The 2017 North American International Auto Show opens its doors to the public at Detroit’s Cobo Center on January 13, with a regrettable list of AWOLs (Jaguar, Porsche, Mini, and Land Rover prominent among them); a strong list of world debuts; a tasty sprinkling of concept vehicles; and the promised return of an iconic Ford nameplate in the not-too-distant future.
Ford won recognition for vehicles that weren’t at the show. In fact, not only were they not at the show, they don’t even exist. Yet.
The company plans to renew its mid-size Ranger pickup, absent since 2012, in late 2018 as a 2019 model. Much more exciting, Ford plans to resuscitate its iconic Bronco SUV for the 2020 model year. If/when it actually shows up, it looks a sure thing for a future 10 That Matter list.
To assist in navigating what new debuts truly did matter at the show, we’ve broken them down into categories according to image and function, a la “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Our sequel: The Fast, The Familial, and the Funky.
And of course we open our cars that matter begin with the hot stuff—cars that provide transportation for the spirit, as well as the flesh.
Though not as potent as some of the other go-faster debutantes, the Kia Stinger has the best back story, tracing its history to the stunning Kia GT concept car displayed at the 2011 Frankfurt auto show. Though it seemed a sure bet for production, it disappeared after the show, and like so many show cars, was soon forgotten. But it was not forgotten inside Kia. Fast forward forward to now. The slick fastback sedan echoes the lines of the Frankfurt show car, and the rear-drive chassis benefits from extensive test track development, including the Germany’s demanding Nurburgring. There are two engines—a 255 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (standard), and a 365-hp 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6, both paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Kia calls it “the highest performance production vehicle in the company’s history.” Top speed: 167 mph. We’re ready to drive right now.
The Stinger matters because it upstages anything to come from a Korean carmaker. Due in showrooms late next fall.
Mercedes-Benz AMG GT C
As a dramatic departure from corporate norms, the Stinger was a Detroit standout, but as noted it wasn’t the flat-out hottest new ride at the show. That distinction belongs to the Mercedes AMG GT C coupe, with 550 hp, 502 lb-ft of torque from a new 4.0-liter turbo V8, adaptive suspension, four-wheel steering, wider wheels, wider rear bodywork, and bigger front brakes. Formidable. The GT C shared show stand space with the standard (a word that seems a little pallid for these steamy gullwings) AMG GT and GT S, both freshened for 2017, with engine output boosted to 469 hp.
They matter because they sustain the magic of the immortal Mercedes gullwing coupes of the mid-1950s, adding contemporary agility and breathtaking performance.
Mercedes E-400 coupe
A little closer to middle class economic reality, the 2018 E-400 coupe offers more for the money—literally. Graduating from the C-class to the new E-class sedan platform, the E-400 is bigger in every dimension, its slippery sheetmetal sheltering more interior room, especially for the two rear-seat passengers. Muscle is modest by AMG standards: 329 hp from a 3.0-liter turbo V6, sending thrust to the rear wheels via a new 9-speed automatic. M-B’s 4Matic all-wheel drive is available as an option. For those with a need for speed, an AMG version is in the works. On sale this summer.
The E-400 matters because its seductive sheetmetal is wrapped around a more capable chassis, and its expanded dimensions make it a real four-passenger ride.
Audi A5/S5 Cabriolet
The Audi 5 family continues to expand, with the addition of A5 and S5 convertibles. Bigger and lighter (by almost 100 pounds) than their predecessors, the new droptops are also roomier and more tech-intensive. A 252-hp 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder powers the A5, and a 354-hp 3.5-liter turbo V6 propels the sportier S5, both engines paired with automatic transmissions—a 7-speed dual clutch (DSG) for the A5, an 8-speed torque converter automatic in the S5. Both models have Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system. Noteworthy techno features include seatbelt-integrated microphones, for hands-free telephonics, and the increasingly universal foot-swipe auto trunk opener.
Like their rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, new Audis matter because they contribute to the dynamic edge that has long distinguished this Teutonic trio. And Audi continues to set the pace for interior development.
BMW 550i xDrive
The Bayerische Motoren Werke presented its versions of the number funf—BMW 550i xDrive, a plug-in hybrid variant, the 530e iPerformance, as well as more familiar model designations, the 530i and 540i. The all-wheel drive 550i xDrive will roll out with 456 hp, and 480 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, and standard all-wheel drive. Capable of 0-to-60 mph in 4.0 seconds, according to BMW, it’s the ultimate driving machine in the 5-series family—until the next M5 comes along. Expanding BMW’s electrified offerings, the 530e combines a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and an electric motor for a potential combined output of 248 hp and 310 lb-ft. It will be available in rear- and all-wheel drive editions. Though Detroit was the first public display of the 2018 5-series sedans in the U.S., the 530i and 540i have been seen and driven by representatives of many North American news outlets—enthusiast magazines and web sites. The new sedans are fractionally larger than their predecessors, a little lighter, loaded with new tech features, conservatively styled, and difficult to discern from the previous generation. They’ll begin reaching U.S. showrooms in February.
The 5-series matters because it’s BMW’s number two volume sedan offering (behind the smaller 3-series), with adult-size rear-seat roominess, handsome interiors, and excellent dynamics. Has BMW become a little obsessive with high tech gizmology? Your call on that one. But Bimmers still excel at driver gratification, and continue to race the state of that art.
