GMC, Nissan and Jeep all scored big at the 2017 North American International Auto Show, while Ford and Volkswagen failed to impress and Kia left us mystified.
From affordable small SUVs to all manner of family sedan, sporty and luxury cars, the 2017 North American International Auto Show that closed Sunday in Detroit embodied the variety of vehicles on sale.
There was plenty of technology, too. Ford had a just-for-fun driving simulator that reproduced the thrills of driving its GT supercar around the famous Le Mans race course, while serious and practical production cars can automatically steer around pedestrians and brake to avoid a collision.
Not every new idea would find an eager audience, though. Here are my picks for the show’s highs and lows.
Hits: Chevrolet Traverse, Equinox
and GMC Terrain
It’s the year of the SUV, and General Motors’ two best-selling brands are loaded for bear.
The new Chevrolet Traverse is larger and more accommodating than its predecessor, but hundreds of pounds lighter. That’s a tribute to General Motors’ new emphasis on lightweight engineering, while the Traverse’s styling is a tribute to the popularity of other Chevrolet SUVs like the Tahoe. The Traverse is light enough to offer an optional 2.0L four-cylinder engine, which would have been unthinkable in its V6-only predecessor.
The new 2018 GMC’s popular Terrain compact SUV likewise shed hundreds of pounds and gets a new design that promises to be less polarizing than its blocky predecessor. In addition to lighter weight, the 2018 Terrain and Traverse will both offer a new nine-speed automatic transmission to boost fuel economy.
Hits: Toyota Camry and Lexus LS sedan
The two best-looking sedans ever from Toyota, the 2018 Camry and Lexus LS, suggest CEO Akio Toyoda’s long crusade to make Toyota a design-driven company could finally be paying off.
Low and sleek, the 2018 Camry may be the car that finally ends the Camry’s decades-long reputation as the king of resale value and retail boredom. From its low, aggressive nose to flared fenders and low roof line, the Camry suggests Toyota is finally in touch with its wild side.
The LS sedan hints at the same from Toyota’s frequently staid Lexus luxury brand. A long nose and short deck hint at unexpected reserves of performance, while the long roof line suggests interior room and luxury.
The LS sedan’s grille takes the brand’s signature look to a new level of complexity. The lacework design has a mind-boggling 5,000 different surfaces. Lexus’ hourglass grille has been controversial, but it looks grand on the elegant LS sedan. It also looks like a budget-bustin’ repair bill waiting to happen. Like a boxer leading with his chin, the LS is exposing its weakness.
The 3.0L V6 engine Ford will add to the F-150 pickup in spring 2018 could be a hit, but the company owes an apology to Mustang fans who visited the show before the face-lifted 2018 pony car’s tardy and unannounced arrival.
Anyone who visited the show on Martin Luther King Day, the show’s opening weekend and during Friday’s Charity Preview missed a chance to see the latest from Ford’s most popular car.
The updated 2018 Mustang should have been on Ford’s stand all week, both for the car’s fans and to beef up the automaker’s presence at its hometown show.
Hit: Nissan Vmotion 2.0
Concept and Rogue Sport
Nissan drops intriguing hints about the styling and features of its next Altima midsize sedan with the Vmotion concept car. Look for more than a hint of the Maxima’s sporty looks to migrate to the Altima and the rest of Nissan’s lineup.
The compact Rogue adds style to Nissan’s growing line of SUVs. It’s already a hit in Europe, selling as the Qashqai, the name of a group of Turkish clans. The Rogue Sport slips into Nissan’s lineup between the subcompact Juke and midsize Rogue.
Mystifying: Kia Stinger hatchback
Kia built its ever-improving reputation with SUVs, but as sales of those vehicles go through the roof, Kia decided to build its brand-image program around a sporty compact car. Go figure. The rear-wheel-drive Stinger should be fun to drive, but even established brands are struggling to sell sport and luxury sedans.
And speaking of sedans, the Stinger isn’t. It’s a hatchback, a body style Americans traditionally shun, except on … you guessed it: SUVs.
The Stinger promises to be fun to drive and priced to sell, but it may have trouble gaining traction in the market, even with its optional all-wheel-drive.
Miss: Seven-seat VW Tiguan
As Volkswagen’s campaign to figure out what Americans want in cars enters its 47th year, the new seven-seat Tiguan SUV looks close, but off target. The key competitors for the Tiguan will be SUVs like the Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which all hold five people. VW is also introducing a seven-seat SUV that promises bigger, better accommodations for seven this year in the promising Atlas.
VW might have concentrated on beating them, rather than adding a feature that’s marginal on the two competitors that offer three rows: the Nissan Rogue and Dodge Journey.
Hit: Jeep Compass
With looks borrowed from the prestigious Grand Cherokee, the new Compass compact SUV will likely become Jeep’s best-selling vehicle around the world. Slated for production in four plants around the world, the Compass’ combination of the Jeep name, a globally friendly size and urbane looks should make it a hit, as long as the little SUV delivers the off-road ability owners expect.