The 2012 Beijing Auto Show is playing host to an automotive industry well on the way to recovery, and one noticeably more careful when it comes to planning for the future. Automakers have learned not to take the good times for granted. Many of the brands on display here in China are as focused on boosting fuel mileage and the fun-to-drive quotient as they are overall sales. Lamborghini is stealing the spotlight in Beijing with the Urus, the brand's first sport-utility since production of the military-bred ended roughly 20 years ago. The Urus not only has supercar levels of style and horsepower, the 4-passenger SUV is expected to more than double Lamborghini's annual sales output. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Citroën and others have delivered an array of concept and production cars that are bold and loaded with high tech features. One of them even delivers up to 138 mpg!
These are our top picks from Beijing:
Lamborghini Urus SUV
Named after an extinct wild breed of cattle, this brutish bovine's exterior has all the knife-edged drama you'd expect from the company that builds the Gallardo and Aventador supercars. With approximately 600 bhp and all-wheel drive, the Urus should have the handling and straightline performance to match the world's finest sports cars. For the moment, Lamborghini has not confirmed which engine will power the Urus –it could be a derivative of the V-10 found in the Gallardo. Beneath the wild body is the same platform that will underpin the next Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7 and VW Touareg – Bentley is also planning to spin an SUV off this same platform. Lamborghini expects to sell 3000 examples of the Urus annually, or more than double the 1602 vehicles it sold in 2011. Sales should begin within the next 3-4 years, and the base price will likely top $200,000.
BMW i8 Concept Spyder
The BWM i8 Concept Spyder has the lines of an exotic sports car—and fuel economy to shame the most frugal hybrids. This topless 2-door is a sun-loving variant of the upcoming i8 Coupe, an all-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid set to go on sale in 2014. Despite not having a functioning top – or any form of weather protection at this early stage of its development – we wouldn't be surprised to see the Spyder on sale 6-12 months after its hardtop sibling. And yes, the production model would certainly have some form of folding or removable top. Mounted at the front of the i8 is a 131-hp electric motor, while the onboard battery pack is positioned in the central tunnel for optimum weight distribution. Mounted behind the Spyder's 2-passenger cabin is a 223-bhp turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine. BMW estimates the combined powertrain can propel the i8 Spyder from 0 to 62 mph in 5.0 seconds, while still returning an estimated 70-80 mpg.
Citroën Numéro 9 Concept
The Citroën Numéro 9 Concept is intended to signal the styling direction for the French automaker's next round of DS models. These will include an SUV, midsize sedan, and luxury-laden executive sedan. To our eyes, the Numéro 9 is stunning; the slammed sport-wagon design is rakish without being too radical. Minus some of the show-car jewelry – such as the concept's gorgeous (but highly impractical) wheels and tiny side mirrors – you can almost imagine this car rolling down the road. The is powered by plug-in hybrid powertrain consisting of an electric motor at the rear and choice of gasoline or diesel engine up front. Fuel economy is estimated at 138 mpg, according to Citroën's calculations. There is also an electric-only driving range of 30 miles.
Audi RS Q3 Concept
Based on the same platform as the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Audi Q3 is sold in Europe, where it's powered by a direct-injection 2.0-liter 4-cylinder or 2.0-liter TDI diesel engine. In Beijing, the little crossover has bulked up and grown into the RS Q3 Concept, thanks to the fitment of a 365-bhp 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine and 7-speed S tronic transmission. Power is sent to all four wheels via Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system. Audi estimates the RS Q3 can scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, and reach a top speed estimated at 165 mph. To match its newfound pace, Audi has lowered the ride height by approximately 1 in., added a set of 20-in. alloy wheels and included an aggressive front fascia and rear spoiler. The net effect reminds us more of a performance hatchback on stilts, rather than your everyday humdrum crossover.
Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupe
The Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupe is offering a sneak peek at the brand's upcoming small sedan based off the latest A-Class. There is more than a hint of Mercedes' own CLS sedan in the lines of the Concept Style Coupe. We think the exterior is fresh and modern, the forward thrust of the grille is balanced nicely by the sleek greenhouse that tapers gently towards the rear. Now if only Mercedes could have delivered a better name for this concept...oh well. The show-car is equipped with a 208-bhp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that drives all four wheels via a 7-speed automatic gearbox. We'd loved to see the concept's 20-in. alloy wheels and panoramic sunroof make it to production – in fact, let's throw in those slick headlights and the metallic trim found in the grille. We'll see how much of this carries over to the road-ready model next year when the A-Class sedan goes on sale.
2013 Porsche Cayenne GTS
The Porsche Cayenne sport-utility makes up roughly half of all Porsche sales. So you can bet fleshing out the Cayenne lineup with a wide range of choices is vital to keeping Porsche's clientele happy. Having recently unveiled a diesel-powered Cayenne at the New York Auto Show, Porsche is using Beijing to take the wraps off the sport-themed GTS model. With its 420-bhp V-8 engine (20 bhp more than usual), the GTS also features a lowered suspension and Porsche's 8-speed Tiptronic S transmission geared for quicker off-the-line acceleration. It should take only 5.4 seconds for the to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph. Interestingly, the GTS also comes with a stop-start system as standard, to keep this SUV's appetite for fuel in check. New wheel arches and side sills, along with some tasty 20-in. alloy wheels add visual flair to the proceedings.
JAC Heyue SC coupe
There had to be at least one representative of the hometown team. China's own coupe is visually striking, though perhaps not for all the right reasons. For starters, the exterior seems to have borrowed design cues from sports cars from around the globe. Depending on the angle, you can spot hints of Lamborghini in the nose, a bit of Audi R8 in the side air intakes, a touch of Lotus in the overall shape, and hint of Ferrari F430 in the taillights. The result is interesting, at least for anyone who enjoys automotive trivia. Built by Jianghuai Automobile Company, the Heyue SC coupe is intended to be the brand's new sports coupe. Too bad the car's 162-bhp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and 5-speed manual transmission don't sound particularly spicy. Still, JAC's exterior design team sure is savvy when it comes to exotic cars.