Over the next twelve months, the automobile market is going to get a serious refresh. The many new-model reveals from this year’s Detroit Auto Show and all the announcements made late last year herald incredible metal coming down the pipeline. Some of the reveals and announcements were expected, some demolished expectations. We’re still anxiously awaiting exact details from others. After taking it all in, these are the cars and trucks we’re looking forward to driving the most in 2019.
2020 Toyota Supra
This one should come as no surprise. We’ve seen leaked images and teasers for at least a couple years now, so it was a relief to finally behold the Supra in the metal. Its stats look promising and given Toyota’s recent winning streak, it should hold up to all the hype.
After a nearly 20-year absence, the Supra name returns to the Toyota lineup, making it clear Toyota is hell-bent on changing the world’s perception of its cars. The new Corolla hatchback was a declaration of war on Toyota’s modern reputation for milquetoast cars; the 2020 Supra is the first major offensive.
One look at the Japanese manufacturer’s current lineup and sale figures, and it’s easy to see how Toyota gained a lackluster reputation for blandness. Sure, performance off-roaders like the Tacoma TRD Pro and 4Runner TRD Pro and the nimble GT 86 coupe suggest otherwise, but Toyota didn’t sell 427,000 GT 86s in 2018 — that honor goes to the Rav4. Toyota also sold just shy of 344,000 Camrys and 290,000 Corolla sedans, meaning about 1,000,000 direct customer interactions with the Toyota brand is with either an uninspiring, forgettable car or compact SUV. Toyota, however, is beginning an about-face, led by the Supra, at the Detroit Auto Show.
Bringing the Supra back is meant to inject energy back into the company: it is a halo car, a performance flagship. Toyota acknowledges it’s not practical and at $49,990 base MSRP, they know it’s aspirational. But, crucially, it’s still relatively obtainable. Jack Hollis, Toyota North America Group Vice President and General Manager, said one of the top priorities of the new Supra is to be “aspirational, but something the driver can truly have fun in.” He elaborated that for the first time since the GT86, Toyota is making a car aimed at “those who want to be on a track.”
Toyota CEO, Akio Toyoda, is a racer: according to the Toyota Senior Vice President Bill Fay, Toyoda “has gasoline running through his veins.” Not only did Toyoda oversee the final stages of the Supra’s development, he personally helped in the final tuning of the brakes, steering and suspension. “Committees don’t build cars like the Supra. Finance departments are never going to greenlight a car like the FT-1 Concept,” Fay says. “But we have a CEO that says it’s worth putting [engineers] to work for five years to bring the [Supra] to market. If we had any other CEO, this car wouldn’t be here.”
Conversely, the lack of performance-focused Corolla advertisements was its secret success. It’s a nameplate hundreds of thousands of people are already buying and driving. Toyota snuck genuine performance into the Corollas without pandering to enthusiasts and, consequently, scaring off the customer base – that’s how you get the masses to change their minds about your cars. Case in point: at the Detroit Auto Show, while everyone was distracted by the big Supra reveal, Toyota also snuck a TRD-tuned Camry and Avalon on to show floor.
Toyota isn’t distancing themselves from its bread and butter; it’s simply using the Supra flagship tactically. “The Toyota group sold 2.8 million vehicles in 2018 – [almost entirely] SUVs, CUVs, pickups and sedans. We’re not moving away from the heart of the market, but we want to be a full line manufacturer,” says Fay. It’s impossible to deny the sales success of those massive segments, which is why it’s becoming more difficult to justify relatively low-volume sports cars. That’s why Toyota collaborated with BMW to jointly develop the Supra and Z4 roadster. The team up is also the source of most of the controversy surrounding the Supra.
Enthusiasts and purists are the toughest car crowds to please. Thanks to the past Supra’s cult following, the new car actually developed more than a few ardent detractors. Its engine and powertrain components are sourced from BMW and there won’t be a manual transmission available, so Toyota is somewhat on the defensive with those purists. Supra Chief Engineer, Tetsuya Tada, doesn’t deny the lust for an old-fashioned transmission. Tada San says, “if there’s a persistent, overwhelming demand for a manual transmission, the nature of a sports car inherently is to improve, and that’s when we’d consider it — if the market demand is there.” But Tada San seems confident in the performance of the new sports automatic and says if you drive the new Supra, “you experience that right away. For Toyota enthusiasts old and new [and] up and coming fans of the [Supra], I’d like them to have them experience this new generation of automatic transmission and the whole experience of driving with it.”
