2017 Detroit Auto Show Hits, Misses, and Revelations
From Kia sport sedans to Toyota Camrys and Biden drop-bys
Market volume or excitement? The 2017 Detroit Auto Show has more of the former than the latter, with the all-new Toyota Camry, Honda Odyssey, Nissan Rogue Sport and a preview of the next Nissan Altima on display. Not so much as an NSX, Ford GT or even a rear-wheel-drive Buick concept to get the adrenaline pumping.
Ford Motor Company and FiatChrysler pretty much sat this one out, with the Blue Oval using its traditional Monday morning slot to confirm a new Ranger in 2018, and a new Bronco two years later, both to be built in its Michigan Assembly plant, where they'll replace the Focus production that leaving for Toluca, Mexico. If Bill Ford or Mark Fields were hoping for positive tweets from the president-elect, none were forthcoming.
FiatChrysler showed its Chrysler Portal autonomous-connected-electric minivan, but it was a rerun, having made its debut at CES in Las Vegas the previous week. News that CES 2018 would move back a week, into the time slot that NAIAS normally occupies, had those of us who still think of a car or truck as more than a rolling Amazon marketing device worried for the future of America's most important show.
Nevertheless, there was enough new sheetmetal to keep us interested. Here's a summary of what we thought of the '17 NAIAS …
Hit: Kia Stinger GT
This is likely the most polarizing car at the show. I've heard people sing its praises, and others drag it through the muck. Personally, I think it's a killer design with a pair of great engines. With backing from a former BMW M-Division lead, we're hoping it drives as good as it looks. Unfortunately, the Stinger's arrival could also signal the departure of the Kia Cadenza, a car we rather like.
- Conner Golden
I won't miss the front-wheel-drive Cadenza, which is pleasant enough. I believe most new sedans of a certain size should be longitudinal-engine/RWD, especially as SUVs take over the market and make sedans niche models, anyway. But the Stinger isn't really a sedan; it's a sporty looking, upscale RWD/AWD hatchback. How cool is that? I hope this car finally breaks from Kia's (and Hyundai's) long tradition of marginally tuned chassis.
- Todd Lassa
This fall, Kia will offer enthusiasts a new four-door hatchback sedan on a rear-wheel drive platform with up to 365 hp from its optional 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6. Sure, we'd love it if the Stinger fitted a manual gearbox, but most buyers drive automatics. Let's hope Albert Biermann—former VP of engineering at M-Division, now head of high performance development at Hyundai and Kia—remembers what once made BMW top dog in the chassis dynamics department and that he has injected the Stinger with some of that old-school Bavarian goodness.
- Marc Noordeloos
Miss: Kia Stinger GT
After being teased for months with video, silhouettes, and countless close-ups, the Kia Stinger was a bit of a let down in person. What's up with the oversized side vents and hood nostrils? They look stupid. Let's hope it drives better than it looks. Definitely, not stung.
- Ed Tahaney
Revelation: The Kia Stinger GT makes no sense, but I applaud the effort
I have a hard time imagining who is going to buy a rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan from Kia when nobody I know outside of car nerds even know what a Cadenza is now … and the Cadenza is a great car. For all of the effort Kia reportedly put into making the Stinger a real performer, there's still plenty of room to improve when it comes to the things that really matter—holistic styling with good taste, high-end materials, and fit and finish. The door handles on the inside feel hollow and cheap, and the seams between the leather on the door cards and the inset speakers (designed like sunbursts to ape Mercedes' Burmester speaker motif) are still a little clumsy. The Stinger is going to have to drive a lot better than a Audi A5 Sportback or BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe to make up for its shortcomings, and that's a tall order. I hope I'm surprised.
- Eric Weiner
Porsche didn't bother to show up to Detroit this year, but the fine folks at Michelin compensated for that with a clever display featuring a pair of beautiful Porsche 911s reimagined by Singer that make for delicious eye candy.
- Kirill Ougarov
It's groovy and I really dig it. Glowing badges, yellow and white two-tone paint, gray rubber Hankook tires, and even the floating hippy gnome on the dash. Please make us a hybrid version too, dude.
Miss: Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept
Oh, hey, look - it's (at least) the fourth Microbus revival concept. I wish they would stop playing the will-they-won't-they concept dance and either squash it or bring it to production. Even if they did, however, I'm not sure that's what the company needs in its lineup right now. Sure, it would add electrification, but why not focus on a mass-market design in a more approachable package?
