Auto shows are an opportunity for automakers to wow the crowds with shiny sheetmetal, outrageous designs, and innovative new vehicles. Some succeed at capturing the imagination, locking in eyeballs, and stimulating conversation. But others stimulate conversation in the wrong ways.
Studs and Duds is our roundup of the top, and bottom, vehicles that debuted at the show. We walk the floor and check out every single new car debut. We then pick the brightest stars of the show, and the darkest black holes. To be a Stud, a car should break new ground, capture our imagination, help redefine its segment, or in some other way stand out from the dozens of new vehicles on display. Duds, on the other hand, miss the mark in some way. Maybe they don’t go far enough; maybe they go too far in the wrong direction; maybe they’re just a good old fashioned misfire.
So without further adieu, here is our list of Studs and Duds for the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, plus one humble car on display that deserved an honorable mention.
Stud: Acura NSX Concept
There’s a new NSX coming, and for real this time. The NSX Concept that Acura showed to the press not only looks outstanding, but it’s not so far out there that it looks impossible to build. In fact, swap out the headlights and you have a realistic looking vehicle. But most surprising of all, even more surprising than the hybrid drivetrain in this exotic sports car, is that it will be developed and built in the United States. To us, this is fitting. Acura itself is an American invention, so it’s only fitting that its rebirth—which symbolizes the rebirth of the brand itself—would take place here. We’ll see the production version in three years.
Dud: Acura ILX Concept
Not everything can be an NSX, of course. Acura is going to sell a lot of the production version of the Acura ILX sedan when it goes on sale, we have no doubt. We also have no doubt that those ILX drivers they will be happy with their choices. That is, as long as they don’t look too closely at their neighbor’s new Honda Civic, that is. While the Acura ILX boasts unique styling inside and out, under the hood is the exact same engine family that you’ll get in a Honda Civic. We understand the limitations of modern car production, and it makes perfect economic sense for the Acura ILX to share its engines with the Civic. But the problem is that luxury car buyers—even those on the lower end of the price spectrum—are going to want more from their cars. The Acura Integra is this car’s spiritual ancestor, but what made it special was that even though it was based off the Civic, it had its own engines in addition to its own styling. We have a hard time seeing lightning striking twice here.
Stud: 2013 Cadillac ATS
General Motors is writing some big checks with the 2013 Cadillac ATS. The idea is to take the fight for small-luxury-sport-sedan supremacy straight to the Germans, and more specifically, BMW. On paper, the ATS has the goods. The V-6 engine puts out just as much horsepower as the big engines from the Germans, and the base four-cylinder engine matches their low-end offerings, too. But it’s the 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder that will likely be the volume model, and GM has put a lot of effort into making it as world-class as anything from Deutchland. But beyond that, there are little details in this Caddy that strike a chord. The lighted strip in the door handles, for example, that illuminate as you approach the car. Or the softly padded dash, including the underside. Or the soft carpet in the trunk. Or, most importantly, the fact that Cadillac will offer a diesel engine for the ATS to compete better in diesel-loving Europe. That and the dozens of other little details inside and out of the ATS make us think that Cadillac might just be able to back up its boasting.
Dud: 2013 Buick Encore
This is one of those instances where the photos oversold the reality. As Buick slowly revealed the Encore on its Facebook page, we became more interested. After all, the luxury compact crossover market is rapidly expanding, and Buick has the opportunity to beat its European competition to the market. But when we saw the Encore in person, we weren’t convinced. It’s based on the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact, and it hews too closely to that budget car to make the kind of luxury statement it needs to. It’s hard to tell in the photos, but the bulbous nose, tacked-on body work and oversized chrome wheels just don’t gel. Throw in the meager 140-horsepower engine and 3,200-pound weight, and you have a misfire.
Stud: 2013 Ford Fusion
Ford just came off its best year ever for the Fusion, and that was the old car. The newest Ford Fusion comes out soon, and when it does, we think it’s going to be leading the pack. It looks great for starters, with a grille that’s clearly inspired by exotic car maker Aston Martin—not a bad place to crib from, really. The interior is also modern and attractive, but with an elegant simplicity. Under the hood, Ford is following Hyundai, Kia, and Chevrolet’s lead by not offering a V-6 engine option, and the family of four-cylinder and hybrid engines it will offer is compelling. There are a lot of new midsize sedans coming out this year, and with the new Fusion, Ford is poised to take a good chunk of that business.
