Kia stings competition in design awards

Paul A. Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News

Kia took top honors in what is generally considered the premier award for new products making their debut at the 2017 North American International Auto Show.

The Korean carmaker’s new Stinger, a high-styled gran turismo model that will go into production this year, was declared Best Production Car in the annual Eyes on Design Awards on Tuesday. Seven trophies were handed out during the event, which marked the official wrap-up of the NAIAS media preview.

“Usually, concept cars disappear” after they appear at an auto show, said Kia product manager Eddie Rayyan, noting that a prototype of the Stinger first appeared at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show. “So, I am really pleased this concept car came through virtually unchanged as a production car.”

While passenger cars have traditionally been seen as the ultimate hallmark of great design, trucks are gaining more attention — no surprise considering they now account for almost two-thirds of the new vehicles being sold in the U.S.

Hometown brand Chevrolet took honors for Best Production Truck, with the new Chevrolet Traverse SUV that was introduced at Cobo Center on Tuesday.

Nissan landed special honors during the awards ceremony — its crisply styled Vmotion 2.0 show car was named Best Concept Car, while also being honored for making the most Innovative Use of Color, Graphics and Materials. The Vmotion, according to Nissan global design chief Shiro Nakamura, “is just a concept car.” That said, its bold styling is intended to preview the new design language that will appear on future Nissan products, from the little Rogue SUV to the big Maxima sport sedan.

Toyota’s high-line Lexus brand has generated plenty of buzz at the auto show for the curvaceous LS sedan unveiled on Monday. But it was the work designers achieved in the flagship four-door’s cabin that most impressed Eyes on Design judges, who declared the 2018 Lexus LS had the Best Designed Interior.

Today’s interior are loaded with high-tech infotainment and other digital systems, balancing them against traditional materials like leather, wood, metal — and, yes, plastic. But what a motorist thinks of a vehicle can be strongly influenced by what happens when they try to operate that technology — as made clear by recent quality studies that reveal the degree of frustration owners often experience trying to change radio stations or plug in a destination.

BMW, which introduced one of the industry’s first modern infotainment systems — taking a fair bit of heat for its iconic iDrive system — received strong kudos, this time around, and the afternoon’s final award for offering the Best User Experience with the new 5-Series, which rolled out on Monday.

The new system offers drivers a variety of different ways to run the system, from touch to voice, all meant to make the process easier and more accurate, BMW officials explained.

The final trophy of the afternoon went to the retro-futuristic Volkswagen I.D. Buzz, which created plenty of buzz at the Detroit show. Declared Best Concept Truck, the VW minivan picks up on some of the classic cues from the German maker’s iconic hippie van, the old Microbus. But it packs in a long-range electric drivetrain and an assortment of other high-tech features, including autonomous driving capabilities.

Like many concept vehicles, it’s hard to tell whether the buzz will fade away after this auto show season ends, but VW has long hinted it would like to bring back the old Microbus and Buzz, the latest in a series of minivan concepts, just might indicate the German company has found the right formula.