DEEEEE-TROIT! Part 6: GM & Chrysler

The star of the show in the minds of the American automotive press, based on magazine coverage, seems to have been the Cadillac ATS.  The ATS will compete directly with the BMW 3-series–not try to one-up it by offering more size for the same price, as the CTS did.

The styling is true to Cadillac’s successful art-and-science theme, but without being too stiffly starched anywhere.  It looks conservative, competent, and effective–as it has to.  It will need to attract a large audience.
The ATS is small and rear-drive standard (unheard of in cars this size of American manufacture for quite a long time).  It is light for its class and time–just 3,400 pounds.  It has near 50-50 front-rear weight distribution. It offers three different engines: a naturally aspirated four, a turbo four, and a naturally aspirated six.  A six-speed manual gearbox is offered.  Are we salivating yet?
Back to the engines for a moment.  The most interesting of those has to be the 2.0L turbo four-cylinder, which cranks out 270 horses and 260 lb-ft.  Consider my eyebrows raised.
Audi A4 2.0T:    211hp, 258lb-ft
BMW 328i:        240hp, 260lb-ft
Caddy ATS:       270hp, 260lb-ft
All of these are 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinders.  The Audi is the most dated entry here–the 2013 A4 shows off a minor facelift but is powertrain-unchanged since 2009.  BMW’s four-cylinder, however, is almost as new as GM’s.  Clearly, the Detroit guys know that to beat the Germans, they should start by going to the old American standby–more power.  Done (or is it?).  Best of luck to Team USA in the comparison tests.
The GM display was home to several other interesting attractions.
This is the Cadillac XTS, a full-size flagship sedan destined to compete with the likes of the Audi A8, BMW 7-series, Merc S-Class, Jag XJ, etc., etc.  I was not too taken with the design.  However, the gentleman I attended the show with is a member of the demographic for whom the XTS is designed, and he liked it quite a bit.  So what do I know?  I’ll say this: the throwdown between the XTS and that Lincoln MKZ concept covered in Part 1 will be epic if everyone does their jobs well.
Over at Chevrolet, things got a little unusual at first.

The Miray is apparently a gas/electric hybrid, with an electric motor for each front wheel and a 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder just behind the seats.  Scissor doors, carbon fiber everywhere, no roof, no door handles, and you’d need to wear goggles with a windshield cut that low.  Pure concept at this point.  I like the idea of a modestly-powered mid-engined roadster, but the weight and bulk of a hybrid powertrain would most likely make a car like this utterly impractical and thus beyond the reach of the average consumer.

The Code 130R concept looks like a hybrid of a different sort–a Camaro/BMW 1-series hybrid.  GM says this car could go into production quickly, using platforms and powertrains already in existence (ATS!).  I say, if you can build a winning small sporty four-door, you can build a winning small sporty two-door.  Be careful, though–it will have to be better than the FR-S/BRZ to win its customers from the import crowd–fans of domestics will just buy a base Camaro for $23k, which will have to be the price ceiling for the 130R.

This is the Tru 140S, a four-seat Cruze-based (read: front-engine, front-drive) coupe concept.  That’s fine, but in order to succeed it will need to be better than an ’05-’06 Acura RSX Type S.  It will need smaller, lighter wheels than this concept, more glass to improve visibility, a great manual gearbox, and at least 250hp without unmanageable torque steer.  Do all that, keep it around $25k and this is a great car.
I have never wanted a Camaro before, but the 2013 ZL1 convertible changes all that.  580 horses from a 6.2L V8.  A clutch pedal.  Magnetorheological shocks from the Corvette ZR1.  Goodyear Eagle Supercar F1 rubber.  Dual-mass flywheel, twin-disc clutch.  A fully-functional “Mohawk” (yes, that is the official name) carbon-fiber hood scoop.  And of course, a cloth top, saving the driver from the dark, cave-like experience that is the inside of the Camaro coupe.  All this for under $60k.  What.  A.  Car.
Over at Chrysler, who recently wrapped up its first full year of positive earnings since 2005 and contrary to popular belief is actually propping Fiat up financially, the display was even more impressive.  The headliner is, of course, the 300 SRT8.

