Call it a comeback of sorts. Just a few months ago, the LA Auto Show was so awful, it had left me cold on the direction of where things were headed in the near future for the auto industry. The 2013 Detroit auto show was jammed packed to the rafters with creative imagination; not to mention technical expertise and talent that featured many triumphs. The Detroit show was a complete 180 from LA that lit the fuse on some serious competition for both domestic and international competitors.
First, we need to talk about the technology in the engine bay and also in the cockpit. As cars get more efficient (smaller engines) as well as more autonomous (more sensors and computer controlled events), is there still room left in the world of today for a fun and engaging drive? I say that there is plenty of room left in both arenas. Engine “bulk” may be down; but with the addition of better engine mapping, better airflow, tighter tolerances, and the always welcome turbo or supercharging; a 6 or even a 4 can do the same work as an 8 of a decade ago. Smaller engines also mean less mass which as any Lotus owner knows can be an advantage – not to mention that it also frees up space for other goodies such as an electric motor and small battery pack that comes in handy for passing on the highway or simply passing a gas pump. Slightly autonomous driving is also trickling down to mainstream cars, which is a good thing for those that commute in the bumper to bumper stuff. As long as new driver aids leave the driver in the equation for as long as safely possible, I am all for it. Infotainment center stacks look to be headed towards I-Pad size and beyond; which makes me think that Tesla was not at all crazy for putting in its monster touchscreen now instead of looking like a run of the mill unit. By far my favorite trick piece of technology are virtual gauges that are reconfigurable. The new Corvette has executed this stylish and useful tool exceedingly well; managing to wipe away all of the Atari like digi-dashes of the past. Software updates will refine the look and responsiveness of many displays in the future for many models be it an econobox or a GT.
Now on with the part that most people go to auto shows for; the designs! The top two spots for breakthrough designs go to General Motors. The gold medal must be awarded to the Cadillac ELR, with the silver going the C7 Corvette. The bronze goes to Mercedes-Benz for their modern yet restrained CLA. Just behind the CLA; and missing out on the USA sweep was the very promisingly styled Lincoln MKC.
The ELR in production guise did not suffer the same fate as the Volt did when going from the show stand to the realities of production. Most of the styling elements remain intact from the forceful yet jewel like front clip; through the up-swept boomerang like angles of the stunning C pillars; ending in classic Cadillac vestigial tail fins that encase a mild boat-tail rear treatment. The ELR is stunning from all angels and is sure to inspire not only the entire Cadillac range but also other maker’s design efforts for the remainder of the decade.
The C7 Corvette Stingray has gone to the place where it needed to go; the realm of the Italian exotics without being a slavish copy or a caricature. To state it simply; the car has tremendous presence. The longer wheelbase improves the overall proportions and gives the body a tighter and more athletic appearance. The rear ¾ view; and full on rear views give the car a flow that goes from sweepingly sophisticated to the outright menacing. The four round exhausts are a nice touch that shouts American muscle, while future editions I would guess may move to a trapezoidal or rectangular design as a cue to even higher performance.
The MB CLA is A-OK in my design book. While not as breakthrough as the top two designs, the CLA brings a much needed dose of powerful sculpting that is still refined enough not to be truly polarizing. Although not on the show floor, the car did appear off site in Detroit and therefore counts. The front end has a gratifying mirroring of the lighting package with the air intakes below for a forceful yet non Audi appearance that was helped in part to the restrained MB treatment of the facade. The profile is mostly CLS which is also a good place to take from. The cove like side sculpting helps tie the side elements together and help sell the overall design as it extends from the headlights and front lip through to the rear wheels. The tail nicely melts away and is cohesive. All around a nice package that will completely destroy Volkswagen CC sales; as well as cannibalize C class sales as well.
Last is the honorable mention of the Lincoln MKC. It looks as though Lincoln is close to getting things right with their design language. The nose is still going through what seems is its tenth rhinoplasty but they are getting it close to being attractive while still being distinctive. It is still too much of a show car to be taken seriously, but perhaps next year we will see a true pre production version. Worth noting is the very well executed clam-shell rear hatch that adds a great character line to the rear quarter.
Overall, Detroit was an amazing show – bring on the inspired insanity of Geneva!
Top image courtesy of Autoblog.com