As usual there was plenty to keep us busy at the Detroit show this year, even though three or four manufacturers elected not to exhibit which resulted in some open areas on the floor. There were more than 50 introductions of new models or concepts at the show, so there is still a lot going on. Perhaps auto shows aren’t as much fun as they used to be in the hey days of elaborate introductions and celebrity appearances, but the industry remains vibrant, even as we contemplate a potential era of electric and autonomous vehicles.
There will always be a place for exciting new styling, dramatic shapes and creative forms, so we say “Bring it on”.
It’s official, the Chinese are coming. GAC had a large exhibit at the Detroit show and formally announced their intention to actively seek dealer representation with a view to beginning retail sales in the US in 2019. It remains to be seen how the Trump administration will react to the idea of Chinese cars entering the market at the 2.5% tariff presently in effect. At least the brand name will be changed from Trumpchi as used by GAC in China!!!
The range of products that are planned for sale (although not yet certified) is quite large, with 3 sedans, 4 SUV’s and a people carrier. The products themselves are not that exciting, but certainly competitive in the market – especially if they are priced aggressively. The GS3 sedan and GA4 SUV are both new models announced at the show. They are competent designs and the GA4 has a very current, (now almost de rigueur in the segment) connection between the side glass and the backlight.
To emphasize their intentions, GAC also revealed the Enverge electric vehicle concept at the show. It is an exciting sedan/crossover design with 2 massive forward hinged side doors providing access to the quite spacious and futuristic four-seat interior. Strangely the side “windows” were body color and opaque. It made for an interesting look, but not too practical. The wrap-around full width taillamp demonstrated understated elegance and overall we are quite impressed with this first Chinese concept.
Acura debuted a prototype of the new RDX SUV — although it looked very much like a full production car to us. The evolutionary design is a nice improvement on the old model starting up front with a new grille. The much maligned “beak” look that Acura was using is now happily a thing of the past. The new, black grille is framed in chrome with a central Acura logo. The textured surface looks like a “starburst” around the logo. The bodyside has several strong features lines diving in different directions and an interesting stylized “X” shape in the D-Pillar. The hood has one of the more unusual shapes that we have seen recently. There are two strongly raised feature lines that curve outwards from the corners of the grille, then sweep suddenly inwards to the trailing edge of the hood. It looks a bit like a shallow bowl, but it works and overall we like the RDX a lot. A perfect fit for Acura.
The interior is typical Acura and quite pleasing, but the infotainment screen looks like an iPad emerging from the instrument panel. We thought that designers had moved beyond the “add on screen” look by now…
After two previous attempts, the Honda Insight is now a car that we might actually feel good about driving, with or without its hybrid powertrain. The new Insight (which was described as a prototype, although it looked close to production level) is now clearly a member of the Honda design family and slots in between the Civic and the Accord. Like many new models these days, the hood and fender forms are carried around the A-Pillar and onto the bodyside. At the rear, the fast back design is neatly executed with interesting lines and forms around the quarter panel and tailamp.
Infiniti made a big statement with its Inspiration concept, which is a large four-door, fastback sedan. The feeling is one of smooth flowing curves and shapes, even though the front end (which hints at an electric powertrain), has quite a few hard edges with large front intakes and feature lines emanating from the grille and extending around the A-pillars and into the belt line. The windshield glass extends in a continuous sweep over the roof and almost all the way to the edge of the decklid. The interior is suitably clean and modern to match the exterior and features the de rigueur wall-to-wall flat display screens front and rear.
Also from Infiniti was the new Q50 SUV. It is very much an evolutionary design, but attractive non-the-less. The lower edges of the clamshell hood extend into the bodyside A-Line and through the door handles. Strong “bulging” creases extend up the hood from the grille to the A-Pillars, where they sweep down under the mirrors and into the belt-line. The signature shape at the trailing edge of the window is elegantly executed. The interior flows nicely from IP to console and IP to doors.
Nissan debuted the X-Motion SUV concept, their new small Kicks SUV and the facelifted Leaf electric car.
The XMotion is a mid sized SUV concept defined by bold and dramatic shapes. There are large front air intakes and lights; a big slatted grille framed by chrome strips extending up the hood to the base of the A-Pillar; huge wheels and tyres (featuring another trend at the show where the wheel structure extends over the tyre sidewall. All rather impractical); built-in roof storage; diamond pattern “carbon fibre” wheel arch accents and pronounced shoulders over the front and rear wheels.
The minimalist interior featured floating seats (white in front, red in the rear); display screens across the entire instrument panel and a wooden center console running front to rear, complete with a perpetually spinning cone!
The Kicks small SUV joins the burgeoning ranks of similar vehicles available across all manufacturers. It is a decent looking vehicle that slots easily into the Nissan range and design theme. The interior is friendly with some upscale touches.
The new Nissan Leaf, brings this electric car into the real world. The original was “dowdy” at best, but this version is a worthy member of the Nissan family and would not make us embarrassed to drive one.
The Asian manufacturers have clearly taken over the concept car mantel from the American domestics. The Lexus LF-1 Limitless being one of several exciting concepts at the show emanating from the East.
