Detroit 2013 Hits and Misses — Robert Cumberford

a href="">Cadillac ELR  

Seriously dumb name, part of the provincial Detroit folks trying to ape European model-naming conventions. A car this good needs a name, not three stupid letters. Are the Government Motors guys trying to keep up with Lincoln? This is a very good looking automobile, clearly a Cadillac with its huge shield (you can’t really call it a grille when it is solid and doesn’t pass through any air) and elegantly-detailed vertical-blade taillights. The interior has a very American luxury look and feel, the steering wheel feels good in the hand, the seats are comfortable and should provide more than adequate retention in hard driving. Not that hard driving is the purpose of this fine machine. It is luxury personal transport, in near perfect silence (apart from government-decreed sounds at less than 18 mph).

We know from the Volt, recapitulated in every mechanical and electrical detail in the ELR, that this is a very good car. It comes with ride, handling and braking behavior good enough for an Automobile of the Year (2011). The ELR is going to be expensive. It has to be since it contains everything that makes the Volt too expensive to sell in predicted — or maybe just hoped-for — numbers. But it’s going to be worth the price of entry. Other luxury cars worthy of respect are expensive as well. That’s part of the appeal.

This is likely to be remembered forever as a great American car. That it embodies clear, bold style, high technology, brilliant performance in daily driving tasks, and zero local air pollution proves that Detroit is back in the game in a way that the awkward-looking, poorly equipped Volt (a flimsy rag to partially cover your luggage?) could never have provided.

No one needs a new Corvette. But the country does need an all-out green luxury car that really works, and ELR is it. But Cadillac needs a four-door, a convertible and — why not? — a limousine based on this technology platform to round out its resurgence as a brand to be respected world wide.

Hyundai HCD 14 

This concept luxury car is utterly amazing in the way it combines a gorgeous profile, an elegantly sculpted body side and intriguing concave surfaces around the convoluted twisted-taffy taillight lenses with a frankly grotesque front end graphic and some obscene sphincter-like lamps around extruding masses that recall dogs doing their business in the gutter. The grille is a concoction of bars, slots, slats, textures and colors all included in a huge rectangle, the intersection of which with the hood surface is a sharp near-right angle.

Two things provide hope. One is that Chris Chapman, who has been with Hyundai for just a year, and who executed all the admirable and very beautiful parts of the car, is too good a designer to be satisfied with the excesses of this concept car as it evolves toward production. The other is that Peter Schreyer, our Man of the Year in 20??, was named as overall design arbiter for both Kia, where he has been making great strides in recent years, and parent firm Hyundai. With such men, and the teams around them, in place, there is almost no likelihood that the wretched excesses on the ineptly-named HCD 14 will ever see the inside of a showroom near you.

Audi RS 7  

Not a new design, but an extraordinarily good one, our 2012 Automobile of the Year has been favored with some visible indications of the knowledge Audi has acquired in its successful racing program. Eleven Le Mans wins in 13 years (and one that escaped was to the credit of the Audi-based Bentley Speed Eight) has only barely shown up in the appearance of production Audis. True, the R 8 and TT RS have some aerodynamic elements that recall the racers, but until this car, overt exposition of solid carbon fiber pieces both interior and exterior was not part of the plan. A particularly nice diffuser, all in carbon fiber, subtly decorates the lower face of the rear end, and there are other carbon pieces in the front end, including the grille and some fictive but visually convincing blades at the outer ends of the lower frontal air intakes.

The Quattro name is writ large across the center of the car just below the upper portion of the single-frame grille, and the whole exterior aspect of the car subtly suggests a reservoir of knowledge about light materials, new technologies and aerodynamics. Elegant understatement visually and exuberant performance make a nicely contrasting pair of attributes. This is the car I’d most have liked to take away from the show with me.

Acura NSX

We saw a three-dimensional rough sketch of this car at the Detroit show last year. It’s back again considerably refined, much better resolved in detail… but still not quite finished. Which, despite the impatience of those who didn’t get the old original NSX before production stopped, is a good thing. By taking it slowly and carefully, Honda and it Acura luxury brand can assure that this new model will be even more fabulous than the first of the hoped-for series of mid-engine sports/GT cars.

It was announced from the beginning that this would be an exceptionally clean vehicle, with hybridization of gasoline and electric power. Toyota may have done the best commercial job with its hybrid Prius and variations thereof with other sedans, SUVs and Lexus brand models, but Honda was first, and for some of us it did a better job of making the transitions between power modes, turning power off at stops, and all the other fuel-saving tricks that are part and parcel of hybrids. That the company is persisting to change the NSX as it develops is a promise of an exceptional experience when this car is ready for the market.

The roof flaring out to create a tunnel between the side glass and the inward-tapering teardrop roof is extremely interesting, but one still has the feeling that the designers themselves are not quite sure how to handle the surfaces for the final iteration. The headlamps are finer and segmented, the wheels are clumsy and don’t look round, the mirrors are obtrusive, and there are other things still to be developed, but this is a car with enormous potential, and we can hardly wait for a chance to drive it, whenever it finally is deemed ready for prime time.

smart forStars and other imponderables 

One of the main themes of the Detroit show was the copper-orange colored paint used on a variety of concepts, from the matte finish of the Chrysler 300 turbine concept to the bright finish of Toyota and Nissan concepts. The Mercedes-Renault smart forStars concept, first seen in Paris, then dragged to Cobo Hall for the Americans who don’t like small cars anyway to be convinced that there is no future of this vehicle, mixed the copper color on the front and sides with grey on the lower sides and roof, then copper again across the tail. The design of the body was consistent: from whichever point of view, it was solidly graceless and amateurish. It is meant to hold four people, we think, but who’d want to be seen in it?

There were not a few cars at the Detroit show that were even less attractive than this, but one has the feeling that this one is going to be inflicted upon the world in production configuration before long. Else why would anyone bother to bring it to the US? Well, there are always curiosities. Out in the entrance hall there was a slickly finished Chinese concept car, a Fisker Karma clone with a Corvette engine too far forward in the nose and a hack of a Renault lozenge badge, at at least there was no imitation Aston Martin grille. That’s now being spread over the entire Ford range, including the Transit van.