2009 Model Year Preview Part 1 (A to F)
Although some of the most intriguing new models will be introduced a year from now, for the 2010 model year (i.e., Chevy Volt, third generation Toyota Prius, Acura NSX), there are still some really interesting vehicles hitting the market right now and in the coming months. Below is a brand-by-brand overview of the most significant new vehicles that we can expect to see in the new car market for the 2009 model year. Due to the gigantic size of the market, we will pay closest attention to all-new or significantly changed vehicles. Also, because I doubt that any Aston Martin or Ferrari buyers are doing their research on this site, I’ll ignore those lineups.
The 2009 model year came a bit early for Acura this year, with both its new TSX and warmed-over RL sedans making their auto show debuts in the spring, and hitting dealers this summer.
The 2009 TSX is, as are most new models, slightly larger and heavier than the vehicle it replaces. The simple, attractive lines of the old TSX have been replaced with Acura’s controversial “shield” grille, bulging fenders, and some curious angles. The interior materials have allegedly been upgraded, and more technology has been added to the car. Power comes from a 2.4 liter four cylinder rated at 201 horsepower, coupled to either a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual.
The 2009 RL is an update of the existing car, with the new Acura family grille, enhanced technology, increased engine power, and some creative seat-shaping to increase rear seat passenger space, which has been a criticism of the current model. The RL, as Acura’s flagship sedan (and, incidentally, a car that should rightfully have never lost the Legend name) also was criticized for being a V6 powered flagship. Honda naturally hasn’t added a V8, but did bump up the displacement from 3.5 to 3.7 liters, and horsepower goes up to an even 300.
The 2009 Acura TL will be an all-new car, introduced later this year. Although it hasn’t been revealed to the public yet, several decent-quality spy photos have shown a car that appears to be larger than the current model, and again incorporating the sheild grille. Power will be upgraded, of course, with the top engine likely to be a variant of the RL’s 3.7 liter V6. All wheel drive is also likely. While I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt to vehicles I’ve only seen in spy photos, Acura’s recent styling direction leaves me a bit pessimistic about the TL’s looks. The 2009 TL certainly has some big shoes to fill, because in my opinion, the 2004-2008 TL is the best looking vehicle Acura has ever sold.
The larger, wider, more powerful trend continues at Audi, where the all-new 2009 A4 compact luxury sedan makes its US debut later this year. The car, which is already on sale in Europe, has A5/S5-type headlights (with a ring of LED daytime running lights underneath the headlights themselves). The initial engine available in the US will be the direct injection 3.2 liter V6, to be followed later by a new 2.0 liter turbocharged direct injection four cylinder that will supposedly match the power and torque of some V6s, while returning superior fuel economy.
The new Q5 small SUV will also make its US debut for the 2009 model year. The little brother of the Touareg/Cayenne-based Q7 looks like a cross between the Q7 and an A4 Avant (wagon). It will come with only a 270 horsepower 3.2 liter V6 when launched in the US next spring.
BMW has been busy filling as many niches of the luxury market as it could find, and even inventing a few that didn’t exist before. One member of the class of one – that is, the class of four door coupe SUVs – is the new X6. If only the name were as simple as “X6,” however – its full name is X6 xDrive35i or X6 xDrive50i, depending on whether it has the 3.0 liter twin turbo inline six, or a new 407-horsepower twin turbo V8. The new V8 will find its way throughout several vehicles in the BMW lineup in the next few years; a likely early recipient of it will be the upcoming all-new 7 series.
Other big news at BMW is the availability of 50 state-legal turbodiesel six cylinder engines in both the 3-series and X5. This sophisticated engine produces 265 horsepower and over 400 lb-ft of torque. Performance should be on par with the expectations of BMW owners, although I’m sure that the extreme low-end torque and lack of revving will be a very different experience for them.
The 2008 model year was a big one for Cadillac, as its volume sedan, the CTS, hit the market. The car has been a critical and sales success, and later this year, we should see a wagon version (with half of its production scheduled for export to Europe) as well as a production version of the CTS coupe concept displayed in January 2008 at the Detroit Auto Show. Other big CTS news for 2009 is the release of the 2009 CTS-V, which packs a detuned version of the 2009 ZR1’s 6.2 liter supercharged V8. In the CTS-V, the engine is rated at 556 horsepower (versus 638 in the ZR1), but the CTS-V has proven to be an absolute rocket in performance figures released by GM, with a quarter mile time of 12 seconds flat. Pricing hasn’t been announced for the V yet, but expect the most powerful engine of the Cadillac V-series to start around $60,000, which – if true – is a heck of a deal considering the performance relative to the M5 and E63, plus the fact that the similarly-powered ZR1 starts at $105,000.