There is also a non-Toyota (instead, BMW) inline-six powering the iconic car. Toyota wants Supra fans to understand that this collaboration with BMW isn’t a repeat of the carbon-copy 86 and Subaru BRZ project. In that instance, they tried to share as many components as possible to validate a low-selling sports car. But this time around, Tada, who was the chief engineer on that project too, says “the positioning of the sports car is higher. I had a specific vision of the Supra I wanted to create. With the Z4, BMW said they want to do ‘this’ or they want to do ‘that,’ — that had no effect on my vision of what I wanted to do.”
Without the BMW collaboration, there most likely wouldn’t be a new Supra at all. As a halo car and performance flagship, Toyota wouldn’t be able to turn its image around. They know it won’t sell anywhere near as well as the Camry, and Fay says it’s not even an aspiration to do so. “This is a Supra, through and through. It’s not a car that you need. It’s a car that you want.”
2019 BMW Z4
Driving the BMW Z4 is part and parcel of driving the Supra since they were jointly developed. The final products from each manufacturer are [likely] worlds apart but it’ll be interesting to see the siblings side by side.
BMW finally unveiled the all-new Z4 roadster to the crowd gathered at Pebble Beach for Monterey Car Week. Much like the Toyota Supra it was jointly developed with, the BMW Z4 has long been teased, seen testing in camouflage and was victim to leaked images, but BMW finally rolled out the new M40i sports car with which it intends to go after the Porsche Boxter.
Of all the BMW series in recent memory, the Z family is the most perplexing. The Z1 seemed more like a gimmick than a purpose-built two-seater sports car. The Z3 had a mixed reception; partly celebrated as a competent sports car, partly derided as a Mazda Miata with BMW badge and unwarranted premium price tag. Then you have the Z8, which started life as a design exercise and sent into limited production. In 2002 we got the first Z4, the true successor to the Z3, which BMW made larger, gave it a stiffer chassis and aimed it at Porsche’s entry-level Boxster. The last generation Z4 deviated from that battle plan and took on grand tourer vibes. Now, the 2019 Z4 is back taking the fight to the Porsche roadster.
In top-spec M40i guise, the Z4 cranks out 340 horsepower to the rear wheels using a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder and an automatic transmission. To match the Boxster’s balance via its mid-mounted engine, BMW boasts the new Z4 comes with a perfect 50-50 weight distribution, which, in part comes from the rear axle mounted transmission upgraded with an electronically controlled M Sport differential. However, the real test of the Z4 might not be against the Boxster, but the Toyota Supra it’ll inevitably be compared to.
Another tradition which makes the Z cars stand out from the rest of BMW’s line up is from one generation to the next the Z roadsters take on the most drastic changes in design. This time around the Z4’s design takes a healthy chunk of influence from the new 8-series and with mixed results. The wide kidney grille combined with the stretched headlights sit on the front of the car as if the BMW designers wanted more space but couldn’t find any. It’s one of the brand’s smallest cars and it got the front end from the largest. The rest of the car does well to work with the welcomed return of a ragtop, but it’ll be interesting to see if a coupe version makes it to production and messes with the balance.
2019 BMW 8-Series
Like the Supra, the BMW 8-Series is another ’90s icon making a comeback. Once again BMW will have a top-flight luxury sports coupe/sedan. It’s abut time – the Mercedes S-Class has had it too easy for too long.
We all know the BMW 8-Series is real and on its way, but we have yet to see a production version without camouflage. Today, at the Geneva International Motor Show, BMW did one better and not only revealed the stunning emerald green M8 Gran Coupe Concept is a design study that “previews the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe and BMW M8 Gran Coupe.” Why they don’t just show the actual M8 Gran Coupe, is beyond me, but if it looks anything like the show car, I don’t care.
Another promising prospect is “the BMW 8 Series will take over as the new flagship model of the BMW line-up and, as such, combines unsurpassed sportiness and elegance,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design. Which you can roughly translate that to BMW will start to trickle down design cues and elements to the rest of its lineup.
