2012 NAIAS Part 1 – “A” thru “F”

God must be smiling on Detroit this year.  How do I know?  It was Auto Show week, the temperature was above freezing and there was no snow on the ground.  And if that is not enough evidence for you all you have to do is consider the sheer number of new car introductions.  Its beginning to feel like the auto shows of old where kicking the competition’s butt is the goal, not just surviving the year.  Competition is a great thing and you can certainly see that as the various design staffs around the world turn up the heat in an effort to rid themselves of boring cars.  So come along for a ride to the future as we review what was hot and what was not at this year’s North American International Auto Show.

Bet you thought “A” thru “F” was a reference to a report card!  Nope, just an easy alphabetical listing of the brands.  Come back tomorrow (Wednesday) for “G” thru “M” and Thursday for “N” thru “V” (are there any car brands that start with Z?).  So let’s get started with Acura…

2013 Acura RDX

The 2013 Acura RDX has a more aerodynamic shape

The 2013 Acura RDX grille is significantly improved

The 2013 Acura RDX has an unusual "drop" in the IP center

Acura should get some sort of award for bringing 3 new vehicles to the show this year.  Of course, considering the brand is only sold in a few countries I guess you could ask where else would they introduce a new car.  First up is the production 2013 RDX coming this spring.  The new body has “a more formal look” (Acura’s words, not mine) that continues to evolve the Acura design language.  At least they are working on making the grille a little less like a proboscis (click the link if you don’t know what that means – I had to look it up too) but I still think it needs some work.  The DLO has a new shape significantly increasing the size of the C-pillar but it works in profile and seems to amplify the wedgy shape.  On the inside sweeping shapes and new materials definitely give it a more upscale look but the IP design now has a proboscis of its own.

Acura ILX Concept

Acura ILX: Concept or production?

Acura ILX Concept racecar-like decklid

Acura called the ILX a concept, but it is a thinly veiled production car slated to hit the showrooms around the same time as the RDX.  The ILX is Acura’s new entry level car to bring young upwardly mobile buyers into the Acura fold.  While it is sized between the BMW 1- and and 3-Series I see it more of a Volvo S40 alternative.  The ILX features the normal Acura family design cues (grille, lighting etc) including the same, oddly yet interestingly shaped door handles first found on the Accord (am I the only one who notices these things?).  The design of the rear three-quarters is also interesting, featuring a character line that rises around the haunches just under the Hoffmeister Kink.  I don’t care too much for how it works in the side view but it does gives the decklid’s rear three-quarter gives a real race-car feel.

Acura NSX Concept

Acura NSX Concept teaser

Acura NSX Concept

The NSX concept that was introduced is about three years from production – too long for some of the NSX faithful.  But it is not too long in size as its compact dimensions are smaller than a Scion tC.  That diminutive size is just part of the “high performance through engineering efficiency” plan as the concept is to have a V6 and supplemental electric motors.  Perhaps the biggest news is that it is slated to be built in Ohio.  Why would anyone build a supercar in a state that begins and ends in a ZERO?  It doesn’t matter much because it has a very McLaren MP14 feel to me, especially from the rear three-quarter.  My only question… Why isn’t it red?

Audi Q3 Vail Concept

Audi's Q3 Vail Concept is designed for winter sports

The Q3 Vail has a special take on Audi's corporate grille

Audi did not have much “newness” in its booth as the key intro was the Q3 Vail Concept.  The Q3 isn’t currently sold in the US but Audi did make the announcement that it is coming.  The differences between the Vail and a production Q3 are about what you would expect – a bunch of details that are winter sports-related like slightly higher ground clearance, a specifically designed roof rack, the addition of body cladding etc.  It does feature a new take on the now classic Audi grille: aluminum vertical struts finished in a bicolor theme – “their lateral edges are painted in matt quartz-based paint, and the slim front faces have a high-gloss finish”.   In the end it looks like the same guy who made the A4 wagon into the Allroad was given the task of making the Vail Concept.

2013 Audi A4, S4 and Allroad

2013 Audi S4

The show also featured the North American debut of the new A4.  This includes a new Allroad for the US Market for the first time since 2005.  I skipped all of them and went straight to the S4 which was a big hit judging from the smiles on the faces of these guys.

2013 Audi Allroad

Audi's Allroad returns to the US market after a long absence

The A4 Allroad continues Audi's clean design language

Audi's interiors continue to be impeccable

2013 Bentley GT V8

Bentley Continental GT V8 has 500HP under the hood

The V8 version of the Continental GT is identified by the new lower grille

Bentley announced a couple of new cars at the show – a V8 version of their Continental GT and GTC.  The smaller 4.0L engine makes a full 500HP and I assume is much more efficient than the 552HP 6.0L W12 (although I don’t expect that Bentley owners buy their cars because of the gas mileage).  The only real styling difference of the new model is a revised lower grille.

2012 BMW 3-Series

The ActiveHybrid System comes to the new 3-series in the 2013 Model Year

2012 BMW 3-Series sport a new Headlamp design

The new BMW 3-Series headlined in the BMW booth even though the cars and pictures have been around since right after the Frankfurt showThe most controversial design element is probably the new Headlamps that feature an elongated “snout”.  The press release indicates that along with the new grille they are intended to add to the sense of width but I didn’t run into anyone who thought they were an improvement over the previous design.  I am happy, however, that they no longer have the milky white plastic light guides.

2013 Buick Encore

2013 Buick Encore exterior looks a bit awkward

2013 Buick Encore interiors integrates some very nice materials and colors

While I am a huge fan of many of the new Buicks (especially the Enclave), I don’t think the execution of the new 2013 Encore does the Buick brand much justice.  While I agree with the Press Release that the “sculpted … styling traits – including sweeping character lines – make it instantly identifiable as a contemporary Buick”, it looks like they were forced onto this smaller body.  The Encore is small, much smaller than you would imagine (it is built on the Sonic platform) and leaves a big hole in the Buick lineup for something along the lines of the Equinox.  Identified as a competitor to the X1 and Q3 it is a far cry from the elegant lines of the Q3 and sporty character of the X1.  I am sure it will find it’s fans, but probably only because it will be significantly less expensive than the Audi and BMW (when they come to the States).

2013 Cadillac ATS

Cadillac's new 3-Series fighter, the 2013 ATS

The 2013 ATS includes Cadillac's signature vertical Tail Lamps - and a bit of Bangle-butt

The 2013 Cadillac ATS has replaceable trim panels that can be customized by the dealer

I had a chance to talk to Clay Dean, Cadillac Design Director about the new ATS and the evolution of the Art and Science design language.  Dean indicated that the ATS was the most significant Cadillac program to come around in a long time because it opens the door to the largest luxury segment and is crucial to the future growth of the brand.  He indicated it was important to note that the ATS is a 1st generation design going head to head with the 9th generation 3-Series.  The ATS design shows broader, shaplier surfaces and more fullness than other Cadillacs with a nestled and dynamic appearance.  Dean called the design “a bit sneaky” which he figures clearly demonstrates the fun-to-drive aspect.  Exterior lighting is one of the most bold statements on the car with striking vertical Headlamps and “just a hint of a tail fin” rear lights.  Dean remarked that the Tail Lamp design is a more tailored look than the more literal tailfin interpretation on the SRX.  The interior also brings a new idea, trim pieces that can be changed at the dealer (hope this goes better than the interchangeable roof arc trim on the Saturn Ion).

Chevrolet Code 130R & Tru 140S

Chevrolet Tru 140S Concept

Chevrolet introduced two new concept cars from their North Hollywood studio at the show, the Code 130R and Tru 140S (which kind of look like a BMW 1-Series and Mitsubishi Eclipse respectively – click the links to see the similarity).  Both designs were developed after a ton of research at Universities and High Schools around the country according to Frank Saucedo, Director of Advanced Design at the studio.  The research indicated a few things.  One, that while young people are interested in the environment and having a vehicle with a small carbon footprint, they could not afford a hybrid.  In fact many are forced to buy a used car which is much less environmentally friendly than a new car and certainly less reliable.  Two, while they like the appearance of a sporty car, they want something with 4 seats because they want to go places with their friends.  That is not to say they want 4 doors because as Saucedo remarked “they don’t care if their friend has to struggle to get into the back seat”  

Chevrolet Code 130R Concept

According to Nick David, the designer of the 130R, the research showed that young people want a mature looking car.  So he developed a design that was mature but still brought in iconic Chevrolet elements like the dual-port grille, rear lighting motif (Nick said for Chevrolet, the look of the front lighting is “still up in the air”), elongated fenders and the blistered rear evoking the Camaro and the “fender bounce” from the Corvette.

