Welcome to 2012. It’s January. It’s freezing. It’s car show time. And in Detroit that’s a big deal.
This year, we got the mojo back and smiling faces were in abundance at Cobo’s press preview week. Seems car industry gurus unanimously agree that 2012 will be considerably better than 2011. Part of that has to do with folks hanging onto their cars longer through this wicked recession while near epic rot-out just makes a new car purchase simply inevitable. But sales are also predicted to grow because carmakers have some pretty cool iron to sell. Indeed, walking around Cobo we guarantee there’s something here that will coax you to open your wallet. And here’s the really good news; our hometown carmakers are kicking some serious ass at this show. Without being cocky, the Detroit automaker executives we spoke with all agree that they are in predatory mode to snatch a bit more market share as foreign carmakers continue to look vulnerable. Motown is back to making hits. And that’s really good for the D. Likewise, event organizers are anticipating bigger crowds at the show this year with a bit of the economic uptick compared to the last couple” Autopocalypse” years. So finding a good parking spot might be a bit harder than last year. So check out surface parking where others won’t look (hint: we found a couple great lots a block or two north of Cobo for pretty fair prices). And don’t forget the Millender Center parking with a convenient connection to the People Mover.
Bigger and more interactive displays are the rule now as carmakers look to create a more engaging experience between consumers and their brands. From QR code readers to engaging exhibits that pull you into the live presentation, technology is powering a way cooler car show. Ford continues to lead other carmakers by far with hands on and collaborative exhibits throughout their display. For example, you can be a human pylon while Ken Block goes all hoon around you in his rally car. Other brands have cool stuff too. Go dance with the Kia Hamsters on the big screen or make some customized buttons over at the Chevy display.
We hope this “tour” helps you see what you’re interested in without wasting time. Follow our virtual tour here and you’ll find the coolest stuff in no time…
Small Is the New Big Part Deux
The small car trend has been in evidence over the past couple years in the wake of high gas prices. The reality is that small cars are nowhere near the crappy little beer can cars most of us grew up with. Indeed, most of the new small cars at this year’s show are roomy, loaded with technology and innovations and look stylish despite their affordable stickers. What’s more, look at the performance now available in small packages. The return of the “pocket rocket”, (small cars with hot performance), is also in glorious abundance at this show. Who says you need a wad of cash to look cool and go fast?…
The Dodge Dart will replace the forgettable Caliber and it looks pretty solid; especially with base pricing opening up at $15,995. The Dart sports Charger design cues riding on top of new owner FIAT technology. Check out the cool instruments inside too. This will definitely be the best Chrysler small car, well, maybe since the Dart was Chrysler’s small car back in the ‘70’s. We say it will definitely corner the market on bad ass attitude in small cars. The Dart arrives in the first half of 2012.
The Chevrolet Sonic has been a breath of fresh air for the bow-tie brand. Look for the sporty RS version at this year’s show featuring a six speed manual mated to a four cylinder turbo and hip wheels, bodykit and interior trim.
2013 Chevrolet Spark: Available in a host of hot colors, including "techno" pink, this Korean-built minicar has a 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. Infotainment and connectivity are emphasized in the Spark and there are also 10 airbags for piece of mind. While you’re at the Chevy stand, check out the two Gen Y concept cars; the Tru 140S and Code 130R and vote for your favorite. What’s more fun than a Mini? How about a topless Mini? The Mini Roadster follows the hot Mini coupe and goes on sale in February starting at $25K.
Scion FR-S coupe: A lot of folks thought scion designers were all hungover at the design keyboard until they saw this cool little machine. Tons of style, 200 HP, affordable pricing and rear wheel drive are a winning formula…
Hyundai Elantra: Yoostabe Hyundais were the butt of all bad car jokes but here’s more proof that Hyundai is one hot car company. The Elantra won North American Car of the year honors and when you look at how good it looks and then step inside you see why. It’s just a great little car for the money.
Hyundai also brings a little more fire to their small machines with a turbo version of the hip Veloster they launched at NAIAS last year. Also here is a re-styled version of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe with new four cylinder and a re-engineered V-6. You know those cool “flat color” helmets Oregon wears? Hyundai will be the first volume car brand to offer flat paint color on their products. What’s more, you don’t have to wax the paint either.
Smart is out to prove that there’s life in the funky microcar after all. They’ll show a two-seat electric pick-up called For-Us. The vehicle is being developed with Renault and is said to go on sale in 2014.
