Like consumer tech, the auto industry has been increasingly turning to China and its burgeoning middle class for growth in recent years. That has made China's auto show circuit considerably more interesting, as big automakers turn to their stages for major debuts — cars, trucks, and SUVs that are going to either have a global impact, or are at least notable enough for global attention.
This year's Beijing show, which opens to the public today, is no exception; companies like Audi, Infiniti, and Acura are all making big announcements. (Notice a trend toward luxury brands? Yeah, there was quite a bit of that — and that's intentional, since aspirational brands are very big in China.)
Here are a few of the best and brightest from this year's show.
Lexus debuted a refreshed IS sedan in Beijing — not a full-on redesign, but a facelift of the model that first debuted back in early 2013 for the 2014 production year. By all appearances, Lexus has no intention of backing down from its ultra-aggressive design language here: if anything, they've leaned further into it, with enormous scoops on the new model beneath each headlamp. Engines carry over from the current car, but inside, there's a much larger infotainment display (10.3 inches, up from 7) and a new suite of standard ADAS features like dynamic cruise control.
The refresh of the RC coupe, which is based on the IS, won't likely be far off.
Porsche 718 Cayman
Porsche is in the process of renaming its sub-911 line — the Boxster and Cayman — to "718," and it finally got around to updating the Cayman to match the Boxster update from a few months back. The biggest and most notable change with the 718 models is the switch from flat-six engines to turbocharged fours; that could rankle some, but Porsche has already signaled that turbos are the future with the recently updated 911. The good news is that there's more power under the hood: 300 and 350 horsepower for the 718 Cayman and 718 Cayman S, respectively. There's also a new interior and a retuned chassis, making this an almost totally new car — even though it looks nearly identical to the Cayman it replaces.
Bentley Mulsanne First Edition
If the $300,000 Mulsanne land yacht isn't exclusive enough for you, take a look at the First Edition, which is a custom trim available on either the Mulsanne, the sporty Mulsanne Speed, or the ridiculously huge Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase. Unique features include a "sterling silver vanity kit inlaid into the rear picnic table" and "Union Jack-inspired First Edition embroidery," for starters. The trim is limited to 50 vehicles and I'm going to go ahead and guess that it won't be cheap, but up in this end of the range, price is the very last thing you're thinking about.
Infiniti QX Sport Inspiration
Technically, the QX Sport Inspiration is a concept — but it's supposed to strongly hint to a future Infiniti crossover, just as the Q60 Concept did at the Detroit show in 2015, leading to the production Q60 coupe this year. Infiniti also suggests that this foreshadows new design language for Nissan's upscale brand, including a deeply compartmentalized cockpit that separates the driver and passenger. It's a sharp-looking crossover — but we'll have to wait to see how well it translates to vehicles we can actually buy.
Audi TT RS
Most Audi models get two uprated performance models: an S, and then (eventually) a fancier, hotter, pricier RS. The S version of the new TT has been out for a while — and now, thanks to the Beijing show, we're seeing the RS.
It certainly looks the part with more aggressive bodywork, and there's an uptuned 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine under the hood that's good for 400 horsepower. That's enough to motivate the little sports coupe from 0–62 mph in 3.7 seconds, which Audi boasts "corresponds to the level of a supercar." That might be going a bit far — many supercars are in the low threes these days — but it's extremely impressive nonetheless. The coupe and roadster variants go on sale in Europe this fall starting at €66,400, which works out to $75,000 and change.
Audi Connected Mobility Concept
It just looks like a regular Audi Q3 on the outside, but the Connected Mobility Concept secretly stores an electric longboard in its rear bumper that charges while you drive. The idea is that the car's navigation system calculates whether you're better off scooting to your destination rather than driving based on traffic conditions — and if so, it'll tell you.
Volkswagen T-Prime Concept GTE
The awkwardly named Volkswagen T-Prime Concept GTE is technically a concept, yes, but what you're really looking at here is VW's new flagship SUV. Volkswagen Group is really into fuel-efficient SUVs lately — penance for Dieselgate, perhaps — with Audi's plug-in hybrid Q7 launching worldwide. In T-Prime trim, the drivetrain nets 50 kilometers (31 miles) on pure electric power before switching on the gas. Inside the cabin, this truck features the debut of VW's "Curved Interaction Display," which is exactly what it sounds like: a curved infotainment screen that blends in with the surrounding dashboard. It, too, is borrowed from Audi: the luxury marque debuted a curved display at CES earlier this year.
If you wanted a tiny crossover from Acura and you don't live in China, don't get your hopes up for the CDX — it's a China-only special. But if you are in China, you can look for a trucklet motivated by a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. It'll launch this July.
Volvo S90 Excellence interior concept
Last year, Volvo unveiled its Lounge Console interior concept at the Shanghai show using an XC90 SUV as the donor vehicle. The idea with the S90 Excellence interior concept is basically the same: focus on the chauffeured rear passenger, allowing the front passenger seat to be folded down for better visibility. There's a fold-out table, a big display, a heated footrest, and a built-in refrigerator for chilled drinks. It's not actually available for sale, but the underlying car — the high-end S90 Excellence — is.
Now we're getting to the good stuff.
German tuner Brabus, best known for absurdly high-horsepower variants of Mercedes models, has done a couple custom versions of the Smart city car in the past. The new Smart line just launched a few months ago, so now Brabus has worked its magic yet again.
The Brabus models are only taken up to a cute 109 horsepower — these are still Smart cars, after all — but you also get a revised suspension, exhaust system, steering system, reworked interior, and transmission that are all designed to be a little sportier. They start at €19,710 ($22,300) for a two-door ForTwo hardtop and go up to €25,970 ($29,400) for a cabrio with the fanciest interior — not cheap for a Smart car, but drastically more affordable than just about anything else Brabus sells. The launch starts in Europe this July.