The North American International Auto Show is an automotive blockbuster of big stars, sumptuous backdrops, technical effects, and complicated subplots. It’s impossible to digest it all in one viewing. From “the Big Nasty” to biggest display, from leather interiors to leather miniskirts, here are my awards for what made the 2014 show special.
Most Likely to Get Justin Bieber Arrested
The pop star has a bad drag-racing habit. Put him behind the wheel of a Mustang Shelby GT500 and he might be singing in Sing Sing for life. It’s not just the car’s 662 horsepower and 631 pound-feet of torque. The Cobra-badged, double-striped hood-scooped front end would get this muscle car a ticket parked at the curb.
Not only does the Lexus LFA supercar have an unusual three-tailpipe configuration, but Lexus wants showgoers to experience the rich sound that comes from this grand Wurlitzer. So visitors can run their finger around a 0-to-10,000 RPM dial (think iPod rotary dial) behind the car that mimics the engine scream all the way to peak revs. Warning: Addictive.
Best Car Nickname
“The Big Nasty,” GM Product Chief introducing the new 625-horsepower Corvette Z06
The interior of the long-wheelbase Range Rover Autobiography Black (just $199,000) is leather from head to toe. Seats, dash, door inserts — even the ceiling — are sheathed in 100 percent cowhide.
Most Popular Model
Forget car models. We’re talkin’ female models. Chrysler’s display has curves galore, from go-go booted beauties with the Dodge Challenger to a blonde siren who could sell a Dodge Durango faster than Ron Burgundy. But Julie Etheridge, who calls Grosse Pointe home, takes the prize. Male fans lined up at the Jeep Cherokee stand to have their picture taken with Julie in her leather miniskirt.
Look, Ma, no shifter. The traditional center-console shift stalk gets a second look from some manufacturers. The new Chrysler 200 sports a rotary gear selector that could be mistaken for BMW’s iDrive screen navigator. But my favorite adorns the Lincoln MKZ, which does away with shifters altogether and offers buttons (labeled P, R, N, D and S (sport)) integrated into the center console's left border.
The Audi R8 integrates headlights, grille, and air vents into a front fascia that is at once balanced and a work of art.
To differentiate its new AMG performance CLA and GLA models, Mercedes has painted the chrome rim of their front grilles bright red. It grabs you like the ruby rouge lips of Marlene Dietrich.
Best Place to Park the Rugrats When They Get Bored
Scion hypes itself as the youth brand, and it lives up to its billing with the most kid-friendly display in show. Various stations include: 1) “Paper Shaper” cars that can be folded into toy vehicles; 2) charging cords for iPods, Droids, tablets, etc.; and 3) an Instagram machine that dispenses treats.
Best Customized Vehicle
The super-sized Fiat 500L is already a radical upgrade on the little 500. But in Chrysler’s Mopar mod display, the vehicle gets another extreme makeover. The Italian cutie features roof rails, “Beach Cruiser” wheels, 500L logo valve stems, a headrest-mounted coat hanger, a lowered suspension, and a partridge in a pear tree (joking). These Mopar mods are now available to Chrysler customers right at the dealership.
Best Center Console Screen
Actually, the Audi Shooting Brake Concept — an early look at the next TT — has no center console screen at all. It’s been integrated into the 12.3-inch instrument panel behind the steering wheel to simplify (complicate?) where the driver has to look for instrumentation, navigation, etc. (Runner-up: The huge 17-inch Tesla Model S touchscreen makes a full-size iPad look like an iPad Mini.)
Most Audacious Vehicle
So VL Automotive, co-owned by former GM designer Bob Lutz, took a Fisker Karma electric car, stripped it of its battery-power train and stuffed in a 639-horsepower, 6.2-liter Corvette engine. Lutz says the company intends to convert all 1,800 Karmas — the once iconic, now bankrupt Green dream car — into supercharged carbon burners. No wonder they call him “Maximum Bob.”
Most Unlikely Race Car
The Toyota Camry funny car. A Camry dragster? That makes as much sense as Betty White, middle linebacker. Or Richard Simmons, pro wrestler. It’s an oxymoron. But it’s in Cobo with 8,000 horsepower, a top speed of 330 mph, and a 0-100 time of 0.8 seconds.
Driven by aerodynamic concerns, vehicles look more and more alike these days. As a result, stylish grille and headlight design define a car. The Acura RLX stands out for its horizontal “jewel-eyed” LED headlight display. There’s 16 — sixteen! — of ‘em. Now if they could just make the rest of the car look more becoming ...
Henry Payne is The News’ auto critic. Find him at email@example.com Twitter @HenryEPayne