RFD visits the 2014 Washington Auto Show – Part II

Washington Auto Show

Welcome back to the RFD coverage of the 2014 Washington Auto Show.  Earlier this week we brought you coverage of the upper level, including GM, FCA, Toyota and Ford.  Thankfully the Italians and Japanese did not lure us up there to be flanked by the Germans, but our trip isn’t over yet.  Today we venture downstairs to the “Import plus Cadillac” section of the show to see what’s cooking with BMW, Lexus, Jaguar, Audi, Subaru and a host of others.


Production on the first M3 began back in 1985 with the legendary E30.  So as we get close to our 30 year anniversary of having BMW’s benchmark performance coupe/sedan in our lives, how does the latest offering stack up to the competition?  The name has changed for one, and that’s kind of a big deal.  In the midst of a bit of a naming crisis at BMW, they have determined that all 4-door models will be odd numbers and all 2-door models will be even numbers.  So for the first time ever, there are no more 2-door M3 in showrooms.  Well there still are actually, and they are leftover outgoing V8 models that I bet you can get a deal on as they make way for the new one!

The new M3 sedan and M4 coupe sport a 3.0L inline 6 cylinder twin turbo engine.  BMW has hit <CTRL> <Z> on the previously increased cylinder count of both the M3 and bigger brother M5. Gone are the dramatic V8 and V10 engines, eschewed for more efficient forced induction inline 6 cylinders.   You’ll get 425 HP and 406 LB-FT torque that BMW says will push you from 0-60 MPH in 3.9 seconds (for the 7 Speed M Double Clutch Transmission (M-DCT)) and 4.1 seconds (using the 6 Speed Manual Transmission).  Sure it’s a tick faster, but is it as much fun as having 3-pedals?


The new cars are lower, wider, and longer sporting a 2″ longer wheelbase than the previous E92 generation.  They are also lighter, the coupe an impressive 176lbs lighter than the outgoing version and the sedan 50lbs lighter than the previous 4-door.  So bigger and lighter, that’s pretty good.  Outside, the new cars are an evolution of the E92 with a similar shape but revised front and rear clips.  I personally like the treatment, and the aero bit supposedly make it more…aerodynamic.  That sounds good.  The M3 here in DC was an interesting shade of blue, no grey some color they made up and what almost looked like aftermarket wheels.  Not sure if that last bit is a good thing or not, but to each their own.  At least they weren’t all chrome.  *Ahem, GM are you reading this*


Inside the driving position is just about perfect, they didn’t mess with a good thing.  Materials are up to usual BMW fit and finish, although, and this was present across their lineup, what’s up with the iPad Mini stuck on top of the dashboard?  It doesn’t raise or lower, it’s just stuck there as if an afterthought.  It doesn’t look good, and while I like the up-high location for easy viewing while hooning, they could have at least tried to integrate it into the dash.  Rear seat room in the coupe isn’t bad, a normal adult can get back there without gymkhana gymnastics.  Over in the sedan it’s pretty much the same story, with rear seat room obviously superior.  If it were my monies, this is the one I would have.  Something about the lines of the car look more proportionate in the sedan, plus I have kids so the rear seat room is a must.  As I alluded to earlier, there are still probably new V8 E92s available and although I can’t compare the two having not driving the new car, I would have to consider that as a preferred option.  Because V8.  Although this is a pretty sweet looking engine bay.  Just look at it.


So what else was being shown by Bayerische Motoren Werke AG here in DC?  An i3 was present, and what an neat little car.  Not hoon-worthy so I won’t spend a whole lot of time talking about it, but it was interesting to see the future of BMW’s lineup complete with an amazing wood interior inside, which had a…tacked on screen sitting up upon it.  Come on BMW!  Outside the lines are quite strange, but this is an intentionally strange car.  Curious to see how this influences the rest of the lineup but it has an “i” in front of it, so it has to be good, right?


I’m sorry, we didn’t see any Polestar models so we kept walking.


We napped on a bench.  There weren’t a lot of people in this area so it was nice and quiet.


