2012 Sneak Preview: Asian Cars

200. That’s the number of new and updated cars that are scheduled to debut over the next twenty-four months. You don’t really want to read about every reskin or 5-hp bump, so we’ve filtered that list down to the twenty-five cars you most need to know about. Much of our information is hard fact, while some of it is educated guesswork or pure conjecture. We have included a “speculation meter” for each car to indicate what’s what. Here, then, is the scoop on the cars you will be hearing a lot about over the next two years.

This is the third of four articles that appear in our June 2012 print issue. On Monday, we told you what to expect from American automakers and yesterday we told you what to expect from their Asian counterparts. Tomorrow, we’ll tell you about the 10 trends steering the auto industry.

Acura RLX

veryone has an opinion about what Acura needs — a halo sports car, a V-8 engine, a rear-wheel-drive full-size car, you name it — but we think what the company needs more than anything is a product strategy that makes sense. Acura dealers will soon be selling an ILX that’s almost the same size as the TSX for substantially less money. And for years now, the flagship RL has competed against the TL, which is practically the same size and has more horsepower.

Finally, it seems, we’re seeing something sensible from the company: a flagship that’s actually a flagship. Previewed by the crazy-eyed RLX concept car you see here, the RL’s replacement will grow a full size to compete with the Lexus LS460 in interior volume — but without a considerable weight increase over the current car.

Of course, Honda loves to do things differently, so the top version of the RLX will not have a V-8. Instead, the “Sport Hybrid” will use the SH-AWD system that we first saw previewed by the NSX concept but flipped 180 degrees. It uses a transverse 3.5-liter direct-injected V-6 and electric motor bolted to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic to drive the front wheels — and two additional motors to provide torque-vectored power to the back. Total system output is 370 hp, and Acura is hoping for a 30-mpg EPA combined rating.

The base front-wheel-drive version will use a rear-wheel steering system that, according to Acura, bestows the RLX with handling comparable to the best rear-wheel-drive cars. We’ll have to wait to see how Porsche and BMW feel about that, but in the meantime, we’re just thrilled that Acura’s product line is getting the real flagship it has needed for so long.

What: The new RL — or Replacement Legend
When: This fall
Wow: An Acura that actually makes sense in the brand’s lineup
Speculation Meter: You Can Bank On It

Infiniti LE

In 2010, Nissan delivered the Leaf, the first modern, mass-consumption electric car. In 2014, the company’s upscale brand, Infiniti, intends to deliver the first electric car capable of wireless charging. Rather than plug in to a wall, LE drivers have the option of juicing their batteries by parking on top of an inductive charging pad.

To simplify the task of precisely aligning the car over the charger, the LE has a self-parking feature. In addition, a plug hidden behind the front emblem allows for conventional charging at a faster rate.

The rest of the driving experience won’t revolutionize the electric-car market. The LE uses lithium-ion batteries and a motor borrowed from the Nissan Leaf for 207 lb-ft of torque at the front wheels and a range of roughly 100 miles. It will, however, set itself apart from the Leaf in looks, luxury, and safety technology. The four-door, five-passenger sedan makes good on its Infiniti badge with a lavish cabin, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and the Around View camera system.

What: An all-electric luxury sedan
When: 2014
Wow: It definitely looks nothing like a Leaf
Speculation Meter: You Can (Almost) Bank On It

Lexus Coupes

Lexus has been saying it wants to inject some emotion into its cars, and so far, so good. The wild LF-LC concept that debuted at January’s Detroit show was, officially, just a design exercise. It generated so much positive attention that the company is now scrambling to build the coupe — two of them, in fact.

The production cars inspired by the LF-LC will be based on the platform that underpins the new GS, so one could imagine the GS’s 3.5-liter V-6 would slot right in, with or without the hybrid system that is offered in the GS sedan and that was hinted at by the concept car.

Those specifications are remarkably similar to what we expect to see in the forthcoming Acura NSX, which will use a gasoline/electric hybrid at the rear and electric motors up front to provide torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. The front-engine coupes, however, will be more elegant and luxurious than the NSX, filling the hole in the lineup once held by the beautiful SC300 and SC400 coupes.

Priced far below the $400,000 LFA, the Lexus coupes would nevertheless be expensive halo cars for Toyota’s premium brand — figure one will cost about $75,000 and the other between $100,000 and $120,000. That’s a price point at which only the Mercedes SL has thrived, but this wouldn’t be the first time Lexus has snuck into Mercedes-Benz’s backyard, now would it?

What: A pair of coupes based on GS/LS architecture
When: At least two years
Wow: $75K for one, $120K for the other — ka-ching!
Speculation Meter: More Fact Than Fiction

Subaru Impreza WRX

New subaru Impreza means that we can expect a new WRX. The last time we got a new WRX (in 2008) it was a big disappointment, because its maker had decided that the market for hard-edged performance cars was dead and sent us a highly underwhelming, wet-noodle Rex based on the Japanese Impreza S-GT. North American Subaru fans were not happy, and the company pulled one of the fastest 180s in the automotive industry. The quickly reworked WRX was, thankfully, what buyers expected.

History will not be repeating itself — in fact, Subaru learned from its mistake and is moving the WRX even farther away from the Impreza it’s based on. That compact car has gradually shed its personality to better compete in the mainstream market, but the WRX will keep its STI-style fender flares and aggressive looks — and Subaru hints that its chassis will be more “nimble.”

Like its lesser Impreza brethren, the WRX receives a downsized engine, and here’s where the news gets interesting: replacing the laggy, aging 2.5-liter flat four will be a turbocharged version of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder that made its first appearance in the rear-wheel-drive BRZ coupe. This engine is smaller, dimensionally, than the 2.0-liter in the regular Impreza, and the two engine families share almost no parts. A big difference here from the BRZ is that the WRX’s engine will use Subaru’s first in-house direct-injection system, whereas the coupe uses a Toyota system.

At this point, we can only guess that the 2.0-liter won’t produce much more than the old 2.5-liter’s 265 hp and 244 lb-ft of torque, but the last WRX wasn’t wanting for power. More important, with a far higher compression ratio and direct injection, the new WRX (illustrated below) promises less turbo lag and vastly improved fuel economy. We expect to see the new WRX later this year — and then the inevitable, even-more-potent STI version thereafter.

What: A replacement Rex
When: This fall
Wow: A turbo on the BRZ’s engine
Speculation Meter: More Fact Than Fiction