This weekend Detroit kicks off the 2018 auto show season with a bumper crop of rookie talent. We’ll be treated to new pickups, new EVs, new concepts — all vying for Detroit News Ten Best in Show.
But what of last year’s frosh wonders?
Did they live up to their promise? Did the Kia Stinger drive as good as it looked? Did the Honda Odyssey minivan dethrone King Chrysler Pacifica? Would Camry get trampled in America’s stampede to SUVs?
Herewith a look at the 2017 Ten Best in Show and how they are doing.
A performance sedan developed on the famous Nurburgring race track. From Kia. You’re kidding, right? Nope. The Korean econobox-maker hired Audi designer Peter Schreyer and BMW M-division engineer Albert Biermann to redefine the brand with an all-wheel drive, turbo V-6, Audi A7 lookalike priced like a Dodge Charger. The sleek Stinger wowed media testers last fall at its California proving grounds. Kia offered us a Porsche Panamera, Audi A7 and A5 to test it against. That’s confidence. The sportback held its own and then some. It’s one of the favorites for 2018 North American Car of the Year.
The bold Q8 SUV is expected in production form later this year, but the concept gave us plenty to digest. The Q8 is Q7’s doppelganger with a coupe-like roof (more sex appeal, less headroom) aimed at similar ute coupes from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It’s also the template for Audi’s new design direction as seen on the fresh A8 sedan at November’s LA Auto Show. Echoing the Q8, the A8 has more high-definition interior screens than a sports bar — and a continuous, LED taillight across the trunk.
The wagon is dead, long live the wagon. A big reason for America’s SUV preference is the security that an elevated seating position gives drivers. So Volvo markets the five-door version of its S90 sedan by jacking it up 2.3 inches and giving it a rugged ute-name: V90 Cross Country. But for those who value aesthetics, the V90 is available by dealer special order in wagon form. It sold an exclusive 176 units in 2017 (less than a tenth of the Cross Country), but with its long wheelbase, flowing lines and rich Scandinavian interior, it is a rolling sculpture.
Odyssey’s quirky exterior can’t compete with the Pacifica head-turner, but young families may find the Honda more appealing. The best-selling Fiat Chrysler minivans (Pacifica and sibling Dodge Caravan) wow with removable Stow’n’Go second- and third-row seats. Odyssey makes its pitch with a “Magic Slide” middle seat that moves tantrum-prone toddlers closer to the driver for needed attention — and a third-row microphone system for better communication.
After years of alienating Yanks with too-small utes and too-much Dieselgate, VW is back to win our hearts with the Americanized Tiggy. The compact SUV makes its case with a supersized interior, handsome exterior and tech galore. VW motorheads looking for a nimble SUV should look elsewhere — this V-dub puts on the pounds with a third-row seat option and storage space aplenty. That’s more utility than a comparable Audi Q5 for 15 grand less.
GMC joins VW and Mazda with an upscale, compact ute — and accompanying $1,500 price jump. Shedding its blocky truck lines for a more stylish wardrobe, the Terrain’s sculpted grille and boomerang taillights telegraph a small SUV with big ambitions. Terrain is loaded with innovation from its electronic “trigger” shifter to its Japanese-inspired “floating roof” to a terrific, nine-speed tranny. What’s most surprising is GMC’s 350-pound diet and toned chassis make it one of the best utes to flog on a twisty road.
America’s best-seller isn’t resting on its laurels. Just two years after its aluminum-skin transformation, the high-tech F-series keeps raising the bar with a redesigned “double I-beam” grille, Wi-Fi hot-spot (up to 10 devices for your big tailgate party), 10-speed transmission, semi-autonomous trailer backup-assist, and more engine choices. Like the first-ever F-150 diesel. Nearly 900,000 F-series sold last year.
Chairman Akio Toyoda’s made good on his promise of a “really sexy” Camry. The 2018 model is Toyota’s best-looking, best-handling, most ergonomically satisfying sedan yet. Trouble is, Camry must overcome two formidable competitors — the all-new Honda Accord, which is even better; and the Toyota RAV4, which dethroned King Camry as the best-selling non-pickup in America for the first time in 15 years.
Nissan Vmotion Concept
The Rogue SUV flew off dealer lots in 2017 as Nissan fed our thirst for all things ute with the Rogue Sport, and ... what were we talking about? Oh, yes, a sedan concept. The V-motion. Its futuristic cabinet doors and semi-autonomous features aside, Vmotion previewed the lines of camouflaged 2019 Altimas seen in spy shots.
Dodge Challenger GT
The what? Just after the GT debuted in Detroit, the breathless countdown began to the New York Auto Show’s April premiere of the 840-horsepower Dodge Demon. Demon didn’t disappoint with its unmatched quarter-mile numbers and unholy, supercharged shriek. But for Dodge shoppers looking for a practical, all-season, all-wheel drive Challenger, the GT is it. Just wish it came in a V-8.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.