Subaru BRZ, Jeep Wrangler 392, Honda Civic and Infiniti QX55 analysis

It’s almost like there should have been an auto show this week. If you’re an enthusiast, you know the week before Thanksgiving is when the Los Angeles Auto Show kicks off. This year, there’s no L.A. show, at least until next May. But Subaru, Honda, Jeep and Infiniti rolled out significant new products this week, making us almost nostalgic for auto shows. Serendipity, or more likely previously allocated marketing budgets, gave us a familiar feel of new products, even though we couldn’t feel or touch them under the bright lights of the Los Angeles Convention Center. Let’s break them down:

2022 Subaru BRZ

Subaru stuck to basic formula here: The 2022 BRZ remains a rear-wheel drive sports coupe that’s supremely lightweight, adequately powered and attractive. Subaru debuts its new boxer four-cylinder in the BRZ. It’s rated at 223 hp and you need to rev all the way to 7,000 rpm to achieve that output. I’d prefer a bit more than the 184 lb-ft of torque the powerplant offers (reasonably low in the band at 3,700 rpm), for some more off-the-line grunt. Say 200 lb-ft, though it’s almost a cliche to argue the BRZ is underpowered. 

The outgoing BRZ is one of the purest cars I’ve driven, so rather than harp on the power, which will ultimately be fine, give Subaru props for focusing on chassis improvements to improve rigidity by 60 percent and aid turn-in. Admirably, the curb weight is less than 2,900 pounds, and the manual in Premium trim checks in at the lowest, just 2,815 pounds. 

Aesthetically, I like it. It’s busier than before, and there’s a lot more going on with the front fascia, wheel arches and fenders. There’s a bit of a Porsche vibe up front, which is good, and a bit of a Honda Civic vibe in back (think 2010) that’s not. 

It’s impressive that Subaru resisted the urge to gratuitously power up the BRZ and remained focused on the essence of its goodness and appeal to enthusiasts.

2021 Jeep Wrangler 392

What effect will the 2021 Ford Bronco have on the Jeep Wrangler? One school of thought is that it will actually make the Jeep better, and the 2021 Wrangler 392 is proof positive that will be the case. With the Bronco attracting spectacular levels of attention, Jeep could not sit idly by and remain focused on incremental changes. It needed to make a splash. The previously announced plug-in electric Wrangler 4xe is one strategy, but after Bronco simply obliterated the automotive news and marketing cycle this summer, Jeep needed to respond. 

A great way: stuff the naturally aspirated 6.4-liter Hemi V8 under the Wrangler’s hood. While it’s unclear if the Bronco can even accommodate eight-cylinders, Jeep answered enthusiasts’ prayers with a monster V8 that we’ve been clamoring for for years in a Wrangler.

It’s an interesting move on a number of levels. It’s not just a power play. You don’t need Hellcat power off-road, and even in Baja conditions at some point all of those ponies become just a number. 

No, in this case, Jeep is taking the Wrangler closer to Mercedes G Class territory. It will be the most expensive Wrangler, and now it will have a 472-hp engine that is legitimately worth considering in a vehicle that is a luxury good of sorts. Even if this Jeep gets pricey, its 472-hp V8 will outgun the Mercedes’ 416-hp biturbo V8, and the Jeep will certainly undercut the G550’s $139,000 sticker.

With the Land Rover Defender also joining the fray, the field is now crowded. Off-road SUVs are status symbols, and Rubicon climbers are common in the driveways of tony suburban enclaves. Ironically, dropping one of its hooligan hot rod engines in the Wrangler could also make it more attractive to the wine and cheese crowd.

2022 Honda Civic

From a business perspective, the 2022 Civic is the most important vehicle on this list. It’s critical for Honda to get it right. We’ve seen them do it with the most recent generation, which we consider to be among the best in class. But, when Honda has stumbled, like the 2012 edition, look out. 

At first glance the 2022 Civic appears to be a conservative style play. It’s a bit like the Accord, though there’s also strains that could come from the generic design chorus that Chevy, Kia and everyone but Mazda, really, uses in the compact segment. The interior, which is quite minimalist, almost to the point of feeling Scandinavian, looks good in the sketch released, though ultimately it all boils down to the materials and interfaces. We know the Civic will come in sedan, hatch, Si and Type R trims. This reveal is a little more of a wait-and-see than the other debuts.

2022 Infiniti QX55

Infiniti is comparing the QX55 to the stylish and sporty rear-wheel-drive FXs from earlier in the decade. That’s a lofty comparison. Those were among the best driving and most attractive crossovers you could buy. They were ahead of their time, as Infiniti successfully used crossovers to conquer new buyers and elevate its brand image. It feels like Infiniti was in a better place 10 years ago, in some ways.

The QX55 certainly looks the part. It’s all-wheel-drive-based, so the spiritual successor notion to the FX is more of an idea than reality. But, the “coupe styling” is legit, and this is attractive and distinctive. The big wheels and chopped roofline are cool, and the variable compression turbo four with 268 hp is a solid engine. Can it live up to the FX?  

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