Energy levels were unusually amped this year at the massive North American International Auto Show, hosted in Detroit’s Cobo Hall. Perhaps appetites were whetted the week prior by the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which had a distinctly automotive slant. In Detroit the 100,000-plus media and industry attendees flitted from one multi-million-dollar stand to the next, shooting, tweeting, and buzzing about the array of concept cars, production-ready reveals and technologies. Ford (F) takes the most honors—high and low—but there’s plenty of both love and raised eyebrows for the rest of the carmakers there:
High: Ford GT. The GT was introduced in 2005, a supercar in the spirit of Ford’s Le Mans-winning GT40 race car. The new model manages to demonstrate the necessary visual cues—and then goes several strides further into exotic territory. Highlights: carbon fiber construction; sculptural flying buttresses off the b-pillars and other inventive aerodynamic solutions; and a 600-horsepower twin-turbo six-cylinder. There are whispers that Ford will return to Le Mans with a race version, too.
Low: The Ford GT’s engine sound. Look, there’s no complaining about 600 horses, but winding up a twin-turbo V6 will never inspire the spine tingles that an American V8 can (up until now the only engine used in GTs). Efficiency is the future, but we can still miss the V8’s gas-guzzling growl.
High: Chevy Bolt. A credible and needed cheaper sibling to the already credible plug-in hybrid Volt. The Bolt is tagged as the likeliest to give Tesla’s Model 3 a run: Chevy’s latest alternative promises a 200-mile range and a price tag around $30,000, and the Bolt should hit the market before the Model 3 does.
High: Acura NSX. It’s not just a looker, it’s also got three electric motors that hybridize the twin-turbo-charged V6 mid-engine supercar—boosting performance, says Honda, to V8 performance with 4-cylinder fuel economy.
LUXURY FAMILY MOVERS
High: Audi Q7 and diesel Range Rover. Both are handsome, intelligent and ever-better versions of already heroically great SUVs.
Low: Mercedes GLE (BMW can gloat about such an X6 copycat and the rest of us can groan about another player in a segment that wins no beauty awards).
High: Infiniti Q60. Following the breath-stealing Q80 flagship concept shown last year is this reinvention of the current Q60 sports coupe. Infiniti designer Alfonso Albiasa has managed to liposuction the car and send it to the gym—to the point where this new Q60 really deserves a new name. The lines are crisp and aggressive, but never overstated, and the craftsmanship in areas like the lights show a level of attention to detail and quality Infiniti hasn’t shown us before. (See A Look at the New Infiniti Q60).
Low: Lincoln MKX crossover. A safe and decent-looking crossover that does nothing to help the world understand what the Lincoln brand stands for and where it’s headed. We want a true American luxury marque to emerge and thrive; in fact, we’re rooting for it. Let’s hope that the arrival of new head designer David Woodhouse, a talented and dapper Brit, means we’ll see meaningfully better styling and branding in the near future.
SHOW STAND CREATIVITY
High: Ford. It’s hard to call the company’s display a “stand”—it’s more like a mult-experience winter wonderland. Trees, mood lighting, elevation changes and mesmerizing motorized snowflake sculptures all combined to create an inviting, artistic and refreshingly different environment.
Low: Ford’s females. Tarnishing the purity of the stand’s haute winter vibe were bizarrely wardrobed models. The worst offenders were the two planted on either side of the Ford GT’s display turnstile, sporting tight white retro Travolta suits and heavily sequined tops—a misguided distraction from the decidedly un-retro pinnacle car of the whole show.
High: Hyundai Santa Cruz. With the exception of the quirky Veloster, Hyundai’s designs don’t stand out from the crowd. The Santa Cruz concept could change that for the better. It’s a crossover-sized pickup with crew-cab rear seats, an efficient diesel engine, a clean and confident shape and, best of all, an open pick-up bed in back that can expand if you are carrying an extra-large load. When you’re done, slide it back in and you can park in any spot. The combination is brilliant.
High: Buick Avenir. Yes, Buick. A brand we haven’t paid attention to in, well, longer than we can remember, showed off a sleek sedan called the Avenir, French for future. Let’s hope the translation is literal. If Buick starts making vehicles this gorgeous, Cadillac and Lincoln will have to move faster to win on the American luxury playing field.
Low: Sergio Marchionne’s “roundtable,” which was anything but. The FCA boss perched himself well above the fray of note-taking journalists seated in rows behind tables. He fielded questions and educated his audience on a dais in front of a red-carpet-esque backdrop of FCA-patterned wallpaper. What a style-forward touch for the brilliant, anti-fashion, sweater-wearing Italian!
Low: Acura’s NSX unveiling. We’ve waited a long time to see the production dress of Acura’s technology-stuffed, high-performance stunner. So what made the company think that long, blathering monologues from executives was a good idea? The two stars we’d rather have been allowed to focus on were the sports car itself and its telegenic and talented exterior designer, Michelle Christensen.
EXPANDING MODEL LINES
High: Jaguar, with its handsome “entry-luxury” XE, a 3-Series and C-Class fighter that promises to be a world better than its long-ago Ford-funded predecessor, the X-Type. Jaguar also confirmed production of an all-new crossover, the F-Pace, coming next year.
Low: Porsche 911 Targa 4 GTS. There is simply nothing to not love about the new Targa (see Porsche 911 Targa 4S: The Beauty’s a Beast)—or any of its siblings, especially this performance-rich new variant. However, the arrival of the Targa 4 GTS marks the 20th, yes 20th, 911 model in the current lineup. Can there be too much of a great thing?