Detroit's hits and misses
Big splashes, overlooked winners and a few air balls at North America's premier auto industry event
Hit: Prius c
Until now, the unofficial motto of the environmentally significant Prius has been "Never mind the styling." But no more. Toyota has made a sporty Prius. If those rear wheels sat back any further, you'd need a trailer to carry them.
Miss: Prius V wagon
The V morphs the Prius' already chunky styling into a wagon. Seeing it, you immediately wonder why Toyota bothered. Kudos to Toyota for trying, but it looks like a Prius that ate too much.
Volkswagen has signed a deal to put Fender audio into the new Passat. Let's get this straight: It's a Volkswagen ... with Fender on the dash? Is this the ultimate in American rock 'n' roll cool? And it took the Germans to think of it for their family sedan?
Hit: Dodge Charger interior
Chrysler has upgraded the interior of its sporty car with soft Nappa leather and metal trim. A muscle car in leather -- who could ask for more?
Miss: 300 grille robbery
In restyling the Chrysler 300, Chrysler has made the sedan more elegant, more grown-up and maybe even a bit more luxurious. But where is the bold, in-your-face grille? Where is Snoop Dogg's grille? It was the grille that set the 300 apart. And it is bland. Snoop will not be happy about this.
Harman used the Detroit show to market Aha, which connects the car with Internet radio stations, Twitter, Facebook and more. Drivers can use voice commands to Tweet and to post things on Facebook while keeping hands firmly at 10 and 2 on the wheel. Just don't tell the driver-distraction crowd.
Hit: Hyundai Curb's tires
The small crossover concept is good all by itself. But those tires! Sadly, they are one-offs, custom-made for auto shows. But they are outlandishly cool, with fluorescent orange treads that crisscross almost randomly around the tire. (And they aren't salable because -- why, exactly?)
Hit: GMC Sierra All Terrain HD concept
In case anybody thought the beleaguered U.S. auto industry had grown subdued, GMC reminds us all who wags the dog on rugged big-boy pickups. Body-on-frame off-road brawn is alive and well in the United States in 2011.
Hit: Buick Verano/ outside
Buick has nailed entry-level luxury styling with the Verano, a baby LaCrosse that will slot below the Regal in the low $20,000s. Leather, chrome trim, rich body lines -- this is how Buick needs to style cars.
Miss: Buick Verano/ inside
So pretty to behold, so cramped to sit in. Don't try to climb in with a coat on -- you'll need the extra fourth of an inch of room to breathe. Customers in the 5-feet-tall-and-under category probably won't notice. (Full disclosure: Reporter Lindsay Chappell is 6 feet 5 inches tall.)
Hit: Tesla's engineering trick on the Model S body
The compartment for the propulsion battery is part of the S' front body structure. Thus the battery module is a structural component, making the finished car more rigid and more solid in handling.
Miss: Mercedes interior concept sculpture
Mercedes-Benz wants to make a simple visual point about how it is rethinking future vehicle interiors, down to their structure. But the viewing effect was simply otherworldly -- and a little frightening, like looking at unearthed prehistoric relics of alien spaceships.
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at email@example.com.