By on January 13, 2011

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.

BMW 1 M: Does this offer enough performance above the 135i to warrant the M? New applications for alcantara in place of wood on the door pulls and instrument panel. And atop the instrument binnacle. And yet not in more conventional locations on the steering wheel, shifter, or seats. Go figure.
BMW 650i: The new design looks much cleaner and sleeker than the Bangled current one. But the view forward from the driver’s seat is even more constrained than in the Camaro, with less than a foot between the top of the instrument binnacle and the windshield header. Not good for driver confidence.

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.’”

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56 Comments on “The View From Detroit: Michael Karesh On The 2011 NAIAS...”


  • avatar
    Zackman

    Mike, that first photo looks eerily like North St. Louis, where I was from. Just as decrepit and empty. Truly sad. The cars? Most beautifully presented. How different they will appear in a dealer showroom.

    • 0 avatar

      The highway was backed up because of an accident, so I exited onto the surface streets. Found a couple blocks full of houses like this one, except for one red house that was in outstanding condition. Made me wonder why they stuck around and bothered to keep the place in such great shape.

    • 0 avatar
      pgcooldad

      So why wouldn’t you take a picture of the red house and post that. When you got to Cobo you didn’t photograph the toilets.

    • 0 avatar

      There were a lot more cars than toilets inside Cobo. It would be nice if they had them on both sides of the hall.

    • 0 avatar
      joe_thousandaire

      I was a little disappointed by the lead photo here. I know Mike lives in Michigan,  so I’m surprised he’d go there. Even for people out-of-state making fun of the crumbling ruins of Detroit went from funny to just plain sad about 2 years ago. There are thousands and thousands of homes like these not only in the D but throughout lower Michigan. Its bound to happen when, you know, everyone leaves. I’ll be tearing down two that I’ve come into ownership of myself. That’s what needs to be done to these neighborhoods, green fields are better than crack houses waiting for the arsonists hand.

  • avatar
    86er

    The new Explorer in profile looks a lot like the new 4Runner. 

    Which brings me to my semi-rhetorical question: did all the car designers go to the same school, work on the same computer software, and punch in a few numbers to adjust for aerodynamics and pedestrian crash standards, and call it a day?

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      That’s funny, too me it looks like the new Graand Cherokee. And I guess they all did go to the same school and use the same program.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      What’s really striking is how big the 2011 Explorer looks in real life. It manages to look more massive, in my opinion, than the old truck-based Explorer.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      @ geeber,

      That’ll make it easier when Ford announces the discontinuation of the Expedition.

    • 0 avatar

      The Explorer is smoother and much better looking (in a conventional way) than the 4Runner, which is very blocky with a relatively upright Hummeresque windshield. The new Explorer is considerably larger than the old one, but less roomy than I expected inside. It’s shorter than the Taurus X, and this apparently translates to considerably less legroom in the second row.

    • 0 avatar
      cdnsfan27

      I like the look of the new Explorer. We have an 06 Freestyle that we are looking to keep for a few more years but when we replace it the Explorer will be high on our list. I like the MyTouch system and I hope that the new model will address the few niggles we have with the Freestyle. It has been mechanically sound but the DVD player just died and we will not be spending $1500 to replace it. The black leather is starting to dry it and no amount of conditioning is changing that. Other than that it is a great vehicle. Looking forward to owning the new Explorer in 3-5 years.

  • avatar
    Tree Trunk

    The Prius V does solve the problem with limited headroom (I’m 6.2 and touch the sealing) in the back seat.  It also adds to the cargo space that while well laid out it is also limited by the aerodynamic shape.

    Legroom is just fine so if they are not adding a seat row I don’t understand why the added the longer wheelbase if there is no plan for a third seat row
     

  • avatar
    fiatjim

    “that the company was able to revise every Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep for 2001 impresses.”

    I have no clue if this is intentional or not.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    any word on a C-Max with a clutch? Maybe, if one can get that, I’ll unbolt the 3rd seat and replace my Scion xB1.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      @eggsalad – I’d be tempted to unbolt the rear most seat as well, mainly because the seat back must be right at or a few inches from the rear hatch window.  Not a safe place to sit, in my opinion.

