Every year I make an effort to visit Detroit for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). This year my wife tagged along, we had amazing BBQ for lunch, and hit the show for nearly 5-hours of fun. As usual the show had over-done concept cars and obnoxious paint choices. Check out my thoughts here!
DISCLAIMER: Every year my friends/family tell me to TAKE PHOTOS while I am at the auto show. My reply is always the same: I do not want the hassle of carrying around my nice camera, and there are already professional-grade photos out there of all the good cars. So as usual during my visit NO PHOTOS WERE TAKEN BY ME! If you want more photos or details abut the cars mentioned here check out sites like Autoblog and Jalopnik for their great coverage of the auto industry. And if my review is too boring for you, check out THIS ARTICLE instead!
After travelling the necessary ~180 miles we arrived in Detroit. This year we opted to park in Greektown and have lunch there before taking the People Mover over to COBO Center, the site of the North American International Auto Show. We started the visit off right, having lunch at a new (to us) restaurant called Red Smoke Barbeque. It was delicious! To read my full review of lunch CLICK HERE.
With full stomachs we were ready to tackle the show. Once at COBO we picked up our tickets at Will Call, checked our coats, and wandered inside. Here is a breakdown of the cars that caught my attention at the various booths we visited. Not every marque or vehicle at the show is covered here, just the ones that moved me in some way. Enjoy!
Audi A3 & Audi S3
Check out the new sedan, it was one of the show highlights for me. Especially the gorgeous blue S3. (A3 due in Spring, S3 due in Fall of this year). This 300-horsepower sports sedan is going head-to-head with the CLA250 from Mercedes-Benz. Can’t wait to drive one!
allroad shooting brake Concept
Unable to see interior, which is what interested me most. This highlights the future of the Audi TT in many ways. Can’t wait to see what the next generation TT looks like.
Only one, spinning on a pedestal far away from your prying eyes. Would have liked a closer look and a chance to sit in one. Could be a nice replacement for my oversized Touareg SUV.
Not many full size sedans can tackle 0-60 in 3.7 seconds. This one starts around $100k and is one of the baddest sports sedans around. And considering the blue R8 V10 Plus on display was $65k more for the same straight line acceleration, the RS7 has so much more practicality in this amazing package. Wow! Unless you perhaps want a Panamera Turbo S instead of the RS7? (see this comparison VIDEO)
Cool display of technology and luxury for Audi. Nice to see the new chassis with the short wheel base finally offered here. Makes the size of the car a bit more manageable.
2015 Audi A3 e-tron
Purportedly wont be hitting our shores anytime soon. That goes both for the hybrid setup and the wagon version. Which is a shame because I always loved the small A3 hatchback and would love a hybrid/EV version. C’mon Audi, bring more versions to the USA! Still a neat piece of technology to check out.
It is one ugly SOB! We struggled to find an angle to view the car that flattered it in any way. Can someone explain to me why the interior has at least 5 different textures/materials? I’ve owned a few bimmers before, so I’m sure the car drives great and quality is superb. But there is absolutely no reason the car had to look quite a quirky as it does. It was locked up, making it impossible to truly discern or more complete opinion about this vehicle.
2015 BMW M235i, and new M3/M4 models
Sorry, but I’ve just lost my love for BMW. Their interiors have become bland to me, and the exterior face-lift they have been doing as of late feels too pinched. Besides their staple X3 SUV (which they had none on display this year), the only other BMW that I’d want to own right now is a 6-series grand coupe. There was absolutely nothing about the BMW booth that rattled my cage, so sorry, but we quickly moved on.
Back nearly a decade ago I owned a supercharged Mini Cooper S. It was nice, but not nice enough to keep very long. The interior ergonomics bothered me, the shift knob was as big as my head, and I just didn’t “love” it. So we moved swiftly through Mini this year as well, spending just long enough to admire the 2015 Mini John Cooper Works concept.
2015 Golf R
Displayed on a rotary and not accessible. My grown-up tastes have me yearning for the S3, but if a hot-hatch is more your thing then this will be the counterpart to select. It was bold like the versions before it, and with nearly 300-horsepower it should be quite the animal. Can’t wait to see what the tuners do with it! Make mine a white 4-door and just maybe…
Beetle Dune concept
It was nothing more than a body kit and some paint. Really, VW? You could have put some gnarly tires on it, lifted the thing up and made it more the part. Instead it was “cute” but purposeless. I don’t really see the point of this build/concept.
