The 2017 edition of the North American International Auto Show won’t go into the books for blockbuster introductions and eye-popping concepts. In fact, so many brands either didn’t show up or didn’t have formal press events (Porsche, Tesla, Fiat Chrysler, Land Rover, Jaguar, Mini and Mitsubishi among them) that you might wonder about the future of this annual event.
That said, a few vehicles in the show are important and significant, and I’ll point them out here. As for the hits and misses, I’ll leave that to colleague David Undercoffler, who shoots from the lip and rarely misses.
Here, then, is my list of the most important vehicles of the 2017 Detroit auto show.
1. Toyota Camry: The nation’s best-selling car for the past 15 years visited a plastic surgeon and got an injection of what Toyota believes is sportiness and style. Outside, the Camry gets a toned-down spindle grille, aerodynamic strakes on the hood and an accent line on the C-pillar. Some versions have sporty chrome quad exhaust tips. The inside is all sports sedan, with what Toyota calls a cockpitlike interior. Changing the shape and mission of the car that America has loved nearly every year this century is risky. Remember when Ford dramatically remade the Taurus into an oval blob in 1996? Sales fell off a cliff and never recovered. I don’t foresee anything like this happening to the Camry. But taking the car upmarket and giving it polarizing style could make it a harder sell. And what about those bread-and-butter sedan buyers who just want a roomy, affordable, unbreakable car that does not scream for attention? Where do they go?
2. Kia Stinger: To most eyes this is a great looking sporty sedan. It’s rear-wheel drive, looks muscular and has a roomy interior. Kia wants to move upmarket and the Stinger -- on paper -- looks like it has the chops to get the job done. Kia will offer two engines, a 255-hp turbo four and a 365-hp twin-turbo V-6, each combined with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The fastest Stinger is expected to reach 60 mph in just more than 5 seconds. In looking over the car, though, I wonder who will buy it. Does anyone look to Kia for BMW-like sports sedans? And isn’t this what Kia’s sibling, Hyundai, is supposed to be doing with the new Genesis brand? The Stinger could be the next Volkswagen Phaeton, a car that takes the brand to places it doesn’t belong.
3. Ford EcoSport: Ford rarely misses the market in utility vehicles, but it missed big on subcompact utilities and now is playing catch-up. Some competitors -- Chevrolet with the Trax and Honda with the HR-V, for example -- are established and selling well. We won’t see the stubby, Fiesta-based EcoSport in showrooms for another 12 months. But when it gets here, it should sell well. It carries the Ford corporate look well.
4. Honda Odyssey: It’s a new version, but you need sharp eyes to notice the changes on the outside. The jarring lightning bolt side trim remains and the size is the same, which is to say on the big side for a minivan. But under the skin, Honda engineers have installed an available 10-speed automatic transmission, a segment first. The V-6 engine is now up to 280 hp, and the inside is filled with innovative features such as a communications system that allows the driver to see and speak with rear-seat passengers. So, the battle lines are drawn: the Chrysler Pacifica -- which just won North American Utility Vehicle of the Year -- vs. the revamped Odyssey.
5. Chevrolet Traverse: Chevy toughened up the looks of its big front-wheel-drive family hauler. Traverse doesn’t make a lot of headlines, but it has sold well since the day it was introduced and that streak should continue with the new version.
6. Volkswagen I.D. Buzz: VW may be smarting -- still -- from the diesel crisis, but the company is moving forward on some fronts. The I.D. Buzz is another take on the classic VW Microbus of the ’50s and ’60s and it looks uber cool. It’s an electric vehicle with twin motors: one front, one rear. The interior is light and airy. It’s a neat piece of work, but will VW build it?