Greetings from the Motor City!
Traditionally, the North American Auto Show, held each January in Detroit, has been the auto industry’s biggest chance to make news. With three days of press conferences, the automakers have shown new cars and concepts to get the public excited about their upcoming product lines. The auto industry’s recent economic turmoil has put a bit of a damper on the news from Detroit. The show is down to just two days of press conferences, and foreign brands are increasingly choosing to announce their news overseas. Nonetheless, the 2010 edition of the Detroit show had plenty of news, with some promising production cars and some cool concept vehicles to ogle. We were on hand to check out the action.
2011 Audi A8
What it is: A stylish and elegant redesign of Audi’s appealing luxury sedan.
What we like about it: The aluminum-intensive Audi Space Frame gives the A8 a competitive advantage over weightier cars from BMW and Mercedes. Standard quattro all-wheel drive is also a plus, and for 2011 it adds a sport differential that sends power to the outside wheel in hard cornering.
Bottom line: Audi keeps pushing the style and luxury envelopes forward, and the new A8 is the brand’s greatest expression of luxury.
2011 Fiat 500
What it is: A throwback sporty coupe along the lines of the MINI Cooper.
What we like about it: Well reviewed in Europe, the FIAT 500 promises to handle like a dream. A 100-horsepower base model will come first, followed by a convertible, then a high-performance Abarth model, all within two years. They should all be good, clean fun.
Bottom line: To be sold in select Chrysler dealers, the cute and appealing Fiat 500 can drive the kind of foot traffic Chrysler needs.
2012 Ford Focus
What it is: A new global compact car that will expand what we expect from a small car.
What we like about it: We like the fact that Ford has finally come to its senses. Europe has had the better version for far too long. The 2012 Focus looks good with its “Zorro sweep” side creases, and it promises to offer European ride and handling with a richer interior environment than we’re used to in small cars.
Bottom line: This is the Focus we’ve wanted, and it looks like Americans will soon have a good small car from a domestic brand.
Volkswagen New Compact Coupe Concept
What it is: A cheaper, smaller, everyman’s Audi A5 with hybrid propulsion.
What we like about it: The NCC is VW’s first foray into hybrid drivetrain technology. Having largely bet on diesels thus far, VW displays a hybrid that might actually be fun to drive. An electric motor is sandwiched between a 1.4-liter gas motor and a delectable 7-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox good for a reported 177 horsepower and the ability to operate in full electric mode.
Bottom line: While the styling leaves us rather flat, it’s what’s underneath that counts.
2011 Ford Mustang
What it is: A Mustang with the V8 power to match the pony car competition.
What we like about it: The 5.0 is back. How can you not like 412 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque with 25 mpg on the highway? Ford is also giving the convertible some needed structural reinforcements. With these changes, Mustang’s already impressive performance is sure to improve.
Bottom line: Mustang has absorbed hits from the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro in recent years, and now Ford is fighting back. With all that power and the Mustang’s weight advantage, it looks like the clear winner in the pony car wars.
Audi e-tron Detroit Concept Car
What it is: The second iteration of Audi’s all electric concept supercar wonder.
What we like about it: 8.6 inches shorter than a production Audi R8, the compact e-tron promises massive performance from its all electric rear wheel drive layout…204 horsepower and a claimed 1,954 lb-ft of torque to be exact. This Detroit version features a more traditional “puristic” design akin to a front engine rear-wheel-drive 2-seat sports car.
Bottom line: If Audi keeps this styling exercise up, it may have the vehicle incarnation of Aphrodite on its hands by the Geneva show.
GMC Granite Concept
What we like about it: The Granite Concept combines good looks with plenty of passenger room and cargo utility in a small package. Two feet shorter than the GMC Terrain, the Granite would be a good, frugal choice for city dwellers, small families or active-lifestyle types.
Bottom line: GMC is looking for a way to expand the lineup, and the Granite would give the brand a viable new entry point.
Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
What it is: A sleek and sexy coupe that’ll rip up the pavement.
