The annual North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is the world’s most important showcase for automobiles. Held every January at Detroit’s Cobo Center, the show is chock-full of automotive prototypes, new reveals, technology, and motorized innovations
Automobile sales of new cars and trucks in North America broke a whopping 17 million units in 2015 — an industry record. The crowds, an international mix, were thick but spirits were high and smiles were plentiful during this year’s media days.
AutoWeb’s team of experts exhaustively walked the show for two straight days, nearly wearing down the leather soles of our shoes in the process, to capture the most important debuts in Detroit.
It’s always a good thing when BMW M-izes one of its cars. The 2 Series is fitted with a 365 hp turbocharged straight six, which the Bavarian folks say will jet the car to 60 MPH in 4.2 seconds, along with typical M upgrades such as bigger brakes, stiffer suspension tuning, and a cool-looking body kit. We predict an explosion of activity on BMW forums as the Bimmerphile argue about the M2’s weight and price, both of which may be a bit too close to those of the M3 and not far enough away from the existing M235i. Let them have it out; we won’t know until we drive it, and for the moment, we are fans — this car looks amazing.
Buick Avista concept
The object of a concept car is to get the public excited, and we are excited about the Avista, but it’s not the styling that has us going. Not that the Avista isn’t beautiful—it is—but comparing the Avenier concept to the production LaCrosse, we expect any real-world version of the Avista to be way, way watered down. (Hopefully Buick‘s designers will take a hint from the Lexus LC 500; see below.) No, what we are excited about is the prospect that Buick could actually produce something like this—a rear-drive luxury sport coupe powered by a twin-turbo V6 engine. Buick has spent the last few years concentrating on the Chinese market, where the brand does exceptionally well, but with the east Asian economy cooling off, perhaps thoughts are turning to the home market. We are not sure what the Chinese will think of Avista, but we would sure like to see it come to fruition.
We don’t really care that Chrysler changed the Town & Country‘s name. (The idea is that young family people won’t want to drive the same minivan as their parents.) What we care about is that Chrysler’s minivan has finally received the same interior treatment as other Chrysler models, with better materials, modern-looking gauges, and sensible ergonomics. That, not the name, is what will bring this van back to prominence. The Pacifica combines traditional Chrysler strong points like Stow ‘n Go seating with up-to-date touches like hidden door tracks, a built in vacuum, and a hybrid powertrain (which joins Chrysler’s well-sorted 3.6 liter Pentastar V6). Chrysler ruled the minivan market for years; it looks like they’ve decided to take that leadership position back.
Ford Fusion Sport
Nearly twenty years ago, Ford came out with a hot-rod version of the Contour sedan called the SVT. Though not an outright sales success, it was a big hit with car fans, and with good reason. Now it appears that history may repeat itself with the Ford Fusion Sport, which gets the 325 hp 2.7 liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 found in some of Ford’s larger vehicles, along with a specially-tuned suspension and a bit of racy trim. Like the Contour, the Fusion is based on Ford’s European-market Mondeo; as such its handling is already a cut above typical mid-sizers, so the Sport version should be pretty darn good. And while the Fusion Sport may not offer a manual transmission like the Contour SVT, it does get paddle shifters as a consolation prize. Other news on the Fusion front includes refreshed styling for all models, new turbochargers for the 1.5 and 2.0 liter EcoBoost engines, and a new top-of-the-line Platinum model, but the Fusion Sport is the one we will be lining up to drive.
When Hyundai first launched the 2009 Genesis sedan, lots of us wondered why Hyundai didn’t start a whole new brand. The answer amounted to “It’s too expensive.” Finally, Hyundai is going to bite the bullet, albeit slowly, at first, with Genesis models being sold at dealers that currently offer the top-of-the-line Equus. Speaking of which, the G90 is basically an all-new version of the Equus, with a choice of twin-turbo V6 or naturally-aspirated V8 powerplants. The existing Genesis sedan will be recast as the G80, and the brand will soon expand to six models, including two SUVs and a sport coupe. While some may have trouble with the idea of a luxury car from Hyundai, we can tell you that their high-zoot cars are top notch, and we think the new Genesis brand is a smart idea. With Mercedes prices climbing and Lexus vehicles moving in a sportier, more BMW-like direction, Hyundai’s cushy, comfy cruisers have a good chance of success.