Lexus call the LF-1 a flagship crossover and their design direction for the future. We liked the smooth, sophisticated feel of vehicle as well as the dramatic shapes. The Lexus “spindle” grille that we have loved to hate, has now grown to consume the whole front of the LF-1. The lower corners reach out to the edges of the car below the dramatic front lights. While the upper corners extend all the way along the hood cut line, merging into and forming the belt line. We actually like this iteration.
The smooth bodyside has one complex area at the bottom of the rear door and sill to add some drama. There is also an interesting element of brightwork that starts at the trailing edge of the upper hood line, sweeps across the A-Pillar, runs along the roof-line and finishes in a broad ‘spear’ that mirrors the rear quarter window shape in the C-Pillar. The rear is dramatic too, with a divided roof spoiler, swoopy full width taillamps that stand off the rear quarters and large (brake cooling?) exhaust ducts in the lower corners. The overall effect was outstanding.
The interior is also smooth and sleek, with a small focused cluster, but a large central infotainment display framed by dramatic curves in the instrument panel and centre console. The side view camera displays add an interesting new look.
We still like the dramatic LC 500 and its great road presence, although the door-trim panels have us longing for rather LESS wood! Speaking of door panels, take a look at the overwrought trim on the LS 500h displayed nearby. Ugghhh!
Toyota’s big news at the NAIAS was the new Avalon. The previous editions were not particularly attractive and this one continues that trend. The huge gaping mouth grille with a “diamond” texture for the regular model and horizontal bars for the hybrid is just too big and clumsy, the strange hood cut line above the grille looks awful on light colored cars, the body forms at the base of the A-pillar are awkward, the semi-fastback design doesn’t seem to fit the intended customer base. In addition to all this, Toyota having been stung by “boring cars” criticism, seems hell bent on making everything sporty and aggressive. Prominent air intakes flank the grille, even the base car has a black decklid spoiler (styled-in spoiler on the hybrid) and there are four exhaust pipes.
The interior is decent. The dominant centre console has the infotainment screen extending above IP surface, but still integrated. Somehow the console is a bit dated looking.
New for the US, was the boxy FT-4X Concept. An interesting design study aimed at creating something new in the small SUV category, maybe even Toyota’s answer to the Jeep Wrangler. The asymmetrical design is rather complicated, with many interesting feature lines, openings and colour treatments.
The C-HR is also new to the US. An interesting small vehicle that is hard to position in the market. The design is busy, with complex shapes and feature lines. The roof extension is exaggerated, there are large “stand off” taillamps and the rear door handles are semi-concealed.
Mercedes Benz chose Detroit to be the world premier for the latest iteration of the 40-year saga that is the G-Wagen. Easily recognizable from its 1970’s origins the new version was joined on the stand by the Jackie Ickx 280 GE that won the Dakar Rally in 1983. The exterior is subtly evolved, but instantly recognizable (rather like the Jeep Wrangler) down to the annoying push button door handles and the poor sound and feel when you close the doors. The LED halo headlamps are a key distinguishing feature, but the bigger differences are on the inside. The thoroughly modern interior features a wide, two-part flat screen, but retains plenty of mechanical switches. Headroom is never a problem! The G is 4 inches wider than the outgoing model and now features independent front suspension for the first time. The engine at launch will be the twin turbo 4.0L V8 which is good for 416 hp and 0-60 in 4.8 seconds.
Also premiered at the show was the AMG CLS 53 Edition 1. The exterior of the updated CLS is a bit disappointing especially since the first two editions were so well executed. The awkward headlamps just don’t seem to fit the otherwise tasteful front end, while the rear just looks like a sad face. The 3.0L I6 engine has both electric and gas powered turbos, plus “EQ Boost” (a starter/alternator also able to provide extra power) and produces a combined 419 hp. All ancillaries are powered by the 48-volt electric system – no belts or pulleys.
The EQA concept is worth mentioning. As shown in Frankfurt last year, it is a nicely executed 2-door, all-electric hatchback with 200kw motors front and rear. The “scrolling” turn signal lamps are a nice touch.
BMW revealed the new X2 SUV at the show. It has a bold and menacing front end, a long roof accentuated by the large tailgate spoiler and a sleek, tightly wrapped tail. The entry/egress is a bit tight, but the interior is pure BMW. There was a blue X2 on display that had a bright orange/red interior — probably not to everyone’s taste and not exactly understated elegance…….
The i8 Roadster had been revealed at the Los Angeles show, but it was a stunner in Detroit. You have to give up the two rear seats to get the wind in your hair, but who cares. It is such a cool looking car with a futuristic feel, yet has some retro style provided by the head fairings behind the seats.
The 7 Series is still a tour de force. What’s not to like about a car you can get with a V12 under the hood. Details abound; the beautiful exterior door handles; the complex seat details; the suede pillows on the rear headrests; controls and screens everywhere; there are even ashtrays in the rear, which seems odd in America these days.
The M3 CS now joins the M4 CS with the S55 3.0L twin turbo engine producing 453 hp and 443 lb ft of torque. Aggressive styling elements are everywhere on the car and we like that. The aero designed door mirrors are especially noteworthy.