10 luxury hybrids on the horizon
Posh gas-electrics offer all of the opulence with less environmental impact. Here's what will be rolling off the assembly lines over the next two years.
If you want to own a car that provides cushy comfort and tons of sex appeal while leaving behind as little a carbon footprint as possible, then you're in luck. The luxury hybrid market is expanding into all shapes and sizes, offering opulent amenities on top of cutting-edge gas-electric technology that will reduce noxious emissions and deliver impressive fuel economy. As a follow-up to our slide show of the winners and losers among the current crop of luxury fuel-sippers, we decided to take a look into the not-too-distant future at 10 upcoming high-heeled hybrids that will satisfy those who want to have their cake and eat it, too.
Nissan made its first foray into hybrids in 2007 with a gas-electric Altima, and now is diving deep into the bosom of luxury with the Infiniti M35h sedan. While the Altima's hybrid technology is licensed from Toyota, the M35h will be the first car to carry a hybrid system engineered in-house by Nissan. The rear-wheel drive M35h will carry a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine, and its hybrid system will supposedly carry it in silent electric mode for longer distances than any other hybrid currently on the road. No word yet on pricing, but the M35h will likely go on sale in the spring of 2011 for the 2012 model year.
Henrik Fisker, known for his high-end design work at BMW and Aston Martin, founded Fisker Automotive in 2007 to create luxury plug-in hybrids. The company's first model, the Karma, will charge from a standard electrical socket and offer up to 50 miles of all-electric driving. When the battery runs low, a gasoline engine will rev up to supplement its charge. For a 4-door, the Karma is no slouch: It will sprint from zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and have a top speed of 125 mph. Fisker expects this "plug-xury" hybrid to be in full-scale production is scheduled for early 2011.
Porsche 918 Spyder
To the shock and amazement of Porsche fans everywhere, the No Substitute carmaker recently announced that its ubersexy 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid supercar will become a reality, and soon. The racetrack-inspired 2-seater garnered enough interest from potential buyers after its unveiling at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show that Porsche decided to produce the car in limited quantities. With a midmounted 500-horsepower V8 gasoline engine and twin electric motors, one on each axle, the 918 is reported to make the leap from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. Though the exact availability date is unknown, the 918 Spyder will be the most expensive production Porsche ever.
BMW 5 Series
Fans of Bavaria's best will soon have another hybrid option in the stable. As early as 2011, we could see the BMW 5 Series in hybrid form. This addition to the blue-and-white bloodline will join the burly ActiveHybrid X6 crossover and the stately 7 Series. The hybrid 5 Series will carry a straight 6-cylinder engine and 8-speed transmission accompanied by an electric motor, all of which will result in more than a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy, according to BMW. And, like many of the high-end hybrids on our list, the ActiveHybrid 5 Series will be able to go notably farther in electric-only mode than today's hybrids.
Mercedes-Benz has already shown its ability to play matchmaker between luxury and economy. The S400, carrying Benz's lithium-ion hybrid technology, is holding its own in the wild, as is the ML450 hybrid, though it's still lease-only. Mercedes has also partnered with Tesla Motors to fully electrify the pint-sized Smart, as well as the breathtaking SLS AMG. But perhaps the boldest move is the high likelihood that Mercedes will push its hybrid technology all the way through the S-Class lineup. This will include the S550 and S600, as well as the top-shelf AMG models. Precise details remain nebulous at the moment, but with Mercedes' aggressive investments in hybrids and battery electrics, we're certain to see exciting things coming from the Benz.
Later this year, VW will turn loose a hybridized version of its Touareg SUV. The all-wheel-drive Touareg will have a 3.0-liter V6 supercharged engine tied to an 8-speed automatic transmission; pumping out the electrons will be a 288-volt nickel-metal hydride battery. Acceleration of zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds means the hybrid Touareg outruns its nonhybrid V6 and TDI stable mates, while getting 21 mpg city/25 mpg highway. We'll also see a hybrid Jetta join VW's lineup in 2012.
Lexus CT 200h
The public first laid eyes on Lexus' new dedicated hatchback hybrid at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show. The CT 200h is a compact luxury 5-door with the tech-friendly flair we expect from a Lexus. Hitting the market in early 2011, the 200h will carry a refreshingly sensible 1.8-liter 4-cylinder VVT-i engine, which will likely yield some impressive fuel economy when linked to its two electric motors and continuously variable transmission. While driving the CT 200h, you will have your choice of four modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport.
Porsche Panamera S Hybrid
Porsche built the world's first gas/electric hybrid more than a century ago, but hasn't been interested in the technology since. Now it has two in the works. The second "No Substitute" hybrid in this group is the Panamera, and it will go into production in 2011, joining the already hybridized Cayenne SUV. The Panamera carries the distinction of being Porsche's best-seller in the U.S., and the addition of an electric motor will likely add some satisfying performance to this sleek ride. But we won't know what to expect until we get our hands on it.
Audi Q5 and A8
You might not associate Audi with all of the hybrid hubbub, but the company is wading deep into the waters of both hybrid and electric propulsion. The fully electric and razor-sharp e-tron line of cars will enter production in 2012. But even before that, Audi's Q5 and A8 models will emerge in hybrid form, by late 2010 or early 2011, the company says. Audi is calling its A8 the "efficiency standard" and says it can travel up to 40 mph in electric-only mode, while averaging mileage in the high 30s.
Although Saturn is on its way to extinction, the plug-in drivetrain that GM designed for the Vue may live on in the luxury physique of the Cadillac XTS. If rumors are true, the XTS will replace the STS and DTS, and be powered by a 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 gasoline engine and a sizable electric motor. Being a plug-in hybrid, the XTS would be capable of extended electric-only driving, with the gasoline engine standing by for support. This configuration would differ from GM's forthcoming Volt, which uses its gas engine only as a generator to charge the lithium-ion battery. The XTS could enter production as soon as 2012, but has not been officially green-lighted just yet.
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