As usual, the 2018 auto shows in Detroit, Chicago, Geneva, New York, and Los Angeles got the staff to arguing about which new cars, trucks, SUVs, and concepts were hits, which were misses, and which had us scratching our heads. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights and lowlights of the past year, with prospects for those models and concepts in 2019 and beyond.
HIT: Genesis Essentia Concept
And the winner of the “Wait, that’s a Hyundai?” award goes to this breathtakingly beautiful concept car. What a work of art.—Aaron Gold
Star of the New York show, and probably the auto show season. It’s exactly the sports grand touring (electric vehicle) design that Genesis needs in order to build up its luxury brand credibility.—Todd Lassa
OUTLOOK: Production by 2021 confirmed.
Genesis’s limited production halo will be a purely electric sports car—not an SUV.
HIT: Infiniti Q Inspiration Concept
It features Infiniti’s interesting VC-Turbo variable-compression engine technology, and if the next production Q70 ends up looking like the Q Inspiration, I won’t complain.—Mac Morrison
Beautiful, even if it does look like it cribbed a bit off the Porsche Mission E’s sheet. The only thing I don’t like about this car’s sleek, relatively understated styling is the unlikelihood that it will make it to production without a dozen added ungainly flourishes.—Nelson Ireson
Too bad it’s not the actual car, because with its mean, chunky mug, massive panoramic glass feature that extends down the back, its wide, sweeping rear end, and floating four-place seating and console, this is a package that shouts luxury and exudes future cool.—Mike Floyd
After generations of uninspired flagship sedans, the Q Inspiration’s cues promise a return to the spirit of the original Q45.—TL
OUTLOOK: An Infiniti flagship that looks something like this will come.
And without the distinctive C-pillar “Nakamura kink” curlicue featured on all current models.
HIT: Lamborghini Urus
I came into the Motor City prepared to write a half-dozen jokes at the Urus’s expense, but after seeing it in person, I’m smitten.—A.G.
MISS: Lamborghini Urus
I can give the Urus a pass because Lamborghini has done an SUV before, but I can’t forgive its uninspired, Aventador nose on a Q7 body.—TL
OUTLOOK: Will outsell the LM002 by far.
And a multitude of forthcoming variants and special editions will keep it at the top of Lambo’s charts for a long time.
REVELATION: Toyota Supra achieves the perfect balance
Chief engineer Tetsuya Tada says a key goal of the new Supra was that it must achieve a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight balance. From the sound of it, the team has nailed the brief. The Supra will not come with a manual transmission, which is a surprise to virtually no one.—MF
OUTLOOK: The production Supra finally bows at the ’19 Detroit show.
With Akio Toyoda in attendance.
HIT: Mercedes-Benz G-class
Like Jeep’s Wrangler, it’s a serious throwback that now doesn’t always have to make you feel as though you just bought a used car from the mid-’90s. Expect to smile more than ever when you drive one, or see one coming your way.—MM
The ever-so-massaged styling keeps the former-generation’s rugged looks with some considerations given for new technology. Plus, the doors still have that military-grade sound when they shut.—Billy Rehbock
You might not be able to tell the new G Class is new at all if you only see it from the outside. The interior, on the other hand, is now much better executed, from ergonomics to materials to design. Too bad its starting price is more than a good annual salary.—NI
REVELATION: Dr. Z still likes Detroit
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche has a real fondness for The Motor City. He revealed the new Geländewagen at the historic Michigan Theater with erstwhile Hummer enthusiast/Governator/failed The Apprentice host Arnold Schwarzenegger.—TL
OUTLOOK: Mercedes will not attend the 2019 Detroit auto show.
No Dieter Zetsche this year. But at least we have Akio Toyoda.
HIT: BMW X2
The slick new X2 is a refreshing break from the cookie-cutter SUVs—sorry, SAVs—we’re used to seeing under the Bimmer badge. Here, finally, is a BMW ute that manages to avoid both the frumpiness of the X3 and X5 and the silliness (and uselessness) of the X4 and X6.—AG
MISS: BMW X2
It looks like the designers were bored. So am I.—NI
OUTLOOK: Another Bimmer destined to cut into 3 Series sales.
It’s a crossover. Of course it will cut into 3 Series sales.
HIT: Hyundai Veloster
Hyundai’s next-generation Veloster is an evolutionary step in design and promises to be a genuine hot hatch. The N Performance model is particularly attractive with 275 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque sent through a six-speed manual.—BR
The Mark II Hyundai Veloster reminds me of the Mark II Honda CRX.—TL
HIT: Hyundai Veloster N
Give us a simple car with a big engine and a buttoned-down suspension and chances are we’ll rave about it, because chances are it’ll be pretty darn good. If it doesn’t torque-steer like a lubed weasel, the Veloster N should be a gem.—AG
OUTLOOK: The Veloster N is a gem.
After all these years, Hyundai has learned how to tune a chassis.
REVELATION: A Trumpchi by any other name
GAC has committed to importing its first model, the three-row GS8 sport/utility, to the U.S. market by the fourth quarter of 2019.—TL
Depends on whether President Trump or President Xi wins the trade war.