Passat BlueMotion Concept
There wasn’t much to see here in person, but check out the specs– this is a hint of VW’s future plans to increase efficiency. I’m a huge fan of the TDI models, too (I own a 2012 VW Touareg TDI). If you want a gasser that gets over 40mpg, this is worth checking out.
Lastly, and my personal favorite at the VW booth this year, was the new electric Golf. (Links about this car HERE and HERE). Official release date is Q4-2014, which means VW will have a full year to work out the kinks before our Nissan Leaf lease is up. Beyond another Leaf (yes, we love ours that much), the VW eGolf is tied for highest likelihood of being the next EV we park in our garage. Besides the extra buttons on the center console and notably different dashboard displays, the eGolf looks like any other Golf on the market. And that anonymity may be what some consumers want. (The Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt are funky looking, too much so for many consumers). Can’t wait to drive one of these soon!
There were other great looking cars at the Volkswagen booth, like the 7th generation GTI, and the CC. But nothing new that we spent time with. Onward and upward!
Porsche 911 Targa
This was one of the hottest cars at the NAIAS this year. Heck, the new roof has gotten so much attention that people have even made an ANIMATED GIF showing how cool it works. It reminds me a lot of the Volkswagen EOS we used to down, which had a FUNKY ROBOT ROOF system, too! Perhaps it was the silver hoop, or the shade of blue paint, but something about the Targa left me unimpressed. Still, the various other 911 iterations on display were nice, namely the C4S that was in close proximity to the Targa display.
This new Porsche had the attention of every dockers-wearing middle-aged man, or designer-hand-bag wearing middle-aged woman at the show. Surely these cars would look nice parked next to the existing Land Rover or BMW 5-series the folks buying them probably already have. It looked on-par with the Cayenne, in that it tried hard to have the looks of a 911 but failed miserably. I liked the size and performance specs just enough to want one, my wife not so much. But the price tag and funky snout was enough to make us both decide one of these just wasn’t ever going to be in our garage anytime soon.
Tucked away in its own private little room, that was my favorite at the booth of the golden crest. This car was my favorite of the show in the “cars I will never own” category. And it is by and away the coolest modern marvel at the NAIAS 2014, making even the advanced Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric shown last year seem old/boring. They had a cool touch screen with data and videos near the 918, at which I spent time enlightening myself.
As usual, Porsche also had some Panamera/Cayenne models to inspect. Some day in the future I could see driving a 911 C4S/Turbo as a nice daily driver. Maybe some day…
Kia GT4 Stinger concept
It is rare that a concept car really tickles me, since most of the time they are just extreme examples of cars that I know won’t ever come to market. But in recents years I think Kia has really gained traction, and for good reason. They make good cars, sold at a fair price, with a lot of great technology. Although it may not ever happen, it seems logical that Kia needs to bring a sporty car to market to compete with the likes of the Mazda Miata MX-5. Or the FRS/BRZ cars. Or even really the VW GTI. No matter what you throw it up against, there are plenty of low-cost sport coupe cars that exist that provide the average Joe a nice entry into the sports segment. Kia needs to take this concept and make this car happen. The specs are great and the car looks the part, too!
Kia Soul EV
Although the EV version I’m most interested in was NOT on display, they did have some obscenely modified cars to show off the market (think Scion a few years back), and of course posters of the skinny hamster guys, showing off the new svelte version of the Soul. It was cute, but the lack of the EV due out later this year was a let down.
Again, being an existing EV owner, the Tesla booth excites me. Not only because I dream at night of owning a P85+ car (like THIS one), but because their success indicates the ongoing growth of the EV market segment. I want all EVs to succeed on some level, to help bolster the EV charging infrastructure. They had a few Model S vehicles to check out, so we did.
While I was most concerned about the gadgetry, my wife enjoyed the specs of the jump seats in the trunk. Riders in that space must be at least 3′ 11” tall and between 35 and 77 pounds, which meant our kid and most of her friends are and for many years will be the right size. We rarely need room for more than 4-5 people, however, so I’d opt for the full trunk space back there in mine. Maybe this should be the replacement for our Leaf in two years, though I suspect what we’ll want to spend price-wise will better align with the future mid-size sedan that has been rumored to come from Tesla eventually.
Upsettingly so, the Model X SUV that Tesla has coming to market later this year was not on display because they do not yet have a finished version. I would have happily settled for the prototype that did the rounds last year, but alas, that was not on-site. Based on the range of people at the Tesla booth and the excitement in the air I would say their brand is here to stay, and EVs are definitely well rooted in the future of the automobile. Add to that the two recent emails I’ve gotten from Tesla announcing their new supercharger stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and I think we can expect great things in the years to come.
