The Nine Must-See Cars From CES 2021
From a hydrogen-powered hypercar to a flying Cadillac, the future of automotive arrives.
For the first time since its inception in 1967, the annual Consumer Electronics Show—better known as CES—became a virtual event this year. Held in Las Vegas from January 11-14, virtual visitors—there were no physical attendees—could wander the show floor and see everything from the latest in medical electronics to Yukai Engineering’s Petit Qoobo, a furry, cushion-sized robot with a wagging tail and a heartbeat that simplifies the whole therapy-mammal equation. Making a bigger splash were automotive manufacturers who presented new models and dangled concepts for consideration, each underpinned by advances in EV technology, AI and new materials applications. Some are literal flights of fancy, but then, reaching for the sky is what future-thinkers do. Here are the cars that caught our attention.
Audi RS e-Tron GT
Audi has always been the quiet guy at the party, but everyone knows those are the ones to watch. From the minute that electric became a viable power-train solution, Audi has embraced the tech and blended it with a gorgeous design that makes you want its cars. Coming later this year, the RS e-Tron GT (the lowercase e—presumably for electron—is so the marketing team can remind you how clever they are) is a kissing cousin of the Porsche Taycan, and is poised to be Audi’s poster-e-car. Its performance nips at the heels of any supercar, with all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering that are standard issue for most luxury four-door GTs. Using plenty of feel-good recycled materials, Audi is aiming for a CO2-neutral footprint that makes its go-kart the e-car du jour.
Just as one might recoil from seeing bad cosmetic surgery, it’s easy to blanch upon first seeing the outsized nostrils and squared fenders—like cartoonish calf implants—of BMW’s iX. But beneath its skin, the all-electric Bimmer is the harbinger of things to come, and behind its big faux grille are cameras, radar functions and sensors of every sort that push the iX into the high-tech limelight. It boasts a new iDrive brain that BMW claims to be a “paradigm shift.” Hopefully, that shift is not reminiscent of the optimistic but snake-bitten system ushered in by the 7-Series in the early 2000s. Still, the electric crossover—coming in 2022—should make plenty of friends, with more than 372kW and a 600km range. And after all, it is a BMW.
Like a lot of kids, I believed every story in the magazines promising that we’d all be flying cars before the 20th century came to a close. I’m still waiting, but before the state of California takes my driver’s license away, I want a Cadillac I can be proud to land on my lawn. And the Cadillac VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) drone is it. Conceived to make aero-mobility a reality, the VTOL combines electric power in an autonomous personal transportation vehicle designed to get from a Fortune 100 board meeting to your best pal’s private Fantasy Island in a flash. The flying Fleetwood features a 90 kWh EV motor to power four rotors, and is, without a doubt, the coolest Cadillac we’ve seen since the 1967 El Dorado.
Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat
There are plenty of high-performance, fire-breathing muscle cars with gobs of horsepower and the ability to lay patches of rubber at the drop of a flag, especially Dodge’s SRT Challenger Superstock. With 601kW, it’s the quickest, most powerful series-production muscle car in the world. But until now, we couldn’t name any that offers three rows of seats and can haul a vacation-load of screaming brats, camping gear and a boat hitched to the rear. That midsized SUV anomaly is the Durango SRT Hellcat. Easily identified with the head of a toothy feline on its front fenders—it’s powered by a 6.2-litre Hemi V-8 that delivers 529kW, full-time AWD and a towing capacity of 3720kg.
GMC Hummer EV
What goes around comes around. I remember nearly crawling under a floormat when, at a black-tie reception hosted by GM at Hearst Castle circa 2005, my girlfriend at the time opined—unaware she was speaking to a Hummer executive—that its military-style relic was a gas-guzzling abomination. She was not wrong, but still, I flushed as red as the lobster hors d’oeuvres being passed. A decade-and-a-half later, the tables have turned, and GM’s all-electric pickup, the Hummer EV, redeems itself as an enviro-friendly supertruck that does a zero-to-97km/h sprint in 3 seconds, bristles with 745kW and churns a mind-numbing, combined-axle 15,590nm of electric torque, all with an estimated 560km of range. Smooth on the highway and capable of tackling any terrain, it makes us say, “Please pass the Hummer (“lobster,” of course, in German).” Reservations are now being accepted.
As with production cars that can successfully drive themselves or even take to the sky, hydrogen-powered four-wheelers have long been the stuff of automotive vision boards and unrealised attempts, confronting a fair share of naysayers and roadblocks along the way. Breaking through from vaporware to reality is Hyperion’s XP-1 hypercar based on hydrogen fuel-cell technology. The all-wheel-drive vehicle is propelled by the impressively named Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) Fuel Cell Power Module that drives permanent magnet electric motors mated to a three-speed transmission. And the target stats are staggering: a zero-to-97km/h time of less than 2.2 seconds, a top speed of more than 355km/h and, wait for it . . . a range of over 1600km, which the company claims can be replenished in five minutes due to innovative hydrogen storage systems. Don’t believe it exists? The Hyperion team took the prototype to Las Vegas, and there are pictures to prove it.
Indy Autonomous Challenge Race Car
Playing a role in the advancement of autonomous vehicle technology, Energy Systems Network (ESN) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway presented a race car developed for the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled this year to be held on October 23. The cars, modified Dallara IL-15 racers, are autonomously driven by university teams comprising more than 500 students from 11 countries. Since 2002, Dallara—whose founder was the father of the Lamborghini Miura—has been the sole race-car supplier of the Indy Lights series, and this car is the most advanced, fastest autonomous vehicle ever developed. Sponsors are providing high-tech systems that include radar, lidar, optical cameras and computers. Team goals, apart from winning the US$1 million prize, focus on development of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that enhance safety and move autonomous vehicle research forward.
Jeep Grand Wagoneer Concept
Whoa! When I was young, these had 3M fake wood side panelling and were only slightly smaller than a Zeppelin hangar—the antithesis of cool and something that the math club president’s parents would drive. But for about a decade now, they have attained near-cult status as the hipster classic among SUVs. So, it stands to reason that the Grand Wagoneer, which was made from 1963 to 1993, was ripe for resurrection. Jeep has been only too happy to oblige, and according to Ralph Gilles, FCA Head of Design, the new Grand Wagoneer is “nothing short of a labour of love . . . meant to be timeless.” Available later this year, it certainly carries on the Grand Wagoneer tradition as a supremely luxurious SUV, and is beautifully styled. “The interior is uniquely American,” adds Gilles, further evidenced by the available premium sound system from McIntosh, a US audio icon founded in 1949.
Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR
Dr Porsche put four axle-mounted motors in a car about 120 years ago, but it didn’t look as outlandish as the pangolin-like concept vehicle introduced by Mercedes-Benz at this year’s virtual CES. No matter, like the odd, scaled monotreme, the Vision AVTR is a remarkable thing. Capable of driving the front and rear axles simultaneously or in opposite directions, or driving side-to-side, its agility and grace recalls Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly chariot. Notable is its powerful and compact high-voltage battery, developed with graphene-based organic cell chemistry that does not rely on toxic, rare-earth metals. Hand it to Mercedes-Benz to lead the charge—literally—in the advancement of EV technology.