Detroit 2009: Five Favorite Designs

Automobile Magazine’s opinionated Design Editor, Robert Cumberford, sifts the wheat from the chaff at Detroit’s Cobo Hall.

2009 Cadillac Converj Concept

The idea of presenting Chevy Volt technology in a stylish luxury car is good. Flawlessly executing the styling so the resulting coupe-which seamlessly incorporates traditional and recent design cues-is at once instantly recognizable as coming from a specific brand is brilliant. Simon Cox and his team did a great job. In styling terms the only jarring visual aspect of the Cadillac Converj, inside or out, was the cutsey-poo nameplate. And even there the typography was elegant. The Converj confirms that Cadillac has firmly re-established itself as a worthy provider of luxury cars with respectable technology. Cadillac is not back to Standard of the World yet, but that goal is in sight.


Whether you like this hypercivilized, retracting-hardtop, two-seat convertible or not, you must admire the restraint expressed on the exterior and the warmth of the cockpit design, by far the best from BMW in a very long time. The Z4‘s body-surface development is so subtly done that not everyone will appreciate how beautifully handled are some of the difficult convex-concave transitions. Its top-down proportions do nothing to tell you that there is a hard top tucked in back. Unlike typical convertible-coupes, this is not a fat-tailed compromise, thanks to carefully painstaking work done by lead exterior designer Juliane Biasi and Nadya Arnaout for the interior.

2009 Audi Sportback Concept

Sure, the general idea of an aerodynamic, coupelike four-door came from Mercedes-Benz (although Rover had a defiantly anti-aerodynamic chopped-top four-door carrying the Coup name decades back), but Audi’s execution of its Sportback concept is far more graceful than other Mercedes-Benz CLS clones, and its detailing is exquisite, inside and out. We have become accustomed to Audi interiors being better than all others, but its own designers wanted a new direction, and the Audi Sportback’s spare, airy cabin is warmed by the application of fine laminations of dark and light woods, the dark acting as contour lines. It is all quite beautiful and promises to spark off a new trend.

2009 Volkswagen Concept BlueSport

VW has proffered many two-seat sports cars in the past decade or so, even including one with just three wheels, but none seemed so likely to be produced, nor were any as immediately appealing, as this little diesel-powered bullet. The Concept BlueSport looks like fun, and it has a subliminal visual aura evoking VW Beetles and Karmann-Ghias, suggesting robust reliability and a satisfying driving experience. Sadly, it also looks to be moderately expensive to build, so the likelihood of it coming to America, whether as a finished product or something to make in VW’s upcoming Tennessee factory, seems minimal. That’s too bad, as Volkswagen and American drivers would both benefit were the Concept BlueSport made available here.

2009 Lincoln C Concept

Yet another highly appealing Freeman Thomas cartoon car following in the wheel tracks of the Volkswagen New Beetle, the , and the Chrysler 300C, the Lincoln Concept C presages a different kind of luxury car. Interior volume is equal to the beloved 1961 Lincoln, but overall length is in territory. A wide track and wheels at the corners give it a firmly reassuring stance, rather like the original Morris Mini Minor, in fact. The funky hubless steering wheel will probably never make it to production (although it should), but the sumptuous, elegant, and refined interior with superbly integrated electronics seems a certainty. Outside, there are odd antecedents: the truncated rear recalls the just-replaced Renault Mégane, and the jumped-up front fender profile is the latest Japanese hot lick. Never mind, this package and the EcoBoost power are the future.