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Top tech cars for 2017

If you’re shopping for a new car in 2017, you’ll find many tech improvements. More cars will offer Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, providing a cheap way to get navigation. More midsize and compact cars will offer adaptive cruise control and it will be stop-and-go. Rear cameras are near-universal. Odds are you’ll find two USB jacks in front, maybe two more in back. That’s small but important, and long overdue: one USB jack for every seat in the car.

Here are the top 10 2017 cars, SUVs, and crossovers that show where the industry is headed: sedans giving way to crossovers, six-cylinder engines replaced by turbocharged fours, automatic transmissions with 8 to 10 gears, more driver assists, and more cars offering integrated telematics.

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2018-Chevrolet-Equinox-007This is a complete redesign that should make the Chevrolet Equinox competitive with the best compact SUVs (Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-3, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4). At 183 inches long, it may compete against some midsize crossovers, too. It’s a 2018 model likely to ship in the first quarter of 2017.

The Equinox exemplifies many of the 2017 trends. It’s an SUV, not a car. This full redesign cut weight by about 10% or 400 pounds. To boost economy, the engine choices are all four-cylinder and all turbocharged: 1.5-liter or 2.0-liter gasoline engines mated to a new nine-speed transmission and a 1.6-liter turbo diesel. The all-wheel-drive version disengages the rear axle except when it’s needed, cutting fuel consumption. The Equinox will tow 3,500 pounds; many in this class only haul 2,000 pounds, if that.

The Equinox has a wide array of safety gear, some standard, some optional. New features include forward collision warning with low-speed automatic braking, lane keep assist / lane departure warning, blind spot detection (“side blind zone alert”), rear cross traffic alert (when backing), four-camera surround vision, and a vibrating seat (“safety alert seat”) that warns only the driver, not the passengers. The only major driver assist not on the Equinox list is adaptive cruise control.

Chevrolet has one of the best, simplest infotainment systems already with MyLink, offering 7- and 8-inch center stack LCDs, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, OnStar telematics, and a multi-user Wi-Fi hotspot. It will be interesting to see if Chevy follows Honda’s lead and offers midrange Equinox trim lines with a big LCD without forcing the buyer to take navigation, which CarPlay or Android Auto can provide.

All this applies as well to the 2018 GMC Terrain, which shares the same components, typically mounted on a more truckish body than the Equinox uses. The same GM platform also underpins the upscale Buick Enclave midsize, three-row crossover, which also gets a redesign in 2017. The Enclave will still offer a V6 engine and hopefully will have adaptive cruise control to match its competitors.

Why the Equinox matters: Chevrolet 2013-2016 did a good job updating its sedan line, including the Impala, Malibu, and Cruze. Now it’s turning to the SUVs, and the Equinox is hugely important — the second best-seller among all GM vehicles after the Chevy Silverado pickup.

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2017-Chevrolet-BoltEV-026A 250-mile EV you can buy before the end of 2016, the 2017 Bolt appears to be living up to Chevrolet’s range claims. Chevrolet says it gets 238 miles based on the EPA cycle. Better still, a group of auto writers who got an early drive found it was possible to drive a 240-mile route along California’s coastline with 30 to 40 miles of indicated range remaining.

Early testers are finding the Bolt is like any other car in drivability and passenger comfort — just that it’s electric. It’s a subcompact car based on its 164-inch length, but still with reasonable rear seat comfort. The Bolt EV uses a single electric motor to drive the front wheels. The 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack comprises 288 cells and spans the space below the cockpit floor. By allowing for high levels of regenerative braking, the Bolt makes possible one-pedal driving, meaning when you lift from the throttle, there’s enough resistance from the generator/charger that the car stops itself. For more regenerative braking, there’s a lever behind the steering wheel, and there still is a brake pedal.

Chevrolet set a list price of $37,500, meaning that early adopters may get a $7,500 federal tax credit. Chevy says the Bolt is on track to ship late this year.

Why the Bolt matters: There is indeed range anxiety with a first-gen EV with a sub-100-mile range. The Bolt is the first EV with a mainstream price to break the 200-mile barrier and reset range expectations. It also shows mainstream carmakers can produce solid EVs, too.

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Tesla is the benchmark for upmarket electric vehicles. The Tesla Model 3 seeks to bring the Tesla marque into the mainstream price category. This is a small-to-midsize sedan with a range of at least 215 miles and a price before rebates or tax credits of about $35,000. Those numbers are subject to change depending on technology advances and, possibly, how well the competition is doing.

Unlike the Chevrolet Bolt, Tesla will offer drivetrain choices: one- and two-motors, two- and four-wheel-drive, and multiple battery capacities, likely between 40 kWh and 60 kWh. (The Bolt is 60 kWh.) Tesla CEO Elon Musk says Tesla will have Autopilot hardware built in. It could well require an upcharge to unlock its functionality. Tesla says interior space beats other cars of similar size (the Tesla Model 3 is 184 inches long), although some who’ve sat in the back seat said it’s not that roomy. There’s also a question of whether Tesla will go with aluminum body panels (saves weight, raises cost) or steel panels (raises weight, saves cost).

