Manufacturers of the tiny British sports cars he fancies didn't bother to show up in Detroit, but our engineering expert and unsparing product critic Richard Truett wouldn't miss it for the world.
2019 Detroit auto show's hits and misses
Let's face it: No one today needs a sports car. They're basically toys for people with a few too many nickels jingling around in their hedge funds, not serious daily transportation as they once were. For a sports car to be successful in these days of shrinking car sales (and high-performance SUVs), it must be a star performer and, most importantly, it must be beautiful, a piece of automotive jewelry. Think Porsche 911 or Ford Mustang. With its BMW genes, the new Supra, no doubt, will be a star performer, but it ain't pretty. Check out the fake air scoops on the doors and hood. The rear end has more folds and creases, curves and angles than an origami Pokemon toy. The grille brings to mind Subaru's failed B9 Tribeca. Combine this with Toyota's reputation for launching and leaving its sports cars and you get maybe a six-month window of consumer interest. Toyota should have looked to its classic 2000GT for styling inspiration.
Land Rover lawyers must have finally sent Ford that cease-and-desist letter. For years, a new Land Rover would debut, and then months later the same basic shapes of grilles, headlights and taillights would appear on Ford SUVs. That's over now with the 2020 Explorer, which breaks away from Land Rover design cues in all areas, except maybe the taillights. More importantly, the new Explorer's engine is sitting front-to-rear, not transversely, returning the vehicle to its roots. On the inside, Ford corrected the biggest flaw of its car-based predecessor: passenger space in the middle row. Now there's plenty of legroom for adults. Explorer was once one of Ford's biggest cash cows. This new model has a chance to reclaim that status.
The Chinese automaker is no longer lurking in the shadows of Cobo Center. This year, its lineup of seven SUVs and one sedan was in the center of the show floor, and GAC looks ready to open its doors to North American buyers. None of the vehicles stand out in terms of styling (then again, neither did the first Lexuses). But the build quality looks reasonable, and the interior appointments are contemporary. If GAC prices its vehicles at the lower end of the market and ensures that repair parts are readily available, it could get a foothold in the U.S. market, just as the Koreans and Japanese automakers did. The template is there to be followed.
Forget for a minute Mahindra's legal, ahem, wrangle with Jeep parent Fiat Chrysler over the design of the Roxor. While it may loosely resemble the Wrangler of old — really old, like 1960 or so — there's a lot to like about this strictly off-road diesel-powered recreational vehicle. If you owned a big ranch in Texas or Colorado, the Roxor would be the perfect mountain goat of a vehicle in which to herd your cattle. It costs 16 grand, about $6,000 more than the most expensive Honda ATV, but features a rugged steel frame, transmission strong enough for a truck and comfortable looking interior. Roxor looks like fun on wheels.
There are some attractive design elements on this three-row SUV — the analog instruments are nicely designed, and I like the grille and taillights — but overall, the XT6 doesn't do justice to the Cadillac badge. It's powered by a corporate V-6 and has an interior that looks about right for an Acura or Buick. Cadillac should be the very best General Motors can do, and this one has to go up against the best that Mercedes and Audi can do. It falls far short of the mark.
This sleek sedan will never see production, but Nissan designers are showing they know a thing or two about creating wind-cheating aerodynamics. You look down the sides of the IMs and you can just envision how the sculpted fenders would slice through the air. The reconfigurable interior, with its Cessna airplanelike steering wheel, gives a glimpse of the future — if Level 5 self-driving cars ever come to fruition.
Ford and GM are abandoning the compact hatchback market, which is fine with Hyundai. The Elantra hatchback N Line is a well-equipped, pleasing-looking car that could appeal to those who might have bought a Fiesta or Focus ST or possibly a Chevy Cruze. The Elantra sports a 1.6-liter, 201-hp turbo four-cylinder engine and either 6-speed manual or 7-speed paddle-shifted automatic transmissions, which will make the gearhead fanboys happy.
Here's all you need to know about the top model of the new Ram 3500 pickup: 1,000 pound-feet of torque. In the most sneering Sam Elliott voice it can muster, this is Ram telling Ford and General Motors to eat its dust.
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