2016 Detroit Auto Show - Day Two: American Innovation & Japanese Design
SHEI Magazine had the opportunity to cover this year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) during the show’s press preview days Jan 11 & 12, 2016. Because we were on limited passes and only had two hours of floor access per day, we had to divide the show in half to do it justice. On Tuesday Jan 12 (Day Two), we covered the latest in American Innovation and Japanese Design from some of the world’s leading automakers. This year’s headlines: the all-electric Chevy Bolt, a Ford pickup that does 100 mph off-road, Lexus unveils a flagship coupe, Acura’s beautiful oxymoron, and more. Read on below.
Not all electric vehicles are German-engineered concept cars that cost more than your house. In December 2010, Chevrolet unveiled the first-generation Volt, a Prius-sized hatchback that promised to save the world for a mere $41,000.
There’s a reason you don’t see many first-gen Volts on the road today. Even after redeeming a $7500 government tax credit, $33.5k was a pretty penny to pay for an EPA estimated 35 miles of range per charge. Gas was pricey in 2011 – but not $950/mile pricey. Plus, a lack of developed charging infrastructure meant that you really only had 17 miles (give or take) of range. Sure, you also had an efficient gas engine under the hood that bumped your combined range to 380 miles, but that’s not why you paid 50% more than a same-year Prius (which dropped jaws worldwide with a reported 550-600 mile gas range). You bought a Chevy Volt for the early adopter cool points that came with owning unrealized potential rather than an exhaustively final product.
Now, Chevy is back with an all-new electric vehicle that promises to make good on the attainable electric future it promised five years ago. The Chevy Bolt EV, shown here in orange, leads with numbers: 200 mile electric range, 200hp equivalent, all for $30k MSRP after tax credits. While the Bolt is an AWD electric 4-door, a Tesla this is not. Which is to say there’s nothing gimmicky about the Bolt. It is innovative precisely because it is not a straight-line drag racer that happens to plug into a wall. Like the Volt before it, all signs indicate the Bolt is being positioned to be a habit-changer rather than a showpiece. The range is good; the technical suite inside is as pretty as they make it; and above all else, the price is right. In short, it may actually have an effect on the world at large instead of just the automotive press.
The 2017 Chevy Bolt is significant because it’s a humdrum commuter car that just happens to be an EV. Practicality is boring, yes, but being cool never paid the bills. Just ask Consumer Reports. Electric vehicles have yet to truly diffuse into general consumption, but a $30k hatch with enough room for 2.4 kids and some groceries may just lead the charge.
Now that the environmentalists among us have been sated: Ford Performance’s 2017 F-150 Raptor SuperCrew is a twin-turbo V6 that can hit 100mph offroad.
It is big. It is aggressive. It has shock assemblies the size of toddlers that supposedly let the overland monster eat potholes at triple-digit speeds while maintaining full driver control. Whereas the Bolt is a sterile and practical solution to society’s energy problems, the Raptor exists to make sure those problems don’t go down easy.
The 2017 Raptor isn’t all blunt force trauma, however, that TTV6 is a 3.5L EcoBoost (think Ford GT), that when mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, becomes a surgical instrument. Shifts are sure to be optimized and snappy. Asking about MPG ratings would be missing the point, but the 500-pound-plus of weight that Ford Performance teased out by adding an aluminum body may ironically make the Raptor one of the more fuel-efficient trucks in the Ford range. You’d need to have it on the right Terrain Management setting (the new model promises six - Normal, Street, Weather, Mud and Sand, Baja, and Rock) of course, but hey, you can’t traverse the Rubicon Trail every day.
Somedays you just need to commute. Through Mud and Sand. At 100mph. Dear Santa…
As part of GM’s post-bankruptcy rebuilding efforts, the largest member of the Big Three has invested vast sums into its higher-margin upmarket brands. Last year was luxury Cadillac’s turn to show off: the unveiling of the all-new ATS-V and CTS-V models at the 2015 NAIAS stole headlines worldwide. “American luxury is back!” proclaimed the automotive press. BMW M and AMG-Mercedes finally had a colonial equal. A few booths away, little brother Buick smiled meekly behind a rebadged Opel Cascada.