Revelation: An electric Microbus is what VW needs now
Why did Volkswagen poach its own concept's body, again for this show? I'd guess that shelling out $14.7 billion on U.S. fines alone, so far, has emptied its concept budget. A few years ago, VW figured out the modern Microbus' body was too small for our market, but now it makes all kinds of sense as a dedicated electric vehicle - one that most definitely will not have a diesel engine option.
Hit: Audi Q8 concept
With this latest concept, Audi is showing off not only what's to come on the production Q8, but also a new design language for its growing SUV stable. While I think the front grille is a little overwrought and that the thick vertical bars far too much resemble those of the Maserati Levante's, the Q8 concept's promise of more personality in future Audi design is a very good thing. For one, the blue X-shaped laser light details on the new headlight cluster will make Audis even more recognizable on the road, especially now that just about every OEM is offering LED light signatures of some kind. (For e-tron models, an addition three-bar light signature will become standard fare.) The full-width taillamps are both elegant and striking, and the vent cutouts on the rear fenders are welcome callouts to the old Audi Ur-Quattro from the '80s. It's great to see Audi reaching back into its brand history to help better define and reshape its future design with modern flair.
Miss: Audi Q8 concept.
Its grille belongs on a Ford F-350 and it will be marketed as another behemoth premium SUV with "sport sedan handling," which means the twenty-something inch wheels will beat the hell out of the ride. Do we need another BMW X6 competitor? No, not any more than we need the X6, but automakers can't resist the sub-segment's huge profit margins.
Revelation: GAC's Presence
Buckle up, Detroit. Unless the President-elect has anything to tweet about it, it seems China is on a paved path to U.S. roads. I sat in some of GAC's cars on its stand, and I wasn't unduly upset. They're all right in an anonymous sort of way, but we'll have to see how well the buying public receives the Chinese cars.
Miss: GAC models
The 2018 Trumpchi GS7, GE3, and EnSpirit concept from China — seriously guys? Bland styling, generic looks, and who want to be seen driving something called the 'Trumpchi?' Doesn't get my vote, ever.
Hit: Chevrolet Traverse
The outgoing Traverse three-row crossover is a dinosaur and it's quite clear Chevy did its research for the replacement. Exterior styling is more truck-like but weight is down and fuel economy is up. The optional all-wheel drive system is a new twin-clutch setup and the transmission gains 50 percent more ratios. Buyers can even get a turbocharged four. The new Traverse looks to be an excellent choice for large, minivan-averse families.
Miss: Ford not unveiling a Ranger and/or Bronco Concept
Not that they really needed to, but it would have been one hell of a surprise if Ford dropped a concept or two of the Ranger and/or Bronco alongside its announcement that the two are coming back in the next two to three years. We'd have also taken a sketch, a rendering, an illustration … anything, really.
Yes, it's exciting that Ford confirmed both the Bronco and Ranger are returning, but how about some actual new products to show us given Detroit is Ford's home show? Yes, they've updated the F-150 but I was hoping for a Shelby GT500 or some other 'wow' product. If the NAIAS is to have a future, it seems to me that not just Ford — every one of the Big Three — need to use Detroit as their halo show.
Finally, Ford releases competition for the excellent Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. The new oil-burner in the half-ton F150 should prove interesting, and open its doors to a whole lump of new customers that seek diesel power in something smaller than a heavy-duty truck and larger than the midsize Chevy Colorado.
Miss: Ford's offsite unveiling
Ford Motor Company PR has embargoed an offsite unveiling of something Tuesday afternoon, but as far as I know, it hasn't embargoed information that it held an offsite unveiling Tuesday afternoon, and anyway, I didn't personally cover it. The unveiling was held in Dearborn, some 30 minutes (in good, clear-weather traffic) from the show floor. Ford PR originally scheduled it for Monday in an effort to draw perhaps a few dozen journalists away from Cobo Hall in the middle of NAIAS's heavy press day. Apparently one of my fellow ink-stained wretches objected, and it was moved back a day, but it still counts as a slap in the face of Ford's hometown auto show.