What we like about it: Power, and lots of it. The CTS-V Coupe delivers 556 horses through a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually. It has all the performance pedigree of the rambunctious CTS-V sedan in a tighter, sexier package.
Bottom line: Look out BMW M6, here comes America’s top performance coupe.
MINI Beachcomber Concept
What it is: A taste of the upcoming MINI Crossman, in a concept with the fun quotient cranked to 11.
What we like about it: The MINI Cooper and Clubman are renowned for go-kart like handling. Adapting this mantra to a crossover suv could have fantastic results and pulling the roof and doors off makes the Beachcomber one of the most intriguing concepts in Detroit.
Bottom line: Surf’s up, dude!
Cadillac XTS Platinum Concept
What it is: A hybrid sedan concept aimed at the Mercedes-Benz S Class and BMW 7 Series.
What we like about it: The XTS looks great on the outside and the interior is rich and expansive. The car also replaces traditional switches and buttons with touch-sensitive controls, which appears to be the wave of the future.
Bottom line: The XTS is likely for production, but it may not come as a hybrid. Cadillac could use a competitive large sedan and this could be it.
Toyota FT-CH Concept
What it is: A Prius targeted at urban youth with “8-bit generation” styling.
What we like about it: The FT-CH aims to rectify any Prius excitement shortcomings by taking the Prius drivetrain and adding styling cues from what Toyota refers to as the “8-bit generation.” To those of us that don’t work for Toyota PR, the “8-bit generation” refers to the period in the early '80s when 8-bit microprocessor video game technology was popular. Whatever the inspiration was, we dig it.
Bottom line: Perhaps there’s a chance for excitement in Toyota’s hybrid technology after all.
Chevrolet Aveo Show Car
What it is: A precursor to a new, better Aveo with European hot hatch-inspired looks.
What we like about it: Who would have thought the Aveo could look this good? The production model won’t have the show car’s 19-inch wheels and large air intakes, but the basic design looks good. Plus, it will be built in the U.S. instead of South Korea.
Bottom line: The next Aveo will be bigger and better to make room for the Spark at the bottom of Chevy’s lineup. It if looks like this, it’s a winner.
What it is: A new minicar for city dwellers and buyers looking to downsize.
What we like about it: Chevrolet promises at least 40 mpg on the highway. Engine choices haven’t been announced, but as the smallest car in the General Motors portfolio, it may also offer the smallest engine.
Bottom line: The Spark shows that Chevrolet is serious about fuel economy, but will America buy it?
What it is: Honda’s first sporty hybrid, inspired by the CR-X of the 1980s and ’90s.
What we like about it: This two-seat hatchback coupe will differ from other hybrids. Though it will make only 128 horsepower, its small size, light weight and manual transmission option should make it fun to drive and of course, fuel efficient.
Bottom line: The CR-X appealed to a generation of hatchback buyers and the CR-Z can do the same. The CR-Z could make hybrids cool for more than just the green crowd.
Buick Regal GS Show Car
What it is: A hotter version of Buick’s upcoming sport sedan that appears likely for production.
What we like about it: The Regal GS has some performance features we like, but not quite the power we would expect. The Haldex all-wheel-drive system and Interactive Driver Control System should aid handling, and all the exterior performance bits look cool.
Bottom line: Could this be the future of performance? With 255 horsepower from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder, the Regal GS is no slouch, but a V6 Camry has more horses.
2011 Lincoln MKX
What it is: A refreshed version of Lincoln’s Ford Edge-based five-passenger crossover with new styling, more power and a cool new connectivity system.
What we like about it: MyLincoln Touch is an attractive and fairly intuitive way to stay connected to the vehicle, unifying cell phones, iPods, and even the internet. It can be controlled by voice commands, a center touchscreen or a pair of five-way controllers on the steering wheel.
Bottom line: The MKX gets the awkward Lincoln face and we still don’t know what the name means, but drivers will feel connected in what is now a more luxurious environment.