There is no celebration of the automobile quite like the annual North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) held every January in frigid Detroit. But it’s cozy warm inside Cobo Center, and the show is rife with prototypes and news of the cars yet to come, sports car draped with pretty girls, green machines with planet-saving technology, and, of course, the mainstream vehicles that are most likely to land in our driveways.
Automobile sales are up: 16.5 million light vehicles moved out of showrooms in 2014, the most since 2006. The mood on the expansive show floor of the 2015 NAIAS felt undeniably positive, and with good reason: Making their debuts was an impressive smorgasbord of sexy and technologically advanced metal. While performance cars dominated the show (Ford took the prize in this category), there were also some important pickup trucks, a notable green-car game changer, and some interestingly cool concept vehicles.
AutoWeb exhaustively walked the show for two straight days, eyes and ears alert, to capture the 10 most popular debuts in Detroit.
2017 Ford GT
Ford stole the show with three performance products, easily grabbing the show’s spotlight with the all-new Ford GT. It’s hard to believe that Ford could make a sexier car than the 2005-06 GT, which was a virtual copy of the legendary Le Mans racer from the 1960s, but somehow the Blue Oval pulled it off. The upcoming 2017 GT boasts a carbon-fiber tub wrapped with sensuous air-cheating body panels constructed of the same lightweight material. The car retains its mid-engine layout but trades a 540-horsepower supercharged 5.4-liter V8 for a new twin-turbocharged EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 that promises more than 600 ponies — and a much lighter diet of super unleaded fuel. Due late next year, the GT will be more exclusive than its limited production predecessor; only 4,038 were produced. While Ford isn’t talking price, we expect it to land in the $300,000 to $350,000 range — a bargain for a car also expected to mark Ford’s return to Le Mans.
2016 Ford Shelby Mustang GT350R
Ford unveiled the Shelby Mustang GT350 in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, but they trumped themselves in Detroit with a higher performance model, the Shelby Mustang GT350R. This more muscular Mustang will feature the same flat-plane-crank 5.2-liter V8 as the GT350, churning out the same 500-plus horses and 400-plus pound-feet of torque, but reduced weight will make it faster and more agile. Thanks to an available Track Package, which eliminates air conditioning, removes the rear seats, and adds lightweight carbon-fiber wheels (13 pounds lighter per wheel), the GT350R will tip the scales 130 pounds lighter. The new R will also feature Ford’s first MagneRide dampers, previously found on premium models from Cadillac, the Chevrolet Corvette, and Ferrari. Aero improvements, including a unique front splitter and a more aggressive rear wing, will also aid lap times. The GT350R is set to debut later this year.
2017 Ford F-150 Raptor
The Ford F-150 Raptor redefined performance pickup trucks when it debuted for the 2010 model year. Designed in the spirit of the “Prerunner” trucks that scout off-road racing courses, and fitted with dirt-course-capable underpinnings, the Raptor caught on with adventurous buyers nearly immediately. Ford showed a next-generation Raptor in Detroit that promises to be more powerful and more capable than its predecessor. The Raptor benefits from the F-150’s new aluminum body, shedding 500 pounds over its steel sibling. It gets the same wide-body stance as the last version, the Fox Racing shocks return — now more robust — and the suspension has increased travel. Under the hood is a second-generation turbocharged EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6, which should deliver more power and torque, and better fuel economy, than the last model’s 6.2-liter V8. Ford opened a lot of eyes when it announced the Raptor would debut with a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Expect it to arrive in late 2016.
2016 Cadillac CTS-V
Drop a Corvette Z06 engine under the hood of the Cadillac CTS and you have the new CTS-V (well, almost). Much to the delight of performance sedan junkies, Cadillac took the wraps off its most potent sedan yet, the 2016 CTS-V, which is powered by a version of the LS4 supercharged V8 that also motivates the range-topping Corvette Z06. With 640 horsepower on tap, the CTS-V will launch from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds on its way up to a 200-mph top speed. Built for both street and track duty, the CTS-V features oversized Brembo brakes, sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, and the third generation of GM’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension. Inside it gets Recaro sport bucket seats and the Performance Data Recorder that also debuted in the Corvette Z06. Compared to the standard CTS, it adds several underhood braces and stronger chassis components, increasing structural stiffness by a claimed 25 percent. The hood is carbon fiber, and buyers can opt for more lightweight components in the Carbon Fiber package. The 2016 CTS-V hits dealerships later this year.