Spec your 300 SRT8 with these aptly-named “black chrome” 20s.  Pictures do not
do them justice…they’re simply breathtaking in person.
The key number to remember with the Chrysler 300 is 47.  As in, 470 hp, 470 lb-ft, and just over $47k.  It’s a screaming deal.  If you want to pay a little less, you can get the Dodge Charger SRT8, which packs the same 6.4L Hemi and five-speed auto, but looks less subtle and has a harder suspension.  Either way, you get all that power, intimidating presence, and an absolutely beautiful V8 noise.  This is an attainable halo car that makes the whole brand look better to the buying public.  Honda, take note.Less awesome but even more attainable is the high-end 200 Super S, which is simply a 200 S with a few tacked-on look-fast bits (grille, lip, skirts, rear diffuser) and a few tacked-on go-fast bits (coilovers, intake, exhaust).  The bits will be available from the Mopar catalog later in 2012, so you can drop $25k on a 200 S now and just wait for the parts to appear.  The 200 is a car that’s grown on me over time.  It’s still a front-engine front-drive midsize commuter car no matter what you do to it, but its looks and awesome Super Bowl commercial give it an appeal that its competitors are lacking, in my opinion.

Moving the badge down so it ‘floats’ in the grille is an excellent touch for the 200.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the standard for future versions of this model.


The 3.6L Pentastar V6 that you’ll want in your 200 makes 283hp/260 lb-ft and gets a decent 19/29 EPA miles per gallon.  Chrysler is using slightly tweaked versions of this engine with varying power levels across its brands–you’ll find it in the 200 and base 300, the Jeep Cherokee and Wrangler, and the Dodge Durango, Challenger, and Charger.  At 12.63 lbs/hp, though, the 200 is probably among the quickest of its same-engine stablemates.
While Chrysler may be propping up Fiat financially, Fiat was propping the entire show up with their Abarth girls.  I don’t know if anyone heard a word they said–all the collective brainpower was likely focused on the visual sector of the cerebral cortex.

Where do you get these leather catsuits?  I’m trying to order one for the wife.

As far as the cars themselves, however, the Fiat 500 Abarth seems less than attractive.  The 1.4L MultiAir engine gets a Garrett turbo to bring output to 160hp/170lb-ft.  That’s dandy, but as small as it is, the car still weighs 2564 pounds!  At over 16 pounds per horse, there are a lot of cars at the same price point–around $23k–that will absolutely dust it in a straight line.  Additionally, the February 2012 issue of Motor Trend points out that while the standard 500 exhibits almost-neutral behavior in the corners, the Abarth is prone to understeer.  A “performance” model that’s slow in a straight line and understeers in corners?  No thanks.  If you want a quirky hot hatch, the correct answer is still the Mini Cooper S.

That completes the coverage of NAIAS 2012 from here.  Next, The Flat Six takes on Wired magazine.

DEEEEE-TROIT! Part 4: Nippon

One of the Toyota PR guys appeared as we strolled up to the NS4 concept, and asked the crowd–what’s the number-one-selling car in America for the last gazillion years in a row?