HIT: Volvo V60 station wagon
The second car on Volvo’s “60” platform is the largest, widest, and important to this pick, the lowest wagon in its class by overall height, which at this point includes very little that is sold in the U.S. Volvo isn’t expecting the crossover- and sport/utility craze to turn soon – after all, the automaker makes bags of money on the XC90 and XC60 – but if anything on the road draws modern customers back to the station wagon, this will be the car.—TL
REVELATION: Will wagons make a comeback with non-enthusiasts?
Judging from the number of them on the show floors, it certainly looks like the station wagon is staging a comeback. There’s the Buick Regal TourX, Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic Wagon, and the Volvo V90 that all look good and give us fans some hope.—Ed Tahaney
OUTLOOK: Probably not.
Buick insists on calling its Regal TourX wagon a “crossover/utility,” and it’s still not selling.
HIT: Lagonda Vision Concept
Laser projection taillights, completely feasible for production. Lift up roof over rear seats. Electric vehicle possibilities emphasized. Car is length of Rolls-Royce Ghost, but with more interior space than the Phantom.—Robert Cumberford
MISS: Lagonda Vision Concept
My first impression was, “nice lines, nice proportions.” But when the car spun on its turntable to where I could see two grownups lounging in the back seat, I couldn’t get it out of my head that this is a cartoonishly large car, especially for an Aston Martin.—TL
OUTLOOK: Some version of this must be headed to production . . .
. . . as long as Aston Martin calls it an “SUV.”
HIT: Porsche Mission E Cross Turismo Concept
It looks like an electric concept that Porsche might have drawn back in the days of the original 901-model 911, with none of the bulky body heft of virtually every modern car. In that regard, it’s the opposite of both the Tesla Model X and the S.—TL
MISS: Porsche Mission E Cross Turismo Concept
Huge knobby tires. It’s really a strange beast. Hard to grasp its place in the world.—RC
OUTLOOK: To be produced as a variant of the Porsche Taycan.
Watch out, Tesla Model S and X.
MISS: Volkswagen I.D. Vizzion Concept
Suicide doors and ultra-flush cabins are cool, but those features have also become a de rigueur part of self-driving concepts. The disappointing part is the adherence to three-box design and this concept’s more-than-striking resemblance to a Tesla Model S.—Basem Wasef
OUTLOOK: The I.D. Buzz deserves more buzz.
The modern Microbus makes for a better VW EV.
HIT: Subaru Viziv Concept
Subaru has been working up some really solid concepts of late, and the Viziv is the best yet, with angles in all the right places up front, chunky fender flares and a take on Subaru’s trademark hood scoop. It’s an aggressive, yet modern looking design that Subaru would be well advised to push out basically as-is.—MF
It used to be that Subaru would show a nicely designed concept predicting a future model, and then the realities of production would result in something less than handsome. But the latest Impreza and Crosstrek are reasonably attractive, and now it looks like the next WRX/STI might benefit from those compact models’ looks. Better news is that the Viziv Concept hints that the WRX/STI could be offered in wagon form again.—TL
MISS: Subaru VIZIV Concept
Six-sided grille frame, five-sided wheel openings front and rear, three-side headlamp openings. Decent looking, but excessively complex surfaces, retro hood scoop, really convoluted lift gate shape.—RC
OUTLOOK: A WRX/STI worth waiting for, if they do end up looking similar.
Yes, but do enthusiasts buy Subies for the looks?—MF
HIT: Cadillac XT4
Has there ever been a good small Cadillac? The former Standard of the World has been trying and failing for the better part of four decades, but it looks like they finally got it right. The XT4 is cute and playful, a little cheeky even, and yet it still has the dignity and stateliness of a proper Cadillac. The XT4 may prove to be the first baby Caddy worthy of the name.—AG
MISS: Cadillac XT4
There’s nothing groundbreaking here. The fact that the refreshed CT6 with its 4.2-liter twin-turbo V-8 took center stage at Cadillac’s New York show stand and not the XT4 speaks volumes.—MF
HIT: Cadillac CT6 refresh
Cadillac injected a good dose of Escala concept design language into the CT6’s facelift, while adding the CT6 V-Sport and the new optional twin-turbo V-8. I think it works.—TL
OUTLOOK: Only one of these Cadillacs will live past 2019.
And it’s not the sedan.
HIT: Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak Concept
Tanoak’s massive mug screams truck, though the production model would likely have some functional limitations. It definitely looks cool, and given that the Atlas line is built here in the U.S., a truck version is not out of the question.—MF
How do I love VW’s proposed pickup? Let me count the ways. First, I love the way the box cuts into the cab. It puts me in mind of the old Ford Explorer SportTrac, another sort-of pickup that wasn’t trying to look like a miniaturized F-150. I love the way the Atlas’ squared-off styling works on a pickup truck. And I love the fact that VW is being honest about this being a utility vehicle with a pickup bed, rather than a pickup, period. (Are you listening, Honda?) I want this thing to happen.—AG
MISS: Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak Concept
Well, you asked, VW. The company says its gauging public and press reaction, and sales data before its pickup truck concept gets a green light for production. The first sport-ute pickup was the Chevy Avalanche – remember that one? – and the only unibody, transverse-engine competitor, the Honda Ridgeline, typically does well in its first year (which means, maybe 35,000 units) until everyone who wants one has one, then it settles in below 20,000 per year. While the VW Atlas Tanoak is a credible looking, nearly full-size truck, it’s not going to do much to utilize VW’s Chattanooga plant capacity.—TL
What in the heck is a Tanoak? I’ll give VW credit. I highly doubt that name was trademarked and it vaguely makes me think of trees, so there’s that.—MF
OUTLOOK: Probably headed for production.
