With the 2013 North American International Auto Show behind us–better known as the Detroit auto show–it’s time once again for us to pick the best and worst of the show. We call them Studs and Duds, and the rules are simple. To be considered a Stud, a car needs to wow us, change the game, make a splash, or exceed our expectations by a mile. It doesn’t have to be the biggest, baddest, flashiest, most powerful, or most expensive. It just has to make us sit back, put our hands on our chins and say “Wow.”
A Dud, on the other hand, pretty much does the opposite. It’s a vehicle that doesn’t reach far enough, doesn’t meet our expectations, or is instantly an also-ran in its market segment. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad car necessarily, and sometimes a Dud turns into a Stud once we have a chance to drive it. But first impressions count, and if things start out badly, it makes the uphill climb that much steeper.
With that said, let’s start off on a positive note, and share our Studs of the show:
Stud: 2014 Cadillac ELR
The 2014 Cadillac ELR was supposed to have come out earlier, about a year after the Chevy Volt debuted. But the delay may have worked in Caddy’s favor. The resulting ELR is longer, wider, and lower than the Volt, and it’s more powerful, too. The electric-only range in the Volt is a bit shorter–35 miles instead of 38–but it’s a miniscule difference most won’t notice, and it’s still efficient enough to get a high-occupancy-vehicle lane sticker for solo carpool driving. Inside, the ELR is pure Cadillac: soft leather, an advanced touch-screen display, and real wood and carbon fiber trim. The ELR also boasts technology such as lane-keep assist, blind spot warnings, and collision avoidance. However, it’s the active cruise control that works double duty. Not only does it make life easier in traffic, it also will enhance your EV range. Of course, expect an appropriately luxurious price for the ELR; nothing’s announced, but it’ll certainly be well in excess of the Volt’s $40,000 asking price.
Stud: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette
This was a no-brainer. The seventh-generation of Chevrolet’s sports car is an out-of-the-park hit. The aggressive good looks maintain the long hood and swelling fenders that are a Corvette hallmark, but with new detailing all around that make this car stand out from the crowd. The return of the Stingray is a nod to nostalgia, too. But look at the specs: 450 horsepower, a seriously upgraded interior, an all-aluminum structure, huge brakes, racecar-inspired aerodynamics…and all that on the base model. Prices haven’t been announced; we’re expecting somewhere in the $60,000 range. The best news though is that the Corvette’s interior finally justifies that kind of price tag. A no-excuses Corvette? At last, it looks like it might be here.
Stud: Lincoln MKC Concept
There were a lot of jokes going around before the Detroit show about the “Lincoln Escape” that was set to debut. And, yes, the Lincoln MKC Crossover Concept does owe its roots to Ford’s compact crossover. But that’s beside the point. Lots of manufacturers share components between vehicles: for example, the $50,000 Acura RLX is directly related to the $23,000 Honda Accord, and there’s a lot more Volkswagen Golf under the skin of an Audi TT than you may realize. The question is whether the MKC distinguishes itself from its humble origins, and it clearly does. The styling is elegant, classy, and right. The interior is tasteful, looks expensive, and most importantly, looks like it’s ready to go into production right now. In fact, there’s very little on this concept that doesn’t look production ready. Our guess is that, like the MKZ Concept from last year, the MKC concept will make it to production virtually unscathed. No word on what’s under the hood, but Lincoln has a wide variety of Ford engines from which to choose. For now though, if this is the direction Lincoln’s taking, we like it.
Stud: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA
For some, a front-wheel drive Mercedes-Benz breaks a rule of some sort. The company is founded on the principle of rear-wheel drive being superior, and all-wheel drive being a backup for slick streets. But the undeniable packaging advantages of eliminating all that drivetrain hardware from under the car–and its associated weight–is actually nothing new for Mercedes-Benz; the A-Class and B-Class have been on sale for more than a decade in Europe, and both are front-wheel drive. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class looks to us like an excellent ambassador for front-wheel drive Benzes in this country. It’s classy and elegant, and it looks substantial in spite of its compact dimensions. But best of all, it will be genuinely affordable. Prices will start around $30,000, and we’ve been assured that the price won’t break $40,000, even when you check all the options boxes. That’s an impressive deal for a Mercedes-Benz, and one that surely has compact luxury car makers Acura (ILX) and Buick (Verano) scrambling.
