For one week each year, the world descends upon Detroit. The North American International Auto Show, held Jan. 19-27 this year, breathes life into this tired shell of a city, proving there is still enough relevance and glamour to fuel a resurgent car industry. In 2012, US car sales topped 14.4 million, the best year since 2007. Seven automakers posted record sales, and industry watcher R.L. Polk predicts sales will reach 15.4 million by this year’s end.
While downtown Detroit is an eerily quiet place—almost like an empty movie lot—inside the Cobo Center there was a genuine party spotlighting the latest 2013 and 2014 cars. While several concepts stole the show (including Ford’s Atlas, a preview of the next-generation F-150 pickup), we’ve chosen to highlight 10 signiﬁcant cars you can actually buy within a few months. Most are pricey luxury models we think will make a serious dent in their competitive segments.
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee
We love the latest Grand Cherokee, and so does the New England Motor Press Association, which has twice rewarded this tough SUV as the Ofﬁcial Winter Vehicle of New England. For 2014, a diesel engine and a new 8-speed automatic promise serious fuel efﬁciency, something we’ve never seen before on a big Jeep. Four-wheel-drive diesel models pack more than 400 pound-feet of torque and return an estimated 28-mpg highway, a huge boost over the V8 model’s 20 mpg. Restyled front and rear lights, a larger touchscreen infotainment system, and even more pampering—such as matte wood and a suede-like headliner—make all the German SUVs feel overpriced.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette
By far the biggest attraction in Detroit, the seventh-generation Corvette arrives this year in a more exotic package. The aggressive ﬁberglass body, a Corvette tradition, now uses carbon ﬁber and an all aluminum frame that trims weight and adds stiffness. The engine is up to 450 horsepower and uses cylinder deactivation to save fuel, plus the interior ﬁnally looks up to snuff with the rest of the car’s high-quality construction (we weren’t allowed to sit inside). No other car makes us wish the winter was over.
2014 Mercedes CLA-Class
Leave it to the Germans to invent another niche segment. Like Mercedes did with its CLS “four-door coupe’’in 2006—a swoopy version of the E-Class— the 2014 CLA is a curvy rendition of the C-Class and based on the new A-Class compact debuting in Europe. In fact, the body is so streamlined that it’s the most aerodynamic production car on sale, surpassing even the Toyota Prius. Style-conscious buyers will simply like that it costs less than an E-Class and looks even hotter, although we’re sure the model pictured here will cost well over $40,000 when it arrives in September. Don’t look for bargains.
2014 Mercedes E-Class
While the CLA attempts to make its own submarket, the E-Class is the established, traditional midsize sedan that never gets old. This spring, Mercedes will give E-Class buyers two front grills depending on their moods (a huge, honking Mercedes logo on the Sport or the old-school hood ornament on Luxury models). A four-cylinder diesel on base E250 models along with an E400 gas-electric hybrid should deliver impressive fuel economy, while the upcoming E63 AMG will pack all-wheel-drive and up to 577 horsepower, which will not deliver anything but thrills. The interior is largely unchanged. Updated driver assist systems now include pedestrian detection with auto-braking and a radar cruise control that can steer the car by itself.
2013 Audi RS 7
Once relegated to Europe, Audi’s potent RS models—an alternative to BMW M and Mercedes AMG— have trickled into the United States, ﬁrst with the TT RS, then the RS 5, and now, the RS 7. This is Audi at its most extreme and with an equally gorgeous body to match. As if the 420-horsepower S7 weren’t enough, the RS 7’s twin-turbo V8 blows out a staggering 553 horsepower, making it the most powerful model in the lineup (and that includes the V10 R8). The twin exhaust openings can swallow your entire ﬁst, appropriate for its maniacal top speed (190 miles per hour) and staggering prices ($130,000 to start).
2013 Bentley Continental GTC Speed
This is what the world’s fastest four-seat convertible looks like, in case you’re privy to that sort of accolade. Really, the Bentley Continental GTC Speed needs little to impress onlookers considering its imposing ﬂanks and bejeweled interior, but 202 miles per hour is a nice, fat number to call upon. A twin-turbo 12-cylinder engine with 616 horsepower and all-wheel-drive should sufﬁce most buyers, while a retuned steering system ensures they’ll keep this 2½-ton rig on the road.
2014 Infiniti Q50
By 2014, Inﬁniti will rename every model to start with the letter Q, and the Q50—the luxury sedan formerly known as G37—is the ﬁrst step. Beneath the chiseled exterior is the familiar 328-horsepower V-6 and a new hybrid model, both of which can be ordered in rear- or all-wheel-drive.The coupe and convertible haven’t been changed yet, but they will continue to offer a manual transmission when they morph as the new Q60. A new steering system promises more direct feedback with the road via one of four driver-adjustable settings. Try it for yourself this summer
2013 Maserati Quattroporte
Maserati’s four-door Ferrari gets its ﬁrst substantial redesign for 2013, and it’s certainly no worse for wear. On the outside, the general style looks more Audi and less Italy, but the new car promises to be lighter, more efﬁcient, and, of course, faster. A new all-wheel-drive model with a new twin-turbo V6 (assembled by Ferrari) should be popular in our region, but why buy a Maserati if you’re not splurging for the 3.8-liter V8? Either model is bound to feel and sound gorgeous, though we’re not sure if Maserati’s goal at hitting 50,000 sales by 2015 has taken away the Quattroporte’s bespoke character.
2014 Lexus IS
Lexus designers took a razor to the IS, making sure no part of the front or rear was without diagonal slashes, vents, and creases. In person, it’s quite well done and should see this compact luxury sedan better compete with the latest BMW 3-Series. The interior echoes the bold edges and silver contrasts of the larger GS, but we’re bummed a manual transmission won’t be available. Many buyers will be just ﬁne with the 8-speed automatic on the IS 350 or the hybrid powertrain on the new IS 300h. More safety technology, such as auto high beams and cross-trafﬁc alerts when backing up, are available. Expect to see one when June nears.
2014 Cadillac ELR
Given the exorbitant cost of electric cars, it’s only natural to see one as a Cadillac. The ELR is based on the Chevrolet Volt, which means it can drive about 35 miles on electricity before its gas engine switches on. Loaded with leather, suede-like Alcantara, and Cadillac’s touch-sensitive CUE infotainment system, the ELR will have every gee-whiz feature General Motors can possibly dream up, all for about $50,000. It’ll be a tough sell, but no other luxury brand is selling an efﬁcient plug-in car within the United States, let alone one that looks this sharp.