Lexus LS 550
On the other side of the Cobo center main hall, Lexus unveiled a new flagship sedan, the 2018 LS 550. Based on a stretched version of the architecture that supports the hot LC coupe, the new sedan will be long-wheelbase only, to compete directly with autobahn lords like the Audi A8, BMW 7-series, and Mercedes S-class. It’s a formula reminiscent of the original Lexus LS 400 chutzpah 30 years ago. Like that long-ago original, the latest LS has ample—but not extravagant—power from a twin-turbo direct injection V6: 415 hp, 442 lb-ft. Unlike the original, it’s no longer a formal sedan. Instead it adopts flowing fastback lines. Also unlike the 1990 LS 400, it sustains the new trademark spindle grille.
Three decades ago, Toyota spawned a new luxury division to challenge the German troika that dominated the luxury sedan market. The new Lexus LS matters because it has the right stuff to reinvigorate its ongoing quest for a place in the luxury sedan sun.
Subaru WRX, WRX STI
Though these two compacts are far from all-new—changes for the 2018 models amount to detail upgrades rather than a major makeover: new front fascia, revised suspension tuning, revised electric steering, electronically controlled limited slip differential, brake upgrades, improved collision performance, an adaptive headlight option, infotainment updates (bigger—though still comparatively small—center dash displays), and a Performance package for the WRX. The turbocharged flat-four engines are familiar: a 2.0-liter (268 hp, 258 lb-ft) for the WRX, a 2.5-liter in the STI (305 hp, 290 lb-ft). A 6-speed manual transmission is standard for both engines, as is all-wheel drive. The two freshened Subies are due to go on sale in the spring.
Why they matter: Subaru has an unusually successful history in the hairy world of high performance rally racing, and the WRX and STI are the production distillations of that experience. Both of these rascals are quick—0-to-60 mph in less than five seconds—both are athletic, both exhibit sports car braking performance and grip, and both have an exceptionally high fun-to-drive index.
Is the Camry important to Toyota? Its Detroit world debut, conducted by no less a presenter than CEO Akio Toyoda, suggests yes. The new Camry is designed to shake off its decades-long label of boring. Hunkered down with a lower roofline, lower beltline, and wider stance, the Camry’s new sheetmetal and sporty proportions are hard to ignore. There’s drama in the interior design as well. But boring is as boring does. Will the Camry’s new architecture, shared with the Prius, support driver-gratifying dynamics? How about 0-to-60 mph? That’s a wait and see. Output of updated gasoline engines—a new 2.5-liter four (standard) and 3.5-liter V6—was not revealed, though Toyota did reveal a new 8-speed automatic transmission. A hybrid version will also have the new four-cylinder. Will this major makeover finally raise the Camry’s fun-to-drive index? We’ll see.
But keep in mind that, boring or not, the Camry matters because it’s been America’s bestselling passenger car for decades.
Honda may not have invented the minivan, but in the last decade or so it’s redefined the segment, seizing a leadership mantle for its innovation, packaging, and dynamics. Due to go on sale this spring, the 2018 Odyssey will be the fifth generation, and promises to bring an even higher level of competence to its dynamic resume, thanks to a 44 percent improvement in structural rigidity, according to Honda. The revised 3.5-liter direct injection V6 engine will deliver 280 horsepower, 32 more than the gen four version, and the increased thrust will get to the front wheels via either a 9-speed ZF automatic transmission (standard) or a new Honda 10-speed. Honda anticipates quicker 0-to-60 mph times and improved fuel economy. The all-new sheetmetal gives the Odyssey a squat, sporty look, and cleverly disguises the rear door slide tracks. Interior updates include enhanced infotainment, a “cabin watch” feature that allows those up front to monitor what’s going on in rows two and three, and a “magic slide” center row seat arrangement. Not only do the center seats adjust fore and aft, by removing the center section that can be moved from side to side. The new Odyssey will also make the full suite of Honda Sensing driver assist safety features standard in all but the basic LX trim level.
The new Odyssey matters because (a) it’s the leader of the minivan pack, and (b) the fourth generation is challenged by Chrysler’s new Pacifica, winner of the 2017 North American Utility of the Year award.
And The Funky
Volkswagen I.D. Buzz
In the wake of its diesel debacle, VW has committed itself to an electrified vehicle future, and this uninhibited little people-mover concept is intended to reinforce that corporate about-face. The concept’s foundation is VW’s MEB architecture, an electric vehicle adaptation of the versatile MQB front platform underpinning many new Volkswagen vehicles. A production example is the updated e-Golf, about to hit the market with increased driving range (over 350 miles). There are electric motors at both ends of the Buzz, nourished by an lithium-ion battery pack. Interior features include a steering wheel that stows itself in the dash when the Buzz isn’t buzzing, and seats for eight. VW design honcho Klaus Bischoff is bullish on the I.D. Buzz, but don’t expect to see a production version before 2022. If at all.
Why it matters: The Buzz reinforces VW’s electric propulsion initiative, but more important it’s fun. Auto shows need fun. Footnote: if the Buzz reminds you of the VW Microbus (1950 – 1979), you must be a Baby Boomer.
Photo Credit: © 2017 Autoweb