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Mainstream brands bid for luxury buyers | 2016 New York motor show

2016 Nissan GT-R

Mainstream and sports brands make a play for luxury. Joshua Dowling and Richard Blackburn report.

The lines were blurred at this week's New York motor show as mainstream brands made a play for the hearts and wallets of luxury car buyers.

Hyundai unveiled its rival for the BMW 3 Series as it pushed ahead with plans to develop its luxury arm, Genesis, while Nissan unveiled the biggest changes to its GT-R sports car in almost a decade.

Mercedes-Benz fought back with the GLC Coupe, a swoopy-roofed SUV that mimics BMW's X4. Here are some of the highlights of the show.

Nissan GT-R

  • 2016 Nissan GT-R 2016 Nissan GT-R
  • 2016 Nissan GT-R 2016 Nissan GT-R
  • 2016 Nissan GT-R 2016 Nissan GT-R
  • 2016 Nissan GT-R 2016 Nissan GT-R

Godzilla just got angrier and more civilised at the same time. The update includes a racy new look, a posher cabin, more comfortable ride and more grunt under the bonnet.

Power from the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 is up marginally from 404kW to 419kW, while torque lifts a fraction from 628Nm to 632Nm.

Nissan claims the improvement, which comes from individual ignition timing of the cylinders and extra boost from the turbos, delivers more grunt at the top end.

The brand says it also sounds better, thanks to new titanium mufflers and a sound enhancer.

The previous model's jerky six-speed dual-clutch transmission has been tweaked to provide smoother, quieter shifts, while the unforgiving ride has also been addressed.

Nissan says a more rigid body and suspension upgrades have made the car better balanced and more stable in high-speed cornering.

The exterior styling changes include a new V-shaped grille that feeds more air to the engine, flanked by mesh grilles under the headlights. The side sills have been pushed out and the rear end restyled to provide more downforce and less drag.

Inside, the dash and instrument panel have been covered in leather and the centre screen is bigger and simpler to use. Switches have been cut from 27 to just 11, while the shift paddles are now mounted on the steering wheel.

Nissan says the cabin is also quieter, thanks to more sound insulation, but chief product specialist Hiroshi Tamura says despite the "newfound civility" it has lost none of its "heart-pounding" driving experience.

Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe

  • 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe
  • 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe
  • 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe
  • 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe
  • 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe
  • 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe
  • 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe

The GLC Coupe is based on the company's compact SUV but the tail has been docked and it has a hooped roof. It's a much more elegant design than earlier takes on the coupe-like SUV theme, such as the garish original BMW X6.

According to marketing experts, a coupe-shaped body is designed to make SUVs more acceptable to young singles — and couples who don't yet have kids. Apparently a wagon body style screams "kids", "prams" or "soccer mum".

Making the rear of the SUV much less practical instead says "no room for kids' stuff".

Such are the compromises, it probably also means a mountain bike won't fit without taking the front wheel off.

If this type of car is for you, expect to see it in Australian showrooms in December with a starting price of about $70,000 — a modest premium over the regular GLC SUV, which in turn is a modest premium over the C-Class sedan on which both SUVs are based.

To compensate for heavy discounting on less appealing models, car makers have discovered new ways to charge top dollar for models buyers desire.

The coupe unveiled in New York, a GLC 43 AMG, is powered by a twin turbo 3.0-litre V6 driving all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission. This edition is likely to cost in excess of $100,000 but will be joined by more affordable models from launch.

Genesis G70

The company that invented $13,990 drive-away now wants to head upmarket with a new luxury sedan.

Former budget brand Hyundai is poised to launch a fresh challenge to the luxury market with a rival for the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

In a move that mirrors the strategy of Toyota's luxury brand Lexus two decades ago, Hyundai will soon have a smaller and more affordable sedan to sell alongside its flagship large car.

The Genesis G70 concept points to a production version due in showrooms in 2017.

Its price is a long way from being confirmed but it is expected to cost less than the $55,000 starting sticker of the German cars it aims to rival — and it will have a five-door coupe design and rear-wheel drive.

Medium-sized sedans with luxury badges have bucked the trend in mainstream brands of the same size, for which sales have been in freefall.

It remains to be seen whether Australian buyers will aspire to a Genesis badge in the same way as a German logo.

Engines are yet to be confirmed but expect a choice of petrol and diesel power to appeal to US and European tastes. Hyundai Australia is expected to take both options should they become available in right-hand-drive versions.

According to overseas reports, the flagship Genesis G70 will be powered by a 3.3-litre V6 twin turbo to compete with the sub-$100,000 versions of the German cars.

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