Detroit 2013 Hits and Misses – Donny Nordlicht

The general sentiment around the floor at the Cobo Center during the 2013 Detroit auto show was one of excitement and energy despite the fact that there wasn’t much in the way of show-stopping new metal on the floor beyond the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. I saw that as a boon – the current crop of cars on sale today are so good that it’s harder to pick out the few dark spots from a very bright automotive landscape; however, there was still some bad to be had.

Hit: 2014 Cadillac ELR

I wasn’t excited for the 2014 Cadillac ELR. On paper, it’s a tarted-up Chevrolet Volt with a glitzy body and Cadillac’s awful CUE infotainment system. Upon seeing it in the metal on the show floor, I changed my tune. Cadillac’s designers did a fantastic job of balancing aerodynamic curves with the brand’s signature creases. The front end is a little too rounded for my tastes, and the A-pillar hard points mirror those from the Volt (read: look awkward), but the profile and rear views are stunning. A character line rises sharply across each of the doors and widens to give the ELR some seriously sexy hips, which, in turn, are exaggerated by the long wraparound LED taillights. General Motors has finally figured out how to do a sumptuous cabin in the 21st century; while CUE may not function well – I was told that a fix in already in the works – its button-free faceplate and large touchscreen at least look good.

As I drove away from the auto show after the second press day, I began picturing myself behind the wheel of an ELR. If it weren’t for a price tag expected to be around $70,000, this Caddy would be on my short list for a new car.

Miss: Toyota Corolla Furia Concept

The current Corolla is about to be replaced. Instead of showing off the all-new 2014 Corolla early in 2013, Toyota showed off this concept that is supposedly “85 percent the new Corolla.” I hope that remaining 15 percent is the entirety of the exterior.

Fussy is a good descriptor for the new Corolla. Strip away the bright orange paint, the oversized wheels, and the giant body kit, and you’re left with a fairly bland-looking car with a bunch of out-of-place details. Most offensive is the C-pillar: the daylight opening kicks up toward the end of the rear door to point toward a convex surface created by the trunk lid. However, Toyota’s designers have created a crease that continues the sill line aft of the door cut…but not too far back! Despite being about level with the top of the taillights, this unnecessary crease fades away before reaching anything. The nose attempts to ape the well-received Avalon, but instead mixes sharp accents (the headlights, the upper grille) with soft curves (the shape of the fascia, the swollen wheel arches). There is also another rogue crease on the front, as well – a sharp line (that could have been, but is not the hood cut line) runs from the corner of each headlamp toward the mirrors, but doesn’t meet the window sills.

I guess it’s a good thing that few – if any – Corolla buyers purchase the car based on style.

Hit: 2014 Lexus IS

Conservative, staid, vanilla Lexus rolled out the all-new 2014 IS at the Detroit show, and the car’s design is really eye-catching. I commend Lexus for breaking out of its shell and being willing to take some big risks. No, this isn’t the first time Lexus has done a daring design, but I don’t count the LFA because of its low production numbers and I find the brand’s new spindle grille garishly exaggerated in F Sport guise. No, the IS is a big step for Lexus and I quite like it. My favorite detail is the separate LED running lights from the headlight clusters; however, I wish that the headlight units were a more traditional shape.

Misses: Toyota and Nissan Show Stands

Nissan made a big hullabaloo prior to this year’s Detroit show about its new stand design, which includes an eye-catching, cantilevered halo and a nose-catching, specially-designed scent. While the halo was definitely interesting, the support created a very closed-off display that banished all but two or three cars to the outer ring where they couldn’t be seen from elsewhere on the stand. The design itself is quite nice and the red/white/black color scheme was appealing, but didn’t fade into the background enough to showcase the cars. The smell fell somewhere between unnoticeable, new tires, and too much Febreze, and didn’t add to my show-going experience.

Toyota’s stand was tucked away in a corner of Cobo and done up in a white and grey color scheme. At least, I think it was. The stand felt cheap and as though there was little effort put into its design and layout; those I spoke to at the show agreed that it felt like a begrudging showing by the Japanese juggernaut, as though their presence was only out of obligation. The automaker also chose to (rightfully) hide its flashy concept of the 2014 Corolla way in the back, far from where any passer-by would see it. There was one smart move: the models staged closest to the walkway were the new 2013 RAV4 and Avalon – some of Toyota’s best offerings in its current range.