Tesla attracted 400,000 orders worldwide for the Model 3, with most customers putting down $1,000 refundable deposits knowing they’ll have to wait more than a year for delivery and that the $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs may have expired by the time they get to the head of the line. Tesla fans say no loyalist would abandon Tesla for the Chevy Bolt. That remains to be seen.

Why the Model 3 matters: Tesla makes great $100,000 EVs. Tesla is betting its reputation on being able to grow Tesla production massively, keep battery supplies coming, and keep Tesla’s finances in order. Three challenges in one year.

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BMW CFiber P901793341_highResThe seventh generation of BMW’s midsize sedan will adopt the carbon fiber reinforcements of the full-size BMW 7 Series. Inside of five years, BMW has gone from carbon fiber on race cars to the CF body panels of the i3 and i8 EVs/plug-in hybrids, to the Carbon Core 7 Series with worldwide production of about 50,000 units a year, to the 5 Series with production of more than 350,000 units a year. BMW will likely use aluminum panels to further shave weight.

In the 7 Series, BMW used 15 pieces of carbon fiber to reinforce the car, including the header above the windshield, the door sills, the transmission tunnel, the front-to-back and left-to-right roof reinforcement tubes and bows, the B-pillar between front and rear doors, the C-pillar, and the rear parcel shelf. The image above shows the windshield header and the roof reinforcement tube. The goal is to reduce weight by at least 100 kg (220 pounds).

BMWs up and down the line — 7, 5, 3 Series sedans and SUVs — already have plenty of driver assists. Reports have the next 5 Series with a new adaptive cruise control system with enhanced precision; an autopilot mode combining ACC, lane centering assist, blind spot detection, and side sonar that will drive for miles at a time so long as the driver keeps his or her hands lightly on the wheel; integral active steering, meaning the rear wheels can steer (slightly) at low and high speeds; and an adaptive ride button that will choose comfort or sporty feel for the engine, transmission, and suspension.

The new 5 Series, code-named G30, is expected to be announced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (January 2017) and ship by spring.

Why the 5 Series matters: BMW wants to show it has the skill and factory capacity to produce 300,000-plus carbon fiber vehicles (i3, i8, 5 Series, 7 Series) a year. In 2015, it was about 100,000.

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Lexus’ best-selling model, the midsize Lexus RX SUV, grew five inches with a 2016 redesign, to 193 inches. That’s long enough for Lexus to offer a third row next year. It should bring Lexus even more customers, particularly parents carpooling lots of smaller kids, and grandparents who don’t want to rent a bigger vehicle when the grandchildren come visiting.

Lexus’ core competence lies in providing driver and passengers with a quiet, pleasant ride in luxury surroundings, and solid telematics (shown on a 12.3-inch center stack LCD). The RX offshoots are numerous: the RX 350 AWD all-wheel-drive for those in snowy countries, the hybrid RX 450h for those looking for efficiency, the sport-tuned RX 350F Sport for those who like performance driving, and even the RX 450h F Sport for those who want an efficient sporty crossover. Now comes, in 2017, the third-row option. There’s no word on whether Lexus will stretch the length any further to give third-row passengers a bit more breathing room.

Why the RX matters: It’s nice to see a car with few flaws getting even better. It gives the rest of the industry something to aim for. If three rows adds customers (and not just switch two-row RX buyers to three), Lexus could double sales over the nearest competitor.

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Honda_Clarity_FCV_05Honda is bringing three alternative energy vehicles to market by the end of 2017 in the 2017 Honda Clarity. Clarity is a midsize sedan about the size of the Accord. First up is the Clarity Fuel Cell before this year’s end. It will use gaseous hydrogen (as opposed to liquid) to create electricity and propel the Clarity for about 300 miles. Two 10,000 psi storage tanks are under the rear seat between the rear wheels; there’s also a small lithium-ion battery pack to provide a turbocharger-like boost under strong acceleration.

The Clarity will be offered in California, where there are now about two dozen refueling stations, and possibly in the metro New York City area where there are also a handful of stations. Honda says the price will be about $60,000, which is in line what what Toyota charges (before incentives of up to $13,000) to buy the Toyota Mirai fuel cell car. Toyota last month chopped the lease price from $499 a month to $349 in the wake of soft sales (about 700 in the first 12 months; Toyota projected 3,000 sales by the end of 2017).

The Honda Clarity Electric goes on sale next year as a 2018 model. Honda has not offered range estimates; there’ll be a big difference between 100 miles and 200 miles. It may be sold in limited markets, meaning large metro areas. Honda will also launch a plug-in hybrid version of the Clarity in 2017 with a battery range of 40 miles. It will be sold nationwide.