Frustratingly, since all the M8 Gran Coupe Concept is, is a design study, BMW didn’t offer any technical details. But we won’t have to wait much longer because BMW says the M8 “will be presented during the course of 2019 and round off the BMW 8 Series family.”
2019 BMW X7
Speeaking of a long time coming, BMW finally enters the three-row SUV game. The X3, X5 and X6 are well respected SUVs; it’s easy to assume the X7 will follow suit. But, since the X7 is the Bavarian’s first outing, it’s still up in the air whether it can compete in an already crowded market.
BMW is doubling down on luxury with the final production of the 8-Series hitting shores, and now the X7 rounds out their full-size ultra-swank SUV category. The X7 bolsters itself beyond the X5 in both size and opulence. It carries more passengers thanks to its third row, includes more cargo space, and the interior is unabashedly luxurious with two-tone leather interior, second row passenger displays, a new driver focused digital gauge cluster, and updated iDrive system.
As plush and luxurious as the interior might be, the exterior holds onto many of the design cues introduced in the concept version from last year’s LA Auto Show.
The X7 won’t be a slouch when it hits the road either. Buyers will have two options when it comes to their choice of powerplant: an in-line six-cylinder xDrive40i which pumps out 335 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque or the V-8 xDrive50i which pumps out 456 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque. Both will only be available with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Pricing on the BMW X7 begins at $74,895 for the six-cylinder and $93,595 for the V8.
2019 Jeep Wrangler Gladiator
Ever since Jeep teased a possible pickup version of the current-generation Wrangler, it’s been the enthusiast’s conversation topic of choice. It might have sown divided opinions, but there’s no denying its architecture perfectly lends itself to the adventure lifestyl. Maybe even more so than the standard Jeep Wrangler.
Ever since we got our hands on the newest Jeep Wrangler late last year, we immediately started asking when the pickup version would out. Jeep teased the two-door Jeep Gladiator pickup back in 2005 and has been on our minds ever since. Well, now it’s here in all its glory. This is the 2019 Jeep Gladiator.
While the Gladiator looks like it shares a lot with the standard JL Wrangler, underneath there’re an entirely new and unique frame, plus a bigger set of axles, brakes and wheels to go along with. Up front, the Gladiator gets power from the current Pentastar V6 – it’s good for 285 hp and 260 lb-ft, and can tow up to 7,650 lbs and carry a 1,600-pound payload. But, if you hold out until 2020, you’ll have a second engine choice: the 3.0L EcoDiesel which pumps out 260 hp and 442 lb-ft.
Also unique to the Gladiator is a new Overland trim – it sits above the standard Sport and Sport S and below the Rubicon flavors – though at first glance it seems the new trim only offers slightly bigger rims and a unique option when it comes to all-terrain tire choices. The latter presumably makes it a worthy in-between option considering a Sport S and the full-bore off-roading Rubicon. The Rubicon gets Fox aluminum-bodied shocks, full-length rock sliders to protect the longer frame, optional steel bumpers and optional 33-inch mud-terrain Falken M/T tires. The Gladiator is also the only convertible pickup on the market and looks decidedly badass with all the top down, all the doors off and the windshield folded over the hood.
Now that the Gladiator is officially known – and the mid-sized truck segment grows by one – we feel vindicated in thinking that Jeep was always bound for the off-road pickup fight too. The Toyota Tacoma TRD is used to ruling the roost, but now it has the Chevy Colorado AEV Bison and Gladiator as competition. The Jeep, however, with its 43.6-degree approach angle, 26-degree departure angle and 11.1 inches of ground clearance, put it at the top of the segment.
Jeep didn’t mention any pricing, but with the extra sheet metal and steel needed it’s easy to assume the entry-level sport will be in mid- to upper $30,000 range. The Chevy ZR2 Bison starts at $48,045, which is where the Rubicon will likely land, but we’ll know for sure early next year.
2020 Lincoln Aviator/ Ford Explorer
Ford didn’t simply swap badges and emblems on these two SUVs and call it a day. The two three-row SUVs sit on the same, all-new rear-wheel-drive platform and share the same basic architecture, but that’s where the similarities stop. The Aviator aims to tackle the highest echelon of premium owner, while the Explorer will take on adventurous families and, probably, with a lot of success.
