2013 NAIAS: North American International Auto Show

This year’s North American International Auto Show exuded a relaxed air of confidence, reflecting five years of increasing sales and growing profits, which culminated in 14.5 million sales last year, up 13 percent on 2012. Most of the actual vehicle launches were understated affairs that emphasized real product, not grandiose fantasies of some hybridized future. Other themes were that luxury brands are hot (the European recession and problems in China put the focus back on the US) and that crossovers will continue to be one of the fastest growing segments. And with housing bottomed out, pickup trucks are important money makers again. Here are some highlights.


2014 Cadillac ELR
A production version of the plug-in, extended range concept from a few seasons ago, the ELR is one’s chance to almost never put gasoline into a car that you actually desire to drive. A beautifully wrought interior, sexy shape, and cutting edge tech make the future look brighter than pessimists would project.


2014 Chevrolet Corvette (C7)
The Detroit Auto Show’s most important debut and biggest disappointment all rolled into one glorious, 450hp package. What a missed opportunity to finally move the iconic American sports car forever beyond association with cheesiness. When I asked GM’s head designer, Ed Welburn, for a comment, his pregnant pause and subsequent nonanswer spoke volumes. Whether the weight of fifty-plus years of Vette history, internal political dissention, or simply an exhaustion of talent are responsible for the gimmickry, unremarkable look of this heavy-arsed machine is unknown. At least the interior is finally worthy of the price point, with real carbon fiber, metal and leather swathing the sexy two seat cockpit, and a spectacular direct-injected small black that cranks out as much torque up from 1000-4000rpm as the current Z06 and probable high-20s economy. Performance to rival the world’s finest, a reasonable price, and a badge that looks like an update of a 70’s Trans Am screaming chicken hood decal insure that Chevy’s plastic-fantastic will continue to be a controversial topic of gearhead conversation for years to come.


2014 Infiniti Q50
Infiniti’s good looking Q50 not only will replace the G-series, but signifies a new nomenclature as well. Well proportioned and nicely detailed, it—unlike the Lexus IS it will compete with—doesn’t challenge visually. Whether or not this will work for or against it in the market remains to be seen, but to these eyes it is a much more nuanced, successful implementation of brand values. Power comes from either of the company’s V6s: 3.7-liter conventional engine or 3.5-liter hybrid. The Q50 also boasts the world’s first productionized application of drive-by-wire steering, tweakable for response and feel by the driver.


2014 Lexus IS
Much more visually interesting is Lexus’ 3-series competitor—but that’s not necessarily a compliment. Borrowing more than a little from the LF-CC showcar, the IS is chock full of great detailing that simply doesn’t gel at all from certain perspectives. There are so many oddly unresolved lines—most egregiously represented by the rear bumper/quarter panel interface. And many will be put off by the ultimate expression of the corporate spindle grill, which looks like Batman villain Bane’s facemask. Inside it’s the same story: great design, undone by poor quality materials and an overreliance on rectangular, Toyota-corporate switches. Journalists often lament that concept cars get watered down for production. The IS gives credence to the contention that this should continue.


2014 Mercedes CLA and E63S 4Matic
Supercar detailing (massive front air intakes and rear diffusers) adorn very these bookends of the Benz lineup. The CLA is a slinky yet affordable way for Millennials and Gen-Y to get behind the 3-Pointed Star for the first time, not to mention the company’s first front-drive American offering. At the other end of the spectrum, the adoption of all-wheel drive to the ferocious AMG E63 will be seen as a travesty by crazy auto journalists—who don’t pay for tires or drive like anyone else on the planet—yet a boon to real-world customers will want to deploy 585(!) horsepower without activating their traction control all the time. Available in sedan and wagon forms, this Silver Arrow masterpiece may be the answer to the question: If you could only own one car, what would it be?


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