Revelation: Ford's urban strategy
Bill Ford Jr. is all-in on an autonomous, green future, and megacities are driving that decision-making. During a dinner at the Detroit show, Ford's executive chairman cited statistics that show some 50 percent of the world's population will soon live in urban areas, as one of Ford's primary justifications for making a big push with autonomous vehicle technology and greener powertrains. His view is transportation will need to radically change to meet that challenge, and he wants to see Ford lead the way. He and Jim Hackett, head of Ford Smart Mobility LLC, believe the automaker is much better positioned than others to both deliver the technology and meet the needs of the customer - a strategy they believe tech disruptors like Google and Apple may not be as well-equipped to deliver on.
Hit: Lexus LS
There's something so alluring about the big-body Lexus. It's always a little less expensive, but no less substantial than the big boys from Germany, and it presents a distinctly Lexus take on what ultimate executive luxury should be. Finally, after so many attempts, Lexus has begun to make the spindle grille work. It's a sharp design for a segment that is too-often homogeneous.
If you can get past the less-than-attractive spindle grill and, well, interesting headlamps, Lexus finally looks to be 100-percent back in the large luxury sedan game with the new LS. It's long overdue, with the outgoing LS eclipsing 10-years of production. Lexus claims a jump in both luxury and performance, which is most welcomed. We'll see if the end result puts the Germans on their back feet, just like the original LS did when it launched at the Detroit show nearly 30-year ago.
Miss: Lexus LS
Except for the interior, which is particularly attractive and thoughtfully designed, the LS is somewhat of a letdown. While horrendous front end that's now typical of Lexus design actually works decently on a car of this width and scale, the rest of the car hasn't received nearly as much attention. In profile the LS is woefully blobbish and uninspired, and the rear end hews way too close to the smaller GS sedan. The only benefits I can draw from this design are the relative anonymity (also achievable in an Audi A8 or BMW 7 Series) and the generous rear headroom.
If you get past the much-discussed spindle grille, a masterwork in metalwork reminiscent of the '58 Buick Roadmaster's, you'll wonder how long it took for its chief designer to finally lift his/her pen. I like the world-class interior, where you can't see much of the sheetmetal, and yearn to try the shiatsu massage seats. But apparently Lexus had to steal the Porsche Panamera's c-pillar design to combine a rakish roof with good rear-seat headroom.
Hit: Volvo V90 R-Design
There isn't a sexier hatch on the showfloor, and yes, I'm including the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso at the Brembo stand. This one has nearly everything you could need in a daily driver, and then some. We'll take ours equipped just as this one, especially in the same color.
Revelation: The blue Volvo V90 R-Design is the most beautiful car at the show
While I'd probably opt for the brown V90 Inscription right next to it, mostly because of the smaller wheels and consequent better ride quality, I'm a little hesitant to admit it lest I be regarded as a caricature of an automotive writer. It's amazing to me that in a landscape where automakers are overstyling just about everything under the sun, Volvo can still melt faces with smooth body lines, subtle functionality, and an interior with genuine warmth.
Revelation: Jeep Wagoneer saves the next Ram pickup
The Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer will ride on an all-new Ram 1500 body-on-frame platform, FiatChrysler announced in its release about spending $1 billion on updating two Michigan factories, Sunday. In his annual NAIAS press conference, CEO Sergio Marchionne repeated the platform news on Monday. A few weeks ago, the new big Jeeps were rumored to be on permanent hold. Now it looks like the Wagoneer line is financially propping up the replacement for the current Ram pickup. Marchionne also said FiatChrysler will unveil the new Jeep Wrangler and Ram 1500 by the end of this year or early '18.
There's no huge revelation here compared to the E-Class sedan or wagon, but damn if the E Coupe doesn't look lovely. The simplicity, proportions, and scale are just perfect. I'd much rather drive this every day than a BMW 6 Series.
Painted gray, with yellow trim and a hood stripe — it's an epic fail. Please leave the sport packaging to the tuning houses.
Hit: 2018 Toyota Camry
The new Camry isn't exactly a looker, but everything about it feels just right. Toyota did a good job of spicing up its famously beige midsizer inside and out without making any moves that would rock the boat with core customers.
Miss: 2018 Toyota Camry
It's all new, and yet it looks like a slightly more creased, warmed-over update of the old model, "sporty" XSE trim or not. And what's with the V-6 option? Toyota used to be at the forefront of this segment. Now, Camry is one of the last cars in its class offered with more than four (often turbocharged) cylinders.
