By David Thomas on January 18, 2012
The Detroit auto show has traditionally had a strong concept-car presence, and the 2012 edition is no different. More than a few concepts strongly hint at upcoming production models, and Cars.com editors Joe Wiesenfelder, David Thomas, Kelsey Mays and Mike Hanley trekked the show floor to see them all.
Acura NSX Concept
Mike Hanley: Winner
The original NSX is revered in sports car circles, and the NSX Concept has the swagger to be a worthy successor. It's smaller than you think, and the design reminds me a lot of McLaren's MP4-12C, which is a looker in its own right.
David Thomas: Winner
It reminds me of a lot of other cars, especially the Audi R8. Perhaps Acura will tweak its corporate design some more before the NSX is finally on sale, but the design as-is is still a success. I like all the news about an all-new V-6 engine for the brand and it being built in the U.S. more than the actual concept. Maybe I just want to drive it right now.
Joe Wiesenfelder: Winner
I like what it represents. Note that it's going to be developed, not just built, in the U.S. What makes it a winner is that you stand and ogle it for more than a few seconds.
Kelsey Mays: Winner
Like David, I see more R8 than anything else, especially in the front fenders and ground-hugging grille. Given the hallowed nameplate and Honda/Acura's propensity to stay true to their concepts, I suspect the production NSX will look a lot like this, which is a good thing.
Lexus LF-LC Concept
Even though there are a number of similarities between this and Lexus' LFA supercar, the LF-LC nonetheless impressed. Its blend of futuristic design elements with sleek coupe proportions works quite well.
Unlike the NSX Concept, the LF-LC looked original. I didn’t notice much that was similar to the LFA either. There was some far-out stuff like those headlights that protruded in three segments from the car’s body. And I’m starting to really like this new Lexus grille. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of it with my smartphone.
Lexus has lost its crown as the best-selling luxury brand in the U.S. I don't see concepts like this or cars like the LFA addressing the real problem. However, it's super cool, and this is an auto show; people want eye candy. After you see this one, you'll need a dentist. Or an ophthalmologist. Whatever. You get my point.
Joe’s HMO should allow him to see both. I need no such help. This does nothing the LFA didn’t already do. The profile gets the overhangs right, but the beady headlights evoke the 2002 Infiniti Q45 — provocative at best, creepy at worst. And typical of a concept, the cockpit goes overboard with touch-screens.
Honda Accord Coupe Concept
As a nearly finished production version of the Accord coupe, there's nothing wrong with this car's design, but the similarities between it and the current production coupe kept it from making as big an impact as some of the other concepts.
Why are people expecting Honda to release a wild concept car? When is the last time that happened? And when was the last time anyone was impressed with one of its production car designs? The Accord Coupe Concept is a handsome car and doesn’t follow the Crosstour path. We should be cheering wildly for that.
I'm good with it, but when automakers make production-intent concepts, I wish they'd go all the way: The paint job on this thing is worth more than every car I've ever owned, and that makes it hard to visualize what a real Accord coupe will look like.
David, look at the production 2006 Civic. It was a little wild at the time, but most people now accept it as one of Honda’s best cars of the era. For all its strengths, the current Accord looks clumsy, drives noisy and — below leather-clad EX-L versions — feels low-rent. Honda has some catching up to do, and this concept suggests more evolutionary changes.
Lincoln MKZ Concept
I've had strong doubts about whether Lincoln can make it as a luxury brand, but the debut of the MKZ Concept tamped them down a bit. It features the best interpretation yet of Lincoln's split-wing grille and an overall design that doesn't make you think of a Ford. The road ahead is still a long one for Lincoln, but it seems to be on the right path, finally.
The new Lincoln “booth” at the Detroit auto show is as breathtaking as such a thing can be with a stylish entrance and raised seating areas. All of it pushes the focus onto the MKZ Concept, which is right in the booth's center. While it doesn’t top its surroundings, this is the sedan Lincoln needs to catch up to Buick and Cadillac.
On either side of the concept were amazing kinetic globe sculptures that expanded and contracted. I really liked those.
Acura ILX Concept
A new entry-level sedan based on the Honda Civic might be an easy way for Acura to win some additional sales, but I wonder what it does to a luxury brand already in search of an identity. It'd be like Lexus launching a Toyota Corolla-based sedan or Infiniti revealing a Nissan Sentra-based entrant. It's not going to happen with either of those brands.
Sitting next to the NSX Concept isn't a good place to draw stares. Silver isn't a good color to wow folks, either. The NSX overcame the color, the ILX did not. I’m sure it too will be a fine-looking car when it goes on sale but on the show floor it fails.
