Hit: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. Yes, everybody loves the new Chevrolet Corvette, and the stand was absolutely packed on both days of the Detroit show. I am very impressed with how the futuristic the new design looks, and how much the production Corvette resembles some racy concept car. Moreover, it should be an absolute riot to drive: you can criticize the crummy interior all you want, but America’s sports car offers a boatload of performance for a modest amount of money (compared to the best from Europe, that is). The new Chevrolet Corvette looks great, it’s certain to drive well, and I can’t wait to get behind the wheel.
Hit: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class. I’m amused that Mercedes considers its CLA-Class to be small and affordable — it’s longer than a C-Class sedan and will cost at least $30,000 — yet I still can’t get enough of this new coupe-ish sedan. It looks very sharp, and I appreciate all the clever details like frameless windows and LED taillights with light piping. Using the same front-wheel-drive architecture as the A- and B-Class from Europe is a smart move that will help Mercedes sell the car at lower prices for a higher profit. Mercedes hopes that the CLA-Class will allow a whole new set of buyers to creep into the company’s showrooms, and I think the plan will succeed. Why buy a Buick Verano, Acura ILX, or Volkswagen CC when you could have a similarly sized Mercedes for the same money?
Hit: 2014 Lexus IS. I have been pretty lukewarm on recent Lexus redesigns: cars like the GS and ES are pleasant to look at but don’t really hold my attention. The new Lexus IS, however, looks fantastic. It is sharp, poised, and taut, just like we expect from a sports sedan. The lower edges of the rear doors sweep upwards in tandem with the rocker panels; funky taillights droop down into the rear-fender creases; and the pointed, jutting front end is perhaps the best interpretation to date of Lexus’ new grille design. And on top of that, the super-cool, futuristic LCD gauge cluster is based on the one in the LFA supercar. Oh, and there’s plenty of equipment to back up the sporty looks: strong V-6 engines, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and a new suspension.
Miss: 2014 Infiniti Q50. The G35 and G37 were great cars — yes, they were luxurious, but the primary appeal was taut, muscular styling and powerful V-6 engines. The Infiniti G made a decent alternative to a BMW, Mercedes, or Audi sport coupe or sedan. Too bad that the new Q50 is now a bloated, bulbous design that looks nothing like its sporting predecessors. I fear the new Infiniti entry sedan has become more of a luxury car than a 3-Series fighter. Based on the styling, I have little interest in driving one. Based on the specifications revealed so far, it should drive decently for its class, but the addition of a hybrid model convinces me the Q50 has abandoned the G35/37’s performance roots.
Miss: 2014 Nissan Versa Note. The styling of the newly arrived Versa hatchback, dubbed Versa Note, puts me off from the start. It looks like an odd blend of the Nissan Leaf (grinning front bumper and headlights) and Honda Fit (tall greenhouse), which is not an appealing design. Other automakers can make attractive compact hatchbacks, but the Note seriously fails on this count. Nissan’s Andy Palmer told me that, because the Versa Note shares its V-platform with several other small Nissans sold around the world, it was easy to cut costs and keep the car affordable. Clearly: the interior plastics are exceptionally hard and plain, and some of the secondary controls move and flex when you touch them. At least the rear seat has tons of leg- and headroom, the entry price is low, and the trunk is spacious — for some buyers, those are all the things that matter.