The Christmas holiday is over, but the shelves are full of automotive toys at Cobo Center for the 2014 North American International Auto Show. If November’s Los Angeles Auto Show is all about Hollywood green and April’s New York show bows to Park Avenue luxury, then Detroit honors corn-fed American swagger. It’s where the world’s automakers come to show off their trucks, performance cars, and family haulers.
Detroit has gone from zero-to-wow in four short years.
Reborn from the ashes of the Great Recession, American automakers are leading an extraordinary convergence of automotive hardware and electronic technology. The dashboard embraces iPad design. Horsepower joins chip power. The Industrial Revolution meets the Digital Revolution.
Where taxpayer-funding compelled companies to show half-baked green displays (who can forget GM’s push for ethanol power?) in lieu of their meat-and-potatoes products, automakers this year are bringing innovation on their own terms to pickups, sports cars and luxury vehicles. The Detroit show offers everything to every customer with displays of tech, power and connectivity in vehicles across every segment. Increasingly, all those things can be found in a single vehicle.
Take the new Ford F-150, which sports an all-aluminum skin (once found only in small-volume super-cars), all LED lights (once found only in luxury sedans) and a powerful, turbocharged V-6 engine (once found only in sports sedans). Or the luxurious, dual-climate control, 625-horsepower Corvette Z06. Or the loaded, rotary-dial shifting, roomy, sculpted Chrysler 200 ... That’s right, even the midsize grocery haulers are sexy. So grab the kids and get down to the Greatest Show on Earth. Here’s your program. Here are the highlights:
After ogling Cobo’s airy, Metro Airport-like makeover (you half expect a 747 to be parked at the south bay window), plunge into the show at the central Macomb Hall entrance.
Behold the most beautiful sedans on the planet.
Acura, Cadillac, Tesla, BMW, Audi, and BMW displays flank the carpeted aisle. It’s like you’ve died and gone to luxury heaven. Did I mention Bentley is wedged in there too? Its land yachts seem old school in such athletic company.
The stunning Caddy CTS was my 2013 Detroit News Car of the Year and it holds its own in this rare air. Indeed, Cadillac’s show introduction of its more modern logo complements the sedan’s cutting-edge styling. The logo adorns the grille of the new ATS coupe, but the two-door is a reminder of how much ground is still to be made on class-leader BMW and Audi. The German brands not only have coupe versions of their best-selling 3-series and A4 sedans, but that they have created whole new numerologies to market the coupes (4-series for BMW coupes, A5 for Audi) and their earth-pawing BMW M and Audi S sports versions. BMW chose Detroit to debut its new M3 and M4, stealing Caddy’s thunder.
The competition is also stiff for Cadillac’s sharp, new $75K ELR plug-in — call it a Volt in a tuxedo. Next door lurks the $70K Tesla Model S, the darling of the country club, and BMW’s electrified i-series. The 357-horsepower i8, Bimmer’s first super-car in 35 years, will bring grown men to their knees.
Hang a right at BMW and gold chains give way to beach balls. Literally. Volkswagen offers a Beetle Dune Concept, an update on VW-based dune buggies that kicked sand in the seventies. Next door, the Mini Cooper stand gives the Bug stiff cuteness competition — even its muscular John Copper Works concept is huggable. Not to be outdone, Kia sports the redesigned Soul — its diet-conscious hamsters never far away.
Kia’s got Soul, and much more. The nominal budget brand from Korea stole away Audi’s chief designer a few years back and the brand has been transformed into one of the hippest lineups on the floor.
The rear, west wall of the exhibit is dominated by the titans, Toyota and GM, which perennially vie for the title of biggest global automaker. Toyotaville’s avenue of Prius, Camrys, Scions, and SUVs gives way to miles of Chevys, Buicks, and GMCs. They should hand out Segways to explore them all. But notable in the acres of smart vehicles are two sports cars that burn with passion.
The Toyota FT1 concept is a ruby red roller-skate that will get speeding tickets standing still. Toyota calls it a concept, but its racy lines hint at the second-coming of the late-’90s Supra, the stallion that brought to the street Toyota’s years of racing experience. The Chevy Corvette Z06 is so closely aligned with the General’s racing program that it debuted alongside the Chevy C7.R race car that will take the green flag at the 24 Hours of Daytona later this month.
The 625-horsepower Z06 joins a lineup that already boasts a 455-horsepower base model and a convertible. You could buy all three for the price of a Lamborghini.
The exhibit space’s core features the smaller American and Japanese companies that try harder because they have to stay ahead of the titans galloping hooves. Nissan’s flowing Maxima concept and Mazda’s nimble 3 are the heart of these sporty brands while nearby Subaru’s AWD commitment has bred a cult of followers.
Detroit’s underdog, Chrysler, has rebounded from bankruptcy led by workhorses like the Grand Cherokee and SRT Viper GTS. This year, the company births a new entry into the midsize sedan segment. Want to see the child of an Italian-American marriage?
The Alfa Romeo-based Chrysler 200 is sleek, roomy, and loaded with tech — including a nifty rotary dial shifter that frees up the center console.
The engine boys
Anchoring the east wall of Cobo are Honda and Ford, a fitting couple. No two companies have been more innovative in bringing new drive-train technology to market. Both have storied racing histories. Both also bleed green. This year they add to their legends.
Honda shows the Honda Fit, a remarkably versatile tool for the compact car market with a cute face yet interior room that would make a minivan proud. Ford’s light-weight, turbocharged F-150 is the most talked about vehicle in town, a daring truck that refuses to sit on its laurels.
And then there’s the iconic Ford Mustang. The muscle car turns 50 this year with a plan to the conquer the world with more European styling and fuel economy while retaining its muscular attitude. Transformed, but still a pony car. Efficiency, but on Mustang’s terms.
That Detroit attitude is back.
Auto show floor plan
About this section
Written and reported by Henry Payne
Designed by Carolyn Chin Watson
Edited by Greg Tasker
Find Henry Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.