Why the Clarity matters: Hydrogen may be part of the long-term future for cars. Honda, GM, Hyundai and Toyota are keeping the flame alive.

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ioniq_electric_interior_1_hiresHyundai, like Honda, is building a new vehicle with three means of propulsion. Hyundai already has a fuel cell vehicle, the Tucson compact SUV. So the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq, a compact sedan, will offer an electric, a hybrid, and a plug-in hybrid, arriving in that order this fall, over the winter, and summer 2017. At 176 inches long, it’s a compact car only slightly shorter than the Hyundai Elantra.

On range, the Ioniq Electric is more Nissan Leaf than Chevrolet Bolt / Tesla Model 3 with a projected range of 110 miles, making it an urban/suburban runabout. Charging time is 4 hours 24 minutes with 240-volt Level 2 transformers, or 33 minutes to 90% charge with DC Fast Charging, Hyundai says.

The Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid, still more than half a year away, will get “greater than 25 miles” on its 8.9 kWh lithium ion battery (half the size of the current Chevrolet Volt’s 18.4-kWh battery). A full recharge on 240 volts is 2:30. The Ioniq Hybrid uses a 1.56-kWh lithium ion battery. Both hybrids will use a 1.6-liter direct injected Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine producing 104 hp, with a six-speed double clutch automated transmission.

Why the Ioniq matters: The Ioniq shows automakers have enough confidence in alternative-energy vehicles to create a model without traditional propulsion systems.

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Since Ford sold Volvo to Geely in 2010, Volvo has been busy building an all-new fleet based on two modular platforms. In 2017 we’ll be seeing the initial offerings of the small platform, dubbed Compact Modular Architecture (CMA). The first vehicle out will be the Volvo XC40 (the 40.1 concept version is shown above and right), a subcompact SUV/crossover Volvo hopes would compete against the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. It would have front-drive and a turbocharged three-cylinder engine or all-wheel-drive and four cylinders. Volvo would bring down most of the driver assists and safety technology of the bigger cars.

The XC40 would be followed by the S40 sedan, the V40 wagon, and a taller wagon, the Cross Country. Hybrid and EV versions would be sold as well. Meanwhile, Volvo will bring out new compact-to-midsize 60 series vehicles as early as late 2017: crossover/SUV, sedan, wagon, Cross Country. The bulk of the larger 90 series line is in place, the Volvo XC90 that was truck of the year a year ago and S90 sedan; a V90 wagon should arrive in 2017.

Why the Volvo 40 series matters: Volvo wants to survive and prosper. The 40 series, especially the XC40, should give Volvo the volume to continue challenging other high-end automakers.

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Hyundai’s Genesis models are now a separate brand, just as Lexus is separate from Toyota, and Infiniti from Nissan. The G90 is the former Hyundai Equus; the G80 was the Hyundai Genesis.

Expected late 2017 is Genesis’ answer to the BMW 3 series, the Genesis G70. It would have rear- or all-wheel-drive, four- and six-cylinder engines, and a hybrid variant. A coupe version (concept photo above) would follow and might replace the current $30,000 Genesis Coupe. Despite the name, the current coupe is more a Hyundai then Genesis vehicle.

With the sedan line flushed out with small-medium-large sedans, Genesis will add crossovers. A midsize crossover to compete with Audi Q5/Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, and Lexus RX will be a 2019 model debuting in 2018. It would have three seating rows, four- and six-cylinder engines, and a hybrid. Based on how other premium car sales are going (Acura, BMW, Mercedes), the SUV could be the best-seller. There would also be a compact crossover (BMW X3, Mercedes GLC) following.

For now, the Genesis brand is being sold through Hyundai dealers. By 2020, when Hyundai has six models, a separate dealership structure would be in order.

Why the G70 matters: Korean automakers have proved themselves on par with the world’s best on build quality and reliability. Two challenges remain: going high end and building sporty cars that handle like they’re German.

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Infiniti has a hole in its lineup: compact/subcompact crossover and sedan. It will plug the hole with the Infiniti QX30 crossover (image above) and Q30 hatchback. At 174 inches, the QX30 is the same length as the BMW X1, Mercedes GLA, and Audi Q3 crossovers, which are regarded as subcompacts. Its swooping lines make it fashionable at the cost of rear seat headroom and cargo capacity. A loaded QX30 will have adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, parallel and reverse-in automated parking, surround monitor, and moving object detection. Infiniti knows that it may advertise to upwardly mobile millennials, but many buyers are downsizing baby boomers who want all the tech offerings of their larger, previous ride.