GM’s volume brand sees two significant introductions for the 2009 model year. First is the Corvette ZR1, which (as mentioned above) packs a 638 horsepower 6.2 liter supercharged LS9 V8 under its hood. Zero to sixty arrives in a conservative 3.4 seconds, quarter mile times are in the low-11s, and top speed exceeds 200 miles per hour. The price exceeds $100,000 as well – $105,000 to be precise, including destination and the mandatory $1,700 gas guzzler tax.
The second introduction for Chevy this year, the Traverse large crossover, should sell in much larger volumes than the ZR1 (which will be limited to 2,000 units in its first year, by the way). The Traverse is basically an Enclave/Acadia/Outlook with a different front end, different interior, and a different D-pillar treatment. However, the Lambda crossovers (that’s the name of the platform on which the Lambda and its cousins are based) can handle fairly well for large vehicles, and are comfortable and quiet inside. GM also promises best-in-class fuel economy with a direct injected version of the 3.6 liter V6, coupled with a six-speed automatic.
The big news at Chrysler is the launch of the company’s first hybrid, which will be found in the Aspen full-size SUV. Interestingly, Aspen sales haven’t done too badly this year, in spite of enormous headwinds in its segment. The two mode hybrid was co-developed with GM and BMW, so is a version of the system that can be found in the Tahoe and Yukon Hybrids, except that it obviously features Chrysler’s HEMI V8 instead of GM’s small block V8. Chrysler announced a few weeks ago that Durango and Aspen Hybrid pricing will undercut their GM competition by up to $8,000.
The Dodge Durango Hybrid has the same powertrain that the aforementioned Aspen Hybrid has, and also makes its debut for the 2009 model year. Along with the Durango Hybrid news, 2009 marks the filling out of the Challenger lineup with the V6 powered SE and 5.7 liter HEMI V8-powered R/T models to accompany the fire-breathing SRT8 that kicked off the Challenger’s return to the streets for the 2008 model year.
The other big news at Dodge is the launch of the all-new Ram pickup. I’ve seen it in person, and it has a hugely improved interior, lots of interior storage, a cleaner shape, better fuel economy, more power and torque, and some innovative features such as locking bedside compartments. Another innovative feature for the new Ram is four-wheel coil spring suspension, which is unique to the pickup market, and should improve unladen ride and handling relative to the competition. Dodge desperately needed to add both refinement and fuel economy to their flagship pickup, and it appears that they have done so for 2009.
Ford has two very important launches for the 2009 model year. One launch – the Flex large crossover – has already begun, if the three models sitting in front of my local dealer are any indication. The Flex is intended as Ford’s non-stodgy minivan replacement, very similar to how the Traverse is Chevy’s non-stodgy minivan replacement. While the Traverse doesn’t break any new styling ground, the Flex’s intentional boxiness prove that Ford was willing to take some styling risks on a very important vehicle. It’s certainly a shape that has grown on me over time; when the production model was first shown, I thought it would be a flop in the market, but now I can appreciate it for what it is: basically a cross between a Mini Cooper and an old-school station wagon. I give the Flex credit not only for being honest about what it is (not pretending to be ready to tackle the Rubicon trail), and for an interior that, according to early reviews, is of very high quality and packed with innovative features such as a built-in refrigerator with its own compressor, SYNC, and a vista roof. Power comes from a 262-horsepower 3.5 liter V6.
The other critical launch for Ford has already been delayed by two months because of ballooning inventories of the old 2008 models: the [strike]bestselling[/strike] F-150 pickup. Like its crosstown rival the Dodge Ram, the new F-150 features a stronger, lighter frame, a nicer and more spacious interior, and improved fuel economy. Ford also added a new Platinum trim level above Limited, which will feature a leather-wrapped dashboard; the Platinum will basically replace the Lincoln Mark LT pickup in Ford’s overall lineup, and actually has a nicer interior than the Lincoln cousin to the old F-150 had.