Revelation: 2018 Toyota Camry
It's shocking, really. I don't expect much, and yet, I'm still disappointed by Toyota's design department. I'm not looking for a chic, sumptuous Italian design, but do you have to make it so anonymous? Then again, some people crave the basic look. I've never seen someone work so hard to make a car look so "regular."
The current Nissan Altima earns the dubious distinction of being the only car in its segment that looks even blander than the Toyota Camry. Countering what Toyota did this show, Nissan's hint at its next Altima sedan indicates design chief Shiro Nakamura isn't scared about taking chances, even if that amounts to mimicking the company's own Maxima sedan.
It's certainly over the top edgy in certain areas, but Nissan looks to be onto something with the Vmotion, which is widely believed to be a look at the next generation Altima sans the crazy suicide style doors, which were intended to show off the wild wood and copper interior trim (copper is also highlighted on the exterior), half cut steering wheel and high-end look seating and info screens. If the next Altima comes off half as sharp as this creased design exercise, it should make for a pretty attractive car.
The next Nissan Altima will be quite the looker when it arrives in the next two or three years. It's good to see needless blandness get purged from the midsize segment.
Miss: Nissan Vmotion 2.0 concept
Maybe it's just me, but the Nissan Vmotion 2.0 looks like a less classy version of the Infiniti Q80 Inspiration concept from a few years back. The suicide doors, the general silhouette, and the extended center console don't speak to a high level of innovation happening over at Nissan, and let's be honest, not much of what we see here is likely to end up in a production Altima.
I was expecting a bloated version of the QX30, but the Infiniti QX50 concept looks really good in person. Nice work.
Revelation: Two-tone paint is the next floating c/d-pillar.
The "floating c-pillar," pioneered on the Nissan Maxima and later on the Infiniti QX30 has proliferated (as d-pillars) to the Nissan Rogue Sport, Honda Odyssey, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Terrain. Two-tone paint in the mode of '50s and '60s American cars first came back in certain French models, mostly XUVs from Renault and Citroen, if memory serves. Here, it's on the new Jeep Compass, on the "sporty" XSE trimmed new Toyota Camry and on GAC's Enspirit crossover concept. Are vinyl tops next?
Miss: Smart Brabus Fortwo Sport package.
Looks silly in red and flat gray. Do they just keep repainting these things for every auto show?
Hit: 2018 Honda Odyssey
Oh, your minivan supremacy was so brief, Chrysler Pacifica. While the Odyssey is noticeably frumpier from the outside, the level of engineering and clever thought put into this new Honda minivan will surely win over growing families in need of the classic people-mover. In addition to slick technology like a PA system so parents don't need to yell into the back row, good old-fashioned Honda engineering came up with solutions like Magic Slide second-row seating. Access to the third row is easier than ever before as a result, and parents can now slide the second row closer to the front seats, making kids in rear-facing child-seats better within reach. Pretty much all of the engineers who worked on the Odyssey have children and own Odysseys, meaning every single surface from the cupholders to the seatbelt fabric is carefully selected to hold up to the spills and thrills of parenthood.
Revelation: Auto shows still matter.
My colleagues who long for the end of the auto show get to keep longing for it. Aside from the value of pubic days to customers, the press days of a major auto show are a great platform for automakers to showcase new product in a way that guarantees extensive media coverage. It'd be nice if the Detroit auto show schedule was less sadistic, though.
Revelation: About the Detroit auto show's relevance…
Is the Detroit show still relevant and will it survive long-term? With CES stealing much of January's spotlight, and with a rather lackluster year for Motown reveals, what does the future of North American International Auto Show hold? There was clearly a lack of energy at this year's show.
Miss: Uncle Joe's appearance.
I was attending a lunch following a walk-around group tour of the show floor when Vice President Joe Biden, son of an auto dealer and a true car guy, took his last official visit of the show - so I missed it. Seems like only yesterday, but it was eight years ago, when politicians came to a very dismal Detroit show following the federal government's bailout of GM and Chrysler (and federal Energy department money for a Ford green car effort). Credit (or blame, if you're still on that side) goes to both the Bush-43 and Obama administrations. What will the Detroit show climate be for the next eight years?