The 2016 car forecast: electric, with a dash of speed

A little something for everyone

Next year is gonna be a good year. When you review cars for a living, many years are. In 2015, I started my January by “driving” an autonomous Audi A7 from Silicon Valley to CES in Las Vegas, part of a technology showcase of great things to come. I finished out the year barreling a pared-down, “entry level” Lamborghini around a racetrack in the Middle East.

Don’t believe the gloom and doom: the car business is booming, with scores of new models arriving every year, giving us ever more buying choices. In the next year and beyond, we’ll be gifted with greater electric options, more exciting economical cars, and plenty of rides whose main purpose is simple tire-scorching fun.

Here’s a look at the stuff I’ve got my eye on for 2016 and beyond.

This is The Harper Spin, a weekly column from seasoned auto critic Jason H. Harper. He’s raced at Le Mans, crushed a car in a 50-ton tank, and now, he’s bringing his unique style to The Verge.

civic type r

Hot hatches: Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R

Power to the people. Why should mega-rich supercar buyers get all the fun? For the first time ever, two economical spitfires will come to the United States. The first one we’ll be able to buy is the Ford Focus RS, a hatchback that will muscle 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque out of its turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It has all-wheel drive with torque vectoring, so a driver can make sharp turns crisply or — if so desired — prod the car into four-wheel drifts. For comparison, this is exactly the kind of technology and thinking we’re getting on special-model Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and the entry to the RS will be around $35,000. It should go on sale sometime this spring. I’m already anticipating the day when I can test it on a track, turning off all the electronic assists and seeing just how silly sideways I can get.

For all the Honda i-VTEC fans long denied the Civic Type R, there is finally hope. The Type R’s forbidden fruit will have a turbocharged engine with more than 300 hp, but the four-door hatch will remain front-wheel drive. It will be built on the platform of the new, 10th-generation Civic sedan. Honda takes its time rolling out special models, so it certainly won’t be on sale in 2016. However, I challenge the automaker now: let us get an early drive and see if potential Focus RS buyers should delay their purchase.


Electric cars

In my estimation, for a carmaker that is still only delivering one car model in any semi-significant volume, Tesla takes up far more of the conversation about EVs than is reasonable. Make a reservation now for the seven-passenger Model X, and you might — might — still get your all-electric SUV in 2016. (Tesla’s record for shipping in a timely manner is exceedingly poor.) My colleague Chris Ziegler was impressed when he got an early drive, and I have a pretty favorable idea of what to expect, as it uses the same basic platform and engine as the excellent Model S. But potentially more relevant will be the Model 3, a smaller, less expensive sedan that will compete with the likes of the BMW 3 Series. (Though in truth, Tesla says the Model 3 should start around $35,000, while a BMW 340i I recently tested came in at a whopping $57,000. So BMW might be pricing itself out of the "less expensive" market.) Elon Musk says the car will be shown in March. No matter how many Teslas ultimately roll off the line in 2016, the company continues to push other major OEMs like Porsche, which green-lit the Mission E concept precisely because of the Model S’s success.

To be truly impactful, EVs have to catch on with the greater populace — not an easy proposition considering current gas prices — and the vehicle best suited for that may be the new Chevrolet Bolt crossover, which will be shown at the upcoming CES. It will be rated for over 200 miles between charges and should also start just north of that magic $35,000 mark. Chevy’s Volt sedan is underrated, as it’s fairly fun to drive and the second generation is better than ever, so the Bolt’s overall practicality makes it an even likelier consideration.

The make-or-break models

Would you seriously consider cross-shopping an Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series with a… Lincoln? Unlikely. But Ford’s could-be, would-be luxury brand is hoping to make that a possibility with the return of the Continental. The big sedan was shown at last year’s New York auto show, and the production model will likely appear at January’s show in Detroit. I fully expect a drive by year’s end, and will be able to compare it with Cadillac’s new CT6. We’ll see if the concept of American luxury can be reasonably rekindled.

Meanwhile, despite massive amounts of R&D funding sunk into Jaguar by its owner the Tata Group, sales have been dismal. This year the British brand hopes to turn that around with the first-ever Jaguar SUV, the F-Pace, and the XE — another sedan lined up against the BMW 3 Series. I’m interested to drive the F-Pace, if not exactly keen: it should be comparable to, say, the Audi Q3. The XE is already on sale in Europe, and I had a drive earlier in the year. The design is a bit dry, and the drive is only reasonably entertaining. I’ll be curious to see how American buyers react… or don’t.

…and the supercar

If there’s only one thing I really, really want to drive this year, it is the Ford GT supercar. It isn’t electric, nor is it at all practical. But the exterior design is electric, and the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 changes the idea of what a supercar’s powerplant can be. I’ve driven an excellent replica of the original GT40 racecar that competed (and won) in Le Mans, and also the mid-2000s GT reprise. The GT40 was a visceral and totally uncomfortable thrill, and the 2005 remake was a semi-disappointment. The new model looks to push boundaries in every way. Never mind everything else: for the GT alone, I think 2016 will be worthwhile.