The 2017 Ridgeline is Honda‘s second attempt at a pickup truck, and it would appear that they didn’t learn very much from the first (Google “Toyota T100 pickup” for an interesting read). The new Ridgeline follows the same basic formula as the old one, melding the Pilot SUV’s unit-body cab with a body-on-frame box. But while we were expecting more aggressive, truck-like styling, the new Ridgeline looks even daintier than the original. (Some have pointed out that the Colorado looks similar in profile. We’d agree, but we think pickups look best with an aggressive, truck-like face.) Honda will offer the Ridgeline in front- and all-wheel-drive models, apparently ignoring the hard lessons Chrysler and VW learned with their front-drive pickups of the late ’70s. (Load the bed and all the weight comes off the drive wheels, making it hard to go in the snow.) The Ridgeline does have some nifty bits: The chunky tailgate can either fold down or swing sideways, the in-bed “trunk” has been reshaped to accommodate a full-size cooler, and the Ridgeline offers a weatherproof in-bed speaker system. One could argue that the Ridgeline is the thinking person’s pickup—but in our opinion, it’s not one that will capture the hearts of American truck buyers.
As fans of Infiniti, we have been saddened to see Nissan letting their luxury brand wither on the vine—and pleased to see the roots of its resurgence. We saw the much-needed QX30 SUV at this year’s Los Angeles show, and at Detroit we got to feast our eyes on the Q60 coupe. The two-door G was a key element in Infiniti’s previous success, and we’d be surprised if this new Q60 doesn’t elicit the same reaction. While we were sad to hear that Nissan’s beloved VQ-series V6 would not be along for the journey, its replacement is nothing short of mind-blowing: A twin-turbo 3-liter V6 offered in 300 and 400 hp versions. Yowza! The Q60 will also offer a two-liter turbocharged four cylinder tuned for 208 horsepower (presumably the same engine in the QX30 and its German cousin, the Mercedes GLA). Sexy good looks and an optional adjustable suspension round out what should prove to be a real winner.
Lexus LC 500
Our knock-us-over-with-a-feather moment came when we laid eyes on the new LC 500. It’s hard to believe this is a production car, as opposed to a concept; it’s even harder to believe this is a production car from Lexus! The brand has been working overtime to shake its “glorified-Toyota” image with better driving dynamics and more aggressive styling, but with the LC 500 they have gone straight for the soul. The LC 500 shares its 467 hp 5-liter V8 with the RC F, but as good as it looks, we wouldn’t care if it had a one-lung Briggs & Stratton under the hood—let’s just park it in our driveway and dig a trench for the neighbors’ drool. Lexus told us to expect a price around $100k, which isn’t bad for a car that makes the Lamborghini Huracan look about as sexy as Gary Busey. [I happen to prefer the Lamborghini. – Ed.]
It’d be easy to complain that the new E-Class looks too much like the S-Class, but that would be like complaining that your girlfriend looks too much like Megan Fox. Outside, the E’s styling manages to favor the S-Class rather than mimic it; inside the resemblance is much closer, and who in their right mind would complain about that? The new E packs lots of innovative technology, including the ability to change lanes by itself (the driver merely flicks the turn signal stalk), as well as the capability for car-to-car communication (something you can expect to become commonplace in the not-too-distant future). Power-wise, Mercedes will lead with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a new two-liter diesel, and a plug-in hybrid, with a hot-rodded AMG version to follow.
Porsche 911 Turbo/Turbo S
The variety of 911 variants can seem almost dizzying to the uninitiated, but nearly everyone knows the 911 Turbo (which, for those who have trouble keeping track, sits at the top of the lineup, above the GTS and below the GT3, though it’s more powerful than both.) The car comes in two versions, both powered by Porsche’s 3.8 liter flat six; the Turbo produces 540 hp Turbo while the Turbo S puts out 580 hp. The former gets to 60 MPH in 2.9 seconds and the latter in 2.8. Interior improvements include the same steering wheel design as the 918 Spyder, which has the performance mode selector dial mounted within reach of the driver’s right thumb. That way you can fine-tune your 911 Turbo’s driving characteristics as you cling on for dear life. Both Turbo and Turbo S are available in coupe or convertible forms — the latter is perfect if you don’t mind losing your toupee on the Autobahn at 200-plus MPH.
Volvo‘s new Chinese owners have poured $11 billion into the brand since 2010, an investment that is just now starting bearing fruit. The show started with the news that the XC90 had won the coveted North American Truck/Utility of the Year (NACTOY) award; a few hours later, Volvo revealed the S90, their new flagship sedan. Long and low, the S90 presents a profile that is refreshingly unique and unmistakably Swedish. Inside, the S90 benefits from the high-lux interior and the brilliant tablet-like touch screen with which we fell in love in the XC90. The S90 will offer T5 (250 hp turbocharged) and T6 (316 hp turbo- and supercharged) versions of Volvo’s 2-liter four-cylinder engine, along with a T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain that delivers 400 hp. Seeing the S90 in person makes us even more impatient for Volvo to modernize the rest of its lineup, specifically the 60-series cars. Patience, please. Patience.
Photo Credit ©Various Automakers, but we shot that stunning header image ourselves.