As usual there were new cars. They cost 2x the price of my house. And I just glanced, admired, and walked away. I did note there were customers up on the stage, behind the rope, in the private “by invitation only” gala. Apparently Bentley must have forgotten to mail me my invite. No wine/cheese/champagne for me. Too bad, so sad. Maybe next year Bentley won’t forget about me!
One car piqued our interest more than any other at the MB booth, yet was locked, with no price, and no firm details yet. Coming later this year (in select states), the B-Class Electric Vehicle looks to be a nice little crossover, larger than our Leaf without being as oversized as the coming Tesla Model X. While the range may be little to improve over our current car, it should offer MB-type features and fit/finish. Looking forward to learning more.
Looks cute and nicely sized from the outside, so we got excited. That was until we sat in it. Due to the heavily raked glass the interior felt cramped, the forward view stunted by the strange interior shape and ergonomics. We both agreed this is NOT a nicely laid out vehicle. There are better options from MB which offer more space in a less funky package.
In contrast to the GLA, this new sedan CLA-class vehicle was gorgeous inside and out. I was particularly fond of the CLA45 AMG version, which reminded me a lot of the Audi S3 we had checked out earlier. Deciding between those two cars could be a tough decision, though I suspect the Audi will prove to be less-expensive. This was my favorite car at the MB booth.
SIDEBAR: One recurring theme at MB also showed up elsewhere at the show. Flat metallic paint jobs, usually a medium grey. They are GORGEOUS! While this is a factory option for MB, it seems other manufacturers are trying to jump on board. Once you see it in person you’ll understand what I mean– it is just wicked awesome! Be on the look-out…
This shows the direction MB is headed and I approve. The strange “iPad” looking screen that sits on the dash of all these new MB cars feels like a tablet affixed to the dash, not in a good way. But the rest of the interior is the ONLY one at the show that I felt rivaled Audi right now. BMW’s interiors are boring and dated looking these days, and nobody else uses the quality materials that Audi/Mercedes-Benz are using. Kudos to MB!
If you like polished silver, you’ll want to enjoy checking out the S-Class Coupe concept, which was more a fine piece of jewelry than a concept car. Even the wheels had a sheen on them that looked like fine silver. Wild lighting, over the top styling… yep, this is the future.
There was the usual balance of regular MB models scattered around their display, each as gorgeous as the next. I’m an Audi guy through and through, but the older I get, the closer I am to some day owning a propeller-wearing car. My wife said this booth was her favorite.
Not much new here at the Smart display, but one of the highlights they were showing was their new Smart eBike (VIDEO). It reminded me a bit of the Copenhagen Wheel but combined into a cleaner single product that really might do well for those who ride. What a great idea! I could see owning one of these for commuting to work in the future some day.
SMART was otherwise same old, same old. They had their EV Smart on display, which is nice, but too small for us. But I hope it brings more life to the growing EV market.
This is the best car to showcase where the brand now looks to head. That new interior is pleasant and a nice update to their otherwise aging dashboard layout. Plus the exterior is just the right mix of angles and prestige, looking to steal some of the Lexus thunder if you ask me. I’m not saying I would rush out to buy this car over the equivalent German competitor, but at least they finally seem a worthy adversary in style and features.
Q50 Eau Rouge concept
There have been articles written already (HERE and HERE, amongst others) that do a great job talking about the reason this car is great. And as said in that latter article, it truly was the best paint job at the show. You’ll need at least 5 minutes after checking out the Q50 Eau Rouge to clean up the drool you just oozed out– it is tantalizingly beautiful.
(puts on flame suit)– I was not a fan of the FT1 — go ahead, flame away!
Right now this is the big news, which some say should be the next Supra. Mostly the write-ups about this car say it is fantastic, and I’ll admit that web photos make the thing look half-decent. But in person the car has a strange front pubic-mound for a nose cone, and would be better served as the next star of a Transformers movie than as a car in the Toyota line-up. It just screamed over-the-top … and while concept cars are supposed to be wild, this one goes a bit too far into the deep end of the water for me.
Partially I say this because everything else in the Toyota range is just boring. Like Honda, they don’t sell cars to excite, they sell cars for modest profits, and high reliability. You expect your Corolla to be a safe car that will last many decades and be affordable to purchase and operate. Heck that has been Toyota’s push lately, that you can pass the cars along for many generations. Good for resale value, bad for the enthusiast driver.
