Detroit 2012: The View from Afar

2013 Ford Fusion. Photo courtesy of the Ford Motor Company

No, I was not there this year.

If you read my Twitter, you'd probably wondered if I were to show up at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Unfortunately, the stars did not align properly. Yet, I was asked by fellow journalists, media relations people and other industry support people whether I would make the trek to the Motor City for this very important exhibition of the automobile. Not this year. I will someday.

Because of the speed of information available online and the ability to see video and images from the show readily, I was able to ascertain the big debuts and the most curious appearances at Cobo Hall. This helped in my coverage last year from my home in the Twin Cities.

Of course, there's nothing like being there. You get to see and touch these new products ahead of consumer sale. You get to see whether you'd feel comfortable behind the wheel of one. That’s why we go to auto shows, right?

Without further ado, here are my picks from NAIAS…

All-new 2013 Dodge Dart
2013 Dodge Dart. Photo courtesy of Chrysler Group LLC

2013 DODGE DART: Every year, there is always some automobile carrying the weight of the universe on its shoulders. This year – it's the Dart. The first collaboration between Chrysler and Fiat uses the new CUS-Wide platform that has its roots with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. But, you already knew that. You also know that there’s a 160HP turbocharged 1.4litre MultiAir engine that is amongst the three offered on Dodge’s new compact – including two new Tigersharks of 2.0 (160HP) and 2.4litre (185HP) sizes. Plus, the Dart went all out to integrate the best of the brand's design elements onto the new car, both inside and out. Sure, we all know everything about the upcoming Dart, but were there any surprises? The design is thoroughly modern with all of the telltale signs of standard-issue compact sedan design – except for the Charger-esque rear taillight. That makes the Dart fearsome amongst the Elantras, Cruzes and Focuses. The interior offers many technological firsts for the segment – including the largest infotainment screen seen on any compact sedan. The big question will be whether it will deliver as promised – even with the entire Fiat-Chrysler collaboration on the line? It has the potential to be a winner, as long as the execution is done well on the assembly floor.

2013 FORD FUSION: To sum up the new One Ford-developed, Kinetic-designed mid-sized sedan replacing its best-selling passenger car, it takes one word: Shock. Not in a bad way, but the new Ford family sedan yielded the most surprises of any North American debut in Detroit. The design tails off of the common global language, though a few people freaked out at the Aston Martin-influenced grille (It’s not shaped as the Aston's or has the same texture – so, please stop calling your lawyer!). Inside also carried over the Kinetic design language, but I can only hope for better space and room inside (my main complaint of the last couple of Ford mid-sized sedans). The biggest shock came from engine choices made in the new Fusion: two EcoBoost turbocharged fours (1.6litre and 2.0litre – same as the new Escape), a smaller hybrid (2.0litres – down from 2.5litres) and a plug-in version of the hybrid called the Energi. The main thrust of the Fusion is efficiency, especially now with an emphasis on the EcoBoost, hybrid and Energi. In all, this moves the bar in the hotly contested segment (the Fusion sold over 248,000 units in 2011 – the best amongst North American brands for passenger cars). This could send everyone back to the drawing board – Hyundai and Kia included.

2012 BMW 3-SERIES: An hour-and-a-half long video from Munich wasn't enough to satisfy the Roundel's loyalists. But, we knew it was coming. It was a matter of when. Well…finally, it's here! Starting at over $35,000, the F30 offers up two engines – the 240HP 2.0litre twin-turbocharged four and the mighty 3.0litre twin-turbocharged six. The talk has been about the N20 twin-turbo four and the advances it needed to ensure consumers once burned by previous four-cylinder 3-Series that it is indeed worth buying. Its automatic gearbox now features eight ratios. The 0-60MPH time is claimed at 5.9 seconds. Fuel economy is supposed to be exceptional – BMW claims it could get up to 36MPG on the highway with the new autobox. There is one thing of immediate concern: When the F30 rolls into showrooms in month-and-a-half from now – it will not immediately offer xDrive (BMW's all-wheel drive system). It's been said that it will be delyed until later this year. For what, a summer snow in Minnesota? As with every vehicle being introduced at Cobo Hall, the F30 has a lot riding on it to retain its leadership. However, it now has a bit company than before…

2013 Cadillac ATS. Photo (c)2012 General Motors

2013 CADILLAC ATS: Before anyone says: "finally, Cadillac has a 3-Series fighter," let's go over this carefully. It is sized right with the traction headed to the right wheels – the rear – with all-wheel drive available. There are three engines on offer: A 200HP 2.5litre direct-injected four, a 270HP 2.0litre turbocharged four and the 318HP 3.6litre V6. You can get either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic available for all three engines. The styling is a scaled down, but enhanced version of the CTS – but rather handsome for a Cadillac of this kind. Inside looks the part with Cadillac's current signature design with an emphasis on the driver interaction on the throttle, gear change and the use of infotainment and telematics – available in several interior environments. The ATS will have Cadillac's new CUE infotainment suite available on board. However, Cadillac claims a base curb weight of 3,400 with a near 50/50 balance and the potential of turning 30MPG on the highway. Loads of claims and a lot of promise…we'll see.

