In recent years the organizers of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) have been especially eager to demonstrate that Detroit’s show is still relevant. Yet they crammed every OEM press conference save Volvo’s into a single day, leaving the second day for Li-ion Motors Corp., Mach 7 Motor Sports, and such. In years past there were two-and-a-half days of manufacturer press conferences, with little filler. Maybe next year everything will be back to normal?
When manufacturer press conferences are back-to-back it’s rarely possible to get a decent seat at both of them. Why not just have all manufacturers use Cobo arena, where there are plenty of seats, but which only Ford uses each year? No doubt they have good reasons, among them a desire to wow us with unique ways of getting a car onto a stage.
Some impressions from the show:
Acura RL: If they revised the exterior again, would it get even uglier?
Audi A6: The 2012 A6 looks much like the current A4 and A8, though the proportions are better than the latter’s. That such a predictable design won “best in show” for a production car provides a good indication of the quantity and quality of the new designs introduced. Especially the quantity.
Audi A7: I’ve been hearing that the A7 is based on the A8, but a view of the specs confirms that it’s much more closely related to this new A6. Compared to the all-aluminum A8, both the 2012 A6 and the 2011 A7 have tighter, more attractive proportions and have bodies that are about 20 percent aluminum. The A7 is the most attractive of the bunch and seems the sportiest from the driver’s seat. The rear seat is tight, especially considering the car’s 114.6-inch wheelbase (shared with the new A6), but at least it’s easier to get into and out of than that in the original Mercedes-Benz CLS, which originated the “four-door coupe” segment.
Buick Verano: Excellent seats, with luxurious padding over a firm, form-fitting foundation and premium leather. The rest of the interior is also quite good, with switchgear much like that in the Regal. But will the oddly-proportioned but otherwise innocuously styled exterior lead enough people to peer inside? A GM executive informed me that my opinion of the exterior is, well, just my opinion.
BYD: While Mercedes provides a choice between “herb roasted Alaskan halibut with fava bean and purple potato succotash, citrus-crab-salad an lemon aioli” and “beef tenderloin with bourbon-mustard-sauce and smoked tomatos served with Hombolt fog whipped potatoes,” the Chinese manufacturer (on the main floor for the second time this year) solicits our good favor with…store-bought candy and cookies neatly arranged on a plate. I had an Oreo. Clueless, or smart? How can one not feel warmly towards a lost child?
Chevrolet Sonic: Perhaps this will be the last time GM feels a need to change the smallest Chevy’s name? The Sonic is clearly a far better car than the Aveo. Very stylish both inside and out, with a very well done front end considering the need to make the hood both high (for pedestrian safety) and short. Materials aren’t quite up to those in the Fiesta, but the rear seat is much roomier than the Ford’s. GM promised excellent handling, and seems to really mean it. I’m hopeful. Chevrolet also aspires to be “among the leaders” (vs. Hyundai’s goal to be “the leader”) everywhere in fuel efficiency. They’ll achieve this through their Chevrolet heritage, design, a few other things I cannot recall…and fuel efficiency. Chevrolet also boasted that the Silverado won Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year award. Is this supposed to impress a large crowd of auto writers, 99% of whom do not write for Motor Trend? In general manufacturers’ presentations contained little material likely to impress journalists. They’re smart enough to realize this, so why?
Chrysler: Though the Chrysler brand presentation gushed sap, with music calculated to tug at the heartstrings of every middle-aged woman not in the audience (Jean Jennings is decidedly non-sappy), that the company was able to revise every Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep for 2011 impresses. The new interiors received by nearly every model are a big improvement, in some cases a huge one. The thoroughly redesigned Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger are both prettier than the 2005-2010 cars, and look better in person than they have in photos, but they are also less distinctive and less likely to be noticed. The 300’s front and rear fascias, which borrow even more from Bentley than they did before, reek of understated elegance. The windshield has been raked to a conventional angle, and the windows are a little larger, so the view from the driver’s seat is similarly more familiar and less distinctive.
Ford C-Max: The second- and third-row seats are very tight, and most suitable for children. Their seatbacks are very short, especially in the third row, so the headrests must be raised about a foot for adult use. But the way the center second-row seat stores inside the right second-row seat is quite nifty. The Mazda5 needs a seat like this. Typical of the class, there’s hardly any cargo space behind the third row. The Ford of Europe-developed C-Max’s interior materials and design, largely shared with the new Focus, are more solid than you’ll find in the typical Japanese or Korean car.
Ford Explorer: Having recently purchased a Ford Taurus X, I was very interested in checking out the new Explorer, which is based on the same platform. While I think I could live with the new MyFord Touch system, which is certainly prettier if not easier to use than the controls and displays in my Taurus X, I found a number of other things to dislike. The much higher instrument panel, meant to provide more of the character of a real SUV, makes for a much less open view forward. A folding front passenger seat, one of my reasons for buying the Taurus X, is not offered on the Explorer. Nor is a sliding function in the second row, probably because there’s much less leg room to work with. Finally, the fake stitching on the door armrests is far too obviously fake, a throwback to the 1980s. Ford does faux upholstered interior panels much better in the Lincoln MKX.
