BEIJING — The Chinese economy may be slowing, but this is still the world’s largest automotive market. Analysts expect 26 million light vehicles to be sold in China this year. Compare that to the 17.5 million vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2015.
The biggest sellers, by far, are SUVs, which increased their sales 52 per cent over last year. They were once seen as agricultural vehicles, but they’re now recognized as not only prestigious and comfortable, but very capable on this country’s poor-quality roads.
It can be difficult to own a car in the first place here, where you must apply to buy a licence plate before buying a vehicle. Often, for residents of the congested cities, you must prove you have a parking space, too.
So bigger is better, to fit more people into one vehicle, and stretched is best of all. Many of the vehicles on display at this week’s Auto China motor show are long wheelbase models. All the western manufacturers brought LWB versions of their international models just for the Chinese market.
But horsepower is still king, of course, and premium Western vehicles are very much in demand for the status-proud Chinese.
There were three major debuts here this week that will make their way across the Pacific soon to Canada. Audi introduced its latest salvo in the sports car wars: a 400 hp TT RS that’s aimed squarely at Porsche.
The hot five-cylinder gets a 60 hp boost from the current generation and also makes 354 lbs.-ft. of torque. That’s enough to accelerate from standstill to 100 km/h in just 3.7 seconds. A roadster version will cover the same ground in 3.9 seconds.
The TT RS will be available in Europe this fall, but it will come to Canada some time next year. There’s no official word on Canadian pricing, but in Europe, it will cost almost double the price of the base TT, which sells for $51,600 in Canada.
All this muscle pushes it past Porsche’s new 718 Boxster S, which makes 350 hp and covers zero-to-100 km/h in an extra half-second at best. The Porsche will also be much less costly, though, starting at $78,000.
RELATED: Porsche Boxster and Cayman will be rebranded as the 718.
It was probably no coincidence that Porsche chose the Beijing show to debut its new 718 Cayman, which is the hardtop version of the four-cylinder Boxster. There were no surprises with the unveiling, since it is now mechanically identical to its soft-top sibling.
The new Cayman is also $2,400 less expensive in both horsepower versions than the Boxster. The 718 Cayman starts at $61,500, and the 718 Cayman S starts at $75,600.
This German horsepower war means the new Audi TT RS is positioned more closely as an alternative to the base Porsche 911 Carrera
, which starts at just over six figures in Canada and makes 370 hp from its six cylinders.
There will be plenty of options on the new Audi to help boost the price, of course, including sport suspension with adaptive magnetic damping, and a fully connected cabin that uses the car as a wifi hotspot. In Europe, it will be available with innovative Matrix OLED rear lights, which do not cast shadows or need reflectors. Canadian regulations will probably prohibit this on our models.
A 7-speed S-tronic transmission will be standard — there’s no manual option — as well as four separate driving modes and the fully digital virtual cockpit display on current TT models.
The newly-refreshed Lexus IS also broke cover here this week, showing a more aggressive look but maintaining the revised powertrains of the third-generation model.
Lexus says the sedan has “a daring new style direction,” and it’s not kidding. You’ll either love it or hate it. The front grille seems even larger than before, and it folds back at the top to make the car appear lower.
The headlights are redesigned to appear even more squinting, while the front air intakes are huge.
The car’s profile lines are sharper, and the 17-inch wheels now come standard as 10-spoke alloys with a bright machined finish.
The car on the stand here was the F-Sport version, which has a slightly differently patterned black grille, and large, functional brake ducts.
It wasn’t possible to see inside the car, but Lexus says a 10.3-inch infotainment screen now replaces the 7-inch screen as standard, while many upgrades have been given to the interior surfaces and instrumentation.
Freelance writer Mark Richardson is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. To reach him, email email@example.com
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