“The Camry,” I replied, a whole slew of emotions spewing forth in those three small syllables.  Chief among them: resignation that millions of Camry owners would continue to live out their bland lives driving bland cars that all of their bland friends drive too.  “Correct!” was the PR man’s gleeful cry, and he handed me a goofy, woolly knit Toyota cap with a baseball-type bill, and then proceeded to launch into the rest of his spiel.
Uh, thanks ‘yota, but you’ll have to do better than that to win me over.
For a start, they could make this NS4 thing a reality.  It certainly looks very nice.  As with all concept cars, however, technical details are few.  My gut reaction to this car was, “Ha!  They’ve realized the Prius is dog-ugly, and that they’ll need to make prettier hybrids in the future in order to perpetuate the perception that in a world of dirty, money-grubbing, steel-smelting automakers, they are the shining, eco-friendly city upon a hill.”
Over at Toyota’s premium brand Lexus, there sat two super-coupes, the LF-A and the new LF-LC.
The LF-A has been around for a bit.  It’s an impressive bit of work, and Toyota certainly did not spare any expense in creating it.  For the money (starting at $375k!), however, there are many more exotic and/or better-performing vehicles available.
The LF-LC looks very similar from a proportional/dimensional standpoint.  The February 2012 Road & Track says that it “represents the start of a Lexus design revolution,” but looking at the above two photos, it must be pretty bloodless as revolutions go.  Take an LF-A, delete that silly scoop above and aft of the doors, make the headlights and front intakes flow together a bit more smoothly, pinch the grille so it looks like the new GS-series sedan, and slap a “hybrid” badge on it in place of the “lightning-fast-revving, fuel-guzzling V10” badge.  Voila!  Now we can say all of our future cars will look much less egg-shaped and boring!
I didn’t always speak so flippantly of Toyota.  My dad owned an ’87 Tercel five-speed that must’ve been the cheapest thing on the lot when he bought it.  It never, ever put a foot wrong.  He replaced it with a ’93 Corolla CE, also five-speed manual, when my sister and I got too big for the back of the Tercel.  The ’93 was the car I drove when I got my license, so I crashed it in fairly short order (always be careful turning left across traffic, kids), and it was replaced with a ’98 Corolla CE five-speed.  I banged that one up on more than one occasion (always, always go slow in the snow, kids), but it was still worth a decent amount by the time Dad turned the title over to me so I could sell it and use the proceeds toward my college-grad purchase (thanks!).
I liked those Corollas a lot, especially the ’98.  They were relatively cheap to insure and maintain, got good gas mileage, and were fun to drive because they had clutch pedals.  Wheels, tires, and all other wearable parts were cheap and available everywhere.

I understand the draw of all those advantages, and they seemed great at the time, but here’s the thing: once you drive something better, you wonder how you ever thought a Corolla was so great. And that’s my problem with these repeat Toyota buyers: they never try anything better.  That’s why the families in the Camry commercials have had a half-dozen Camrys in their lives and nothing else.  And therein lies the problem with Toyota–there is no incentive for them to make something better if their customers are not merely content but happy to keep paying them for something that isn’t necessarily better, just newer.  Thus, how could any Toyota be as good as something that does not need to please millions of unexciting people?

Off my soapbox.  Here’s your reward for reading my rant:
Over at Acura, three new models were in attendance: the next-gen RDX small sport utility, the all-new ILX small sedan, and the company’s latest stab at a new NSX halo car.  Pictured above, of course, is the NSX.  I’ve already shared my thoughts on the demise of the original NSX and what it indicated about the priorities at Honda/Acura, so I will not reiterate them here.  However, the whispers around this NSX concept are juicy ones: all about mid-enginedness (good), V6-ness (same as the original, good), and hybridness (if used to enhance performance and only then with minimal weight gain, good).  On top of all that, it looks very, very good as well.
We moved on to Fuji Heavy Industries, err, I mean, Subaru, the comparatively low-volume maker of delightfully quirky-looking all-wheel-drive cars.  Of course, the not-all-wheel-drive BRZ was getting the most attention there, but let’s have a look at something a bit more responsible:
This is the new-look Impreza Sport, displayed with its standard mean-looking wheels and bike rack.  Auto-journo deity Ezra Dyer drove a similar car to this one for Automobile Magazine in October 2011, and said two things worthy of note: “this car absolutely owns the title for ‘chassis that could handle significantly more horsepower'” and “this thing is going to make a hell of a WRX.”
Perhaps I wasn’t phrasing the question the right way, but when I asked the Subaru folk when the new Impreza would get the WRX treatment, they said it would not.  Instead, the Impreza and the WRX/STI are going to go their separate ways as totally unrelated, independent cars, and their timelines as far as updates and production will be wholly different.  Please, someone, say it isn’t so.  All this Impreza needs is to not have leather and a clutch pedal be mutually exclusive, plus some more power and requisite suspension/brake tweaks, and I’m sold!
Mazda had nothing new–the CX-5 was present but still not open for clambering around in.  To fill the void, they just brought a bunch of race cars.  Oh, and a Miata that, as the Miata has always done, was trying its best to emulate a Porsche Boxster–in particular the Boxster Spyder this time.
Next post: we wrap up NAIAS coverage with GM, Chrysler, and a hot Fiat girl (not quite as hot as the one from the Super Bowl commerical, though).

DEEEEE-TROIT! Part 3: Porsche/Audi/VW

You can never have too much chicken wire.

