By Jens Meiners
Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.
Detroit is the most important American auto show by far. As a German, it is endlessly fascinating to check out the American and Asian cars at the show, many of which are not sold in my home country. Those that are sold there often come with vastly different powertrains and design features. This year’s Detroit show was rife with awesome styling concepts and even a few surprises. Here is my personal take on some of the cars and technologies I came across on the show floor.
Best Concept: Volkswagen CrossBlue. Yes, I know the styling doesn’t knock anyone’s socks off, but it is well executed to the last beautiful detail—and it packs a lot of them, such as the angular, U-shaped daytime running lights. The concept’s interior is futuristic and it boasts quite forward-looking technology, such as a Schaeffler-supplied electric rear axle. Volkswagen’s MQB modular architecture is designed to incorporate this unit with few changes, and we will see it on production VW Group cars soon.
Worst Concept: Lincoln MKC Concept. Ford’s design department under J Mays seems to be falling back into an old pattern. Remember the Ford Five Hundred, a blatant ripoff of Peter Schreyer’s Volkswagen B5 Passat? I can just imagine Mays ordering Lincoln chief designer Max Wolff to take an Audi Q5 and morph it to the Ford Escape’s package. From the side window opening to the wraparound tailgate, the MKC is embarrassingly lacking in originality. Several Ford designers have worked in Audi and VW design, but shouldn’t they be allowed to move on?
Best Production Car: Chevrolet Corvette. America’s sports-car icon is taking a big leap forward. Its styling is aggressive enough to appeal not only to the aging Corvette collector crowd, but also to a new, younger set of buyers. The front grille may be somewhat unexceptional, but the headlight design is refreshing; the side view is novel and even slightly Italian; and the angry rear end is simply fantastic. Thank you, Chevrolet, for not allowing this icon to be clinic’d to death. The C7 Vette goes the extra 25 percent the C6 wasn’t allowed to go, and as a result it will be considered a great Corvette.
Worst Production Car: Jeep Compass. This car is hardly worth mentioning, but it represents the mindset that prevails when “car guys” take the back seat in a car’s development. Cynically exploiting the Jeep brand, this pseudo-SUV has become a barely acceptable vehicle almost seven years after its launch. It resembled a diminutive Grand Cherokee for a few years, but now its big brother is getting a facelift, leaving the Compass behind yet again. It is a sad fact that the Compass was conceived when Dieter Zetsche and Wolfgang Bernhard were calling the shots at Chrysler, as they are now at Mercedes-Benz.
Best Exterior: Cadillac ELR. The series production ELR does not deviate far from the look laid down by the stunning Converj concept from a few years back, and I like everything about it. Slim, futuristic, and true to Cadillac’s unique design language, it brings enormous appeal to the notion of owning an electric vehicle. Let’s hope that the ELR’s on-road performance, with its boosted Volt powertrain, is anywhere near what the styling promises, so that it won’t need the VL Industries treatment (see below).
Worst Exterior: Mercedes-Benz CLA. Almost eight years ago, I wrote a requiem for German design in a commentary for Automotive News. Back then, I argued that restraint and simplicity have gone out the door in favor of voluptuous lines and nonfunctional styling—and that was before Gorden Wagener became head of design at Mercedes-Benz. From my somewhat purist perspective, things certainly haven’t improved. That said, taste in styling is personal, and anyone who likes the looks of the CLA, a self-proclaimed “style rebel,” will be positively thrilled by its dynamic capabilities. And I concede the small Benz’s look is functional: It has the one of the lowest drag coefficients of all series production vehicles on the market.
By the way, as we are speaking of simplicity and restraint: Why did every Audi—the high-performance 2014 RS7 included—on the stand in Detroit have chrome wheels?
Best Interior: Toyota Avalon. I opened the door of this Japanese Buick only to check if they still fitted a front bench seat; the last Avalon I bothered to peek into (some years ago) was so equipped. To my utter surprise, I was met with one of the most beautifully styled instrument panels I’ve seen in this class. It has a layered surface, soft and hand-stitched padding, and a brushed-metal center zone fitted with precisely machined knobs just like on a 1970s high-end stereo. (Which most Avalon customers likely vividly remember.)
Worst Interior: Any Cadillac with CUE. Actually, GM’s luxury brand has some of the best interiors in the marketplace—clever, functional, aesthetically pleasing. But for me, the CUE infotainment system ruins the experience. Not only is it slow to respond and sometimes counterintuitive, I deplore the pitiful graphics. Come on, an ancient telephone receiver to symbolize the phone function? An antique globe to represent navigation? There even are 1970s-style symbolized bodies for the climate controls and OnStar, plus a child’s drawing of a cloud for the weather. It gets worse as you move on, delving into a world of overlapping rectangles and wide, empty spaces on the screen. This inexplicable mix of shapes and styles is unworthy of Cadillac. Ford’s SYNC, with all of its shortcomings, is an application that is far more pleasant to look at.
Biggest Surprise: VL Industries Destino. This Fisker Karma, stripped of its battery pack and electric powertrain, delivers one of the nastiest blows to E-mobility to date. The factory Karma is built around the notion of “sustainable mobility,” and VL’s dumping a naturally aspirated or supercharged 6.2-liter Corvette V-8 into its engine bay is about as sensitive as showing up at the local co-op in a camo-colored Hummer H1. The incredulous eyes of my European colleagues upon stumbling over the Destino were priceless. Can this be allowed? Yes.
Biggest Yawn: Acura NSX. It seems time to move beyond the NSX sports car even before this never-ending launch is finally over. I really look forward to driving the actual car, but the new model’s surprise factor and mystique will have been squandered by the time it hits the road.
- Instrumented Test: 2013 Cadillac XTS AWD Platinum
- Comparison Test: 2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport vs. 2012 Chevrolet Volt
- First Drive: 2013 Toyota Avalon
Best Truck: Ford Atlas. Okay, this will be another long-haul launch, but for now, this thinly veiled next-generation F-150 is bold, well executed, and pleasantly technical in its styling language. I like the look, and I like the fact that it appeared in Detroit by surprise.
Worst Truck: GM’s new-for-2014 full-size pickup trucks for GMC and Chevrolet. GM’s design leadership in trucks was last asserted with the 1988 C/K—and lost to the Dodge Ram in 1994. Since then, it has been a downhill slide for the General, with the 2014 Chevy and GMC trucks figuring as the current low point. I suppose the trucks aspire to boldness, but, in fact, the pair represents one of the most timid redesigns I have seen. Apart from a few gimmicky details, calling these rigs “evolutionary” would be an overstatement.
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver