By David Thomas on January 17, 2013
The 2013 edition of the Detroit auto show kept a steady pace with elegant new production cars and one of the biggest crops of concept cars we've seen in years. We'll grade both groups, starting here with the cars you'll actually be able to buy later this year. Cars.com editors Aaron Bragman, Mike Hanley, David Thomas and Joe Wiesenfelder scrutinized the sheet metal and deliver the results.
David Thomas: WinnerThe A7 is one of my favorite luxury cars as it is, and that's sans the 560-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 that Audi has shoehorned into the RS 7. Visual tweaks like the "Quattro" script in the lower grille and beefed-up bumper are nice. The quilted leather treatment also speaks to me. It says, "You can't afford me, but wouldn't it be great to sit here?"
Mike Hanley: WinnerThe RS 7 is blindingly quick — Audi claims zero to 60 mph happens in less than 4 seconds — and under the bright auto-show lights, the white one at the Audi stand was blinding, too. It's almost not fair that Audi has two performance lines — S and RS — to woo enthusiasts.
Joe Wiesenfelder: WinnerWhat's not to like (if you can afford it)? The seats feel as good as they look. Mike's not kidding about being blinded. That was the most light my eyes had seen in four days of Midwestern winter. It literally hurt my eyes.
Aaron Bragman: WinnerBlinding is definitely the word to describe the RS 7. Blindingly quick, blindingly expensive and yes, blindingly white in this showcar example. They say that the measure of a good design is whether it looks good in white or not, and the RS7 unquestionably does. This is going to be a future classic.
DT: LoserCadillac sure saved on the design work for the ELR; it looks just like a CTS coupe to me. The rear is so boring that the larger XTS and its jutting tailfins show it up. Putting the so-so package around the part-electric Chevy Volt powertrain makes me think it won't find many buyers.
MH: WinnerI agree with Dave that the design, especially the rear half, is a dead-ringer for the CTS coupe. But the idea of a range-extended electric powertrain wrapped in sporty coupe sheet metal makes the car interesting in a way that more traditional sedan styling never would.
JW: WinnerI'll admit it didn't knock me out — maybe because I'm not a fan of the coupe's styling to begin with. I say it's a winner because I suspect there's more potential for luxury plug-ins than more modest ones. Green statement meets luxury statement in one package.
AB: WinnerLooking like the current CTS coupe is not a bad thing, as it's perhaps one of GM's best designs since the 1950s. Cadillac worked hard to make sure the ELR looked far more like its concept version, the Converj, than the Volt looked like its concept. The resulting "Coupe de Volt" is a showcar for the street, and I predict it will be a head-turner when it hits the roads later this year.
DT: WinnerThere were two Stingrays on display: one dark gray, one red. I thought the gray model looked stunning and the red one was a bit garish. Sports cars can be garish, though; they're allowed. Everything else about the seventh-generation 'Vette is a winner.
MH: WinnerThe new Corvette's front end is surprisingly similar to the SRT Viper's, but the overall design is more athletic. The tail is a huge improvement over the slab on the prior generation. Chevrolet could have gone further with the interior upgrade, but it didn't stop this car from owning the show.
JW: WinnerAgreed. Chevy ought to throw more resources at the interior before it goes on sale. I was sorely disappointed by the red one; maybe I was expecting the 2009 Stingray concept. But the gray one looks much better and will probably continue to grow on me.
AB: WinnerI was prepared to be underwhelmed by the new Corvette, but I came away impressed. The details on this car are exceptional. It's an evolution of the design, but still unmistakably a Corvette. Purists will lament the loss of the round taillights, but I say see it in person with the lights on before passing judgment — the depth and detail of those lamps will change minds.
DT: WinnerWhen Infiniti releases a new model, its interior always seems lush and opulent versus the competition. Then the company rides that interior for a long time before updating it. That's happened again, but that doesn't mean the Q50 isn't a winner. I also firmly believe it looks better in person.
MH: WinnerInfiniti has managed to make the Q50's hood look incredibly low, and the theme carries though to the car's rear. The design is at the same time fresh but familiar while the cabin branches out more with its stacked touch-screens in the middle of the dash.
JW: WinnerI know my colleague Aaron is going to dissent, but I like the styling a lot. Good interior quality and two touch-screens rather than a display teamed with a knob is something I've wanted to see for years. All the buttons are real, too, not touch-insensitive panels. Infiniti is doing it right here.
