Well, 2015 sure shaped up to be one hell of a firecracker for the auto industry. So much happened in the span of 12 months that it is kind of hard to believe that it’s all in the history books now.
The automotive world alone kept us on our toes with the whole “Dieselgate” fiasco, Honda launched turbocharged Civics, Lexus released turbocharged crossovers, Jaguar rolled out lighter and stronger offerings, all while GM, FCA, and Ford got hit with sizable recalls.
We saw the push toward smaller, turbocharged cars gather steam, an Audi drive itself autonomously across America, Takata get put through the ringer over bad airbags, and automakers sell almost 17.5 million vehicles to set an all time U.S. record.
So now that 2016 is officially under way, what can we expect to see from the companies that bring us both transportation and throttle thrashing entertainment? According to an all-encompassing manuscript by Automotive News, a lot is in store for both critics and consumers alike this year, and after thumbing through all of the automakers and their various plans of attack, we have narrowed down our Cheat Sheet to include 10 key players that will likely make 2016 a year to remember.
Long considered the safe, unexciting side of high-end automotive options, Toyota’s luxury offshoot has grown restless in recent years and instead of going with the flow it decided to have some fun along the way. Releasing performance tuned “F Sport” versions of almost everything in its arsenal, Lexus has gone back to the drawing board on virtually every model in order to make them exciting to drive and sensationally sumptuous, all while retaining that Lexus reliability we know.
2016 looks like it is going to be a good one for the luxury automaker too, as it now has received plenty of press for its tantalizingly good turbocharged vehicles, and with all-wheel drive options blending the lines between fun and functional, there is no limit as to how far this brand can grow now that it has caught up with BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Honda may not be putting a turbo on everything like Lexus is, and it certainly isn’t releasing all-wheel drive performance models like crazy, but when it comes to solid innovation and rolling out more than enough compact cars to keep the masses happy, Honda is hitting on all cylinders. From the redesigned Pilot and the introduction of turbos to the completely redesigned Civic line, there is no telling how far the infamous H-badge will go this year, and the hype is just getting started.
Sure, the coveted Civic Type-R won’t be unleashed until 2017 and the NSX remains an Acura offshoot, but with a second generation Ridgeline pickup slated for reemergence, a hatchback Civic on the way, and the Odyssey minivan getting overhauled, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Honda sales soar for a second year.
3. Jaguar/Land Rover
As unsuspecting as it may seem, JLR has a pretty aggressive offensive strategy lined up for 2016. It all starts with how its cars are being made: Sick of being labeled as overpriced and unreliable, the two brands have received over $650 million in funding for its U.K. assembly plant from India-based parent company, Tata Motors, and the results have been staggering.
Stronger, swifter, sexier, and more affordable, both brands will likely be on the upswing this year, as the all-new XE compact sport sedan and F-Pace crossover hit showrooms late spring and into summer. Meanwhile, Land Rover continues forge onward, and remains one of the fastest-growing brands in the U.S. With the introduction of the Td6 diesel making waves already, sales will likely only go up from here.
Sponsoring NFL games, redesigning its engines to offer more torque, and landing a J.D. Power initial quality rating that’s only bested by Porsche, these are just a few of the stories that make Kia a true contender in 2016. The redesigned Optima sedan that impressed us out in Colorado is on sale and has a reworked turbo system, the Sportage is getting all sorts of surgery, and a wild-looking hybrid called the Niro is still slated to land later in the year.
The Korean automaker knows when to stick with a design that works and when to flag it for retirement, it still retains its solid warranty, and it utilizes things like Chesterfield diamond-cut leather seats to drive home why it was only bested in 2015 by Porsche for initial quality. Maybe, with a little luck, Kia will have the foresight to build some full-on sports cars down the line that can compete with things like the aforementioned Civic Type-R.
Part of me feels that Dodge doesn’t belong on this list. But sales trends, clever marketing campaigns, and not trying to be something it is not has really helped the baby brother of The Big Three earn its keep today. This is a brand that boasts the kind of American ass-kicking attitude that we like, and for all of its missteps Dodge is doing quite a lot of things right.
After too many years of being disappointed by the Dart and Journey, Dodge will be rolling out redesigned models this year. If it keeps up the fun-filled TV marketing campaigns, builds the Dart with quality and performance levels that are on par with the Focus ST, and finds a way to keep as many emissions credits in its back pocket as possible, the red-headed stepchild of Detroit is sure to bloody some noses in 2016.
Hyundai has its finger pressed pretty tightly on the pulse of global luxury trends by this point, and with the launching of the all-new Equus-replacing G90 en route with its new sub-brand (Genesis), there is no telling how far it plans to pass the pigskin, especially with all those NFL sponsorship dollars waving around. Hyundai has to make sure its Prius-eating IONIQ succeeds on every level with all three powertrains, and then take all that redesign R&D that it has been gathering for the Genesis R-Spec and turn it up to 11 for us sports car guys. Who needs truck sales when you’ve got turbocharged, low-slung attitude?
Subaru, you quirky little bastard you. How many times has America yelled at you for failed head gaskets, excessive oil consumption, and the unnecessary demise of the WRX hatchback? You really have your flaws you know… but dammit if we still don’t love you! Subaru sales have been astronomically good every year for awhile, and with last year bringing more success, this year is looking up already. The underdog in the Japanese tug of war is showing its pull like no other.
Demand is so high that Subaru is having issue keeping up with orders and with the Impreza sedan and a five-door model making their appearance later in the year, things are only going to get better.
With the Q50 S seen here stealing our hearts, and the redesigned Q60 heading this direction alongside the new compact QX30, things are looking up for the automaker. Let’s not forget that new twin-turbo V6 engines are also slated for installation on various models, so you can bet that people are going to be buying Infinitis up like crazy. At least, they hope.
Infiniti says it is adopting a new method of handling showroom customers as well, and will be using the ICAR-X tablet app to cover all aspects of the dealership and delivery in order to streamline the entire process and save money. After years of seeming neglect, Infiniti is starting to find its voice.
Setting a new record for sales in 2015, Jeep looks to take 2016 by storm with a lineup revision, more marketing dollars, and a rejuvenated sense of self that is aimed directly at the Millennial market. It already has shown us that it can make us smile with the rough little turbocharged Renegade Sport you see here, and it has all of the proper materials in place within the EcoDiesel Grand Cherokee.
Go ahead and keep on growing the brand with what has already proved fruitful, fold the Patriot and the Compass into a single platform (and don’t muck it up), and for god’s sake start marketing the EcoDiesel better. It’s a fantastic motor, and building hype for its eventual introduction to the Wrangler will likely help drive Grand Cherokee sales in the meantime.
Our final brand to watch out for in 2016 is Ford, and after having a solid 2015, the gloves are off. Leading the charge is the redesigned Super Duty, followed by the refreshed Escape and Fusion, a re-engineered Focus Electric, the 350 horsepower, all-wheel drive Focus RS hot hatch, an EcoBoost F-150 Raptor, and the triumphant return of the GT supercar.
Ford looks like it has a mixture of extreme and sensible lined up for us in 2016, and even though it doesn’t offer a subcompact crossover (weird, right?), it has plenty going for it thanks to the continued success of the F-150, its clever Transit vans, and all of the hype surrounding its performance-oriented automobiles.