Payne: 10 Best at Detroit auto show

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

You know this is a good show when the all-new Mercedes E-Class, Volvo S90, and Porsche 911 Turbo S don’t make the 10 Best cut. The Turbo S (S stands for “See ya”) looks like a 911, has five-zillion horsepower and goes 205 mph. Ho-hum. So what’s new?

Lots, as you stroll the wide boulevards of Cobo Center at the Detroit auto show, opening to the public on Saturday.

Those boulevards are broader this year since Mini, Jaguar, Land Rover and Tesla aren’t in the house. That leaves more more elbow room for everyone else. For those who did bring skin to the game, well, there’s a lot of nice skins out there. A healthy eight concepts are on display in addition to the usual Detroit menu of luxe coupes and red-meat trucks.

I put on a bib and sampled them all. Here’s my Top 10.

The Chrysler Pacifica is an innovative family room on wheels designed to change preconceived notions.

Chrysler Pacifica

Seriously, Payne? What happened to all that red meat you were just talking about? Ah, but this is no ordinary minivan. Forty years after it invented the segment, Chrysler has set out to redefine it with the sleek Pacifica. Inside, it adds even more tools to its Swiss Army knife versatility: a console drawer for iPads, video screens for kids, even a vacuum cleaner.

BMW’s M2, a two-door version of the M1 sedan, has roots in motor sports with a priority in performance.


The long-awaited M performance-coupe version of the 2-series is the same size as big brother M4 10 years ago, yet packs 35 more horsepower. As the M4 (and sedan stable mate M3) has grown in size, power, and price, it has become more like a Corvette sedan than the nimble M3s of old. The throwback M2 has the performance of a Porsche Cayman — but with four seats so the kiddies can enjoy the thrill ride.

Wearing the “new face of Lincoln,” the Continental ditches the winged grille for Jaguar XF-like styling.

Lincoln Continental

While Cadillac has invested billions to go toe-to-toe against Germany’s athletes, Continental appeals to a customer who wants “quiet luxury.” Priced like a mid-sizer at under $50K, it has the room of an S-class big sedan. The new face of Lincoln has class-leading innovation inside with 30-way seats.

Honda has transformed the Ridgeline pickup into an everyday lifestyle midsize pickup with stylish looks.

Honda Ridgeline

The unibody pickup is back. The only pickup not based on a truck rail frame, the Ridgeline shares a platform with the popular Honda Pilot. Ridgeline took a couple years off for an extreme makeover in order to present a more “trucky” appearance, yet retains unique features like a trunk under the pickup bed.

Toyota’s LC 500 has cutting-edge technology and 467-horsepower V-8 under its hood.

Lexus LC 500 Coupe

Lexus’s polarizing, Darth Vader-like face must be growing on people because I heard nary a word of criticism about this stunning V-8 coupe from my media colleagues.

In contrast to its mammoth 8.4-liter engine, the Viper-based VLF incorporates LED construction in the industry’s tiniest headlights.

VLF Force 1

When car guy “Maximum Bob” Lutz and legendary designer Henrik Fisker get together expect fireworks. The explosive Force 1 delivers. Sporting the biggest engine on the show floor at 8.4 liters, the Viper-based VLF also sports the industry’s tiniest headlights and taillights, thanks to special LED construction.

The Chevrolet Bolt EV, powered by a 60-kilowatt lithium-ion battery pack, can go from zero to 60 mph in less than seven seconds.

Chevrolet Bolt

The Bolt joins the Chevy Volt plug-in in GM’s quest to make battery-powered cars for the masses. Whether the masses jump for a $37,500 Chevy Sonic (the Bolt will be built on the subcompact $15,000 Sonic’s platform at GM’s Orion assembly) remains to be seen. But for green buyers the electric Bolt should be a hit with 200-mile range, raised crossover seating, and sporty looks.

The battery-powered Energi, above, is among the trim levels offered in the refresh of the Fusion, the centerpiece of Ford’s display.

Ford Fusion

Refreshed for 2016, the Fusion is the centerpiece of Ford’s display because it proves a family sedan can make pulses race. With its Aston Martin face and coupe-like roof, Fusion’s a looker. It should get more looks by adding three trims: a 325-horsepower Sport, battery-powered Energi and luxe Platinum.

Acura’s Precision Concept indicates its shooting for an image makeover with its wide stance and chiseled looks.

Acura Precision concept

With its wide stance, chiseled bod and cabinet doors, the Precison is an old-school, wow-’em concept. Beginning with its “Diamond Pentagon” grille, Precision aims to ban the beak and redefine Acura.

Buick’s Avista concept has a twin-turbo V-6 that delivers 400 horsepower through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Buick Avista

Hell must be freezing over. Lexus and Buick have two of the sexiest cars on the floor. “I saw it and thought: ‘That’s a Buick?!’ Just like the ads,” exclaimed three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves who paid a visit to the floor while promoting the Belle Isle Grand Prix. Gorgeous from head to toe, the concept (you’re making it right, GM?) should also be fun to drive since it shares Camaro’s chassis.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne.

Detroit auto show

Charity Preview: 6-9 p.m. Friday; $400 per person ($390 tax deductible)

Public show: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (no admittance after 9 p.m.) Saturday through Jan. 23; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (no admittance after 6 p.m.) Jan. 24

Admission: $13 adults; $7 age 7-12, and age 65 and over; free age 6 and under

Location: Cobo Center, 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit