Teams always play strong on their home court. That would explain the Detroit Big Three owning the headlines coming out of this week’s 2014 North American International Auto Show. The city of Detroit’s marquee event delivered a number of gems that ran the gamut from performance vehicles to luxury coupes and rugged pickups. The imports delivered as well, with a selection of vehicles that raised the bar for their respective markets. Still, there was no competing with the debuts from Ford and Chevrolet.
The takeaway: We’re getting performance and efficiency without the need for many of the complex hybrid drivetrains. The internal combustion engine still has many miles ahead of it, as automakers maximize every droplet of fuel with continuously variable valve timing, direct injection, cylinder deactivation, and stop-start technology. No longer do buyers have to choose between performance and efficiency; you can have your high-compression cake, and eat it, too.
Elsewhere, hybrid drivetrains are being used in new, more creative ways. This past year, several supercars debuted with hybrid systems, and money is on those performance-hybrid systems becoming available in other makes soon. If you want to know where the car industry is going, just take in these 10 debuts in Detroit. The show ends Sunday.
2015 Chrysler 200
Until now, the Chrysler 200 was essentially a rebadged Sebring. Thankfully, that time has come to a close as the 200 ushers in new styling trends for the US luxury brand. The 200 is built on the same platform as the Fiat-owned Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a popular and dynamic small car in Europe. Engine options are a 184-hp inline-4 and a 295-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, which sends power through a 9-speed automatic transmission, operated by a new-for-Chrysler rotary dial shifter.
The smooth exterior styling is met by a superlative interior design and fit-and-finish that is eons ahead of the model it replaces. Chrysler is betting big on this new luxury sedan, and has invested $2 billion in a new Sterling Heights production facility. The promotional video shown at the reveal looks like an Audi or Porsche factory. Time will tell if that translates into world-class luxury build quality.
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
The same day that the 2014 Corvette Stingray was crowned “Car of the Year,’’ Chevrolet upped the ante with the 2015 Corvette Z06. Chevy calls this their most track-capable car ever built. A supercharged 6.2-liter V8 sends “at least’’ 625 horsepower to the rear wheels through either a 7-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
Corvette engineers stiffened the body to the point where the Z06 can now be offered with a removable top—with no penalty to performance. According to Corvette marketing manager Harlan Charles, “This is the car for the person who wants world class performance, but also world class comfort and amenities.’’
2015 Ford F-150
“Simplify and add lightness,’’ was the motto of Lotus founder Colin Chapman. The 2015 Ford F-150 is far from either of those things, but it is up to 700 pounds lighter, thanks to the extensive use of aluminum. Body panels and various other components are aluminum, but the frame is still made from high-strength steel.
Part of that weight savings is a smaller engine, in the form of a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 engine that Ford claims will make V8 power, but figures have not been released. The base 3.5-liter V6, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, and 5.0-liter V8 will also be available.
The F-150 will have updated tech like LED truck-bed lighting and 360-degree surround view for maneuvering in tight places. This is not your daddy’s farm truck.
2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe
We were not ready for the Cadillac ATS Coupe. The two-door version of Cadillac’s award-winning entry-level ATS sedan caught us by surprise when it debuted in Detroit. The coupe profile manages to look better than the big-brother CTS. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4, and a 3.6-liter V6.
The interior is much like the ATS sedan, which is to say, world class. The ATS really does provide BMW-level handling. To deliver that type of drive from an elegant coupe like this already makes it one of the most compelling luxury cars of 2014.
2015 Ford Mustang
Going into the Detroit show, the Ford Mustang was already one of the most talked about cars on the web. Seeing it in person gave us a full taste of the contemporary styling. The retro look that dominated the muscle car craze for the last decade appears to finally be over. The new-look Mustang is more in line with the Ford Fusion.
The base engine continues to be the 300 horsepower 3.7-liter V6, but for 2015, the Mustang gets the option of a turbocharged inline-4 with output in the same neighborhood. The Mustang GT carries over with the 5.0-liter V8, making 420 horsepower.
In addition to the return of the four-cylinder option, the standard independent rear suspension is a new take for the Mustang. Given how much Ford engineers were able to squeeze out of a live rear axle, the handling dynamics of this modern Pony Car should be quite impressive.
2015 Volkswagen Golf R
Offered only for the 2012 and 2013 model years, the Golf R returns for 2015 packing weapons-grade power for a small hatchback. The new 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 delivers 290 horsepower, along with a fast-shifting dual-clutch automatic, adaptive suspension, torque vectoring, and, most important, a louder exhaust. Available only as a five-door (during Volkswagen’s awkward press conference, they displayed the European three-door), the Golf R comes with all-wheel-drive and a standard six-speed manual. Picture it as a miniaturized Audi S4 Avant, another hot VW product we can’t get here. Be prepared to wait; the Golf R goes on sale next year, a few months after the next-generation Golf debuts.
2015 Honda Fit
Honda’s lovable city car gets its third redesign, and like most new Hondas, the 2015 Honda Fit gets the “ain’t broke, don’t fix it’’ treatment. So the roomy interior gets roomier (rear legroom stretches 4.8 inches), the 1.5-liter inline-4 is more powerful by just 13 horsepower (for a total of 130), and overall, it’s a little classier with softer-touch rubbers and a large, redesigned touchscreen for the radio and GPS. The Fit’s fold-up back seat that gives full access to the car’s floor—allowing generous cargo space that normally would be impossible in a subcompact car— hasn’t changed a bit. Honda says it has used more high-strength steel, which should improve safety and fuel economy (Honda estimates top ratings on all crash tests and 33/41 mpg from the EPA). Pricing shouldn’t change much, either, since the new model will cut production costs by manufacturing in Mexico instead of Japan. Look for it this spring.
2015 GMC Canyon
General Motors let the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups wilt when they were last seen in 2012, outdated and underwhelming. Until now, the Big Three turned their noses up at the midsize truck market while Toyota and Nissan dominated it. Ford and Dodge are still MIA, but the 2015 GMC Canyon may make them reconsider. It’s a high-quality, handsome truck with 4-cylinder power (an optional turbo-diesel 4 comes later) and can be upfitted like a Cadillac, with a vibrating leather driver’s seat that alerts the driver with collision and lane departure warnings. Like all GMC products, the Canyon is hardly different from the Chevrolet, so it’s only a question of “Which front end do I like better?’’ and how much you want to spend on options. GM hasn’t announced payload or towing specs. We look forward to driving it later this year.
2015 Subaru WRX STI
The new WRX debuted in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, and the Subaru WRX STI is that same car with a big wing and gold wheels. The 2.5-liter, 305-horsepower flat-4, giant hood scoop, and switchable center locking differential remain, but a quicker steering rack, stiffer suspension, and torque vectoring are all new. Inside, the STI gets Alcantara trim for the seats and the new Impreza’s much-improved interior. The previous STI had the craftsmanship of a cardboard box, so this is very welcome. If you really like the Cub Scout’s blue-and-gold paint scheme, you’ll want to get in line for the STI Launch Edition, of which only 1,000 will be available. Both the WRX and STI sedans go on sale in a few months.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
The latest Benzes look extra fashionable these days, and as the company’s best-selling model, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class has ordered a tight new suit that’ll catch on and stick for years to come. Underneath the sleek body, which Mercedes claims is up to 220 pounds lighter than the current car, are two new engines at launch: a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 with 241 horsepower for the C400 and a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 with 329 horsepower on the C400 4MATIC. The C-Class Coupe and the C63 AMG will follow later, and likely a new C250 Bluetec diesel. In essence, the C-Class incorporates more of the features seen on the E- and S-Class sedans, like an adaptive air suspension, perfume spritzers (yes, seriously), automatic parking, and a new touchpad to control a redesigned infotainment system. If you’re looking at the brand new Infiniti Q50 or the redone BMW 3-Series, we’d suggest holding off a few months until you test drive this new C-Class.