Ah, this is better.  Audi probably had the most HP per square foot down in “Luxury Lane”.   The $123,000 RS7 sporting 560hp and 615tq alone probably had more power than any 4 models from Acura and looked pretty ridiculous, and I mean that in a good way.  Sporting a dual exhaust I’m pretty sure I could get most my leg into, the RS7 takes what Mercedes did with the CLS and turns it up to “awesome”.  Audi’s 4-door super sedan with a coupe’like roofline blows away Porsche’s Panamera and has a presence unlike most vehicles at the show.


Except for the R8 V10 Plus sitting next to it of course.  This $200K+ mid-engined bit of badassness (is that a word?) looked cool in a semi-matte blue.  The 5.2L V10 pumps out 550hp and weighs in around 3660 lbs.  Not groundbreaking, but certainly not slow.  Now that the Lamborhini Gallardo, upon which it is based, is getting replaced with the new Huracán, so we should be seeing a new R8 follow suit in the next couple years.

Across the rest of the Audi space, we wandered around looking at the S4 and the new A3/S3.  Generally the S4 is a great looking car, we particularly liked the nice flat bottomed wheel inside.  Generally speaking the interior was not quite as driver focused as the M3.  It felt a bit less engaging, but at least it did not have a tacked on screen atop the dash.  Similarly the A3 and S3 were “almost there” inside, with decent materials and quality fit and finish, but the general shape of the dash just didn’t seem like somewhere I would want to spend a lot of time in.


This is where everything derailed. In a good way.  Oddly enough we ended up getting the best surprise of the show.  The new IS is pretty fantastic.  Now of course we weren’t able to spend any time driving it, but thanks to our helpful Lexus contacts, we should be getting one to test soon.  Just sitting inside elicited my favorite quote of the show from our founder Josh.  “As I sit here in the driver’s seat, I feel like something exciting is about to happen”.


Indeed, he’s right.  Between the LF-A inspired speedometer that rises dramatically onto the animated screen and dispatches its smaller gauges like a ninja (or a PlayStation game), to the sloped dash that reminds me of the interior of an NSX, the new IS just feels like somewhere you want to be.  Ergonomically it’s spot-on, drop both elbows and you find nice padded leather at the same height on either sides, something most automakers haven’t figured out yet.  Let your right wrist fall onto the mousepad-like wrist rest and the small joystick that controls the functions on the screen is literally at your fingertips.  The screen I just mentioned highlight’s each menu item well enough that you can see it in your peripheral vision, so I imagine that living with this car for awhile you would eventually be able to memorize which icon is where and really be able to use the system without looking away from the road.


The best party of this story starts with the letter “F”.  That is part of Lexus’ answer for “M” and “AMG” and the “F-Sport” version of the IS350 on hand was pretty fantastic.   Not nearly as wild as the IS-F super sedan, think of this more as the “fun” version of the normal IS.  Shown in black with the aggressive new Lexus corporate face, lesser models have a bit milder front end.  As I mentioned, we are working on getting a rear wheel drive F-Sport equipped IS in the RFD garage very soon so we hope to have a full review.  Stay tuned.


As we saw in Part I of this series, the Americans are making progress in a post bailout world.  GM is still with us, and their flagship marque in particular is kicking ass.  We talked to you recently about Why GM Needs a Supercar, and part of the reasoning behind that argument is to validate in buyers minds that those behind Cadillac are engineers, and that they can build something special.  The fruits of that labor are found in sales of luxury sedans and I can say from looking through what they brought to DC this year, there is a lot to love.  The new ATS in particular is a best buy in our mind.  Equipped with a nice 2.0L turbocharged engine pumping out 272hp, you can get the ATS with a 6-spd manual transmission and rear wheel drive for around $30,000 if you forgo navigation and some other toys.  But your iPhone can get you where you need to go, just don’t use Apple Maps.

Elsewhere at the show was the Cadillac ELR which is a luxury plug-in hybrid based on the Chevy Volt.  The coupe is based on the Cadillac Converj concept that debuted in January, 2009 at the North American International Auto Show, and it looks great.  The window profile and rear haunches remind us of a Lamborghini Gallardo.  The downside is that the the 2014 ELR has a base price of US$75,995, which excludes any government incentives.  Plus it’s front wheel drive, which means I don’t really want it.  The new 2015 ATS coupe looks pretty similar, I’ll wait for that and pay more for gas.