But probably not enough volume to significantly improve VW’s U.S. sales.
HIT: Jeep Gladiator
This is a hit for so many reasons: First, that Fiat Chrysler did it (we’ve only been waiting 25 years!) and second, that they did it right. The new Gladiator promises Wrangler-like off-road ability and open-air fun, and with credible truck credentials to boot, including a 7,650-pound tow rating and 1,600-pound payload capacity. Hell, it’ll even get a diesel option.—AG
Even while the rest of Fiat Chrysler seems to fall into a mire of its own making, Jeep is on a roll with clear-eyed, smart updates to its historic product line. Well done.—NI
The JL Jeep Wrangler design is irresistible, and the pickup truck variant was done just right. You can even order a gas V-6 model with a six-speed manual transmission. Way to go, Fiat Chrysler.—TL
OUTLOOK: Note to VW: This is how you do a truck.
Jeep + pickup = bestseller.
HIT: Audi e-tron GT Concept
With a claimed 590 horsepower at peak capacity, a 0 to 60 mph time of less than 3.5 seconds, and tuning by the marque’s Audi Sport division (with a little love from fellow Porsche engineers who have been working on the Taycan with which it shares componentry), this is shaping up to be one bad mutha of an EV.—MF
Gorgeous, crazy quick, and all electric, the e-tron GT appears to be the dream sedan of the near future. Whether it should worry Elon or not, the market will no doubt appreciate a legitimate alternative to Tesla.—NI
OUTLOOK: Watch out, Tesla Model S . . . and Porsche Taycan.
Hey, the model name is easier to pronounce correctly than “Taycan.”
HIT: 2020 Porsche 911 S and 4S
This version of the iconic sports car is as wide and as powerful as the previous-generation GTS, and our own George Kacher touted its driving capabilities when he wheeled the prototype along the California coast. Some may not like the new taillight design nor the wide grille, but the interior is an excellent blend of traditional analogue features and digital luxuries.—BR
Like Jeep with the Wrangler, Porsche managed to thoroughly redesign the 911 without making it look much different, and the driver’s controls remain reasonably analog. I predict the oddly placed CHMSL will soon become a favorite standout design detail.—TL
OUTLOOK: It’s the new Porsche 911.
What else do you need to know?
HIT: 2019 Mazda 3
This could have been a Miss, because Mazda doesn’t seem to have remedied the Mazda 3’s one glaring fault—the tiny back seat. Still, there’s way, way more than enough on the Hit side to tip the balance: The new Skyactiv-X HCCI engine (which we sampled, and loved, last year), optional all-wheel-drive, and the manual transmission.—AG
I’m surprised how polarizing this car is. The back seat may still be cramped, but the hatchback looks clean and sporty. And hey, shades of the late-’80s Mazda 323 GTX, the new 3 will be offered with optional all-wheel-drive. Is it too early to start dreaming of a hot Mazdaspeed 3 hatch to take on the Subaru WRX/STI, even if it will never happen.—TL
MISS: Mazda 3 hatchback
This is the rare case where the sedan version looks better than the hatchback. It’s a shame, too, as the Kai concept that birthed this five-door was all tension and aggression and compact-car menace, but shorn of its fat flares and daintier detailing, the basic design simply falls flat to these eyes. It’s not unattractive, exactly, but it looks for all the world like an AMC AMX that spent a semester or three studying in Japan.—Erik Johnson
Even with what is an astonishing dash-to-axle ratio for a front-driver, the 3’s proportions feel a bit off, and that C-pillar is both awkward to look at and to look past from the driver’s seat.—NI
OUTLOOK: Higher sales for the CX-3, CX-5.
Maybe it’ll draw a few more people into the showrooms.
HIT: Rivian R1S and R1T
Every auto show has its share of upstart brands showing fancy futuristic products that will never see production, but look at what Rivian brought: A full-size SUV and a full-size pickup, exactly the vehicles that show-goers are looking for—and they’re powered by batteries. The performance and range specs (400+ miles, 0-60 in less than three seconds with the top battery spec) might have sounded fanciful two years ago, but thanks to Tesla, we know they are entirely realistic.—AG
Both the pickup and the SUV are smart, sharp designs that do the one thing any new brand ought to do more than any other in terms of design: not look like anything else. Rivian establishes a clear brand image, especially through the unusual lighting signatures. As long as these big, brawny EVs live up to their stats, Rivian should be well positioned to snap up whatever market there is for electric trucks.—NI
OUTLOOK: The next Tesla?
And is that a good thing?