VW Beetle Concept R: While the old Beetle was a chick car, the new one has been taking steroid injections and karate classes while borrowing from the Porsche styling bin to prove it can be a dudes car too. This concept is their take on a high performance Beetle and we likey very much.
Green is Good
Carmakers are responding to upcoming mandatory fuel regulations with more efficient gas engines, hybrids and pure electric vehicles. Every manufacturer is pursuing their play on fuel economy and environmental responsibility. As such, innovative technologies are in abundance on the show floor. Ford is making big news at this show with their green vehicles as they fire a couple salvos at Toyota. And even luxury cars are showing some really brilliant ideas in green mobility. Don’t forget to go downstairs behind the VW exhibit where you can take a ride in a host of innovative electric vehicles like Amp’s Mercedes and Grand Cherokee; these vehicles are the biggest of their kind and the polluting gas engine has been removed for an efficient pure electric zero emissions solution.
Toyota is the company that democratized the hybrid with the Prius and they are certainly not ready to relinquish their leadership crown. They bring the next gen Prius C hatchback here along with the NS4 plug-in hybrid concept that Toyota thinks will surprise people with its advanced plug-in capability.
2012 Ford Focus Electric: With the Focus Electric, Ford brings some big swagger to the electric vehicle segment. It seats five yet Ford says it's capable of more than 100 miles per gallon equivalent, exceeding the Chevrolet Volt, and Ford claims that it recharges faster than the Nissan because it uses a 240-volt system.
Carmakers have taken a serious look in the mirror about what the next generation of luxury cars should really be. The answer seems to be changing and we see proof at this show. Brands are getting more expressive and bold in their designs while they continue to add more sensibility and active safety underhood with more advanced infotainment and thoughtful craftsmanship in interiors. The new luxury is about being smarter we think.
BMW’s Green Machine Emporium: BMW brings to Cobo a simply incredible level of new green tech, from the highly controversial i3 city car to the world premier of the 2012 ActiveHybrid 3, which the company says is the first-ever full hybrid among premium, compact sport sedans. By adding an electric motor between the turbocharged six-cylinder engine and the eight-speed automatic transmission, BMW makes a claimed double-digit fuel efficiency gain. The car is also capable of operating in electric mode. The rear-mounted, 170-horsepower electric motor drives the rear wheels on the BMW i3 concept, draws from a pack of lithium-ion cells. Range is forecast to be as great as 140 miles. Price target: around $40,000.
The crown jewel for BMW is the i8 concept; think super car meets super green. Outside is a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic body. Inside is 2+2 seating. The i8 concept is a hybrid, with the likely choice of a rear-mounted, three-cylinder 1.5-liter gas engine receiving assist from two electric motors, one at each end. Outlook: a price tag over $150,000. (A turbo V-8 version could well surpass $200,000.)
Lincoln’s Big Show: Lincoln displays an extremely important reveal of the all-new MK-Z. The MK-Z concept received a lot of praise for its clean and chiseled styling. And the all-new display is simply huge and gorgeous. Most press event attendees judged Lincoln’s display to be the most attractive in the show. So this is a very positive first glimpse of the emerging Lincoln with design and technology as the brands’ centerpieces.
Lexus LF-LC Coupe: This car with a silly acronym name aims to prove that Lexus has more swag than most people give it credit. The press judged this one as a very significant concept statement. Mash-up the Lexus LF supercar with a two-door IS coupe and here’s what you get. Guess what, it may be offered as a hybrid too. Acura’s Comeback: Many have criticized Acura styling as being acid-trip influenced of late. Well, check out the NSX concept out to change all that. Expected in less than three years, it’s powered by a V-6 mated to a lithium battery pack with power going to all four wheels. There’s also the way important ILX small luxury sedan and re-designed RDX crossover while you’re there.
2013 Mercedes SL Roadster: If you’ve got the stacks, here’s your ride. It’s longer and lighter than the outgoing SL and it goes on sale next spring. Mercedes will also feature a bevy of hybrids and fuel efficient diesels.
Cadillac ATS: Expected in the second half of 2012, the ATS is the little brother of the successful CTS. The ATS is designed to better mix it up with the smaller BMW 3 Series and will be powered by two different four cylinder engines and an available V-6. The ATS is the lightest Caddy ever and tuned to deliver autobahn performance. This is a critically important vehicle for Cadillac and it will be built in Lansing.
