2007 Detroit Auto Show: Production Car Winners and Losers

By David Thomas  on January 10, 2007

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Concept cars are fun to look at, but it’s the production vehicles at the Detroit auto show that will actually be at dealerships this year. Seeing these vehicles in person greatly influences our opinions, and a few really surprised us under the show lights. Again, Joe Wiesenfelder, Mike Hanley and David Thomas run through the big winners and losers fighting for your hard-earned dollars.

2008 Cadillac CTS

DT: Winner
Like the Volt concept, the Cadillac CTS was a winner for GM; I don’t think anything else at the show came close to competing. The exterior is a challenging design and the interior is vastly improved. This will sell better than the original.

JW: Winner
Ironically, the original CTS was the model that showed GM had a clue — a willingness to take chances with styling and an understanding that performance matters. The car's main weakness was its interior. The 2008 is far better in this and every other aspect I didn't like about Gen. 1. Dave's right that it will sell better. If it drives well, it has car of the year written all over it.

MH: Winner
Cadillac raised its game with the CTS' new interior, which equals or bests those of its competitors. From many angles it reminds me of a 7/8-scale STS, and that's not a bad thing in my book.

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Ford Focus Sedan and Coupe

DT: Loser
I thought the Focus sedan was actually pretty radically changed considering so much of the underpinnings remain from the outgoing model. The interior is also stylish, and besides being pre-production it seemed high-quality for the class. The coupe, on the other hand, just looked awful.

JW: Winner
By no means is this an enthusiastic endorsement, but if my choices are thumbs up or down, the coupe (a downer) isn't enough to offset the sedan — which isn't a big winner but is incrementally better in several ways than the current model, which boasts unworldly handling, and is more reliable and crashworthy than ever.

MH: Winner
I'm not a fan of the Focus' new look, and there are some ergonomic issues with the cabin controls, but it should do just fine if the price is right.

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2008 Nissan Rogue

DT: Winner
It didn’t get much attention, but this CR-V and RAV4 competitor will do well depending on pricing. It’s a lot more stylish and sleek in person. I didn’t get a chance to get inside, though.

JW: Winner
I didn't get access to the interior either, but I think Nissan hit the mark on this one. It looks like a Nissan but not a Murano — at least not in the ways that make a Murano polarizing. It's a winner on its own merit, but this vehicle class is suddenly very, very crowded.

MH: Winner
The Rogue gets Nissan into a game — the small crossover SUV slugfest — where it didn’t even had a presence. Inoffensive looks and a sporty interior should work in its favor, but it remains to be seen if its four-cylinder — the only engine offered — has the guts to keep pace with the V-6-powered competition.

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2007 Hyundai Veracruz

DT: Winner
It’s shapely, the fit and finish is on par with the competition and it’s loaded with safety features. It will do as well as any of the other three-row crossovers now flooding the market.

JW: Winner
I stood at the Hyundai display with a TV reporter who said, in front of a Hyundai rep, "Well, I have a Santa Fe that I bought in 2001..." and I thought to myself, "Uh oh, here it comes."  She continued, "...and I haven't had a single problem with it. Not one problem!" There are a lot of these people out there who want a larger vehicle. They're sure to conclude that the Veracruz is it. It seems like Hyundai can't lose.

MH: Winner
The Veracruz appears to have the goods — a standard V-6, room for up to seven and many safety features — to expand Hyundai's presence in the popular crossover segment.

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2008 Dodge Avenger

DT: Winner
Despite looking exactly like the previous concept, the Avenger offered some interesting lines on its rear and a surprisingly well-finished interior for a Dodge, minus the air vents. I think the $18K starting price is still a tad too high, though.

JW: Winner
I'm on the fence about the interior, mainly because only the most decked-out version appears at an auto show, but the exterior is sure to attract Dodge buyers. Equipped with the base four-cylinder, it's likely to be as much of a dog as its sister, the Chrysler Sebring. The V-6 options should be OK.

MH: Winner
Dodge gets a modern midsize offering in the new Avenger, which has the brand's characteristic tough-guy appearance that's fared rather well on the full-size Charger. It should fare well in this segment, too.

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2008 Chevrolet Malibu

DT: Winner
While I thought the new design looked good in the press materials, the Malibu also proved more of a stunner up close. The front end doesn’t protrude nearly as much as the pictures made it appear. I think it’s better-looking than the Saturn Aura it shares so many parts with.

JW: Winner
GM set high expectations by committing to high-quality interiors and then following with the current-generation Malibu. Phooey. The 2008 improves upon it in ways everyone can appreciate. I think it's far from being a "stunner," but it's neither bland nor offensive, and when you consider that the Aura has been lauded for its overall performance, how could this version lose?

MH: Winner
Chevy's done quite a number with the redesign of its midsize Malibu sedan, and I like the results. It's stylish in an understated way that seems ideally suited to the expectations of buyers in this class. The interior is promising, too, though we'll need to see the real thing -- the Malibu unveiled at the show had an early, handmade interior — before giving a final assessment.