You have to admire Lincoln’s savvy in its protracted, dogged pursuit of brand rebirth. Not only has it produced consistently high-quality products in recent years – including, most recently, a crisply redesigned Navigator – but it has wisely learned from its mistakes, steadily abandoning, for instance, confusing naming schemes (MKS, MKX, etc.) in favor of actually memorable names, such as the [reborn] Continental and the upcoming Nautilus. If only some other companies would take note. (Ahem: BMW X2 sDrive28i, BMW X5 xDrive40e iPerformance, BMW X4 M40i M-Performance…)
Now we have the Aviator, also a reborn mid-sized SUV, now slotted between the Navigator and the new Nautilus. Unveiled at the 2018 New York International Auto Show, the machine is easily the best of Lincoln’s recent design efforts, offering an elegant, timeless look inspired – as the name suggests – chiefly by the golden age of aviation. It is built on a rear-drive platform and will offer power of both the twin-turbo and hybrid variety. Lincoln Design Director David Woodhouse, during a walk-around preview of the new SUV ahead of the auto show, cited the Hughes H-1 Racer as a particular influence.
That airplane, a spectacularly beautiful 1930s design with hints of Art Deco influences of its own, finds its lines echoed in the new Aviator. “The fast-falling roofline and the rising rocker line give its silhouette an airfoil shape,” Woodhouse explained, noting that in spite of that tapering effect, they were able to retain comfortable seating for six-foot-tall adults in the third row by relaxing the higher stadium seating configuration that’s popular with three-row SUVs. “The color here – we call it Flight Blue – has its inspiration in the Air Force, and the badging on the side similarly recalls airfoils and aviation in its design.”
The vehicle also finds inspiration on the horizon – literally. Designers wove in wide, flat lines to both interior and exterior, including a sweeping horizontal crease from front to rear and a dashboard configuration that’s wide and accentuates the horizontal distribution of interior elements. “It generates a feeling of equilibrium and balance,” Woodhouse said. “I equate it to walking out to the beach for the first time and experiencing a feeling of calmness.”
Overall, design is also masterfully proportioned, with no exterior elements overwhelming the look, and a sense of scale that masks the vehicle’s generally significant proportions. Credit this to the design team’s pursuit of a visual impact that’s seductive rather than aggressive, Woodhouse said. “It’s more Monica Bellucci than Predator,” he joked.
2019 Kia Telluride
Kia is another manufacturer really hitting its stride. The automaker went gloves-off with the Stinger sport sedan, and the Telluride will attempt to follow up that success as Kia’s first-ever full-sized SUV. The prospect of a more off-road-focused trim in the pipeline only sweetens the deal.
Less than a year ago, the horizon of the automotive landscape looked bleak. Ford announced it would axe its sedans and hatchbacks in the US and Cadillac and Volkswagen made threats to fill their lineups with more crossovers and SUVs. But, this year’s Detroit Auto Show is a source of hope. New sports cars from unexpected brands and the many adventure-ready overlanders coming down the pipeline are enough to plaster a smile on anyone’s face.
Continuously increasing crossover and SUV sales numbers are a legitimate excuse for manufacturers to hop on board the gravy train. Hell, even brands like Lamborghini and Ferrari can’t ignore the segment’s potential. However, while some of the traditional brands are dialing back on their super sedan and sports car efforts, the likes of Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru and Toyota are taking their crossover-cash and using it to inject energy into other products.
Nissan brought to the show the IMs Concept, which reimagines what a sports sedan can and should be. Hyundai launched the all-new Elantra GT N Line, the first of its mid-level performance cars sporting more than just a sculpted bumper and rear wing; you’ll get a 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four engine paired with a six-speed manual and tuned suspension — all for $24,185. Subaru announced the first ever S-model STI coming to the US, which will sport 341 horsepower and a slathering of aerodynamic wings and vents. The 2020 Supra also made its first public debut in Detroit this week alongside a track-focused Lexus RC-F and TRD-tuned versions of the traditionally bland Camry and Avalon sedans. Ford deserves credit for the 700-horsepower-plus Shelby Mustang GT500 it brought along, and Cadillac gets an honorable mention for greenlighting the CT6-V – the big sedan’s possible swansong as its fate hangs in the balance.