2016 Acura NSX
After teasing the reborn NSX at the last two Detroit Auto Shows, Acura finally revealed the production version — and it appears to have been worth the wait. A highly advanced hybrid supercar, the NSX employs three electric motors, one on the rear axle and two up front, as well as a twin-turbocharged V6 engine, for a total output of 550 horsepower. Those front motors provide both all-wheel drive and very precise torque vectoring capabilities, an industry first. The powertrain is mounted in a lightweight chassis made of aluminum and high-strength steel with a carbon-fiber floor. Acura has been refining its NSX on challenging tracks around the world; the automaker promises it will deliver Ferrari-like performance. Pricing will start in the $150,000 range when the NSX goes on sale before the end of the year.
2016 Nissan Titan
Nissan sold just 12,527 of its full-size Titan pickups last year compared to 753,981 Ford F-150s — a small percentage of the industry leader. Giving consumers a reason to check out its truck, Nissan debuted the next-generation Titan, the 2016 Titan XD, and highlighted the truck’s class-exclusive Cummins diesel V8 engine. The 5.0-liter turbo-diesel, rated at 310 horsepower and a stump-pulling 555 pound-feet of torque, will allow the Titan to tow more than 12,000 pounds — that kind of capability puts it near the top of the segment. Those who forgo the oil burner will be offered gasoline-fed V6 and V8 engines. The Titan’s unique features will include an available integrated gooseneck hitch, an AroundView Monitor, and Nissan’s Moving Object Detection system. More details will be available as the 2016 Titan XD nears its on-sale date late this year.
2016 Toyota Tacoma
The midsize pickup market stagnated for a decade before General Motors revived the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon last year — mechanical twins. In Detroit, Toyota, the midsize pickup sales leader, responded with its updated 2016 Tacoma. Higher quality materials and a quieter ride promises that the cabin will be a more placid environment, and buyers will be able to juice-up their smartphones through Qi wireless charging. Under the hood, it gets a new 3.5-liter V6 engine with both direct and port fuel injection. The smaller V6 (it replaces a 4.0) should team with a new 6-speed automatic transmission to give the Tacoma a much-needed fuel economy boost. A stronger frame, revised suspension settings, and weight-saving ultra-high-strength steel body panels should also aid handling. Look for the new Tacoma later this year.
Chevrolet Bolt Concept
Auto pundits have speculated that General Motors could take on Tesla Motors if it put its engineering muscle into developing a long-range electric vehicle. At Detroit Chevrolet showed just that. Chevy says the Bolt Concept is a battery electric vehicle with a range exceeding 200 miles, more than twice that of GM’s other full electric, the Spark EV. However, Tesla can breathe easy, because Chevy says the Bolt will have a $30,000 starting price, giving it a much more mainstream appeal. A four-door hatchback, the Bolt incorporates lightweight materials, including aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber, to help maximize the range. No word on battery size yet, but it will certainly be sized between the Spark EV’s 21 kWh battery and the 85 kWh battery in the Tesla Model S when the Bolt goes on sale in the next few years.
Buick Avenir Concept
There was a time when Buicks were the most stylish cars on the road – sadly, that was more than 50 years ago, but the Avenir Concept represents Buick’s desire to recapture that reputation. A Buick designer told us the goal is to make Buick’s vehicles the most beautiful cars on the road. The Avenir is a large rear-drive sedan with seating for four and an interior that features flowing lines inspired by natural forces (such as the flow of water over rocks). A next-generation V6 engine with cylinder deactivation sits under the expansive hood, the transmission is a 9-speed automatic, and the car features all-wheel drive. While Buick could use a flagship sedan, don’t expect the Avenir to be built. [That’s a real disappointment, as the Avenir could be the model to turn the brand around. – Ed.] Instead watch for its styling cues to appear on future Buicks.
2016 Audi Q7
The Audi Q7 has always been a large and rather porky crossover SUV that was nonetheless quite pleasant to drive. The next-generation Q7 will be just as large, but a crash diet should make it an even better mode of family transportation. Audi says the Q7 loses over 700 pounds of mass in the redesign thanks to such measures as lighter-duty suspension components and the use of aluminum and high-strength steel for the body structure. The Q7 will offer two new powertrains, a 252-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and a plug-in hybrid system with a turbodiesel V6 that makes a total of 373 horsepower. The seven-passenger 2016 Q7, which goes on sale midyear, will also feature an improved interior with more space and a more angular exterior design that foretells future Audi styling — the Q7 has gone further upscale.