2012 BMW 3-Series: This is the North American premier of the sixth generation 3-series. While not radically different, the new 3 looks like it went to a Malibu spa and lost a few pounds, then picked up a tailored Hugo Boss suit on Rodeo Drive. A turbocharged four is standard, and the 335i comes with a twin-turbo six. An eight-speed automatic transmission is also new to the mix.
Bentley Continental GT: Hey, you probably can’t afford it but what the hell. It’s the king of bling and comes with 500 horsepower. And if it makes you feel any better, even this rig comes with better fuel economy. It burns premium but expect it to return somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 mpg in the city, and 27 mpg. Not bad, huh? Maserati Kabang Concept – Should Porsche build four door cars? They did. And it worked. So maybe the idea of a Maserati SUV isn’t so dumb. Underneath this good looking rig with a stupid name is a Jeep platform. This vehicle will become Maserati’s best seller and who knows, it just might be built down on Jefferson Avenue’s Jeep plant. For realz.
Range Rover Evoque: The Range Rover Evoque could be powered by 1 million leaking D-Cell batteries or a ticking nuclear bomb and we would still love it. This whip is just freakin’ drop dead gorgeous. Seems North American Car-of-the Year journalists agree as it got the trophy for North American Truck of the Year and lotsa other praise from car designers too for its hot design. Ooooh la la baby.
The Crossover Boutique
The death of SUV’s (now disguised as crossovers) has been greatly exaggerated. Truth is, folks still love rugged and spacious utilities that ride high and feature all-wheel drive. And continually, SUV’s have been hitting the gym losing extra pounds and taking on smarter technology from cars to deliver more carlike safety, performance and fuel economy.
Audi All-Road: Audi was at the forefront of the luxury crossover trend and the New Audi All-Road breathes new life into the name. Based on the A4 Avant wagon, the 2013 Audi A4 allroad quattro has a ground clearance of about 7 inches for capable all-wheel-drive performance, and around 50 cubic feet of cargo space.
2013 Ford Escape: The Escape is a bread and butter vehicle for Ford and this new one has homerun written all over it. It features Ford’s kinetic design language, better fuel economy, and a super swank interior that mirrors what we’ve seen in other new Fords.
Buick Encore: The Encore brings “quiet-tuning” noise isolation to the cabin, along with some nice interior design we’ve come to expect from the new range of Buicks. If you’re looking for a small x-over with some subtle and tasteful luxury trim, this Buick is worth a look.
Nissan Pathfinder: Hey maybe we’re drinking the hometown Kool-Aid but this all-new Pathfinder left us a little cold. Sure, it has way more comfort, features and technology but not enough to offset its safe and seen-it-before style. What do you think? Mazda CX-5: We think this is a nice looking little rig and Skyactiv technology will help improve gas mileage. The CX-5 will get 35 mpg highway. Like all Mazdas, expect this one to be fun-to-drive.
Honda CRV: The CRV has been a big success for Honda. The look gets a bit cleaner and there are more tech features that make it more appealing as well.
Battle for the Middle
While industry volumes have been moving to smaller vehicles recently, mid-size cars are still a huge segment of the market and they put a lot of dough into carmakers pockets. This show gives us a glimpse of three really big volume players from GM, Ford and Honda.
Ford Fusion: The Fusion has been a big success for Ford and we see the new one raising the bar even higher. This car was probably the biggest news during media preview and definitely the most talked about. Once again, Ford’s Euro inspired kinetic design adds a lot of cachet to the blue oval. The grille on the car whispers Aston Martin and the car just oozes luxury details and technology with a plethora of active safety features. This car should make Toyota and Honda nervous.
Chevrolet Malibu: The current Malibu brought GM back into the mid-size fray and this new one looks every bit as good. The first of the new Malibus is expected in showrooms no later than March and it will be called the Eco model. The Eco uses the latest eAssist mild-hybrid system to achieve a claimed 37 miles per gallon in highway driving. Chevrolet says the Malibu is the brand's quietest car ever. The car is attractively priced at $26,000.
Honda Accord Concept Coupe: While Honda is expected to debut a 2 door coupe in Detroit, we hear rumors that the all-important four door will share many of the same styling cues. Honda has been losing Accord sales recently and really needs to shake up things with a bit more edge to their designs. | RDW
North American International Auto Show • 1/14-1/21, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. (no admittance after 9 p.m.); 1/22, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (no admittance after 6 p.m.) • Cobo Center • 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit • 248.643.0250 • naias.com • Adults $12, Seniors (65+ years) $6, Children (7-12 years) $6, Children (6 and under) Free