What soars, what snores?

Jaguar C-XF Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS

Originally published: Jan. 15, 2007

Looking for the stars and clunkers of the Detroit auto show? Here are some impromptu awards for deserving -- and not-so-deserving -- automakers.

A dream come true?

The Jaguar C-XF is beautiful in all the ways the S-Type isn't. Perhaps the gaping grille should shrink a bit for the production version of the Jaguar XF. But this concept is a glimmer of hope for the iconic British luxury brand.

Likewise, the Mercedes-Benz S-class convertible concept, called the Ocean Drive, is the kind of product that will goad auto show attendees to buy lottery tickets. There's even a touch of the Maybach in the car's graceful, conservative lines. Will Mercedes build this? Who knows. Should it? Absolutely.

Lincoln MKR concept Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
The Lincoln MKR concept got plenty of pre-show attention and rightly so. Kudos to design chief Peter Horbury for putting the brand on a path that shows promise. He's an asset that Ford needs to protect.
Under the skin of the stylish Chevrolet Volt concept, shown here at its unveiling with GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, is a flexible plug-in powertrain. Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
Lesson learned

General Motors finally has some momentum in the alternative fuels game with the Chevrolet Volt and its flexible plug-in hybrid powertrain. The design looks good, and the science looks like it belongs in the garage rather than the laboratory.

So here's the big question: Has GM learned that hybrids require good marketing, too? Toyota knew that all along. The Volt needs to go forward -- soon. Perhaps GM should offer the Volt to pace the field at the Indianapolis 500.

Ford Airstream: Deflated chance Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
The muffed opportunity

Ford Motor Co. had a chance to generate some enthusiasm for its own innovative plug-in powertrain. But the automaker buried it in the goofy Airstream concept, a chrome-painted breadbox with orange-trimmed windows and a digital lava lamp on the floor.

Making a connection with a travel trailer from the past does nothing to interest people in the powertrain of the future.

Ford's J Mays with the Interceptor: The car has a great body, but needs a nose job. Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
Promises, promises

A performance sedan should be an auto show hit. Indeed, the Ford Interceptor's engine sounds good, and its body subtly recalls former Galaxies. But the Interceptor could use a nose job. Its front end features a grille grafted inexpertly from last year's Super Chief concept pickup.

Alas, Ford has a history of introducing concepts based on production vehicles -- in this case, the Mustang -- that never move forward.

Hyundai Veracruz: Upscale look Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
Worthy newcomers

There are several candidates. In the growing crossover segment, the Nissan Rogue and Hyundai Veracruz will be two strong entrants. The Rogue is a baby Murano. And the Veracruz allows gearheads to say "Hyundai" and "premium" in the same sentence.

Meanwhile, Honda loyalists must be delighted by the Accord coupe. Honda calls this a concept, but the only thing left to the imagination is the interior. (The windows are blacked out.) A coupe needs some flair, and this new Accord is a leap forward from the current understated Accord coupe. The production version of the concept -- complete with interior -- arrives this fall.

FT-HS: HS means hot stuff? Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
Burning rubber

For sports car fans, the show offers a lot to admire. The Toyota FT-HS concept will have some folks dreaming of a new Celica or Supra.

Stuffing a big engine in a small car is the universal muscle-car recipe, and Lexus has cooked up a tasty item with the 400-hp IS-F sport sedan.

The 2008 Dodge Viper has a V-10 that pumps out 600 hp. How long will the Corvette team stand by and play second fiddle? Not too long, says GM product chief Bob Lutz.

And then there's the Camaro convertible, which seems to be generating a lot of love.

Tundra: Bellying up to the bar with the F-150, Silverado Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
The macho derby

Pickup owners -- even diehard Ford and Chevy guys -- should kick the tires of the redesigned Toyota Tundra. Loyalty means they may never own a Tundra, but now they'll have to make room for Tundra owners at the bar.

The Tundra will go mano a mano with the F-150 and Silverado. Toyota's new pickup offers three cab styles, three bed lengths, three wheelbases, a big 381-hp V-8 engine and a towing capacity of 10,800 pounds.

Moms and old men

Minivans aren't about sexy styling. And the redesigned Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country are definitely middle-of-the-road in that department.

To grab buyers' attention, the Chrysler group is banking on easy-to-use interior gadgets. Both vehicles feature swiveling second-row seats and a table for rear passengers.

Fans of conversion vans have enjoyed these touches for years. But the new minivans' bland exteriors aren't going to generate any emotion, so the gadgets must be the big selling point.

Creators of the Nissan Bevel say it's a concept designed for empty nesters and all their stuff. But the Bevel -- a box with a sloped windshield and a wide rectangular mouth -- looks like it was designed by old men.

Nissan bragged about the concept's wide-opening doors and versatile interior. Nissan even had pictures of the vehicle in different colors, courtesy of digital photo editing software.

But in any color, it doesn't cut it. Growing old doesn't have to mean getting dull.

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