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Top tech cars of the 2016 Paris Motor Show

Whether it’s the Paris Motor Show (even years) or Frankfurt (odd years), the industry’s major September/October auto show this decade has showcased electric vehicles, hybrids, and self-driving cars alongside supercars for the affluent — such as the Ferrari GTC4Lusso T (top), Ferrari’s first four-seater V8 car, and an obvious bargain at $260,000 since it undercuts the V12 counterpart by $40,000.

Here are the top cars of the biennial Mondial de l’Automobile, with a focus on models that will make it to North America. The public part of the show runs through Oct. 16. It draws more than a million visitors. Most every automaker shows in Paris, although this year Lamborghini and Volvo skipped it, and BMW’s top execs reportedly took the time for a corporate retreat discussing future forays into EVs.

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MB-GenEQ-16C879_143_D326260The Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ represents the beginning of a new platform for the company’s electric cars. The EQ concept uses what may be the new normal for higher-end EVs: a battery in the vehicle floor and motors for both front and rear axles. Less expensive offshoots could work with a single motor. And either would work fine in Paris, which bans non-EVs from motoring about the first Sunday of each month.

The motors combine to produce 300 kW, or 400 horsepower, and Mercedes says 0-62 mph (100 kph) acceleration is less than 5 seconds. The battery capacity is more than 70 kWh, which allows for a range of 500 kilometers or 310 miles. Mercedes says it’s working on a Tesla Supercharger-style network of high speed chargers that would provide 100 kilometers or 62 miles of range in only five minutes.

MB EQ r side Paris 2016From the side, the Generation EQ looks somewhat like a station wagon / shooting brake (i.e., rich man’s station wagon) variant of Mercedes’ entry-level GLC. Despite that, Mercedes says there’s no commonality.

At the introduction, Mercedes also talked of self-driving capabilities for some models. Because the intro was in Paris, not Detroit, MB spoke of issues of importance to Europeans — for instance having 3D map data showing roundabouts (traffic circles) in great detail, including location, diameter, and curve radii.

Mercedes talked of the car coming to market around 2019 or 2020. That makes it something of a latecomer among German premium brands for a ground-up new EV, although it has adapted vehicles such as its B-Class subcompact combustion engine SUV with electric drive. BMW’s i3, for instance, has been sold since 2014. It has, however, had mixed sales success, and in the US at least the preferred version isn’t the pure EV, but the i3 with the gasoline range extender (REx) helper motor that nearly doubles the EV’s 80-mile range.

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AudiQ5-Paris-A1610600_mediumThis is the second generation of Audi’s now-aging midsize SUV crossover; the first generation Q5 has been around since the 2009 model year. It looks like a nine-tenths scale Audi Q7, measuring 184 inches long versus the Q7’s 200 inches. (That actually makes the Q5 closer in size to a compact BMW X3 than the midsize X5.) It’s also Audi’s best-selling vehicle in the US, accounting for more than a quarter of Audi’s 202,000 sales last year.

An 8.3-inch infotainment screen sits at the top of the center stack. The standard instrument panel contains analog gauges with an optional 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit LCD.

Audi says the Q5 has more than two dozen driver assist systems. Along with adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and blind spot detection, Audi’s traffic jam assist self-steers in stop-and-go traffic, following the car ahead while using side sonar to insure no one is creeping into your lane. A personal route assistant tracks your most common drives (to the work, to the mall) and then suggests the optimal route for the next trip, even when navigation is turned off.

Audi also plans to collect data about traffic conditions and share it (anonymized) with other Audis via the car’s telematics system. Audi calls this “swarm intelligence,” while some might say it could be pronounced “Waze.”

Audi will build the Q5 at a $1.3 billion plant southeast of Mexico City. Audi currently has no plants in the US (parent Volkswagen builds the Passat in Chattanooga, TN). The Q5 is currently made in Ingolstadt, Germany. The San Jose Chiapa Plant has a capacity of 150,000 vehicles a year that could be expanded to 300,000. At the groundbreaking in 2013, Audi’s CEO, Rupert Stadler, said, “Worldwide, every third Audi will be an SUV by 2020.”