Nothing grabs your attention quite like a fire-engine-red RS5, with its gaping maw threatening to inhale everything in a fifty-foot arc in front of it.  This was the first time I had seen the RS5 at a show, though it has been available for some time.  It was worth the wait.

Audi also brought out the S6…

“Luscious” is the word you’re looking for.

…and for the common folk, the subtly but quite attractively facelifted 2013 A4 rotated quietly on a turntable.  Additionally, the A4’s fraternal twin, the 2013 Allroad, made its first auto show appearance.

Enthusiasts love the Allroad and clamored for its return to North America after it retreated to a Continent-only status after model year 2005.  Why?  Because it was a car that really could do just about anything you asked of it.  Cruise long distances in great comfort.  Raise the air suspension up and go off-road.  Tow.  Carry lots of gear and/or a large dog.  Even put on a somewhat respectable show on a racetrack.

However, I’m a little wary of this new Allroad because it’s slightly smaller than its predecessor (A4 rather than A6 platform) and is available ONLY with the ubiquitous VW 2.0T–back in the day, you could get a 4.2L V8 in these things.  The smaller size and lesser power rating together mean that this car isn’t really as capable as the old one.

Why is this the case?  Well, I’m certain Audi did not want to see a niche-market wagon snaking sales out from under the premium cash-cow Q5s and Q7s.  Remember too that the VW Auto Group now wants to be the #1 automaker in the world, and if that means sacrificing a little of some brands’ old legends in the name of higher sales numbers, so be it.  So while I’m happy to see the Allroad return, I’m disappointed that it does so in something of an underwhelming fashion.  Perhaps in the future the legend will truly return in the form of a more powerful engine on the option sheet.

Meanwhile, over at VW…

…the center of attention (with not only its dais, but attendant DJ both doing some spinning) was this, the E-Bugster, a chopped/raked-windshield, removable hardtop, two-seat-only all-electric version of the 2012 Beetle.  VW was quiet on whether this vehicle would see production.  On one hand, I can see this really appealing to the hipster crowd.  On the other, does any electric-only car limited to a hundred-mile range make sense at all?

The VW that SHOULD have been the center of attention was this:

The six-speed stick-only, 256hp/243lb-ft two-liter direct-injected turbo Golf R.  The Q-est of the Q-ships.  Woe to those who think this is an economy car, easily passable off the line or up the on-ramp.

The best thing about the Golf R, though, is simply that VW builds and sells it.  This is not an inexpensive automobile, and for the kind of money Volkswagen seeks for the right of ownership, most people will be buying some kind of gargantuan milquetoast crossover.  But there is a rabid base of R-series fans, and VW made this car to please them, #1 automaker aspirations notwithstanding.  Faced with the Golf R, I must forgive the Allroad.

Moving on, I was grateful for the chance to investigate the interior of the Motor Trend Car of the Year, the new Passat.  I must say, that while it is a handsome car both inside and out, it is handsome in an entirely inoffensive, uninspiring, passionless way.  I am certain that its commuting capabilities are admirable, but I don’t want one.  Or not want one.  Honestly, on a scale of negative one billion to one billion, the Passat scores exactly zero with me. Which probably means they’re selling like hotcakes.

Lastly, over at the automaker for which there is no substitute:

…the 991 Cabriolet sat in all its splendor.  Mine would not be red, but still, a beautiful thing to behold.

Sadly, the 981 Boxster was not available for public viewing in Detroit.  And interestingly, the 991 shared square footage with the 997 models that it has not yet replaced (Turbo and GT-series).  For the first time, however, a 991 Carrera S was left with door yawning open, inviting any and all to have a seat behind the wheel.  I was only too happy to oblige.

I have to say that I’m not a fan of the rising center console nor the electronic e-brake.  However, I joyously report that the LATCH system has finally appeared in the back seat of a 911!  Even ignoring that long-overdue change, however, the interior space in its entirety is a quantum step up from the 996 series, and a still-noticeable step up from the 997.

Still, when I think about the 991, I can’t help but wonder…if the plain ol’ 991 Carrera S makes 400hp, a 55hp or 16% leap over the 997 S…and the old 997 Turbo S makes 530hp/516lb-ft…if you can afford a 991, you gotta wait for the Turbo, right?

UP NEXT…Nippon!