Chrysler 700C

The Chrysler 700C Concept has a very unique DLO

The Chrysler 700C Concept DLO looks even more unusual when the sliding door is open

The striking gloss black hood on the Chrysler 700C Concept extends the windshield graphic

The Chrysler 700C Concept is probably the best kept secret of the 2012 NAIAS as Chrysler did not issue a press release or announce it in any news conference.  The result is there is very little information to give you about the styling exercise.  What we can say is that it has the most unusual side glass treatment/DLO opening of any minivan I have ever seen (click here if you want to learn some automotive design terms like DLO) And it looks even more unusual when the door is open.  Also the lack of a full front grille gives the impression that there is some sort of alternative drive train but again, we have no idea what it is.  But I must say I like the gloss black hood, the next logical progression beyond the gloss black roof of the Kia Optima.

CODA Sedan

CODA Sedan

At the NAIAS show CODA offered only a bit of new news since the Los Angeles show in November.  There is now an optional battery pack that lowers the price-point by a few thousand dollars (and the range to 125 miles – not yet certified by the EPA).

2013 Dodge Dart

2013 Dodge Dart in RS Trim

The 2013 Dart showcases Dodge's new signature Tail Lamp design

The 2013 Dart displays Dodge's new crosshair grille corporate identity

2013 Dodge Dart interior - it is obviously meant to be a driver's car

Dodge brings back the iconic Dart name with a new production model based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Chrysler design staff did a great job taking the chassis and giving it a new identity, rather than the re-badging like they did on the Chrysler/Lancia models.  The front end works for me even though I prefer the previous grilles.  It even has a bit of the Nissan Maxima character with raised fenders and a semi-concave hood (which is a good thing because I like the Maxima front end).  Like Chevrolet, Dodge seems to have hit on a rear end lighting treatment that is both attractive and clearly their own DNA.  And also like Chevrolet, the front grille is defined but their appears to be more work to do on the lighting.  I have driven the Giulietta and while I prefer the MiTo, I hope the Alfa handling feel makes it ways to this car as well.

Fiat 500

Fiat did not have anything to announce since the Abarth reveal in Los Angeles in November.  Have some fun and click here to watch the Abarth commercial.

Ford Fusion

The 2013 Ford Fusion debuted in Joe Louis Arena to a packed house

Agressive lighting and grille design are clear differentiators for the 2013 Ford Fusion

The fender peak detail works great on the trunk of the 2013 Ford Fusion

The best interior in the class may now belong to the 2013 Ford Fusion

Perhaps the star of the show was the new Ford Fusion.  A thoroughly fresh design, the car reeks of it’s European heritage but I do not know if that will play in the States.  The key European design element may be the roof shape (a “fastback” design a la the Audi A7) but the car makes do with a standard trunk instead of the hatchback the design leads you to believe is there.  All of the Fusion’s competitors are more of a conventional 3-box design so it will be interesting to see how consumers respond to the shape.  The A7 is generally regarded as an attractive design but it doesn’t sell in nearly the volumes the Fusion will have to make to be successful.  The new Fusion’s front end is certainly the most aggressive in the segment and is really well done – I like it a lot.  And the rear is well done too using fender peaks (like the Maxima front fenders mentioned above in the Dodge Dart description) that are replicated in the shape of the Tail Lamps.  As far as the interior goes, it could be the new standard-bearer in the class but I would have to live with it for a day or three to make sure (Do you hear me Ford?  I will take a RS version …. in blue).

Come back the rest of this week to read daily updates.  Plus on Friday we will cover the Fashion, Fads and Trends along with my picks for the high points of the week.  Then Sunday I will cover the non-floor events from this week, from the MAIN Event to the Designer Night party to the Design Forum at CCS.

Next week we will return to our regular schedule:

  • Monday is The Auto Design Week in Review
  • Wednesday is our Top 10 list for the week
  • and Friday brings our new feature, 10 Questions With…

About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of CarFriend.me and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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One Response to 2012 NAIAS Part 1 – “A” thru “F”

  1. bhillner says:

    Glad to hear God is finally smiling upon Detroit again…great photos and blurbs about each vehicle! It’s refreshing to read opinions from a neutral party and not from someone who works for only one brand…I receive a much better download of the coverage that way, so tip o’ the hat.

    Happy to see Ford is continuing to push the more aggressive Euro-styling in that normally bland segment. Looking forward to feeling the surfaces of that one in person soon…thanks for the great links!!!

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