10 must-sees at the Detroit auto show

Henry Payne
The Detroit News


The Shelby Mustang GT500

Cobo's main show floor is a different place this year. I'm tempted to tout the delicious, scissor-door McLaren 570 as my favorite car in show.

But it's part of Envy Auto Group's display of exotic, pre-owned cars — an exhibit from a car dealer that helps fill space left by the mass exodus of European luxury brands. Thanks to Envy, you still get to ogle Porsches and Ferraris — but they aren't the newest stuff on the market.

For that, there are still plenty of U.S. and foreign automakers who have brought their A-games. There are the usual mighty muscle cars and trucks we expect at a Motown show. But there is also an extraordinary breadth of vehicles from electric to autonomous to V-8s appealing to the richest auto consumer market on the planet.  

Here are the most important vehicles in show.

Toyota Supra

The 2020 Toyota Supra.

I have never seen a Toyota news conference packed with so many people. Motorheads have thirsted for the next Supra since Toyota teased the stunning FT-1 Concept in 2014. The production car holds nicely to the concept's design with its low, racer-like hood and roller-coaster hips. A lightweight, 50-50 balanced two-seater, the Supra got an assist from BMW, which makes the 335-horse turbo in-line six-cylinder. It's the same mill that motivates the BMW Z4. Look for this $50,000 hottie come summer.

Ford Mustang GT500

The Ford Shelby Mustang  GT500 is lowered onto the NAIAS stage for its reveal.

Lightweight straight-six Supra, meet fire-breathing, supercharged V-8 pony. With more than twice the horsepower of the Toyota, the legendary GT500 track monster is aimed squarely at the Chevy Camaro ZL1 across the Cobo aisle. Where past GT500s were straight-line dragsters, this athlete takes the agile GT350 platform and adds steroids. The huge carbon-fiber rear wing will help keep this 700-plus horse Snake on the ground while it inhales supercars costing twice as much.

Ram Heavy Duty 2500/3500

The 2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

For a different kind of muscle, check out the Heavy Duty version of the Ram 1500, voted North American Truck of the Year. The 2500/3500 ups the light-duty's capabilities by stuffing a 6.7-liter Cummins turbo-diesel under the hood that makes 1,000-pound feet of stump-pulling torque. Make that house-pulling. The 3500 can tow over 35,000 pounds while nurturing passengers with leather thrones and a 12-inch Tesla-like screen. 

Ford Explorer

The Ford Explorer. This one is a hybrid version.

Ford also makes SUVs. The best-selling ute of all time, the Explorer is totally remade. It sits on a rear-wheel drive based chassis for better towing and design dynamics. But the high-tech interior is where it really shines: one-button access to the third-row, one-button operated self-park feature. This being Ford, the Explorer gets multiple engine options,  including a hybrid and 400-horse ST performance variant.

Kia Telluride

The 2020 Kia Telluride is driven on an off-road road course during its reveal.

Kia went after the Audi A7 with its sexy Stinger sedan coupe last year. This year Kia beats the three-row Jeep Wagoneer to market with a more rugged version of the Sorento SUV. The exterior is bold and upright like a Range Rover. The interior is luxurious. Take it on a test spin on Kia's indoor Cobo track.

Nissan IMs Concept

The Nissan IMs concept electric car.

With the explosion in electric and self-driving technology, show-stopping concepts are back. There are a few of these envelope-pushing concepts on the floor, but my favorite is the Nissan with its spare, Caddy-like styling and suicide doors. What's the autonomous world look like? Nissan imagines a single, rear-seat armchair where the boss sits, while the front seats swivel for assistants to take notes.

Lincoln Continental

Lincoln Continental

Suicide doors aren't just for concepts. A special edition of 80 Lincoln Continentals — celebrating Conti's 80th birthday — is being made with stunning, rear-hinged rear doors. The palatial rear seats can comfortably fit Andre Drummond, while front-row passengers luxuriate in 30-way seats. 

Cadillac XT6

The 2020 Cadillac XT6

The bling-tastic, three-row Escalade has long been the choice of rappers and Wall Street limo services. "XT6 takes the Escalade down to an everyday package," says Caddy designer Andrew Smith. The handsome ute sits on the same wheelbase as the two-row XT5 for better handling, yet carves out 30 inches of third-row legroom. The CUE infotainment system can be operated by touch or remote rotary dial.

Hyundai Elantra GT N Line

Journalists check out the Hyundai Elantra GT N Line after its reveal at the North American International Auto Show media preview day at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan on January 14, 2019.  (Image by Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

This is muscle for those on a budget. The Elantra gains a hot hatch version to rival the VW Golf GTI. Loaded with standard features for just $25,000, economy buyers get 201-horsepower fun with hatchback utility. 

VW Passat

The 2020 Volkswagen Passat

While Detroit brands are emptying Midwest sedan factories, VW is sticking around with the Tennessee-built Passat. Updated inside and out, the upscale V-dub nevertheless hedges its bets by sticking with an old platform rather than the more modern MQB chassis that Europe gets. 

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.