Stud: Toyota Corolla Furia Concept
Well, well. What do we have here? A hot looking Corolla? Do those words even belong together? Yes, they do. The Toyota Corolla Furia Concept–the Corolla part was added at the last minute–is a sneak peek at the next generation Corolla, due to come out later this year. And it’s a better peek than you may realize. The profile is pretty much spot on, the bumper cut lines look realistic, and even the windows look like they can go up and down. Sure, the crazy carbon-fiber trim, out-there headlights and grille, and the ludicrous orange paint won’t make the cut–unless a rumored Furia special edition gets approved. But for all intents and purposes, this is the real deal. It all ties back to Akio Toyoda–scion and CEO of the company–and his promise to stop making boring cars. Few vehicles epitomized that staid styling more than the Corolla, and Toyota gets a solid nod from us for doing something daring with its compact sedan. We can’t wait to see the final version.
So those are the studs of the show, as we see it. But what about those duds? What put us off? Keep reading to find out.
Dud: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra
The 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra can haul, tow, slog, carry, and drive as well as anything out there, we’re sure. If you’re a Chevy or GMC fan, and you’ve been waiting for a new truck, then here you go. You’ll love it. But GM clearly didn’t push hard enough when it designed these trucks. They are state of the art…as measured by 2012 standards. But with Ford’s Ecoboost engines and Dodge’s vastly improved Ram truck, GM is finding itself a step behind. The really sad part though, is that GM has a game changer sitting on a shelf right now. Before the company went through its bankruptcy, there was a small-displacement diesel V-8 under development. The project was shelved thanks to the limited resources brought about by the bankruptcy, but development was largely complete, too. If GM had introduced these trucks with that diesel engine–the first in a half-ton pickup–it could’ve been a game changer. Instead, that honor will go to someone else, and GM will be left sitting on the bench.
Dud: 2014 Kia Cadenza
We are sure that the 2014 Kia Cadenza will be a very pleasant car to drive. We’re sure it will satisfy those who buy it. We know this, because we’ve already driven the Cadenza. It was just called the 2013 Hyundai Azera at the time. And that’s why we have a problem with the Cadenza. Kia and Hyundai are corporate cousins. Like many companies with similar arrangements, they share technology and engineering. The problem is that Kia is supposed to be the more youthful and sporty brand, while Hyundai is more upscale and sophisticated. So why introduce what is essentially the same car, a year after Hyundai? To us, the Cadenza strikes us as too “me too” for a brand that’s supposed to be different from Hyundai. Rather than just duplicate Hyundai’s efforts, Kia should be breaking new ground; more cool and funky Soul, less we-have-a-big-sedan-too Cadenza.
Dud: 2014 Infiniti Q50
Our news director Keith Buglewicz owns an Infiniti G35 sedan. So, there was no small amount of personal interest on his part with regards to the newest version of the car, renamed the Q50 for the 2014 model year. Yet despite the new styling, and the much-needed interior update, everyone on staff was left flat. Oh, sure, it looks better. The swoopy lines are reminiscent of the M35, and the interior looks more modern as well. But it doesn’t really move the needle on where the Q50 sits. By contrast, look at what Infiniti’s archrival Lexus did with its small luxury sedan; the new IS offers up a bold grille design, dramatic headlights, and head-turning style. The Q50 looks like a smaller version of its bigger brother, and while handsome, it’s a little too familiar. It may drive very well–Infinitis usually do–and once behind the wheel, we may love it. But if Infiniti wants to play on the world stage, it needs to push its design harder and make a bolder statement.
Dud: 2013 Mini Paceman JCW
Here’s how Mini introduces cars, for the uninitiated. Step 1: Introduce base model of car. Step 2: introduce faster, S version of that car. Step 3: Introduce even faster John Cooper Works edition. Step 4: Introduce a slight variation of the original car, and start the process over. Mini caught our attention early on as a clever and innovative brand, with a quirky sense of fun. The original Mini Cooper is still that car. Then came the Convertible, a drop-top version of that car. The Clubman–a bigger model–followed soon after, then the Coupe and Convertible, which are two-seat versions of the original Cooper. The Countryman is a four-door crossover with Mini looks; and the Paceman is a two-door version of that. Sure, the 2013 Mini Paceman JCW will probably have its fun points, but the one-trick-pony nature of the company hardly merits the full auto show dog-and-pony show. We just want Mini to do something truly different.
Dud: 2014 Nissan Versa Note
Criticizing a cheap car for being cheap feels like a low blow. But there’s a reality here that’s hard to get around: The 2014 Nissan Versa Note–the inexpensive hatchback version of the Versa–feels too cheap. If what we were looking at was a maximum price of $14,000, then we might be more forgiving the ’90s-looking center console, low-grade plastics and flimsy feeling materials. But that’s where it starts, and while it’s a little less than competing cars, it’s not enough of a price cut to justify the lowball nature of what’s there. Sure, the Versa has other things going for it: A roomy back seat and excellent fuel economy come to mind. But the subcompact market has gotten tough in recent years, and this little hatchback risks getting lost in the shuffle.