Of the scores of new models on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, we’ve culled the herd down to five you definitely need to check out. Each represents either an automotive breakthrough or a big improvement over the previous generation of the same car. We also popped in one model that is a miss. It will be a competent car but it failed to live up to our expectations.
Here are our choices:
Forget Tesla’s niche luxury electric sedan, Ford’s new F-150 pickup truck is simply the most important vehicle to come along in at least a decade.
Ford could have played safe by making incremental improvements to what has been the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. for more than three decades. Instead, it introduced an entire new architecture with a lightweight aluminum body that shaves up to 700 pounds from the truck and should dramatically improve fuel economy.
Ford said testing proved that the truck will be tougher than the previous generation, but it is a huge gamble. What if rugged-minded truck drivers balk at the materials switch? What if manufacturing or durability issues crop up? That would be a disaster for Ford.
But we’re thinking about what happens if this is a home run. Ford will have paved the way for the use of aluminum on cars that sell by the millions. Other automakers will follow. Fuel economy will jump. The industry will be transformed.
This is Hyundai’s second generation of the Genesis sedan, the car that put it in the premium market. The new model represents the maturation of Hyundai’s expressive “Fluidic Sculpture” styling. It is softer, refined and elegant but still evocative of motion.
The sedan comes with two engine choices, both with big doses of power -- the smaller engine produces 311 horsepower. Both are mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. And for the first time, there is an all-wheel-drive option for those who live in inclement weather.
Hyundai is also incorporating active safety systems such as a forward collision alert system with automatic braking to help avoid a potential crash or reduce its impact.
The Genesis will start at around $40,000, making the car the biggest value play in premium market. This will get some looks from people who want the space and features of a BMW 5-series or Mercedes-Benz E Class without the big price tag.
In its remake of the small Fit hatchback, Honda has taken what was already the top of the sub-compact car segment and made it even better.
The new engine -- a member of Honda’s smartly engineered “Earth Dreams” family jumps to 130 horsepower, putting it almost on par with the powertrains of cars one size up. It will get about 36 MPG in combined city and highway driving.
Inside, Honda has added almost five inches to the back seat, making this tiny car “fit” for four passengers. There’s ample cargo room, especially with the way the backseats fold flat, for a bicycle, dogs -- just about whatever everyday items you want to haul.
This car is packed with technology. There’s a $60 navigation app -- with real-time traffic maps -- that works off your phone so you don’t have to shell out $1,500 for a “technology package.” You can pinch and swipe on the dash touchscreen just as you would a tablet. The middle-grade LX trim level comes with a backup camera and Bluetooth.
Talk about progress. Two years ago, Chevrolet’s most powerful Corvette ever -- the ZR1 -- had a supercharged V-8, fixed roof, and set you back at least $100,000. Now, the bow-tie brand lets loose the 2015 Z06. Supercharged V-8, a removable roof and a new low price. How low? Chevy won’t be specific, saying only that buyers who could afford the previous, sixth-generation Corvette in Z06 guise will be able to afford this new model. The old one started around $77,590.
For that money, you’re getting considerable hardware and an engine that produces 625 horsepower and 635 pound-feet of torque. This power flows to the rear wheels via either a seven-speed manual gearbox with automatic rev-matching or an eight-speed automatic. Magnetic ride control? Electronic limited-slip differential? Removable roof section for the first time in a Z06? All standard.
All of this strives to make the Z06 even better than the base C7 Stingray -- a car that was already one of our favorites from 2013. Perhaps we should leave room for the Z06 on next year’s list.
Makers of fancy sports sedans beware. The new Mercedes C-Class is going to put all those recent redesigns to shame. This new car is one of the most important introductions for Mercedes in years.
It will be the German automaker’s first sedan built in the United States, at a plant in Alabama. And with the new CLA slotting below, this is the C generation that moves from the entry-level car for luxury aspirants to a truly luxurious sports sedan.
The styling is sleek with a long hood and short rear deck. Mercedes has added almost four inches to the car, finally making the backseat comfortable for adults. The interior is impeccable with a sporty flair.
Under the hood, the base turbocharged four-banger produces ample 241-horsepower and an impressive 273 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration should be impressive. An available six-cylinder will turn the new C into a rocket.
Prices are still to be set but expect a sticker to start below $40,000 because of all the competition in this segment. We think it could be one of the better luxury deals out there.
Come on Cadillac, this is the best you can do? The same company that gave us the dramatic CTS Coupe, the breathtaking Elmiraj concept coupe and the ELR plug-in hybrid coupe makes a play for a younger audience with the new ATS Coupe.
Make no mistake, the ATS Coupe isn’t ugly. But it isn’t noteworthy, not by a long shot. The Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series eat this Cadillac’s lunch when it comes to style. For an automaker that prides itself in bringing back exactly that to American luxury, the ATS Coupe is a letdown.
Nothing about it is bold or aspirational or will lure in the young, sophisticated audience General Motors’ premium brand so desperately craves. Coupes are supposed to be the more expressive version of their staid sedan counterparts, not the other way around.