Generally, midsize SUVs are replacing full-size sedans in the US, and compact SUVs are replacing midsize sedans. The Q5 is one of the best in class for those who can afford the starting price (currently around $42,000), with most Q5’s selling in the fifties, nicely equipped. Initially the US will get only a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with a supercharged V6 Audi SQ5 variant likely. For other world markets, Audi will offer as many as four diesel options.

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The 10th-generation Honda Civic sedan is the best compact car. In Paris, Honda announced shipment (including in the US) of a five-door, hatchback version of the sedan with a starting price around $21,000, or about $1,000 more than the sedan. Like the sedan, most trim lines provide Honda Display Audio, Apple Car Play, and Android Auto, so you aren’t forced to buy factory navigation to get it on the center stack LCD. Two hatchback-only trim lines, Sport and Sport Touring, will get slightly more power, 180 versus 174 hp.

More exciting was the announcement of a high-performance version, the Civic Type R (photos above), that will for the first time be sold in the US. Honda offered no performance specs. Assume it will be based on the Ohio-manufactured Civic four-cylinder engine and it will produce at least the outgoing Type R’s 306 hp. Most automakers want to see all-wheel drive with that much power in a vehicle weighing less than 3,000 pounds. Honda says it doesn’t want the weight penalty. It looks sportier, or wickeder, with darkened headlamp covers, a big rear spoiler, and carbon fiber trim. The Paris unveiling is described as a prototype; the toned-down production Type R will likely be unveiled at the SEMA show for tuners and aftermarket parts in November in Las Vegas.

The Type R won’t be available until spring 2017. It will compete with the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen GTI Clubsport S. For the enthusiast, you get similar performance and handling technology to a high-end Audi, BMW, or Mercedes compact sedan for $10,000 to $20,000 less.

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Volkswagen used the Paris show to lay out its electric vehicle vision for Germany’s most mainstream automaker, just as Mercedes made its case for electrification at the high end. As we wrote last week, the ID represents a Volkswagen platform for EVs. The ID is built around a battery pack integrated into the floor of the car. Some models are optimized for range, while others target affordability with a smaller battery pack.

Where Mercedes has separate electric motors driving the front and the rear wheels, the VW ID has a single motor driving the rears. (The BMW i3 does this, too.) This in a car 13 feet long, or just a foot longer than the Mini Cooper.  The ID rides on the completely new Modularer Elektrifizierungsbaukasten (MEB, or modular electric drive) platform. The motor configuration will be arranged like the BMW i3 (and unlike the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt), with the engine driving the rear, not front, wheels. The lithium-ion battery pack will be mounted under the passenger compartment, lowering the center of gravity.

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There is no market so hot today as the subcompact SUV, which includes the Nissan Juke, Honda HR-V, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade, and Mercedes-Benz GLC. BMW likes it so much it plans to add a coupe variant SUV, the BMW X2, to its existing lineup. Effectively, BMW is squeezing a model in between the X1 that is like a small, tall station wagon, and the boxier, more upright BMW X3.

In BMW nomenclature, the odd number X vehicles are SUVs (or SAVs, sports activity vehicles, X1, X3, X5, soon X7) and the even number X vehicles are SUV coupes (X4, X6), with sloping rooflines and some loss of rear headroom and cargo capacity. The X2 concept shown in Paris hints at a vehicle more practical than the X4 and X6 relative to its diminutive size of around 175 inches long. It appears to be a sexier offshoot of the X1 without giving up much headroom or cargo capacity. The angled windshield, low roof, and frameless door glass make it more coupe-like.

BMW owns Mini (Rolls-Royce, too) and it’s finding economies of scale. The Concept X2 will likely be built on a front-drive platform shared with Mini, although in BMW format it may ship only as an all-wheel-drive vehicle, and only with four-cylinder engines (the X1 is already based on a front-drive platform). A car like this shoehorned between the X1 and X3 also suggests the importance of other markets besides North America and Europe, particularly China, where small cars are necessary for megacities, and eventually hybrid and EV variants to deal with emissions regulations. In Paris, BMW showed what appeared to be a styling buck only (no engine or drivetrain), with more details coming from future auto shows (LA, Detroit, Geneva).

We’re doing a special Rolling Update series this week on emerging car tech; stay tuned for more in-depth coverage as the week goes on.

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