2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. With a shorter program of press conferences than previous years, you might be tempted to think it’s slim pickings for noteworthy news – but you’d be wrong. This year’s Detroit auto show saw two performance milestones and the return of a sports car icon, and that’s just the start of our list.
Best Production Vehicle
Ram Heavy Duty
First of all, just look at them – especially the Power Wagon seen here. Beastly, chunky and imposing in almost every way, this is what an HD truck should look like. Throw in the fact that it can tow up to 35,000 lb and haul over 7,600 lb, and you’ve got a truck that continues the outstanding performance of its lighter-duty RAM 1500 brethren.
Seriously, that Ram HD makes 1,000 lb-ft of torque and has a drive shaft that’s thicker than my calves. It can tow close to 16,000 kg, with a payload high enough to put another truck in the bed. It’s astounding.
Okay, the headlights are a little weird, but the Kia Telluride is a potential sleeper hit. As Kia’s interpretation of the three-row Hyundai Palisade, it’s got good looks, a 3.8-litre GDI V6 with 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, and seats for up to eight. And it will undoubtedly be packaged well at a reasonable price. They could sell a ton of these.
Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
Like a Monty Python-esque “I fart in your general direction” to electric mobility, Ford debuted a 700+ horsepower Shelby GT 500 Mustang. Somewhere, Carroll Shelby is smiling.
Best Concept Vehicle
Crazy 2 + 1 + 2 seating, dual electric motors good for 483 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, and an EV range of 380 miles? Sign. Me. Up.
Lexus LC Convertible
I really should pick the Nissan IMs here because it puts a lot of forward thinking on display. But that’s all years and years down the road, whereas right now there’s this LC Convertible concept that’s neither electric nor autonomous nor a living room on wheels – but it sure is pretty. Sometimes, it’s easier to allow oneself to be satisfied with the simpler things.
The licence plate said NTR4N7E and it had dice in the mirror. If anything, I could say that this concept was rare. But I thought, “Nah forget it, this was the coolest concept in here.”
Best in Show
Nearly 20 years of rumours and rumblings were silenced with the return of Toyota’s tuner icon Supra, a joint venture between Toyota and BMW.
Ram Heavy Duty
It was supposed to be the Supra. But they teased us for months and months – and months. Then when the cover came off, it looked exactly as expected and it has 335 hp. Meh.
Meanwhile, down the hall, Ram was breaking the 1,000 lb-ft torque barrier by dropping a new 6.7-litre Cummins diesel into the next-generation 3500. It’s an unnecessarily huge vehicle, few people will ever use its full capability, and it spews exhaust everywhere – these are all the things we’re not supposed to want anymore, right? Old habits die hard.
Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
The Ram Power Wagon was cool, the Infiniti QX Inspiration had its charming features, and GAC was an interesting oddity, but the one stand that I kept returning to – as many at the show did, apparently, considering how busy it seemed to always be – was Ford’s. It was the return of a famous nameplate: Shelby. Not just any Shelby, either, but a 700-plus horsepower, wide-fendered and race-engineered GT500.
Subaru WRX STI S209
Hey look, Subaru’s building a new STI model with 341 hp, tons of suede, 1.0 g of cornering, and a water-sprayer for the intercooler that you can trigger with a steering wheel paddle. Oh, US only. Harumph.
Best “C’mon that’s actually a production car, right?”
Lexus LC Convertible Concept
When I sampled the Lexus LC last year – in both its hybrid and V8 forms – I came away impressed. To sweeten the LC pot, they brought along the recently revealed convertible to NAIAS, and it looked incredible up there on-stage. Big wheels, huge hourglass grille, and the loss of a top without the loss of a gorgeous profile. If the LC didn’t already look so out there, I wouldn’t have high hopes for a production model like this. I do, though. They’re going to build it. They’ll have to.
Best Glow Up
Hyundai Veloster N TCR
With the Veloster finally reimagined as the car it always should have been, Hyundai is taking it racing. The 350 hp Veloster N TCR will compete in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge series this year.
Best “If it ain’t broke…”
2020 Volkswagen Passat
New grille, new roofline, more room inside, updated infotainment – that’s about it. Same 2.0 L TSI I4 (albeit with slightly more torque), same transmission – even the seats look similar.
Best Former Production Vehicle
1998 Subaru STI 22B
Built to celebrate the brand’s winning three straight WRC titles as well as its 40th Anniversary, the 22B was a stock-looking STI that packed a mighty 280 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque and would blast you lickety split to none-too-legal speeds. A true rally car for the road.
Best Vase in a Vehicle
Infiniti QX Inspiration Concept
Yes, its only competition in recent memory was found beside the centre stack in the previous-generation Volkswagen Beetle. But judged by its own merits, it’s a tube of copper (or should that be “rose gold”?) embedded in a slab of marble on wood. With construction like that, you could confidently repurpose it to support a tray of hors d’oeuvres or an entire tea service for four. Try resting any of that on the average dashboard.
Best Car We Can’t Have
Subaru STI S209
The first S-line ever built for sale outside of Japan will have a 2.5-litre Subaru boxer engine that makes 341 hp, a performance chassis and carbon-fibre roof and rear wing, exclusive 19-inch forged BBS wheels, and Brembo brakes – and although 200 of them are being hand-built for customers in the United States, not a single one of them is slated to be sold in Canada. Why, Subaru? Why?
Best Cars We’re Finally Getting
Mahindra Roxor and Marazzo MPV
Mumbai-based automaker Mahindra made their Detroit debut, showcasing two vehicles: the Roxor, a Jeep lookalike with four-cylinder turbo-diesel, four-wheel drive, and five-speed transmission; and the Marazzo MPV, a four-wheel-drive seven-seater that’s available with a manual transmission.
Best Car That’s Not Actually a Car
If it looks like a Jeep, it’s a Jeep, right? Well, not quite: the Roxor isn’t road-legal but sold at power sports shops as a side-by-side. Still, it looks the business, is ultra-customizable, and comes from a company that actually built Willys-type vehicles from Willy’s blueprints back in ’47. Cool.
Best– Wait, They Can Do That?
Mahindra & Mahindra is an Indian automaker that’s been building Jeeps under licence for years. Now they’re bringing them to North America. But Jeep already makes a Jeep here. How can somebody else sell a copy of the 1940s model? Or can they?
Best Red, White, and Blue
Not only did the GT500 debut, but Ford brought along three of its precursors to the show and drove ’em right up on stage, prompting a colleague I ran into just after the presentation to ask why he was smelling so many exhaust fumes. Glorious.
The Torque of the Town
Ram Heavy Duty
While supercars and muscle machines might take the spotlight, it’s the pickup truck that rules the sales charts. That’s where the real glory is to be had. And Ram owned it, winning North American Truck of the Year just before revealing the Ram HD with its frankly absurd 1,000 lb-ft of torque.
Worst Use Ever of Cobo Hall Floor Space
A Sea of Tables
This is the last Detroit auto show to be held in January – next year, it moves to June to draw back more manufacturers – and a quick tour around Cobo Hall moots the motive behind the move. Just a few short years ago, no one would ever have imagined a time might come when there would be room for a food hall and an off-road course inside the exhibit hall, which was essentially custom-built to fit what, in its heyday, was the world’s most important auto show. No one is sad that this will be the last trip to Detroit in January – let’s hope this move is what the show needs.