“The Jeep is the only real American sports car.” That old chestnut, attributed to Enzo Ferrari, probably makes the Wrangler team in Toledo, Ohio, pretty happy, but I’d imagine a few guys in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Fremont, California, take issue with the shade.
The all-new Jeep Wrangler, Corvette ZR1, and a surprise new roadster from Tesla all made their debuts recently. Jeep launched the all-new Wrangler in New Zealand, and Chevy chose Dubai to unveil its 755-horsepower Corvette ZR1 coupe—the most powerful vehicle GM has ever produced. A week later, Tesla surprised the world by crashing its own all-electric semi-truck coming-out party, with an all-new “roadster” prototype shooting out of the back of the trailer. We hardly believe the performance numbers Tesla claims. Will you?
American car companies have been on a tear of late, and not just at the slick, sporty end of the lineup, as you’ll see in our world’s first Tesla Model 3 versus Chevy Bolt versus Nissan Leaf comparison test.
But it would be unwise to discount the quiet, continuous progress of Japanese carmakers. Just look at the march of Subaru. Its all-new, three-row Ascent SUV graces the cover of our February 2018 subscribers’ print issue, likely to the horror of the competition. Over the last 10-plus years, tiny Subaru has grown sales and claimed market share like no other rival. The Ascent is aptly named—it climbs boldly into yet another massively competitive SUV segment, ready to conquest.
And then there is Mazda, who took me to the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show for the debut of its Vision Coupe and Kai concepts and then on to its headquarters in Hiroshima to see how these cars were made.
We have lambasted various carmakers over the years for their heavy-handed approach to design and inability to pick up the pen. Current fads seem to include floating roofs at every auto show and character lines with their own character lines. Meanwhile, Mazda has been quietly molding and sanding, resurfacing and refining its unique and subtly stunning Kodo design language.
Take a long look at the body sides of its concepts (best done in person), and consider their gentle, light-catching concavities and how highlights caress surfaces devoid of excess lines and creases. It takes a lot of effort and finesse to come up with something so complex yet elegant.
The same could be said about the groundbreaking technology within Infiniti’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder VC-Turbo engine, which I had the chance to sample not too long ago. Over the years, Frank Markus has written extensively about the technical challenges of bringing a variable compression ratio engine to market, and it would appear that Nissan’s engineers have, 20 years and 300-plus patents later, done the impossible and delivered on the promise of six-cylinder power with four-cylinder fuel economy.
I’m making this claim ahead of our full test of the technology but after driving a preproduction Infiniti QX50 in which the VC-Turbo engine will make its debut. Studying a cutaway model showing how the links swing and oscillate about a constantly rotating crankshaft, I couldn’t help but think about the mechanisms inside a fine Swiss watch. If the modern four-stroke combustion engine is a Swiss-lever escapement, then surely Nissan’s Multi-Link Variable Compression Ratio technology is the tourbillion, right? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry, it’s probably my fault—I wear a Casio.) The best way to understand the beauty and complexity of this revolutionary technology is to see it in motion:
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