2011 at the NAIS: The winners–and everybody else

20 Jan 2011 | 2,099 views | No Comment
This year's North American International Auto Show will be remembered as the year when small cars ruled. Just about everybody had one new one--or more-- to show, and pick up trucks and big cars were, well-----so yesterday.  The good thing is that with few exceptions, just about everyone had something new and fresh to show--there wasn't much duplication of efforts or look-alikes, for once, and we can all only hope that auto designers continue to keep their voices original and ground breaking well into the future.      Also, there was a lot of emphasis on lavishness in interior designs-- a good thing because consumers, though willing to try smaller cars, aren't willing to sacrifice creature comforts to do it.  They still want all the bells and whistles.  Secondly, it's obvious that inside is where we all spend most of our time, so interiors had better be both better finisheed and more comfortable. Interestingly enough, there weren't any clear losers among the bunch; we at Automobile Journal think that there were a few which could have used a bit better execution and thought  before hitting the show floor. So who had the cars that you shouldn't miss when you hit the show this year? 2012 Hyundai Veloster First, Hyundai's cool Veloster is one you sure want to see.  The styling is terrific, there's lots of new technology , and Hyundai says this car will get about 40 miles to the gallon. While there are other cars competing in what we would call the affordable sporty coupe category, like the Toyota Scion tC,  and Honda CR-Z, the Veloster blows most of the competition away with intriguing design, lots of features, and of course, all the practical reasons to buy the Hyundai.  It's ample evidence that Hyundai is now in the business of making "got have" products. 2012 Buick Verano Buick did a whole bunch of "right" with this one. First, it maintained its brand identity resolutely, even though it shares a platform with Chevy's Cruise. There is no badge engineering here, folks, fuggedabout it. Next, Buick wisely maintained styling themes that are currently a hit with its other cars, thus maintaining a successful family lineage throughout. And finally, Buick paid attention to current market trends. Nobody wants a stripped down, plain and uncomfortable compact--and Buick didn't give them one. Bravo, Buick! Chrysler's new 2011 300     If you want to see American class and style at its best, here it is in the 2011 300.  It's the kind of car you want to make an entrance in with its square shouldered presence, huge wheel wells sporting dazzling looking rims, and and a cool overall profile. And if you want to see evidence that Chrysler is on the right track, take a look at the interior. It's a lot classier with much nicer materials, thus bringing the car a lot closer to living up its luxury reputation more than ever. 2012 Fiat 500 Sport Chrysler also gets kudos for having arguably the cutest--and one of the most fun-to-drive cars on the show floor--the 2012 Fiat 500 Sport. It's guaranteed to bring some of the fun back to driving, with its highly urban shape and urbane design, and the classic sensibilities it shares with the much praised Fiat Cinquecento. The Fiat 500 features A-segment size, engaging driving dynamics, all-new fuel-efficient 1.4-liter Fiat MultiAir engine, state-of-the-art Blue & Me Handsfree Communication technology, seven standard air bags and new quality and refinement adaptations for the U.S. market, including an all-new six-speed automatic transmission.  Since its initial launch in 2007, more than 500,000 Fiat 500 vehicles have been sold in more than 80 countries around the world. A news release says, " The model’s unquestionable popularity is the result of the Fiat 500’s great ability to deliver unmatched personalization options with advanced solutions in terms of quality, engine and passenger comfort. In addition to success on the sales front, the Fiat 500 has earned 60 international awards, including being named the 2008 European Car of the Year."   2012 Honda Coupe concept One word: Wow!   What a refreshing look at this popular model. Honda really pulled off a tough hat trick:  Giving you something all new while maintaining some styling theme ties to current models. Thecoupe concept looks fast, sexy, fun to drive, and has that " gotta have it" appeal. Let's all hope Honda keeps this one as is when it hits the production line. 2012 Volkswagen Passat There's a lot riding on the new Passat, and we think it's going to be a big success.  It's  larger, gets better gas mileage, is better equipped, and will cost around $4,000 less than the current Passat, or at least that's what we have been hearing. It's chock full of value, style, comfort, and likely will be just what American consumers have been waiting for from Volkswagen. Now on the other side of the equation, here are some cars that need, well, a little extra something. None of these are losers-and they may well prove to be popular. But in some ways, they missed the mark.  Honda's Civic Sedan concept  What happened?  Is this the same company and design team that produced that tasty looking coupe concept? We thought Honda was going to try to come up with something really dazzling and different, given that the sedan is facing formidable competition like the daring Hyundai Elantra, and the robust looking 2012 Ford Focus.  The concept looks like just a warmed-up version of the current model. And that's not going to be good enough to keep pace with the competition no matter what other features the new Civic sedan will have. 2012 Audi A6 First, let's just agree that this car is beautiful, and the interior is a work of art. Audi simply doesn't produce ugly cars; it just isn't going to happen in this lifetime, and the fact that this new model won a design award is ample testimony to that.  But having said that, an eye to the future is important for any automaker--including Audi. We think that before long--maybe with the next generation-- Audi is going to have to turn a design page and be as daring with its sedans as it is with its breathtaking coupes and roadsters.   The styling themes for the sedans are  beginning to look too much alike from generation to generation.  We understand the need for design continuity and nobody wants to mess with a winner. But just a cautionary word to Audi: You don't want to wear out your welcome with the same general design themes all the time; others with which the brand is competing  are being more daring and catching the public eye more and more. Just a thought.

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