New trucks from Kia, Ford, Chevy and Jeep are exploiting the rise in active and adventure lifestyles with overlanding-focused trims decked out with roof racks, skid plates, intake snorkels and suspension lifts. The Kia Telluride concepts, Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado Bison AEV and Jeep Gladiator prove America’s most popular slice of the market doesn’t have to be dull at all.
While global emissions standards are becoming stricter, and as the impending all-electric and autonomous future breathes down our necks, it’s impossible to ignore the fate of the automotive industry as it descends into soullessness. This sudden burst of entertaining cars – a renewed sense that cars can have a soul and purpose outside of getting us from point A to point B – is wildly refreshing after the seemingly endless string of bad news that poured out of 2018.
Subaru STI S209
The Subaru STI S209 is the the first-ever of Subaru’s “S” models to make the leap across the Pacific to our shores. As the highest point in Subaru’s performance hierarchy, it will sit above even the Type-RA, which is saying a lot.
2020 Ford GT500
As one of the most anticipated reveals at NAIAS this year, the new Mustang GT500 drew a big crowd and for good reason. Ford claims the new pony car will pump out over 700 horsepower, but is mum on the exact count. Discovering just how many – and forcing them all to the rear wheels – will be a high point of 2019.
Ford was sick and tired of those Dodge Hellcats and Camaro ZL1’s swaggering around with their big engines. The company unveiled the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 at NAIAS 2019. With a supercharged 5.2L V8 that will generate more than 700hp, the Shelby GT500 is the most powerful street-legal Mustang ever.
Ford did not give out exact times for the new pony car, but the company claims the Shelby GT500 will accelerate from 0-60mph in the mid-three-second range and do the quarter-mile in under 11 seconds. Ford promises that it will “embarrass supercars at a Ford price.”
The Shelby GT500 will have the quickest transmission ever put into a Mustang – and not a particularly-adept driver rowing his or her own gears. The seven-speed dual clutch Tremec transmission will shift gears in less than 100ms. The performance may be better, though one wonders just how “visceral” the “swagger” will be without a stick. Though, one wonders how it will affect the experience derived from a car that is dependent on “visceral swagger” to being with.
Other sporty as all heck details include a carbon fiber driveshaft, a carbon fiber track wing, Brembo brakes, carbon fiber wheels and a four-setting – normal, quiet, sport, track – fully-active exhaust system. In case you were unaware you were buying the hottest factory made Mustang, it will be available in colors such as “Red Hot” and “Twister Orange” to emphasize that point.
Ford will attempt ecological penance for this car’s fuel economy with its suite of mobility technologies.
2019 Cadillac CT6-V
Whether Cadillac knew what it was doing or not remains a mystery, but suffice to say the CT6-V is an instant classic. Powered by Cadillac’s new 4.2-Liter Blackwing V8, rated at 550 hp and 647 lb-ft, all 275 CT6-Vs allocated for the US sold out within hours.
The slow-selling Cadillac CT6 just received the upgraded performance and styling it deserved from get-go. From the ATS and CTS to the behemoth Escalade, it’s generally accepted that Cadillac can make an outstanding car, but for some reason they can’t steal sales away from Deutschland’s finest. Now, with a healthy amount of design language borrowed from the Escala concept introduced at Pebble Beach in 2016 and an all-new 4.2 -liter twin turbo V8 engine, the CT6 may have a fighting chance.
The refreshed flagship sedan now comes in a V-Sport trim that sits above the standard version. Let’s be clear: the ‘standard’ version comes with 500 horsepower, but it’s the upgraded V-Sport engine putting 550 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels making all the headlines (including ours).
It’s about time Cadillac is more aggressive putting the stunning styles of its concept cars into production. The inside-V twin-turbo engine layout might be all-new to Cadillac, but BMW, Audi and Mercedes have been using that architecture for quite some time and with incredible success. That innovative engine layout is the way forward — it’s also worth noting this is one of the first high-profile instances in a long time in which GM gave Cadillac some juicy engineering before its precious Camaro and Corvette.
Speaking of the Corvette, its home in Bowling Green, Kentucky is precisely where Cadillac is assembling the all-new engine — by hand, no less. Similar to AMGs coming out of Affalterbach, the Caddy engines will be stamped and signed by the factory worker who built it too. I also want to point out this is just one more dot to connect with my theory about Cadillac testing the top-secret next-generation Corvette engine, but I’ll wait a little longer to say “I told you so.”