One year later, the spotlight is on mid-market Buick. Only someone forgot to tell Buick they were mid-market. In fact, someone forgot to tell them they were Buick. Otherwise, I simply can’t explain the brilliance of the Avista Concept. Buick’s new 2+2 coupe concept is a 400bhp, RWD coupe that defines the word swooping.
Simply put, the car is breathtaking. It is undeniably stylish, both understated and aggressive, and with lines that evoke Maserati’s Alfieri concept from year’s past. A teardrop body full of uninterrupted sinew is an homage to the front-engine coupes of years past. Even the paint catches light differently when applied to this body. The Buick Avista is an American Aston-Martin in the looks department. GM is understandably mum about possible production (the door trims are 3D printed onto the car), but if any version of the Avista goes to dealerships, I’ll be the first in line.
Lexus burst onto the US market at the 1989 NAIAS with an assertion: you’re paying too much for a luxury car that doesn’t always work. That assertion came with a segment-beating price tag, a 4.0L V8 engine, enough technology to raise Stuttgart’s eyebrows, and plenty of legroom, to boot. Before long, the 1989-1994 LS 400 was winning “Car of the Year” awards. The same “Car of the Year” awards BMW/Mercedes had won years before. Assertion, asserted.
Since then, Lexus has expanded to offer reliable luxury in all shapes and sizes. From crossovers to hatchbacks, if Toyota producers the chassis, you can bet a leather-clad luxury model exists. One model in the Lexus lineup remained notably absent, however, where was their large luxury coupe? Finally, we have an answer – and it is spindly.
The 2017 Lexus LC 500 checks all the 6-series/S Coupe boxes. V8? Check. Big V8? 5.0L, 467bhp/389 lb.ft. of check. RWD? Check. Luxurious interior packed with space-age tech? Check.
Jaw-dropping exterior? Check plus. The brand’s characteristic spindle grill is the conversation piece, set in silver against flaming metallic red. Massive, angular haunches join right-angle taillights at the trunk lid, setting up a roof line that’s more supercar than executive jet.
A multitude of forward-facing vents round out the LC 500’s subtle aero features. And since it’s Lexus, these wild aesthetics were likely purpose-built for some purpose the engineers calculated as necessary to the driving experience. Did I mention the LC 500 starts on this side of $100k, when its high-performance German cousins cost $10-20,000 more? I think Lexus likes NAIAS for thumbing its nose at the competition. Assertion, asserted.
The Honda Civic won North American Car of the Year. It’s quite good, quite athletic, and affordable as always. If I were in the market for an efficient grocery-getter my teenage son wouldn’t be embarrassed to drive, I would choose a Civic. The NAIAS awards panel agreed. We’re all very proud of Honda.
Between this and the Bolt, I’ve fulfilled my practicality quotient for the month. If you excuse me, I’m going to go do donuts in the parking lot. Moving on…
I’ve saved the best for last.
Acura stunned the world at last year’s show when it showed off the long-anticipated NSX, a $150k hybrid supercar over a decade in the making. Catching my first light rays off that car is a memory I won’t soon forget. Even if that experience has been nearly overwritten Inception-style by a vision of the future so breathtaking it makes the i8 look Neolithic. Meet the Acura Precision Concept.
The Precision Concept is Acura’s design language made moving sculpture. I can’t do Michelle Christensen’s latest justice through words. Just look at it.
Gravity-defying cantilevers angle towards the car’s back quarters like lines in space racing towards the exhaust pipes. Brushstroke intakes adorn a front fascia that finally, finally ditches the “Beak” grille of Acura’s past in favor of a new “Diamond Pentagon” design (first photo). 22-inch wheels rife with metallic geometry finish out the exterior.
On the other side of the Precision Concept’s delicate skin, the interior is Peugeot Onyx levels of bare to gorgeous effect. Brushed metal, vibrant minimalist displays, and leather abound.
The icing on the cake: Acura’s new “Jewel Constellation” headlights. Coincidentally, also my new phone wallpaper.
Acura, you have my attention. The Precision Concept is my pick for "Best in Show."
Enjoyed Day Two of our 2016 NAIAS coverage? Stay tuned for more photos/articles throughout the week! Be sure to check out Day One show highlights here, or visit the author’s website for more great articles.