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.

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