  • avatar

    Jeez, Michael, I mean, the Verano (short for Verrazano, as in the bridge?) is not the coolest looking thing to grace the roads, but at least from the angle you shot it, I don’t find it particularly ugly, either. It doesn’t make me feel as if I want to woof my cookies, unlike the Caliber, and it doesn’t even approach the ugliness of the Fit, or the Tribeca… heck, it’s no uglier than most cars today.
    btw, is that a prindl masquerading as a stick? There can’t be a Buick with a real stick, can there?

    • 0 avatar

      I must admit that in the posted pic the Verano looks pretty good. I somehow caught it from just the right angle. But for people to want to pay high 20s for a small Buick it needs to be gorgeous, and it’s not. At best it’s forgettable.

  • avatar

    I want TTAC to give me another Michael Karesh, who writes in the same style, but is taller, goddamit. The reviews are so constrained by Michael’s body dimensions that anything about driving position or visibility out the car is useless to me. Excellent comments otherwise though.

  • avatar
    motownr

    +1 on TTAC adding an XL version of MK….or anyone else.
     
    Another fine job despite your ‘disability’, Michael.  Would you care to opine on how you see the battle shaking out in the small vehicle segment?  A lot of capital being thrown into pretty price sensitive market segments, IMO.
    In your opinion, any of these vehicles going to sell in any volume other than in base or near-base configurations?

    • 0 avatar

      No one is developing a small car only for the U.S.–the development costs are largely being paid for by overseas buyers. Only GM and Ford have built plants in North America, and only GM’s is in the U.S. Ford has been selling heavily optioned Fiestas, though this could end up being a first-year thing.
      It’s probably best to think of these cars as insurance policies. If gas prices shoot up, every manufacturer will want to have a B-segment model available.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Range Rover Range Rover, send Suzi right over.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    The Prius V will make the car even more friendly for taxi service.  I’ve seen a lot of current Prii in livery service in my area… the increased headroom in the back and luggage capacity will make them work better for airport pickups, I’d think.

    Otherwise, I also don’t see much point.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    It is pretty ballsy of VW to offer a TDI Passat; nothing in the size/price category will be like it.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    What’s the buzz on the floor about the theft of the BMW 7 series as it was being loaded on a transport?

    That picture of the area of Detroit is real….the city is a wasteland.  Burned out buildings abound just a block or two from the show site….sad.

    • 0 avatar

      There are no burned out buildings within a block or two of Cobo Hall. Detroit has plenty of desolation, but not that close to Cobo – though there are indeed some empty buildings downtown. Detroit has 800,000 people living in a city designed for 2 million, mostly single family dwellings. Detroit also is a physically large city, 127 square miles, so now there is a lot of empty space. Mayor Bing seems to be keeping to his promise of knocking down and clearing out the abandoned homes.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Ronnie: I can share your disappointment concerning disparaging midwestern cities. I’m from the Youngstown, Ohio area, and we’ve seen our share of hard times too. Almost anytime someone in the media wants to point to a ‘damaged’ city, Y-town is somewhere near the top of the list. Usually Detroit gets it first, but it isn’t long before somebody is shooting pictures of the near North or West side of town. Oh how awful this is, and they shake their heads as they pack up the TV truck.
       
      No one ever seems to notice the revitalized downtown, the university (yes, I’m alumni), the new arena  and the tidy and affordable near suburbs that are 15 minutes away from the wrecks of the old steel mills. We all can’t be Orange County or Newport or Taos, but really, ask a local next time. There are different pictures to be taken.
       
      If you want a midwestern success story, come to Grand Rapids, Michigan sometime.

    • 0 avatar

      It does no good to pretend that there aren’t tens of thousands of buildings like this one within the city. The drive in made me think of what might be possible. It’s not topical here, but perhaps I’ll write it up as a separate piece.

    • 0 avatar
      william442

      GEO: I thought at first ,that the picture was of Youngstown.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Michael: I really didn’t mean to castigate you for using that picture, but it’s really time for a new paradigm. I think by now everyone knows what shape Detroit (and the industrial midwest) is in. By the same token I don’t want a ‘Pollyannish’ view of what isn’t here, either. We can show a different side. Sorry to hijack the thread, and let this be the end of this discussion.
       
