With all of the leaks, it’s not so easy to be surprised at NAIAS. But I managed to learn a thing or two by attending. My top dozen takeaways:
1. Compared to a Lamborghini, a Ferrari seems…normal. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve never even sat in these cars before. The view forward from the driver’s seat of any Lambo is shockingly awful. I have a much easier time visualizing myself behind the wheel of the Ferrari FF, where the windshield design actually appears to have had forward visibility as a priority. Similarly, when behind the wheel of the Rolls-Royce you’re clearly looking down upon the common folk, while the Bentley comes across as a normal car, just lavishly furnished. I guess it’s a matter of whether you’re buying a car to make a statement or to drive (or be driven in).
2. The Subaru BRZ has a surprisingly nice interior, with open sight lines, supportive seats, and quality materials. The interior in the FR-S is very similar, but I wasn’t able to sit in the Scion and, from what I’ve read, it won’t be available with the Subaru’s up-level faux suede trim. How did the joint venture sports car end up with a nicer interior than you’ll find elsewhere in either partner’s lineup?
3. Lexus doesn’t have a clue. If you have to give a prepared speech to explicitly inform the press that you’re “exciting and dynamic,” then you’re not.
4. Chevrolet tries harder, but also doesn’t have a clue. The brand introduced two concepts based on “really getting to know Gen Y well.” Gen Y said it wanted functionality. Chevrolet responded with a pair of coupes, suggesting that GM continues to project its own preferences onto its target markets. Beyond their inherent functional limitations, both concepts were roundly panned on aesthetic grounds, one for being nothing new, the other for insufficient coherence.
5. I’m not Gen Y, but Chevrolet might yet become my best friend. I actually liked one of the concepts, the CODE 130R. Not because it’s attractive, and not because it’s a coupe. With three kids, I have absolutely no use for a coupe. But because it suggests that GM might actually offer an affordably-priced compact rear-wheel-drive car. Add a second set of doors, and perhaps a hatch as well, and I’d be very interested.
6. In another 30 years, Chevrolet might reintroduce the Cavalier. Or even the Aveo. After all, Dodge is bringing back the Dart, which old folks remember as a POS. To their credit, Dodge has packed the car full of features not often found in a mainstream compact, including reconfigurable LCD instruments, four-way power lumbar adjustments, and black leather with red perforations.
7. Honda, or at least Acura, might have finally rediscovered the plot. The semi-premium branch introduced a couple of cars that were pleasant to look at, and perhaps even a lot of fun to drive. The company’s turnaround doesn’t appear to have come soon enough to save the redesigned RDX (and across the aisle the Accord concept was also well short on wow value), but the Civic-based (if ill-named) ILX looks good. Perhaps it will fill the spot vacated a decade ago by the Integra? The new NSX also looks fantastic.
8. Acura is applying for U.S. citizenship. The brand will now be based in the U.S. The new NSX will be engineered in California and assembled in Ohio. An exotic from Ohio?
9. Pros and cons of the new Fusion. Biggest downside surprise: the car doesn’t look as good as I expected. The bodysides lack the fluidity of the Jags and Astons the car emulates. Why rake the windshield and backlight so dramatically, then make the bodysides so lean and stiff? Biggest upside surprise: despite the sweeping roofline, the back seat is very roomy and the most comfortable I’ve experienced in a mainstream midsize sedan. A nearly perfect height off the floor, seatback angle, cushion size, and shape. Don’t think rear seats sell cars? Check out VW’s sales.
10. The Buick Encore has a surprising amount of interior room for a 168.5-inch-long vehicle (a foot shorter than an Acura RDX). Adults will find sufficient space and comfortable seats in both rows. What the driver won’t find: sufficient power. Unless the Encore is packed with as much aluminum and magnesium as the ATS, and consequently tips the scales south of 3,000 pounds, the Sonic’s 138-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four will provide little joy. The Encore’s exterior design isn’t the most appealing, with proportions that recall the Rendezvous and odd little black plastic trim pieces on the rear pillars.
11. Cadillac, on only its third try in thirty years, might have finally matched, even beaten, the Bavarians at their own game. Unlike most other recent GM cars, which have been a couple hundred pounds overweight, the new ATS will check in below the competition. The ATS’s driving position is very similar to that in the C-Class, providing an excellent view forward, and better than the new 3, where you’re buried behind a towering instrument cluster. The engineering team is clearly fanatical about the car, especially how it steers and handles. If it handles half as well as they claim, I’m gonna want one. Especially if the wagon they’re not denying is offered in the U.S. with a manual.
12. Lincoln’s sales are low…by choice. Or so marketing VP Jim Farley would like us to believe. Lincoln dealers’ relatively low sales will enable them to provide their customers with more personalized service, compared to the “big box” luxury car retailers from across the oceans.
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.