We could just repeat here what I said about the redesigned RDX in our production car winners/losers. Acura needs a savior. This one ain't it, either. Points for using realistic paint. Points off for lacking an interior entirely.
Mike's comparison to the Corolla is apt. The new Civic gets some important aspects right, but interior quality is not one of them. Acura can ill-afford to throw on some makeup and send a Civic to the luxury ball. The ILX looks different enough, but I question the overall strategy. Acura hasn’t done enough to convince me otherwise.
Nissan Pathfinder Concept
The Pathfinder didn't have much of a future in its current SUV form, but with this nearly production-ready concept Nissan has breathed new life into the model by adopting a unibody architecture that's better suited for how most people use these cars. Think of it as Extreme Makeover: Pathfinder Edition.
Like the Honda Accord Coupe Concept, I was thankful Nissan didn’t put the Murano’s grille on the Pathfinder. Instead, it gives the crossover an updated version of the outgoing SUVs blocky grille. The profile doesn’t flow well with the front or back, but the bookends will be the selling points in terms of design. A three-row Nissan crossover should be a slam dunk, so design is vital.
Sorry, but I'm not willing to label a near-production model a winner — no matter how inoffensively styled it is — until I can get inside of it. Definitely a good move to ditch the body-on-frame, though. [Editor's Note: Joe called the Accord Coupe Concept a winner without an interior...]
Nissan’s cabin photos suggest a parent-friendly interior with moderate storage room behind the third row. The styling is inoffensive, which is good for a three-row crossover. Look at Ford Flex versus Explorer sales, and you’ll see why polarizing can sometimes hurt sales.
Chevrolet Tru 140S Concept
If this is Chevrolet's vision for a compact coupe — something it doesn't have in its lineup right now — I'm sold. The wedgelike profile calls to mind something expensive and exotic, like something from Lamborghini.
Like I said in my original report, this looks too much like a Mitsubishi Eclipse to be a winner for me. It’s like the designer didn’t remember to do his homework, so he just copied it from someone else in class. Too bad he copied the class dunce’s work.
And the Eclipse is a knockoff of the Audi TT. Big deal. This is a great-looking car. After taking it in awhile, turning and looking at the Chevy Spark was like getting punched in the eye.
Chevrolet says the Tru 140S Concept has a 150-horsepower, turbo 1.4-liter four-cylinder. And it looks like a Lamborghini. Sorry, but this threatens to be the all-show, no-go car of the century.
Chevrolet Code 130R Concept
I thought this looked decent in photos, but seeing it in person elicited a different response. The blocky greenhouse doesn't go with the rest of the car, which has a stubby look overall. The inscrutable name earns it further demotion.
If the Tru 140S plagiarized the Eclipse, the Code 130R is a BMW 1 Series counterfeit. Every single person in Detroit mentioned the small BMW when describing this design. Luckily, I don’t think either Chevy is really destined to hit the streets.
Tough crowd. It's a provocative concept car, and only a couple aspects of it look awkward. Just look at the length of this report we're writing! Concept cars are back along with the auto industry and consumer confidence. Win, win, win.
I can see Chevrolet's 1.4-liter engine working in the Code 130R, whose styling doesn’t suggest a V-10. The 1 Series (and Mazda RX-8) comparisons are inevitable, but I found the proportions attractive.
Volkswagen E-Bugster Concept
The E-Bugster's all-electric drivetrain is intriguing and will eventually make it to a production Volkswagen, but no one is clamoring for another Beetle-based concept car, especially one with a chopped roof.
The entire show was buzzing with excitement, and over at the VW booth was this concept with a live DJ spinning records nearby. I’m not sure any music would make fans wild for the Bugster. I kept walking…
I'll take all the electrics I can get because competition will drive prices down. As a concept car, though, it was definitely uninspiring. Every time VW does a new version of the Beetle, it seems like an attempt to broaden what I believe is its very narrow appeal. "How do you like me now? Still no? OK, come to the next auto show."
What they said. This is what a Volkswagen would look like on the set of "Tron." I hit the snooze button.
Toyota NS4 Concept
Even after seeing the NS4 in person, I didn't warm to its alien-insect front-end styling. Bizarre is the best way to describe it. Do us all a favor, Toyota, and back away from that ledge.
I also didn’t like the insect styling up front, but if this is a glimpse at a future Prius sedan, I like what I see. Toyota needs more dramatic styling more than almost any automaker, so the NS4 could be a welcome start.
The design isn't a clear winner, and the near lack of physical buttons inside can't be good. But as I said, it's nice to see a respectable number of far-out concepts return to the show. I like the super-thin A-pillars and the plan for an active hood. Who knows; maybe it will inspire Toyota to make a hybrid that drives well.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David