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2008 Lexus IS-F

DT: Loser
Sure, it’ll be fast, but the body-kit treatment was over the top and not nearly as subtle as what BMW does to its M3. This could be Lexus’ last entry into the high-performance game if it doesn’t sell well.

JW: Loser
Lexus gets credit for going all the way, like Cadillac did when it dropped a Corvette drivetrain into the CTS-V. A 400-hp V-8 in this little thing? Lexus engineers know what they're doing, and I'm sure this car will rock, but the bulbous hood is a problem, and the car looks younger than the original IS 300, which itself seemed out of place for the brand. An eight-speed tranny is impressive on an academic level, but no conventional manual? Buzzzz! Thank you for playing!

MH: Loser
The IS-F's additional body work looks more subtle in person, which is a good thing, but I agree with Joe that without a true manual transmission the IS-F isn't going to be taken seriously by the true enthusiasts a car like this needs to embrace.

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2008 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan

DT: Winner
The originators of the minivan have done it again with much-improved versions of the classics. I didn’t get to sit in the driver’s seat, though, to test out that shifter placement.

JW: Winner
I think people will get over the shifter — mainly because you hardly have to touch it — and these are minivan buyers, after all. Chrysler and Dodge clearly know how to dig deep into how families use vans. If you think a DVD player is unnecessary, you don't have a kid. If you think two separate DVD players are overkill, you don't have two kids. And the swiveling seats? These guys do what the domestic pickup developers have failed to do: innovate.

MH: Winner
Almost anything would have been an improvement over the Chrysler Group's prior-generation minivans, and the new interiors look vastly improved. While the swiveling second-row seats one-up the competition, just looking at them brings back childhood memories of feeling nauseous from riding in the rear-facing third row of my parents' Buick LeSabre wagon. 

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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer

DT: Loser
While the new Lancer is a looker, its poor mileage — 25/31 mpg, city/hwy — could hurt sales compared to the much more efficient Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3. That’s too bad, because it looks great.

JW: Winner
The average Mitsubishi buyer is young, and probably far less concerned about fuel economy than is the average Consumer-Reports-reading Civic buyer. I've learned how important styling is (see Ford Five Hundred below). To have an affordable car that kinda sorta looks like an Evolution is going to look mighty attractive to young folks. We don't know how it will drive, but it's definitely a winner from the perspective of an auto show-goer.

MH: Winner
The advance images of this car looked good, and those impressions held up after seeing it in person. Mitsubishi got the proportions right with this one, and that's likely to pay off with more sales in the compact segment.

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2008 Ford Five Hundred

DT: Winner
This surprised me, but the redesign makes this large sedan more masculine and definitely more eye-catching. An improved V-6 engine with 260 hp and a six-speed transmission don’t hurt either.

JW: Winner
I think the current version is a winner — one of the best-packaged cars I've ever experienced. Other people's complaints have included the styling, the power and the CVT. Check, check and check. Now others will think it's a winner too.

MH: Loser
In terms of buzz, there's not much here with the Five Hundred. The exterior gets more chrome and some new headlights and taillights. More significant is the Five Hundred's new, more-powerful V-6 engine, but the car was lost among more-significant debuts at the show.

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2007 BMW 335i Convertible

DT: Loser
The convertible 3 Series is always a big seller, and there’s no doubt this one — complete with retractable hardtop — will sell too. I’m getting a little tired of the new styling, though. From a show standpoint, this was barely a blip.

JW: Loser
Agreed, 100 percent. Retractable hardtops are getting so common and so affordable that the thrill is dulled. Beyond that, it's a 335i, which is great to drive but not exceptional to behold.

MH: Winner
Though it didn't have a lot of buzz, this is BMW's first retractable-hardtop convertible, which the faithful should go crazy over.

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Smart ForTwo

DT: Loser
Two years ago, Chrysler introduced the previous-generation Smart in Detroit. A month later it canceled plans to bring it to the U.S. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens again. As a city runabout, the ForTwo is fine, but most U.S. drivers need more than that. You can’t even fit a week’s worth of groceries in this thing — and 40 mpg? That’s not enough to convert people to this micro-car.

JW: Winner
From an auto-show perspective, the Smart cars are and always will be winners. They inspire more curiosity than almost anything at the show. They will be winners in the market, too, unless they're involved in a single highly publicized fatality on an American road. People's confidence in the brand is likely to be tenuous, with their concerns as great as the cars are small.

MH: Loser
The ForTwo is a cartoon car of the first order, and while it's likely to develop a cult following here in the U.S., for most people it'll be a curiosity rather than a viable means of transportation. Considering its small size, a 40-mpg gas-mileage estimate for combined city and highway driving isn't that spectacular, either.


Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David


2007 Detroit Auto Show