Mercedes Benz

As we moved down through the luxury car makers, we had to stop and check out the new small Benz sedan, the CLA.   This car has gotten a lot of press and you can even make a deal with Willem Dafoe to get you one in exchange for your soul.  But if you have seen the commercial, you already know that you don’t need to since the CLA has a dealer invoice of $28,732.  Not bad, although you’ll be getting a smaller and less equipped Benz for your money.


Outside it’s a great looking car though.  The sloping rear has polarized some folks but we found the overall exterior pleasing and, particularly in AMG form, pretty aggressive.  Sporting the corporate Benz face, the CLA will make your neighbors think you are more successful than the entry price would leave you to believe.  Inside, it’s not quite as positive.  Is that an iPad Mini glued to the top of the dash?  Much like BMW, it seems Mercedes decided after the car was already engineered that it needed a big touch screen.   It literally looks glued to the top of the dash.  In the back, things were tight but I could sit behind the driver’s seat without it crushing my knees.  Again, this is not a big car and it’s important to remember that depending on your space needs.  Oh and it’s front wheel drive, not a big deal to a lot of buyers, but not quite as respectable if you have friends who are enthusiasts.  They may make fun of you.


Elsewhere in the MB space, there was the bonkers E63 AMG which will cost you 6 figures to start.  More if you want some options.  We checked in on an aging model to see how it is doing.  The C350 coupe is still nice, and if you have no enthusiast requirements (track days, etc.) then it will probably serve you well.  It is certainly less sporty but more comfortable than BMW’s 4-series coupe.  Some of the interior seemed a bit dated and yes it even still features the 0-9 number pad that operated your Dad’s car phone 15 or 20 years ago in his Benz.


So can the Koreans do what Lexus did over two decades ago and break into the luxury market?  Regardless, they certainly are trying.  We recently postulated whether or not Hyundai/Kia could survive in the luxury market without a dedicated brand.  For now, they are sticking with what they’ve got.   There is a new Genesis sedan is out, which is the car that started all of this; and it definitely has presence.  Not unlike the larger Hyundai Equus and cousin from Kia, the K900.  But can these full-on luxury sedans compete?   When Toyota created Lexus in 1989, their mainstream brand already had a reputation of quality and reliability. Hyundai, and by association Kia, still suffers, from images of the unreliable econoboxes they produced in the 80s and early 90s. While most mainstream car magazines, along with Consumer Reports and JD Power, have rated them much higher in initial quality and reliability, they still have some work to do to fight back against that image.

That said, the Genesis, the Equus and the K900 look the part.  While it spun around slowly in front of us in DC, we took on the task of assessing what brand we would have thought the K900 if it had no badge.  The end decision was “Lexus”, it has some of the same proportions of the LS400 but with sort of a Jaguar front grill.  Derivation is the sincerest form of flattery I suppose.  So if you have  $60,000 to spend on a luxury car, it is an option.  The K900 almost looked like one of the extended wheelbase limo-like vehicles you see from other automakers, a car someone would drive you around in.  Regardless, it has power reclining, ventilated rear seats.  That’s pretty awesome.

Further down the line you get to the Hyundai Azera and Kia Cadenza.  Both nice looking cars that come just over $30,000 and come equipped with what you would expect at that level, perhaps a bit more.  Following the Lexus formula of “more for less + reliability” from the early 90s, they may have the right way forward.  The bottom line is that in order to be successful selling luxury vehicles, Hyundia and Kia need more upscale product with a focus on quality and reliability. Regardless of whether they sell them side-by-side in current Hyundia/Kia dealerships, or via a newly established nameplate, they should use current platforms and intellectual capital to expand their over-$30,000 offerings. If they can truly offer what Lexus did in the late 80s, a superior, more efficient product, for less money, they may have a chance at success.


As you have read on RFD before, we are big fans of the new F-Type.  Jag had two of them on hand including an “R” model in red and an “S” model convertible.  Both were fantastic, the shape is just about perfect.  It’s aggressive but elegant in a way only a Jaguar can be.  It’s not a large car, which is great for driving dynamics, but it has presence out the ascot.  Ranging from $65,000 and $69,000 for your basic coupe and convertible respectively all the way up to $99,000 starting out for the uber R model, there is an F-Type for you.  Well, that sounds elitist, I guess I meant to say that if you are in the market for a 2-seat sports car and have the disposable income to drop on something costing $60K or more, this is an excellent option.


