make the 197-hp BRZ a toy that easily puts a smile on our faces -- even without a beefy turbocharged engine. The 2012 Range Rover Evoque, meanwhile, pleases us with its dramatic styling and outstanding interior. The Evoque is designed primarily for on-road travel, begetting a stiff ride and tightly controlled body motions. We’re impressed at how will the Evoque preserves the essence of Range Rovers in a smaller package.
While Subaru let us get behind the wheel of the BRZ in Japan, Scion was unveiling its version of the sports coupe, called the FR-S. An America-exclusive model, the Scion FR-S is essentially a rebadged version of the Toyota 86. As such, it draws motivations from a 2.0-liter Boxer-four engine co-developed by Subaru and Toyota. Although a price hasn’t been announced, Scion claims it will be affordable for the amount of performance on offer. One neat factoid: with the rear seat folded, Scion says the FR-S can transport a set of four wheels and tires, a jack, and a tool box for track days.
Volkswagen surprised us with the Cross Coupé concept at the Tokyo Motor Show. The Tiguan-size crossover has a steeply sloped rear that gives it the same general silhouette as cars like the BMW X6 and Acura ZDX. The crossover is a similar size to the stylish new Range Rover Evoque. Under the hood is a plug-in hybrid powertrain, which combines a 148-hp gasoline engine with two electric motors. The Cross Coupé is projected to cover about 25 miles on electricity alone and have a total driving range around 531 miles. VW hasn’t said whether this concept is destined for the real world, but we think it looks close to production-ready.
Honda will finally launch direct fuel injection on its four- and six-cylinder engines in 2012. Most other automakers already have adopted the fuel delivery technique to help boost power and improve fuel economy. Honda says the new engines will debut in summer 2012. The 1.8-liter inline-four produces 148 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque, versus 140 hp and 128 lb-ft without DI; the 2.4-liter inline-four now offers 181 hp and 177 lb-ft, up from 185 hp and 163 lb-ft; and the company’s 3.5-liter V-6 should produce 310 hp and 265 lb-ft with DI, compared to 250 hp and 247 lb-ft without.
A new report suggests the Dodge Viper will return at the New York auto show in April 2012. The American supercar went out of production after the 2010 model year, but now is expected to return for model-year 2013. The new Viper will have stability control, and also will likely be based on an Alfa Romeo platform. Engine choices are currently unknown, but the possibilities range from the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 found in other high-performance Dodges, to a brand-new 8.7-liter V-10.
Responding to chronically low sales, Daimler plans to axe ultra-luxury brand Maybach by 2013. Instead, Daimler will position new versions of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class to take the place of the Maybach 57 and 62. In fact, Mercedes could launch as many as six new variants of the S-Class in 2013 -- including larger, more expensive versions. When launched in 2002, the Maybach brand was planned to sell about 2000 cars globally each year, but has averaged only about 200 sales per year. In the U.S. alone, Maybach sold just 63 cars in 2009 and 66 cars in 2010.
Acknowledging that critics have been less than impressed by the new 2012 Civic, Honda officials at the Tokyo Motor Show admitted the car isn’t perfect. In fact, one Honda designer went so far as to admit on-record that the company’s car designs are “boring.” To tackle these criticisms, Honda has fast-tracked a plan to replace the Civic, and will now launch a redesigned model in 2013 rather than 2014. The reason the 2012 Civic is somewhat lackluster is apparently because the car was designed during the depths of the American financial crisis. Honda officials expected buyers would accept lower-quality cars so long as they were cheap and fuel-efficient, a plan that appears to have backfired.
General Motors celebrated the history of its small-block V-8 engine by building the symbolic 100 millionth engine this week. The engine was a 638-hp, supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 V-8 from the Corvette ZR1. It was assembled by hand by journalists and GM employees, and will be housed in the GM Heritage Museum. The history of the small-block goes back 56 years to when GM launched the revolutionary V-8 in the 1955 Chevrolet. After assembling the milestone engine, GM also talked about the next-generation small-block. It will have direct fuel injection and should be more fuel efficient than current V-8 engines.
With official photos and specifications for the Subaru BRZ released, we examined how the new rear-wheel-drive sports coupe will fare against its key rivals. The BRZ will send 197 hp through a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, and is expected to be priced below $30,000. Though it has less power than some rear-wheel-drive competitors, we think the BRZ’s low weight and supposedly inspiring driving experience will balance out the power deficit. There also are several powerful front-wheel-drive cars in that segment, which could serve as willing foils to the rear-drive BRZ. We can’t wait to put the Subaru BRZ up against its competitors early in 2012 to see what it’s like in the real world.


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