      @william442: Aren’t you from the valley, too?
       

    • 0 avatar
      william442

      GEO: Youngstown and Poland. I even spent a summer in the seamless tube mill.

  • avatar

    Viz: Mazda 5 second row stow-away jump seat?  Agreed, Mazda should import them this way, the 5 in other markets has it (along with power sliding doors, cargo-only versions, and other forbidden fruit). 

  • avatar
    JMII

    When does the 2.0 turbo come to the Veloster?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    A very nice synopsis of the vehicles.
    I’m predicting the Sonic will be an absolute smash. It may end up becoming one of the first small Chevy’s to hit 200k ‘retail’ sales in quite a while.
    The C-Max may hit that plateau too. But I’m reckoning it will be a bit price challenged when properly equipped.
     
    One other random thought… is everyone trying to hit the $20k to $25k mark these days? You have virtually every size of car now available for that price (with the exception of full-size). It will be very interesting to see how the Camry sales fare in this more competitive environment.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      The Sonic may very well be a hit.  I won’t be buying any Government Motors cars but I must admit the Cruze and Sonic look like very nice vehicles.  They may finally be putting their poor track record on small cars behind them.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      The Sonic may very well be a hit.  I won’t be buying any Government Motors cars but I must admit the Cruze and Sonic look like very nice vehicles.  They may finally be putting their poor track record on small cars behind them.

      Well, I hope so, but let’s not get carried away.  I’m gonna lay low and see how these cars fare in the real world.  Maybe after a few years and a proven track record then I’ll consider GM – maybe. 

  • avatar

    650 is haaaaaat
     
    didn’t like the A7 at first but lookin good
     
    A9??????

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    The BMW 650i could be the product of almost any car company. It isn’t as in your face ugly as a Bangle car, but it doesn’t have anything other than badges to make it look like a BMW either. Which is as it should be, since they stopped being worthy of being thought of as BMW’s under the skin years ago.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    My wife thinks I’m out of mind (as I’m sure some people here probably do as well), but I’m actually curious to see the changes to the Jeep Compass.
     
    I like the picture, by the way.  It tells an important story about what’s been happening in that area.
     
    Keep up the great work!

  • avatar
    ajla

    No civilian Caprice, no Buick version of the Insignia OPC (BTW, did GM even bring a Regal GS to the show?), no announcement that the 3.0L V6 is being sent to hell, no Alfas, no FT-86 info, no new Ecoboost cars, no 274hp Genesis Coupe.
     
    I think I need to lower my expectations when it comes to NAIAS manufacturer news.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Good report.
     
    Thank you.

  • avatar

    With the Cruze, Sonic, Focus and Fiesta, for the first time since the early 1960s, Ford and Chevy will be duking it with credible products in the compact end of the market .

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    Interesting note on the new GC trim level’s leather; reminds me of the hide in Ford’s spendy “King Ranch” trim. If you’ve ever looked at used KR models, the leather is DISGUSTING  before they even hit the 50k mile mark.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    The problem with the original KR leather is that it is not dyed like normal automotive leather. It requires using a KR rejuvenating product every 6 months at a minimum because the leather dries out. It also does not have the resistance to soiling automotive leathers do. Ford changed the KR leather to one that is dyed in either the current or previous iteration. I had an 03 KR and it was a time consuming pain to keep it looking good, IMO using non automotive (albeit premium grade) leather was a big mistake as it had about zero durability. The original KR leather was the same the King Ranch uses to make saddles, furniture, clothing etc.

    Never tried it but I don’t think you could use normal automotive leather cleaning/restoration products, you had to use the King Ranch product. My guess is most detail shops wouldn’t know that resulting in used KR’s with lousy looking leather.

    The partially torn down house is an accurate depiction of Detroit overall, once you are out of the immediate downtown area the city is a wasteland. Much of it looks like a bombed out war zone. Shame.

  • avatar
    autobahner44

    Your photo choice to lead the NAIAS story is a rather hackneyed dis of the D. I bet you could find a horrible abandoned shack in close proximity to any major auto show venue, so what’s the point?


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