Dud: Falcon F7
Yet another exotic car from yet another underfunded dreamer that will most likely never see the light of day. Or, if it does, it won’t stay out in it very long. Exotic cars are neat and all, don’t get us wrong. But let’s be serious: If you’re a freshly minted internet millionaire looking to throw some money around, are you going to go with little-known aftermarket-tuner-turned-exotic-car-maker Falcon, or just get a Ferrari? Call us cynical, but ventures like this are doomed to fail, and whether that’s unfortunate or not depends on your point of view. The Falcon F7 looks OK, from certain angles, and the company is boasting some impressive performance, albeit with the word “estimated” in parentheses. And it’s not like we’re wishing anyone to do badly. It’s just that we’ve seen this story so many times before, and always with the same sad ending.
Stud: Lexus LF-LC Concept
In 1991, Lexus burst onto the scene in a big way. Not with the LS luxury sedan; that came out a couple of years prior. But with the Lexus SC 400 coupe. It was a stunning design, bold and elegant and wholly unexpected from the conservative brand. Its successor was a poorly received convertible that never quite caught on. But the LF-LC Concept that Lexus unveiled in Detroit signals a possible return of the SC, and not a moment too soon. The brand needs a stylistic shot in the arm, and if Lexus can keep the concept’s shape as it travels to production, it could just be what the brand needs. The details are too numerous to count, but there are hints of the original SC strewn throughout the car.
Dud: Lincoln MKZ Concept
Like Cadillac, Lincoln is looking to establish itself as an aspirational brand that will compete with BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Audi, and so on. However, unlike Cadillac—which developed an all-new stud-worthy chassis and engines for the ATS—Lincoln will introduce a new MKZ based on the MKZ Concept that debuted at the Detroit Auto Show. Like its predecessor, the production vehicle will be based on the Ford Fusion. Now, we have nothing against the Ford Fusion, as you can see above. For that matter, the Lincoln MKZ Concept is a very pretty car with a lovely interior, and it will probably sell just fine. But Lincoln is positioning its new front-wheel drive sedan against the likes of rear-wheel drive cars from Europe, and we just don’t buy it. Maybe Lexus ES 350 buyers will be swayed, and if the interior stays close to the concept, a few Audi A6 buyers may even join in. But if Lincoln is serious about going head-to-head with the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, it had better take a page from the Cadillac ATS and stop bringing a knife to the gunfight.
Stud: 2013 Toyota Prius C
The 2013 Toyota Prius c won’t set enthusiasts’ hearts alight. It won’t be fast, nor will it be “fun to drive” in the traditional sense. But what it will do is get phenomenal gas mileage—up to 53 in the city—at a price that’s less than $19,000. In addition, it comes in a package that’s about the size of a Corolla, can seat five people, has plenty of luggage space, and an interior that eschews the futuristic silliness of the current Prius for a more traditional layout. Our prediction: This Prius for the masses will sell like hotcakes.
Dud: Smart ForUs Concept
Now this is just silly. The Smart ForUs Concept is a truck so small that you can’t even fit the bicycle it’s designed to carry in the back without opening the tailgate? No. Sorry, Smart, but this just isn’t very, well, smart. Sure, we Americans like our trucks. But we also want our trucks to be able to do truck stuff, like haul and tow things. People who don’t do those things in trucks have left the market, and if they come back, they’re going to want real trucks, not weird looking, electrically powered, front-wheel drive, two-seat runabouts that can’t even hold a bicycle.
Studly Honorable Mention: 1982 Honda Accord
There’s something jarring about walking through the Cobo Hall convention center, rounding a corner, and seeing a pristine 30-year-old Honda Accord sitting center stage. But not only was this a clean example of Honda history (on loan from the Ford Museum, it should be noted), but it was the very first Honda—the very first Japanese car at all—that was built in the United States. Granted that as history goes, that it’s not exactly Concorde and Lexington. But since then Honda has built and sold more than 8,000,000 Accords in the U.S. If this first car wasn’t an automotive shot-heard-around-the-world, we don’t know what else is.