Take a quick look at the auto shows and you can see where the trends are heading in 2017 and beyond. Every automaker is developing a plug-in electric vehicle to contend with clean-air regulations as well as the threat of Tesla. Meanwhile, legacy brands are trying to find new ways to wow consumers in a market that may have peaked in 2015.
As a result, we’re seeing more SUVs and performance cars flooding the market. Supercars returned from Ford and Acura in 2016, and more are coming in the next few years. Bigger, badder pickup trucks are on the way, too. But the immediate future has the themes of green and mean dominating in 2017. Here are the seven cars that should rattle the industry before the year is out.
1. Kia Niro
Would it surprise you to know September 2016 was the biggest month of gas-guzzling ever? We keep hearing how gasoline engines get more economical by the year, but it doesn’t matter much when consumers switch to SUVs and drive more. So let’s say a highly economical utility vehicle — the Prius of SUVs, if you will — is essential for the U.S. market. Kia recognized that void and developed the Niro, a tallish wagon that can crack 50 miles per gallon. It debuts in early 2017.
2. Lexus LC500
You always see amazing concept cars appear at auto shows then never go to production or (worse) turn out to be diluted disappointments. It happens all the time, but Lexus made sure it didn’t with the LC 500. To our eyes, it’s the best-looking car the brand ever produced, and its all-new platform and 471 horses make it drive and sound equally magnificent. We imagine it’ll make Jaguar F-Type buyers consider a Lexus for the first time, and that alone makes it a game-changer.
3. Tesla Model 3
The first affordable Tesla may be the most hyped release of all time and will rattle the industry one way or the other. If Model 3 is everything Elon Musk says it will be, automakers will scramble to get their versions to market. Should Model 3 prove to be tougher to produce than it was to promote, Tesla will serve as a test-case for how not to manage a debut. Either way — and we’re leaning toward it being highly successful — this car will be a huge deal in 2017.
4. Honda Civic Type-R
After decades of lusting after the Honda Civic Type-R, American consumers will have their wish granted in 2017. This vicious-looking, rip-roaring compact car ups the ante in a segment where Ford, Volkswagen, and Subaru have battled for years. With the arrival of the game-changing Acura NSX and the Civic Type-R the following year, Honda will mean something entirely different — more than “that Accord brand” — to U.S. consumers in the near future.
5. Chevrolet Bolt EV
This first-of-its-kind electric car might find its way to a few dealerships in 2016, but any meaningful inventory will arrive in ’17. For EV enthusiasts, investors, and environmental advocates, it won’t come soon enough. In short, the holy grail of plug-ins — 200 miles at $30,000 — becomes a reality with Chevy Bolt EV. Actually, GM did the industry one better by making it 238 miles. And if you live in a state where EV incentives rule, this car will cost much less than $30K.
6. Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Minivans may not be what they used to be, but the new Chrysler Pacifica makes a strong case for soccer moms in 2016. Already surging to the top of the segment’s sales charts, there’s more to come with the plug-in hybrid model arriving in early 2017. Capable of 30 miles on electric power without range restrictions, this van should take EVs beyond Silicon Valley. Since this model qualifies for the full $7,500 tax credit, FCA could price the plug-in that much above the standard edition for maximum impact.
7. Honda Fuel Cell Clarity
Toyota already released its Mirai fuel cell vehicle, but it’s dealt with a lack of hydrogen fueling infrastructure in California. By the time Honda releases its Clarity model in 2017, things should be better on that front. More importantly, consumers looking for a zero-emissions vehicle will get a segment-topping 366 miles of range in a Clarity. Priced at $60,000, this model could make headway against battery EVs and Toyota’s own fuel cell vehicle in one fell swoop.
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