My only gripe is something that has been present across a lot of automakers, retractable spoilers.  The F-Type has one and when it’s up, it’s not nearly as pretty.  Take a look at the image below.  The RS-7 above had one as well, some look good, some look awkward.


Elsewhere in Jaguar’s display was the XJL-R.  The XJ means it’s the big sedan in the lineup.  “L” means it’s even bigger with a “long-wheelbase” and “R” means it’s got an actual jaguar under the hood to power the car.  Actually there is a 5.0 litre V8 with 550hp which should effortlessly move you around Beijing between meetings.



We actually took a picture of the display.  The floor was actually made of vanilla.  It was delicious.  But Toyota was more exciting.  The RFD garage has housed Integras, Preludes, and even an NSX.  Come on Honda, we’re rooting for you to recapture your glory days.


In contrast, Mazda is fun.  It’s always been fun.   They race their cars, their customers race their cars, that’s awesome.  There weren’t any significant new cars at Mazda, but easily the crowd favorite was  Redskins running back Alfred Morris’s 626, one of the most unique one-of-a-kind cars at the show.   He was at the Pro-Bowl in Hawaii so it was a great time to allow his nicely restored Mazda sit at the convention center in DC and be admired.

The new 3 and 6 are some of the best looking compact and midsize options on the market.  Although we couldn’t help but dissect some of the design elements and ponder whether both would look better with a wider hood instead of the arch over the front wheels.  As you can see in the image below, it sort of falls off into nothingness vs. continuing down through the rest of the car.

6 design dissesction

From the front, it looks great, from certain 3/4 angles, it just doesn’t work as well as it could.  It looks like Mazda took the flowing lines from one of the Kodo design language concept cars and plunked it down in the middle of a less radical sedan.  Still, it’s a great looking car, as is the new 3, but as a writer so I’m obliged to complain about stuff.



Speaking of complaining.  Subaru faithful rejoice, there is a new WRX STI.  I will go ahead and say this now (likely reducing the likelihood that Subaru will ever offer RFD a test car) I think it looks like a Toyota Corolla.  The Corollafication of compact cars has been happening for awhile, and Subaru, VW and others are guilty of watering down their small sedans in order to be less offensive, and thus sell more cars to buyers.  Some say that all cars are generally starting to look alike, and that’s the only reason the new super rally car from Subaru looks the way it does.  I’m not so sure.  From the rear wheels forward this looks like a Civic sedan and from there back it looks like a  Corolla.   A very aggressive Corolla, but what I always liked about the Impreza’s more potent models was the unique style.  From the initial bugeye WRX to the next generation version that introduced American buyers to the STI, you did not confuse it with another car.


And I’ve long been a fan of WRXs and Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution, I even wanted one when I was younger.  So, now that I am in my mid’ish 30s, perhaps I am aging out of the demographic.  It may be a good idea for Subaru and Mitsubishi to ask the question “is there still a demographic for these cars” if they haven’t already.  Personally I couldn’t see myself spending over $30,000 for this new Subaru, even though I’m sure it’s amazingly capable and would be a fantastic car to own.

 The Rest of the Show


The rest of the bottom floor was devoted a combination of environmental consciousness and excess.  The former included a section devoted to “green car technology and innovation” and the latter to a handful of exotics, race cars, and easily the most unique vehicle at the show (aside from Morris’ 626) the 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe (CSX2287).  The Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) announced during the show that this vehicle will become the first to be recorded under the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Heritage Documentation.  CSX2287 is not fully restored and is one of six ever produced, this being the only coupe that was built entirely at the Shelby American race shop in Venice, California.

So that concludes another year at the DC Convention Center covering the 2014 Washington Auto Show.  We hoped you liked our enthusiast take on the show.  Come back daily as we will be ramping up production of original content this year, including written and video reviews, comparisons, and maybe even a few surprises.


Will is an automotive writer and regular contributor to Right Foot Down.  Based in Maryland, he has had a long history of founding failed automotive sites and spending way too much time on car forums.  He has owned “too many Mustangs” according to Josh and has a fetish for RWD V8s.  He spent most of his 20s on tracks in the mid-atlantic and killing cones in parking lots and has even taught at a teen performance driving school.


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