Aggressive good looks

What’s driving the new cars? Some answers come down in Detroit



contributed photos

The Detroit auto show is its own kind of dog-and-pony show. It’s where the big dogs of America’s Big 3 like to talk up the future, show off some new halo cars and preen about the lustrous effects of too much horsepower. Unlike the Tokyo show, where Asian manufacturers trumpet advances like hydrogen-powered cars, or Geneva, where the Europeans sip champagne, everyone shows up at Detroit’s “North American International Auto Show.”

This year, the homegrown industry was glad to show the startling speed with which it fought back from the perils of 2009. The punishment suffered by the industry actually had a salutary effect. While some sentimentalists were saddened by the departure of respected old brands like Pontiac and Plymouth, no one mourned the departure of the sleepy old management teams. In their place have come fast-moving, tech-savvy players who are too glad to show off their harbingers of a what will surely be a glittering future. International competitors also like to muscle in to Detroit’s Cobo Hall with some gaudy concept cars and sleek new showroom-stoppers.

Chrysler showed how its new Italian connection (via Fiat co-ownership) is adding some beautiful flair to its formerly dowdy ranks. No more Sebrings and LeBarons, now we have an all-new 200 sedan, which is actually based on an Alfa-Romeo. For prices starting at $22,700, something good this way comes. A league-leading nine-speed automatic should help the thriftiness.

Dodge 200 Detroit Auto Show
Chrysler 200

Parsimonious fuel-sipping is also available at Chrysler’s ruggedness division, where the thoroughly revamped Jeep Grand Cherokee gets an EcoDiesel option, pushing cruising mileage figures into the mid-30s. This also pushes the price past fifty grand, but for all those folks who demand all the tech goodies (including WiFi) and a sumptuous, sophisticated interior, the new Jeep is suddenly the handsome bruiser to contend with.

Jeep Cherokee Detroit Auto Show
Jeep Grand Cherokee

Another SUV sure to be of interest in Fairfield County is the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz GLA45. It is compact, aggressive-looking and apparently designed with us in mind.

Mercedes GLA45 Detroit Auto Show
Mercedes-Benz GLA45

Ford’s all new Mustang finally gives the original “pony car” a thoroughly new chassis and suspension. It will continue to get competition among younger, sports-minded drivers from GM’s resurgent Cadillac division, where the lauded and lovely ATS sedan gets a new rakish coupe variant.

Cadillac ATS Detroit Auto Show
Cadillac ATS

When “concept cars” get unveiled, the object might be just to push buttons and get folks thinking that the manufacturer isn’t as stodgy as you think. General Motors has been teasing us for decades with futuristic scimitars that never saw a showroom floor.

Volvo XC Coupe Detroit Auto Show
Volvo XC Coupe

At Cobo Hall, there were a few hotsy-totsy concept cars that might well be very serious. Anyway, people sure looked. The Volvo XC Coupe concept seemed molded from a bar of soap. And, much further afield, Toyota’s FT-1 concept leaped from some videogamer’s imagination to make sure younger customers know that the brand goes far beyond sedatives like Camry and Avalon.

Toyota FT1 Detroit Auto Show
Toyota FT-1

Whether or not Toyota builds this outrage, its Lexus division is indeed introducing the high-performance, 450-horsepower RCF coupe this fall. Its styling gets right in your face, which apparently is where the carmakers want to be.