I am tempted to name Lightning McQueen of “Cars 3” a Top 10 pick. One of the most-watched auto shows on the planet, Detroit tempts more than just car companies. Below Cobo’s show floor are 100 businesses showing off the next era of mobility, for example. And there’s IndyCar, displaying a next-gen racer to debut on Belle Isle in 2018. Or life-size Lightning flogging the latest installment in one of my favorite animation franchises, “Cars 3.” Ka-chow! But for all his Owen Wilson-infused personality, Lightning can’t hold a candle to other toys on the floor.
From the sleek Kia Stinger to the Ford F-150 skyscraper, the 2017 show is a delicious buffet. Here are my Top 10:
Good timing, Stinger. Big Three muscle mostly sat out this year’s show, giving the Nurburgring-tested, five-door Kia coupe the performance spotlight. First shown as the stunning Kia GT concept in Europe in 2011, the Stinger makes a statement of Kia’s intentions to be more than a builder of mainstream appliances. “This is a Kia brand that surprises and challenges,” says design boss Peter Schreyer. The same length as its doppelganger — the $70,000 Audi A7 — Kia says the Stinger will be targeted at the $40,000 BMW 3-series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-class.
Speaking of Audis, VW’s luxury brand unveiled the Q8 crossover as a sleek, two-row coupe version of its SUV flagship, the Q7. That’s a niche market, but the stylish Q8 previews the bold, six-lace rework of Audi’s famous large grille. Inside is the next-generation, best-in-luxury Virtual Cockpit instrument display — but more significant is the expanded heads-up display that accurately overlays information on the road ahead (an arrow indicating exact road turn-in, for example). Look for it in 2018.
SUVs like the Audi Q8 have rendered station wagons all but extinct in the U.S. The gorgeous V90 wagon urges us to reconsider. The V90 provides plenty of utility with all-wheel drive and a roomy interior. That interior also shares “Thor’s hammer” headlights, posh materials and tablet console screen with the award-winning XC90 Volvo SUV. Just to be safe in ute-crazed USA, however, Volvo jacks up the V90 2.5 inches and badges it the V90 Cross Country.
OK, enough about exteriors. Let’s talk interior innovation. The 2018 Utility of the Year Chrysler Pacifica sets a high bar with its Stow ’n’ Go middle seats and a dresser-drawer of console storage. But Honda thinks customers want better second-row communication. So the Magic Slide middle seat allows you to glide a car seat-bound child within reach — and a microphone system lets you talk directly to third-row occupants. As for the exterior, well ... how about hiring a Volvo designer?
Rocked by Dieselgate, Volkswagen is eager to get back to the business of building vehicles. The new Tiguan aims for the meat of the U.S. market and checks all the boxes: longer wheelbase (by 10.4 inches), 57 percent bigger trunk, three rows of seats (very unusual for a compact ute), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
You had me at the C-clamp headlights. I protested bigger brother Acadia’s extreme makeover at last year’s show as too vanilla. The Terrain does it right in the dog-eat-ute compact segment (see the Tiguan above). The front peepers and Nissan Murano-like floating roof are elegant (though creating a blind spot bigger than Rhode Island). Shedding nearly 500 pounds, the turbo-4 powered Terrain should ride as good as it looks.
The king of trucks just gets better. The grille ditches Ford’s signature three-bar for a wider, “double I-beam” take. Nice, except the base models get grille “nostrils.” Ugh. I’d jump straight to the handsome Lariat trim. Under the aluminum hood, Ford’s smorgasbord of engine choices gets the first diesel in the light duty’s long history. The hits keep on coming: Wi-Fi hot spot, pre-collision assist, smartphone connectivity, new wheels and ... I could go on all day.
“Sexy and really sexy,” said Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda, introducing the all-new Camry’s base and sport versions. A hilarious chairman? A sexy Camry? Together they stole the media show, and that was appropriate. Toyoda has pushed his designers hard to make their appliances more appealing. The racier sheet metal also telegraphs a more capable chassis as the Camry gets lower and stiffer. To emphasize the point, Toyoda also introduced the new NASCAR Camry. Va-vroom.
Nissan Vmotion concept
Vmotion echoes the Chrysler Portal concept in its roomy approach to ride-sharing autonomy. So why the saucy exterior? Because the Vmotion also explores future design for its family sedans. Carve these racy lines into an Altima and it’ll make the Camry look vanilla again.
Dodge Challenger GT
Dodge quietly sneaked its first all-wheel drive pony-car coupe into Cobo for its first show. Quietly, because the GT is not endowed with an earth-shaking V-8. The AWD system comes mated only to a 305-horsepower V-6, but that’ll do for motorheads pining to power-drift their Challengers through snow drifts. Finally, an all-season Woodward dragster.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter: @HenryEPayne.