Detroit 2013: Playing Catch-Up

2013 Toyota RAV4
All photos by Randy Stern

The problem with not attending the big auto shows is you never know what you will miss.

Attending the 2013 North American International Auto Show was a dream come true. Detroit's Cobo Hall always brings the drama to the stage with major debuts designed to provoke debate and applause from the faithful. It is a party worthy of Southeastern Michigan's biggest economic engine.

However, plenty has happened since the last auto show I worked at – last year's Chicago Auto Show. McCormick Place is normally where I catch up with everything that debuted beforehand. With the Detroit show already accomplished, I had to Rolodex through some of the vehicles that debuted in New York, Paris, Los Angeles and all points in-between.

Given the same theme as the previous posting, it is yet another Five Favorites with an eye on those vehicles never seen, touched and so forth that were hatched elsewhere prior to NAIAS.

It is not now catch-up time…

2013 TOYOTA RAV4: Los Angeles had all the fun, right? The subtheme for any L.A. Auto Show should be called "it's about time it showed up." That was my feeling about the new RAV4. It is pretty handsome, with some controversial features that are not worth dispelling. I have no problem with them as we had been waiting so long for Toyota to respond to the highly competitive segment it had led for years. It responds to the "cheapness" critiques with a high quality interior and substantial seating. Toyota simply nailed it with a cabin that is even better than the Camry – and, yes, that must be said! At present, only the 2.5litre four-cylinder is available with Toyota's standard gearboxes and a choice of drivelines. Considering that the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape went only with a four-cylinder lineup, there is nothing wrong with using this proven engine on this popular compact SUV. Before anyone says "little too late," I believe it arrived at the right time. Simply, it just feels right.

2014 Kia Forte

2014 KIA FORTE: Its cousin had been getting all of the glory – the Hyundai Elantra, that is. Kia may have avoided the Jan Brady Syndrome by putting out a handsome, swoopy compact sedan. The gap-tooth grille is even more integrated onto this new generation with dramatic, swoopy lines and an aggressive stance. The 2.0litre engine will remain, but with the GDi injection system and 173 horsepower on tap. Everything else about the new Forte spells "sporty" and "tech." Considering how highly competitive the compact segment is, will this be a threat to the leaders in the class? It looks the part, but it needs to execute well. Though, I would wager that it would have an impact on compact sedans since a hatch is not immediately available in the new model. Otherwise, this could lead a charge in sales for Kia come next year.

2014 CHEVROLET IMPALA: After about a dozen rental cars, I could finally welcome the Impala with open arms. The big front-drive Chevy's New York debut last April trumpeted a new chapter in its long history with a more fluid design, the new family grille and high ambitions. The huge difference is what is inside – the best cabin in Impala history. The integration of a new generation of MyLink along with a modern layout will help the old rental car gain a new following in the Taurus/Charger segment with an eye on the Chrysler 300, Nissan Maxima, Hyundai Azera, Toyota Avalon and the newly introduced Kia Cadenza. What will make the Impala different is the availability of four-cylinder engines, including an E-assist model. If you were me, you'd pick the 303 horsepower 3.6litre V6. This Impala could win my heart, but it'll be spiced right for adventure, not just taste.

2014 MAZDA6: Last Fall, Moscow got a huge surprise in the form of Mazda's newest generation of the midsized 6. What the Russians yielded for the world was the introduction of a new engine – the Skyactiv-D. Alongside a new 2.5litre petrol version of the Skyactiv engine, a diesel will be offered as an option for the good ol' USA. Though I enjoyed the past two generations of the 6, this one is really something special. The translation of the KODO design language was spot on, while ensuring its place amongst the midsized family sedans. It is roomy with a CX-5-esque instrument panel that is straightforward and honest. In a segment where space, performance and economy are important, the 6 needs to drive like a Mazda – tight steering, sorted handling, balanced ride and everything else that equates to "Zoom-Zoom." I believe this may do the trick.

2013 SRT Viper 1

2013 SRT VIPER: I arrived at Detroit just in time for the first production models to come off of the line at Conner Avenue. It is simply because I have never seen a Viper in person. What do I think of it? Considering having attended the C7 'Vette reveal the night before, I had to really scan the Viper very closely. A casual conversation with SRT CEO Ralph Gilles confirmed my feelings about the two: The Corvette Stingray is a sports car and a GT coupe right in the sub-$90,000 range, while the Viper is a supercar – without the appropriate price tag over $200,000-plus. A supercar has to be a bit more bonkers than a sports car or GT – the lack of visibility in the Lamborghini Gallardo and Aventador, the complete insanity of a Ferrari 458 Italia or a Pagani Huyara, the retro gullwing design of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, and the clean room tech of the McLaren MP4-12C. However, the Viper has plenty of driver's aids, such as traction control and launch control – both can be turned off. Its competition has them, too. Consider the numbers on that 8.4litre V10 – 640 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque – and you might come up with the same conclusion I arrived at.

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