But perhaps that is the place in the world for Toyota (and Honda). It seems only Nissan has lately been trying to step outside their comfort zone, with obscene cars like the GTR, or spunky cars like the Juke Nismo or even Murano Cross-over. Toyota should keep doing what they do, because they do it well, and that is their image to uphold. I’d love to see them bring back a car like the Supra, I just hope it looks better than the FT1.
Supposedly there was some new 200 model. I saw it from a distance, didn’t care. Also let me just say the new Jeep Cherokee may be the ugliest vehicle to come from Chrysler in the last decade. And that pretty much sums up what I saw or cares about in the Chrysler-family booths. Nothing fun to report here, so….
We checked out the EV version of their cute little car. Ultimately we found the e500 too small, which is crazy considering that I am 5’3″ and my wife is an inch or two shorter. Not only was the interior cramped, the trunk was a total joke. The fit/finish was horrid, with a tin-can sound for door closing, and the dash felt like the original iPad device (it didn’t help the e500 version had all-white plastic buttons). Potential customers would be singles who rarely took passengers places. Maybe a competitor for the Smart EV, that is it.
Still my favorite version of the Prius. Especially when you add the F-sport package. If I were going to get a hybrid FWD, this is my favorite next to some of the German options.
As usual, these sedans are nice, but they only rivaled the German competitors because of the price. Somehow they always seem to lack the overall character the Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz equivalent. They were of similar caliber, but just fell a little bit short.
Still bland in many ways, and beginning to look dated and need a huge overhaul. But the wife liked it. Would be worth checking out for this segment, but the Acura RDX is better.
Lexus is looking to take on the M3/M4 vehicles at the BMW booth. Or perhaps even the Corvette, who knows. If this can get young buyers to be excited about Lexus because of a sports coupe, then they might be onto something. Right now all the non-German luxury brands seem to be lacking a sports coupe/sedan. The only folks successfully fighting the sports coupe/sedan battle is Cadillac. Perhaps Lexus is ready to change that.
Subaru had their new STI out on display, which is more about evolution than revolution. It is a logical step into the future, with more gadgets inside and out. We didn’t spend much time checking it out (my boy-racer stage in life is far in the past), but I still appreciated the cosmetic changes to the car.
You’re probably wondering why I included this here. It is a low-cost low-feature AWD cross-over for sure. But it offers the reliability of a Subaru in a useful, utilitarian package. I could see having one for the sake of a commuter car, a winter toss-around toy, or great for a teenager just starting to drive. Reminded me of the Nissan Juke in many ways– fun, practical, safe, inexpensive. Not an enthusiast car, but a great tool for the Midwest driver.
Writing here about Acura is like Lexus, but with even less fun to be had. Beyond my wife’s interest in the RDX SUV there was not a single car on display that garnished my interest. Not a one! They had a sharp prototype TLX but it looked to be just a new reskin of the TL.
Where was the NSX we all yearn for? When is Acura going to make something fun again for the enthusiast? Right now they are just face-lifted Hondas if you ask me. And sure you get the reliability of a Honda with the gadgets of the Acura, but that is just Toyota/Lexus all over again. At least Lexus has some sportier cars in the mix … but both brands need to rethink how they move forward– they are losing ground, in my mind, to other brands.
Acura was boring, and Honda was equally a snoozer with concepts that don’t really seem to matter. But Honda sells models based on reliability, not based on excitement. We seriously spent less than 3 minutes walking around Honda. I’ve got nothing to say here!
We should have cared more about the ATS coupe but again I’ve already been won over by Germany. Having owned a Cadillac a year ago for a few short months I can say the product they make is nice, the features are advanced, and the fit/finish is getting better. But there is still something missing. Something that the European brands just do better.
Though I did not spot it at the show, Cadillac has the ELR which is a $75k version of the $40k Chevy Volt– how does that make sense? Someone at Caddy has their head on backwards. But the sporty sedan/coupe cars are great, giving them traction in all the right areas. For many people the Cadillac brand is a good fit… and for good reason.
Sports Sedan Concept
So this hints at the next Maxima? Other than the VERY Nissan rear end the rest of the car looked more like a Lexus and a Jaguar had a really ugly kid. I loved the interior, but the body panels/exterior left a lot to be desired. Not quite as cool as what the other Japanese brands were showing in their concept fleet… but…
Retro. Cool. But perhaps a bit TOO funky. I’m confident, however, that the production version will use just the right styling cues from this car. If you ask me, Nissan should stop making the 370z and produce this instead. Make it RWD, give it 300 HP in a turbo package, and make it spank cars like the Audi TT. Try to steal BMW Z4 sales with it… go for it, guys!!
