The 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit is lighter on new-car debuts than it has been in the past. That could have proven to be a disappointment to the most devout car enthusiasts. But if you look closer, there are essentially no SUV debuts here-and that leaves much more room for driver's cars. Enough, in fact, for us to come up with a list of five driver's cars that have made their first appearance here in the cold and snow of Detroit. The summer driving season can't come soon enough.
2009 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT S
The Quattroporte might seem like old news-the stunning Maserati sedan has been around since 2004, after all. But rather than let a stunning product slowly go stale, Modena's finest four-door has been continually updated.
The latest incarnation is the clumsily named Quattroporte Sport GT S. It uses the same 4.7-liter V-8 from the "regular" Quattroporte S, though it produces an additional eight horsepower for a total of 433. Handling has been tightened with a lower ride height, stiffer springs, and new dampers.
Interior accents (and sport seats) join exterior enhancements that include a new, Gran Turismo-like grille and blacked out trim. Just when you thought the Quattroporte couldn't get any sexier...
2009 Pontiac G8 GXP
With all the glitz and glamour of an auto show, it's sometimes easy to overlook familiar shapes. And the G8, though handsome, is familiar. But get behind the wheel of a running GXP, and you'll have an experience you won't soon forget.
The GXP uses the unmodified driveline-engine and transmission-from the current Corvette. The LS3 V-8 produces 415 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque, which is then funneled through a Tremec six-speed manual transmission. That's the first-ever self-shifter in a G8. The GXP is available with a six-speed automatic, too, but the automatic removes the fun of rowing the short-throw shifter and manipulating the progressive clutch. The automatic is actually the faster of the two GXPs, hitting 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, according to Pontiac.
That's an impressive number, but it tells only part of the story. Unlike Detroit muscle cars of yore, the Australian-designed and built GXP rounds out the enthusiast's dream with accurate (if a little numb) steering, great brakes, and positively sublime chassis balance. Stiff antiroll bars and a progressive mechanical limited slip all help to make the GXP one of the best-balanced sedans on the planet. If sideways is your middle name, the GXP is definitely
2010 Audi R8 V10
Many would say that the last thing the impressive Audi R8 needs is more power. To be honest, they're pretty accurate in that assessment. Still, the 4.2-liter V-8 is a tad linear in its power delivery for our taste and the R8 starts to fall on its face at 175 mph. The V-10 engine will fix the high-speed pull "issue" as Audi claims the 525 hp R8 won't run out of steam until 196 mph. As for the power delivery, we'll let you know when we drive the hotter R8. The only question now is if Audi will sell the 5.2-liter V-10 R8 in the States. Here's hoping.
2010 Jaguar XFR
Just check out the details. A supercharged, 5.0-liter with direct-injection developing 510 hp sits under the hood. That impressive output is routed through a beefed up version of the superb six-speed ZF automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Mix in new adaptive dampers supplied by Bilstein and trick electronic rear differential that transfer 90% of torque across the rear axle and Jaguar has a car that should worry the BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG. Jaguar chassis guru Mike Cross helped make the present XF Supercharged a very special car to drive (and a 2009 All-Star) and he gave us a confident smirk when we asked him how much better the R version is to drive. We can't wait to have a go later this winter.
2009 Volkswagen Concept BlueSport
The only thing wrong with VW's roadster concept is the engine. The Concept BlueSport is light enough that a direct-injection, turbocharged gasoline engine would result in a very fast two-seater but still return impressive gas mileage. We just don't see the point in dropping a diesel engine-with their typically boring, low-revving powerband-into a light sportscar. Still, the rest of the Concept BlueSport is fantastic. It looks great, kind of a baby Boxster with some Mazda MX-5 details dropped in. So VW, listen up: replace the oil-burner with the 272 hp 2.0-liter engine out of the Audi TTS, drop in a real-deal six-speed manual transmission, and build this car. Heck, we'd be happy with a 200-hp version of the engine out of the GTI.