ACURA ILX CONCEPT: Acura always had a Civic-based product from the very beginning. The Integra was a Civic with a different overall design and a few sporty tweaks. That ended with the final Integra before the RSX came about. In Canada, you could get a badge-engineered Civic (first, the EL, followed by the CSX) that had the same level of luxury found in more expensive Acuras. Then, the latest Civic got criticized left and right for being too bland, lacking the engineering it is well known for, aging engine technology, a complicated hybrid system…and so forth. American Honda hopes that the complaining will end – with the ILX. It looks sleeker than the Civic and will feature the IMA hybrid system as an additional driveline. Two additional engines will appear – a 2.0litre and a 2.4litre. According to reports, it will not replace the TSX, but rather "augment" it. The ILX also has a specific target in mind: the Buick Verano. The question is whether this Indiana-built luxury compact sedan with Acura’s signature design lines can bring back to magic of the Integra? For those of us who owned them – it is a lot to ask.

2012/13 BENTLEY CONTINENTAL V8: Until last decade, a Bentley always had eight cylinders. The first of the modern Continental GTs wore a version of Volkswagen's W-12 motor – with twin turbochargers, nonetheless – and changed everything we knew about the old British marquee forever. When I heard that VW was going to create a less expensive V8 version of the latest Conti, I thought it was a good idea. After all, the trend lately is to do more with less. Instead of the mighty twin-turbocharged 6.0litre W-12, an Audi-developed 500HP 4.0litre twin-turbocharged V8 takes its place under the hood. Bentley claims it could still do a sub-five-second 0-60 time, but we are often reminded how heavy the Conti is to begin with. The weight distribution has changed to a 51/49 balance – biased towards the front. How can you tell the difference between the V8 and the W-12? Check out the accenting of the grille on the V8 – it's black-ish. And, of course, it should be available across the Conti line – the GT coupe, GTC convertible and Flying Spur sedan. Bringing back a V8 Bentley is a charming idea, but could it be cheapening the brand to gain more sales volume? I'd expect more Premier League footballers would be attracted to it with fewer cylinders, lower performance and a lower price.

Nissan Pathfinder Concept. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

NISSAN PATHFINDER CONCEPT: In the 1980s, the Pathfinder was seen as an extension of the Hardbody pickup with good off-road capabilities to boot. As much as I appreciated the current generation of Nissan's core SUV, it has gotten a bit soft. This Pathfinder is more of a softroader than ever, but is it a bad thing? Certainly, the new Pathfinder is handsome on the outside. Yet, we've seen this before – this shares the same architecture as the Infiniti JX crossover. Inside reflects current Nissan trends for more discriminating buyers. It will seat seven – hopefully! Under the hood will strictly be a VQ V6 – but which one is unknown at going to press. What it will have is a CVT – like the Murano. The ultimate question is how far off track can it go? As edgy and civil as the Range Rover Evoque is, it can go quite far. The new Pathfinder needs to show what it can do when presented with surfaces beyond dry gravel or dirt – with only a V6 and a CVT on board.

2013 TOYOTA PRIUS c: From a concept last year to the debut at the last Tokyo Auto Show, the new small hybrid arrives with plenty of promises. What Toyota needed was to move the bar for its Hybrid Synergy Drive system in creating a more affordable model. In this case: Affordable means going compact – about 158 inches long, to be exact. The "c" in the newest member of the Prius family means "city," but we know better. Toyota is touting from its 1.5litre four-cylinder with the Hybrid Synergy Drive motor a combined 50MPG. I could see that, as I demonstrated with the larger Lexus CT 200h that it is possible to get better than what’s stated on the sticker. The price for this somewhat-Yaris-looking mini-Prius – Toyota is thinking somewhere below $19,000. That’s not bad – however, if it’s as roomy as the Yaris (or roomier), it would most likely be worth it in comparison to the rest of the green vehicles in the market.

CRAFTSMAN CTX: Note to the good people at KCP IP, LLC and its parent, Sears Holdings Corporation: If at any time your raised the ire of "Maximum" Bob Lutz – you won! Lutz stated recently how displeased he was with the presence of a premium-level lawn tractor at NAIAS. I'll admit that was my first reaction. The show's organizers defended Craftman's presence with a lawn tractor that cuts grass, holds your drinks, connects your iPod and has power assisted steering to get around those tight areas around the water feature. Apparently, it's a marketing tool. It won't steal the thunder of the vehicles mentioned above – just a fun addition to the main attraction. I love what Kris Malkoski, Craftsman's General Manager, said about the CTX: "A lot of people, when they think about mowing, they think about using the tractor as a chore." My roommate and I can tell you – it is a chore! Then again, our lawn isn't big enough for the CTX. That's for the folks on the other side of the Robbinsdale/Golden Valley border.

As always, I usually miss a whole bunch of other debuts, but these are ones that caught my eye, pique my interest…and, so forth. No fear, I hope to be able to get a chance to examine these and many other new vehicles soon enough for you!

How? Well…next month, I will be attending the Chicago Auto Show where most of these vehicles will be on display. Stay tuned to here, Lavender Magazine and our respective social media outlets for extensive coverage of the happenings at McCormick Place starting February 8.

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