Honda Civic: Though “all new,” the 2012 Civic sedan looks much like the 2011 Civic sedan, just a little crisper with stronger shoulders, a BMW-style kink along the rear edge of the side window, and a less civic-minded front fascia (which could be limited to the Si). The small window ahead of the door has been replaced by yet another of those black triangles, while the doors themselves now include a small fixed pane of glass ahead of the opening part of the window. The coupe is changed a little more, with the fenders now flaring out over each wheel and an even more pronounced Hoffmeister. The changes make it appear longer, more massive, and more like the Accord coupe. The reaction in the crowd was surprisingly positive given such minimal changes after six years because many feared that Honda would mess up the new Civic like they have so many other designs in recent years.
Hyundai Veloster: Why didn’t they just name it Tiburon? The three-door configuration implies a very tight rear seat, but there’s plenty of legroom for the average-sized adult, and enough headroom for those under 5-10 or so. So why isn’t there a fourth door? Haven’t there been enough cases where a manufacturer initially went with three doors, then found they needed a fourth? Hyundai has failed to learn from history. Compounding the problem, the rear seats are split by a small console. To sit in the left rear seat, someone must either enter through the driver’s door, conventional coupe style, or hop this console. On the plus side, Hyundai promises excellent handling, and seems to mean it. I’m hopeful, especially given a sub-2,600-pound curb weight. Hyundai is not promising much in the way of powertrain performance aside from an EPA rating around 40 highway—same as the new Elantra on which the Veloster is based. John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, never fails to impress with his natural, honest delivery. Other auto executives should study his presentations to see how its done. The three lesser employees trotted out as the car’s Gen Y target sounded quite scripted in comparison.
Jeep Grand Cherokee: Who knew there was room for another trim level above the already pricey Overland? The natural-finished brown leather in the new Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit looks and feels as good as any I’ve experienced in a car. But will this leather hold up? There’s a reason most car leather is processed beyond recognition.
Jeep Compass: Jeep introduced a refreshed Compass, and affirmed its commitment to the model because, apparently, it targets the largest SUV segment in terms of global sales. The Compass gets the CVT with a creeper ratio that was previously offered only in the related Patriot. No one seemed to care.
Jeep Grand Wagoneer: Is FIAT already backsliding on its pledge to not share models between brands? As I understood it, following the Commander fiasco Jeep wasn’t going to offer a seven-passenger SUV, while Dodge wasn’t going to offer a five-passenger SUV. But it seems that for the 2013 model year Jeep will get a Durango-sized variant of the Grand Cherokee, with the Grand Wagoneer nameplate revived for the combination.
Land Rover / Range Rover: Land Rover wants to have two separate brands, with “Range Rover” for the most luxurious models. One implication: the Land Rover Range Rover is now the Range Rover Range Rover, in the style of the Ram Ram. This isn’t the only corner into which Land Rover has painted itself. Much like the Discovery became the Discovery 2 in years past, then the Discovery 3 and Discovery 4 in the UK, which never went alphanumeric, the LR3 became the LR4 when it was redesigned for 2010. And the next LR2 will be called…what? Befitting the two-brand strategy, the Range Rover Evoque is considerably nicer inside than the Land Rover LR2. There’s less room, but still just enough for my 5-9 self in the back seat.
Porsche 918: Looks fantastic, and likely drives at least as good as it looks. By including a flywheel-based hybrid propulsion system, Porsche signals that, while the 918’s styling recalls past legends, the company intends to lead the rest of the industry into the future. Now that they’ve got their own, there will be no more pooh-poohing of hybrids from Europe. This said, I’m personally much more interested in “the car next door.”
Toyota Prius V: The company had been hinting about a Prius-branded MPV, and I’d been assuming three rows. The Prius V, it turns out, is essentially a Prius with 50 percent more cargo room. The difference is so small, why bother?
Volkswagen Passat: VW is clearly serious about greatly increasing its U.S. sales, bringing an army of employees to the show this year. The new US-specific Passat looks better inside and out than the new Jetta, and considerably better than I expected. Interior materials are a step or two back from previous Passats, in a bid to start at $20,000 and sell in the hundreds of thousands. The hard plastic on the door panels looks and feels cheap, at least in the light tan interior, but the rest isn’t too bad. In another attempt to cater to the priorities of American midsize sedan buyers, legroom is unusually plentiful in both rows. As much as I hate to admit that this strategy might work, this strategy might work, despite the likely negative reviews from the automotive press. No one enjoys being told, “You don’t sufficiently appreciate the good stuff, so here’s Grade B ‘just for you.’”