Monday, 19 March 2018

Hits and misses of the Detroit show

It’s not easy to persuade our Los Angeles reporter, David Undercoffler, to come to a place where flip-flops are not OK but using your blinker is, but we managed to lure him to Detroit in early January with the promise of some Slows Bar-B-Q, a tour of our newest potholes and a chance to speak his mind about what he saw on the floor of the Detroit auto show. Turns out, we had him at potholes. But a deal’s a deal.

HIT: Toyota Camry press conference

Before an overflow crowd that easily doubled what any other press conference garnered, Toyota pulled out all the comedic stops in a video introducing the 2018 Camry. James Marsden! William Shatner! That impressions guy who used to be on SNL! And then Akio Toyoda himself showed up in a great bit wherein a clueless woman laughed at the coincidence of Toyoda’s name and Toyota’s. This marks the second consecutive Detroit show in which Akio himself was on hand to play emcee (remember last year’s LC debut? “Toyoda may be my last name but Lexus is my middle name.” That’s gold!). The whole production brought some much-needed warmth to a chilly downtown Detroit.

MISS: Toyota Camry

The press conference was going smoothly until Toyota lost the 2018 Camry backstage and brought out the sound guy’s 2007 version instead — or so it seemed. Seriously, go Google the two model years and compare them side by side. I’ll wait. See? The front ends are far too similar for cars that have a decade between them. And the rear looks like Toyota copied off Nissan Sentra’s paper. Making matters worse was an XSE model with a two-tone white and black paint job that’s so ugly, if it got stolen in my hometown of L.A., it’s just because the thieves are planning to repaint it for you.

The Lexus LS front will impress when it’s coming.

HIT: Front of Lexus LS

Any schlub with a clay modeler and a spatula can smash together a cover-worthy concept car. The hard part is getting that shape past safety regulators, the bean counters and geriatric board members and into customers’ hands. So a tip o’ the cap to Lexus for introducing the new production LS with a face mighty close to the gob-stopping LF-FC concept that stole the Tokyo Motor Show in 2015. The spindle grille may still be polarizing, but to me, it has started to look at home on the LC and now this LS.

The Lexus LS isn’t so impressive when it’s going.

MISS: Back of Lexus LS:

It’s a pity Lexus put the LS on a rotating display that let us see this sedan’s caboose; next show I’m just going to jam a quarter into the stand so we can stare at the face. The problem with the rear end is it doesn’t live up to the promise made by the front of the car or its interior design or the striking lines on the LF-FC concept. As President-elect Donald Trump would say, Weak! Sad! Total failure! I haven’t seen a letdown this big since I saw Titanic and the boat sinks at the end.

Nissan’s Rogue Sport compact crossover is a welcome addition.

HIT: Nissan Rogue Sport

In California, everyone knows Qashqai is delicious and goes with your kale or your tofu or your kale-flavored tofu. But Nissan knows people elsewhere in the U.S. still eat real food, so they wisely renamed this compact crossover the Rogue Sport. Imported from Europe, where it’s been wildly popular for years, the former Qashqai is a handsome, right-sized addition to Nissan’s crossover lineup. It also proves there are more ways to slice and dice the crossover segment than a vegan turkey — which happens to go great with Qashqai.

The GMC Terrain’s shifter. Really?

MISS: GMC Terrain shift buttons

In 2016, the Dumb-est Shifter of the Year Award went to the lever inside the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XT5. GM is clearly looking for a repeat win in 2017, so it introduced a series of shift buttons on the new GMC Terrain that are designed by the Three Stooges. The instructions go like this: push one button for Park, pull another for Reverse and to put it in Neutral you slap yourself on the back of the head for buying a GMC Terrain. Consumers already have plenty of confusing gear shift options to choose from, and this confusion can lead to dangerous consequences; you’d think automakers would start to wise up and just give us something that makes sense.

The Kia Stinger’s unique design is a sure seller.

HIT: Kia Stinger

The fact that Kia’s new rear-wheel-drive sport sedan/hatchback thingy is a winner shouldn’t be a surprise. Kia and parent Hyundai spent roughly the GDP of South Korea in recent years to import automotive talent from Germany. The goal is to build vehicles that people don’t associate with the dopey econoboxes favored by the pizza delivery guy who totally shook up your Pepsi on purpose. This Stinger is just the first model in what will be an onslaught from Kia, Genesis and Hyundai’s N division. It’s a good one: unique design inside and out, a smart powertrain strategy (entry-level turbo four gets the sweet lease deals, twin-turbo V-6 gets the street cred) and the promise of German-beating handling. By Germans.

The VW Tiguan falls a little short in the Styling Department.

MISS: VW Tiguan styling

The size and footprint are spot-on for most U.S. consumers, the interior has a great mix of refinement and practicality, and the front end was penned by Prince Valium from Spaceballs. VW needs a shot in the arm to remind U.S. consumers there’s more to them than lying to federal regulators and treating our air quality like a chimney-sweep’s hankie. The larger Atlas is a great start and this otherwise-excellent Tiguan will also help, but man, someone needs to tweet Hans in Styling that it’s OK to live a little.

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