Take a look at the world's three newest cars and you won't be disappointed: the Mazda Miata, the Jaguar XE, and the Mercedes-AMG GT. But what do they say about the state of the industry?
The 2016 Miata looks like something of a return to form for the little roadster, lighter and cleaner than its predecessor.
The 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT is Benz's new 911 fighter, a muscle car GT with a spaceframe chassis and a surprisingly potent V8.
The Jaguar XE is the company's newest sports sedan, sized like a BMW 3 series and built like a real Jag with self-designed engines and rear-wheel drive.
In terms of styling, these are all very clean, very unfussy cars. The AMG GT verges on being underdesigned, the XE is almost dangerously conservative, and the Miata is a no-chrome, no-creases understatement.
Two of these three cars are from luxury marques, but all three represent some kind of affordability. The AMG-GT is a lower-priced, downsized version of the old SLS, the XE is a small sedan compared to Jag's usual XF/XJ mid/fullsizers, and the Miata is still a budget sports car. Well, the new Miata is more techy and more expensive than the car it replaces, but it remains a bargain compared to other like-minded roadsters.
There's a focus on lightness in all three cars: the AMG-GT and the XE are heavy cars, but they would be much heavier if they weren't made principally out of aluminum. 75% of the XE is made of the stuff, Jag claims.
Oddly enough, the Miata is one of the lightest cars in recent years, though it keeps steel construction.
What's also interesting is that these are efficient cars, but not in the way that we usually think about efficiency. None of these cars are especially great on gas, but they're good for what they are. The AMG GT drops down to just a 4.0 liter V8 from the SLS's 6.2 thanks to inset twin turbochargers. The XE doesn't use traditionally big engines, but makes do with new, low-friction turbos. The Miata's SkyActive naturally-aspirated fours are among the most efficient on the market.
Maybe more than anything else, these cars stand out for their mere existence alone. High gas prices and ever-more stringent emissions regulations have seemed like the end of powerful sports cars like the AMG GT, but here it is, with 456 hp in base trim, 503 at the top.
Fun-to-drive lightweight roadsters should be dead and gone thanks to pedestrian and occupant crash tests. I can't remember how many times I've heard how those regs would make all cars impossibly heavy, blunt, and inert.
And then there's the XE's rear-drive platform. The international car market seems to be getting tougher every year, and more companies seem pressured to merge and consolidate vehicle architectures. That's the rationale that gave the world the XE's predecessor, the X-Type. That was just a dressed-up Ford Mondeo — efficient, international, and front-wheel drive. But Jaguar somehow managed to make a business case for an all-new aluminum, rear-drive structure for the XE.