Article Photos by John Kucek, Gallery Photos by Zerin Dube
As usual, 2014’s Detroit show was full of both winners and losers, good press conferences and bad, but the overwhelming theme was one of moderation – perhaps not in the sense of design, but in purpose and presentation. The show’s most important vehicle by far, the 2015 F-Series, was introduced with a whimper rather than a bang, eclipsed by the Atlas concept truck’s flashy debut in 2013. Likewise the Corvette Z06, which perhaps suffered most from feeling rather familiar after the C7 Stingray’s blockbuster intro last year. Thus, neither made my top five list of introductions at this year’s NAIAS. Nor, sadly, did anything from VW or Audi – despite strong showings from new production models (the new GTI and Golf R are both really sharp looking, and who in their right mind would badmouth a new S8?), their concepts fell flat. The
TT in drag Allroad Shooting Brake concept wasn’t bad, but perhaps presages a new TT that is a little more derivative than we were all hoping for. And the Beetle Dune was exactly what it sounded like – a jacked up Beetle – thus failing to stir my soul.
There were some near-hits, of course. The Cadillac ATS coupe was pretty, if a little plain. Hyundai’s Genesis sedan once again managed to take familiar design elements from various top-tier luxury marques and combine them into a cohesive package that is not only attractive, but manages to look fresh, too. Chrysler’s new midsizer, the clean-sheet 200 sedan, carries the weight of the world on its shoulders but looks competitive enough to make a go of it. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge concept, especially without any firm powertrain or production details, but in person this four-door was stunning – garnet red paint with a luster about a mile deep was equally easy to photograph and lose yourself in. And the new Honda Fit looks to carry on the carmaker’s tradition of incremental, measured improvements during every generational change – it manages to be bigger on the inside, smaller on the outside, sit atop a lighter basic structure all while being endowed with a little more horsepower, a bit more style, more feature content and a sixth gear in the still-available manual transmission. Sounds like a winner to me.
But there are really only five big winners to me, a group of cars that I’m already dreaming about driving in the not-too-distant future. From fifth to first, here they are:
5. Porsche 911 Targa 4 and 4S:
In one fell swoop, Porsche managed to not only fill out the current 911 model roster, but do so in the most nostalgic way – by ushering in a new Targa 4 and 4S with decidedly throwback styling. The brushed aluminum trim of the roll hoop and the glass-bubble rear end harken back to the very first Targa of 1967. The 993 generation brought in a glorified glass sunroof arrangement that had a propensity to leak, squeak, and generally be not as good as the removable-panel original Targas.
That the 991 Targa tops are also fully powered and operate by flipping the fabric-covered roof section back into the glass housing in a single, balletic pirouette is just the icing on the cake.
4. Lexus RC-F:
When I first saw pictures of the new IS sedan, I thought it was repulsive. Then I saw it in person, and pulled an about face. Now, a year later, and I think it’s the boldest, best-styled sedan in its segment. Though I had initial concerns when I saw the RC-F in photos, I needn’t have worried – it’s a good looking car: purposeful, well-proportioned and brutally aggressive. I’ll take one in blue, with grey wheels, just like the one pictured. Thank you.
3. Kia GT-4:
We’re lucky enough to be in a time when another rear-wheel drive, inexpensive compact coupe concept could be considered an also-ran in an industry flush with the things, but Kia’s GT-4 is far from that. It’s a hatchback, technically, but low-slung enough to make even the slinky Scirocco look like a wallflower. And did I mention it’s rear-wheel drive, powered by a 300+ horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder driving through a six-speed manual transmission? And has four-wheel double wishbone suspension? Do I need to keep going?
Kia, BUILD this car. Do it.
2. BMW M3/M4:
The M versions of the newest 3- and 4-series had the potential to be the least-exciting “release” of NAIAS. After all, they were among the first of the cars leaked out on the internetz, and boiled down, they’re simply butched-up versions of models that have been in showrooms for up to a year and a half.
But somehow, there’s more to them than that. I was particularly swayed by the M3, which takes the 3-series’ plebian sedan lines and plumps them up with widened fenders, sexy wheels and a particularly fetching paint hue known as “Yas Marina Blue”. Combined with dynamite-looking sport seats (FINALLY for the F30!) and 430 turbocharged horsepower routed through an appropriately rorty exhaust system, this one is perhaps the strongest contender for “future daily driver of the decade”, at least for this driver.
1. Toyota FT-1:
What can I say about the FT-1 that can’t simply be said by the photo above? The thing is stunning – an absolute show-stopper, made all the better by the fact that Toyota chose not to blast photos of the thing all over the Internet in the days leading up to the premiere like every other manufacturer. The FT-1 has incredible presence, and signals good days ahead at Toyota Corp. If they can provide auto show treats like this and actually follow through with the production model as aptly as they did with the GT86/FR-S, then we auto enthusiasts should be as happy as pigs in proverbial shit.