WHAT THE #@$#@$
Nissan, your display was laid out nicely. I liked that it felt like an old Roman amphitheater. I loved the seating you had laid out to sit and look down at the concept cars. Brilliant. But please tell me WHY in the world were ALL THE CARS LOCKED? Okay, I get that the Nismo GTR was roped off, but the Juke Nismo? Not only was it locked, you had stickers saying “do not touch” which was a tacky thing to do at the auto show of all places.
It was so bad that my wife decided to tweet at NissanUSA about it— they had ALL of their cars locked, even a $30k SUV. However the only car locked at the Audi booth was the $200k Audi R8 — the $140k RS7 was not locked. C’mon guys.. are you TRYING to prevent people from wanting a Nissan? And I get that the autonomous Leaf was locked, but what about the regular production Leaf? Nobody could sit in it and fall in love. Bad move guys!
Back in the 90s I had a C5 Corvette, triple black convertible with the Z51 package. That car was a blast to drive and I loved to autocross it. Since then the ‘vette has been more or less just a small change here or there, but always felt a bit behind. This year that changes. As my wife even said, this new Corvette FINALLY brings the cars aesthetics into the modern era. Loved the new version, and most articles (EXAMPLE) toot that same horn. Finally a Corvette I’d consider owning again someday. Though I found the interior still too Chevy for me, sadly. Sat in one and it reminded me why I finally graduated away from American cars.
Beyond the new Corvette that stole the show, there was a new Z/28 on the floor. It was sharp and I loved the body kit. Of the pony cars, this is my FAVORITE by and far– but I’d spec mine out to be a white or red ZL1 because really that is the best of the best!
There was nothing else that got me going at Chevy, but the Camaro alone makes that brand worth checking out. All the rest of their products were not my thing. (We do like the Chevy Volt, but I still prefer a 100% EV over a plug-in when possible)
JAGUAR / LAND ROVER
Finally got to sit in one. Felt nice and more modern than the Aston Martin Vantage I last drove a few years ago. Would love to drive the F-Type, but doubt I’d buy one. My stature just didn’t fit right in the car. I’ve seen enough videos to be in love with the exhaust note, but for the price, there remains too many “better” cars to buy IMO.
Land Rover was, well, Land Rover. Your typical smattering of gorgeous oversized and overpriced SUVs. And for some reason the Range Rover Evoque on display didn’t have a working power driver seat. I wanted the wife to sit in it, but the inability to adjust the seat made our adventure into the interior somewhat pointless. Strange…
It was a cool concept to see, but the other cars from Volvo are still nothing exciting to me. However, as a brand, I think this concept shows that Volvo can make some headway. First they need to update their dash to something better looking (blech), secondly they need to come out with a sporty car to get younger buyers interested. Then they need to release a small SUV or cross-over that gives their brand an option for the 25-35 year old crowd … and voila, Volvo can thrive again. There ya go, my marketing plan for Volvo!
2015 Ford Mustang
For me the Camaro has always been the best of the pony cars, and I’ve never loved the styling of the Mustang. With the new 2015 my attitude remains the same. They did something funky to the headlights that just do not flatter the front end. The back is still pretty cool, and the power plants and obvious future performance models will make this car a success. But overall my passion for the Mustang remains unchanged, and small.
There were other cars of interest for us here, but really just to browse more than anything. They had a Ford Focus Electric that we adored, but the trunk was WAY too small to make the car useful for us daily. If the trunk was about 50-75% bigger (read: closer to our Nissan Leaf), then the Focus EV could easily have been our next replacement for the Leaf.
Last but not least we checked out the Lincoln display. My wife/I both really liked the MKC, as it was basically a Ford Escape with all the prestige and gadgets you would expect from Lincoln. The one sitting in the Shinola display room was lit inside so you could get an idea of the interior. I liked that room, as it had a nice ambiance.
As a matter of fact, the whole Lincoln display screamed luxury and prestige. From the black silken clothing of the staff (that at first looked like evening gowns almost), to the classic Lincoln on the platform above the Shinola room, the whole area seemed to harken back to the 1970s when things were just a bit more formal.
Nothing else at this booth excited me vehicle-wise, but the MKC is worth keeping tabs on.
As always, the Detroit Auto Show is worthy of the visit. Beyond the concept cars that you wont see in the traveling show you also get a chance to see more of the product range than many smaller local shows. And the displays are amazing, spanning thousands of square feet and being multiple-stories tall.
If you’ve never been to the NAIAS you should try to make it at least once in your lifetime. It is truly an experience, which is probably rivaled only by the Los Angles, Tokyo, or Geneva shows. Ciao!