The QX30 is manufactured in England and is based on a joint development project between Renault-Nissan and Mercedes-Benz. The powertrain architecture, for instance, is shared with the Mercedes CLA (compact crossover) and GLA (subcompact crossover). Prices will range from $30,000-$40,000 plus options.

Why the QX30 matters: The market for premium sub-compact crossovers is small — about 75,000 a year — but poised to grow. The QX30 gets Infiniti in on the ground floor.

Changes to the vehicles below aren’t as dramatic as on the top ten, or details are still sketchy. Most will arrive in 2017, badged as 2018 models.

Ford and Lincoln have multiple new cars due for model year 2018 (Fiesta subcompact, Focus compact, Ranger midsize SUV, Lincoln MKC compact crossover). For 2017, it’s a quiet year: the redesign of their big SUVs, Ford Expedition (41,000 2015 sales) and Lincoln Navigator (12,000 sales), plus a 10-speed automatic transmission and facelift of the Ford F-150 two years in. Lincoln has hopes a restyled Navigator (concept image above) can cut into the Cadillac Escalade’s 3-1 sales advantage.

150623_155_ford_764A0463Ford will spread the Sync 3 infotainment system through the entire line in 2017 and begin to offer Sync Connect, a built-in telematics package like GM OnStar, on Ford Escape. (The Lincoln MKC was the first Ford Motor Company vehicle with embedded-modem telematics in 2015, and now all models have it.) Sync Connect users can remotely access the car to do remote lock and unlock, start the engine, and check fuel level; these features are called SmartPass. For cars without Sync Connect, Sync 3 still lets drivers set up emergency crash notification via a paired Bluetooth phone.

Toyota Camry. The best-selling car in the US with 430,000 sold last year, the Camry gets a full redesign. it will be based on a modular platform, Toyota New Global Architecture. Spy photos suggest a racier body and front end to deal with the perception that Honda Accord is the sportier of the two. Toyota may go to four-cylinder engines exclusively, with a turbo four replacing the V6 in some trim lines, and switch to a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Honda Accord, CR-V. In 2017, Honda will come with full redesigns of the industry’s best-selling SUV, the Honda CR-V, and the second best-selling sedan, the Honda Accord. They will be designed off a common, expandable platform also used on the Honda Civic (new a year ago). The 10th generation Accord reportedly loses the V6 upgrade engine in favor of a 2.0-liter turbo four, with a 1.5-liter turbo four on lower trim lines. A hybrid and/or plug-in hybrid Accord may follow a year later.

The CR-V will use a turbo 1.5-liter engine as the only powerplant until a hybrid arrives circa 2018-19. It may also get a vestigial third-row, seeing as how Nissan Rogue does it and attracts buyers. Look to see if Honda reworks the Display Audio infotainment system to be more usable (for instance, adding back some buttons and knobs), if it offers blind spot detection as an option to the unique passenger-side-only Honda LaneWatch camera, and if (as on Civic) on middle trim lines you can get a big center stack LCD without navigation, allowing you to use smartphone navigation via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay and save $500 to $1,000.

Subaru three-row crossover. Subaru lacks anything bigger than the Forester and Outback, five-passenger, two-row crossovers/tall wagons. It is expected to build a three-row crossover to replace the Subaru B9 / Tribeca discontinued in 2014. Few details have emerged other than Subaru’s statement that the Japan home market Subaru Exiga Crossover 7 would not be the vehicle the US would get. Subaru and analysts believe the company needs a Honda Pilot or Nissan Pathfinder-size vehicle to boost sales. They’re right.

Mazda CX-5. The sporty compact SUV CX-5, Mazda’s top seller, gets a full redesign in calendar 2017. Like the midsize Mazda CX-9, the CX-5 will move upscale with a higher trim line and get updated driver assists, such as adaptive cruise control becoming full-range. It’s possible Mazda will make good on its promise (from back in 2012) to sell the CX-5 with a diesel engine.

Hyundai, Kia subcompact crossovers. The corporate cousins are both feeling the lack of a subcompact crossover/SUV on par with the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3 or Nissan Juke (almost 500,000 sales this year). It would be smaller than the Kia Soul, and on the Hyundai side it might replace the Accent hatchback.

Ford Ranger, Ford Bronco. These are in the news and, despite all the publicity, not coming to market in 2017. They’re the models Ford said will be built in the US, retaining US factory worker jobs as Ford moves Focus and C-Max production to Mexico. The Ford Ranger is a midsize pickup truck, another entry in the once moribund, now healthy midsize segment (Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma). It ships in 2018, might possibly debut late 2017. The Ford Bronco, the model OJ Simpson drove in his famous 1994 slow-speed chase, may arrive as a 2020 model. It would compete with Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner, meaning this Bronco would have serious off-road abilities. The Bronco hasn’t been built since 1996, and the Ranger since 2012.

We’re doing a special Rolling Update series this week on emerging car tech; click the link for more stories and in-depth coverage.

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