AB: LoserYeah, I'm not feeling this one. I can see the BMW 3 Series in the Q50's proportions, but this looks a bit overstyled for me, especially aft of the front doors. That Infiniti family C-pillar squiggle looks awkward, and the taillights look as if they've been pasted on. The interior doesn't look all that different to me, and in fact looks like something that could easily have a Hyundai badge.
DT: WinnerAll Jeep needed to do to make the Grand Cherokee better was update its center display with the new Uconnect system. Jeep did that. I don't like the new headlights, though. They seem unnecessary. Still, there's something to be said for a Jeep that is so good it doesn't need a lot of work.
MH: WinnerI thought the Grand Cherokee's new headlights looked too slim in photos, but the design works better when you see it in person. I welcome the larger Uconnect touch-screen and the configurable instrument panel, too.
JW: WinnerI don't like the black plastic inserts below the headlights, and Jeep should have used the rotary knob gear selector from Ram rather than the T-switch from the Chrysler 300 for the new eight-speed automatic transmission. All the other updates are welcome, including the Summit trim level, which is distinguished enough to justify its addition.
AB: WinnerThe exterior updates are subtle, but the really cool updates are inside — several new color combinations are coming for the Grand Cherokee now that Chrysler has let their designers have more creative freedom. Forget aluminum or carbon fiber; how does bronze trim grab you? It should grab you — it looks fantastic.
DT: WinnerI must be missing the huge pool of potential buyers clamoring for large sedans, but automakers sure are building cars for them. Kia's is a masculine answer to the Hyundai Azera, and it looks sharp with all the right finishes and features inside, too. If Kia figures out the driving dynamics, it should do just fine.
MH: WinnerThe Cadenza is a sharp-looking sedan that borrows heavily from BMW where its styling is concerned, which isn't a bad thing for a full-size sedan with premium-market aspirations. A spacious, comfortable backseat is a must in this segment, and the Cadenza delivers here, too.
JW: LoserThis was a tough one, but I'm saying loser because the styling isn't what I expect from Kia. I like the diffuse neon look to the taillights, but the headlights have that white-stripe eyebrow I loathe on BMWs. Looks like a film that was supposed to be removed after shipping.
AB: LoserKia has introduced something that a non-enthusiast friend of mine would call "car-shaped." And it is, as there are elements of half-a-dozen other sedans in the Cadenza's shape. It's not offensive by any means, but after the brand brought us the eye-popping Optima, has the management grown worried about becoming too radical?
DT: LoserOutside, I love the IS. This is what a small sports sedan should look like, and it's a big change from the last generation. Inside, the backseat might be roomier, but the front is just as confining as before. There aren't many sports coupes that are this tight on space. I did like the interior layout, but the finishes seemed too rough to be production-ready.
MH: WinnerThe IS' large spindle grille is menacing and distinctive, but I'm more impressed with the interior updates, including the redone dashboard design and the improvement in backseat room — a severe shortcoming of the prior IS. I wish Lexus would offer a true manual transmission for enthusiasts, but the changes should increase the car's consideration in the sport-sedan class.
JW: LoserIck. You know the expression about throwing many divergent things at the wall to see which one sticks? Lexus threw a lot at the IS' front end, all of it stuck, and the automaker left it all there. It's also possible I sat in the second of two cars here and Mike in the first, because I found the interior subpar, too.
AB: LoserYikes. If I only had to look at the IS from the rear angle view, my opinion might be different. But that front end is just bizarre — the LED Nike swooshes will certainly help you tell the IS apart from the GS or LS, but attractive they're not. And the interior is just boring (aside from the very cool gauge cluster). Lexus is trying hard to redefine itself as its customers' age, but it needs to perhaps try something else.
DT: WinnerThe Versa Note looks perfectly functional with lots of interior and cargo room for the size. I hope it comes with a low price, though, since the seat fabric and climate controls rate at the lower rung of the spectrum.
MH: LoserThe Versa Note's crisp exterior styling impresses, but I was immediately disappointed when I opened the door and saw the same cheap controls from the Versa sedan. Affordable pricing is part of the appeal for a car like this, but after seeing what you get I think value-minded shoppers will look elsewhere.
JW: WinnerI share some reservations: lots of hard materials inside, the steering wheel doesn't telescope, and you can feel and hear louvers opening and closing when you operate the mechanical ventilation control. But I can't call an affordable car with this much interior space a loser.
AB: LoserAside from the truly impressive legroom for front and rear passengers, little else about the Versa Note stands out. Styling is derivative; the powertrain is underwhelming, and materials are cheap. Its low price will definitely help it, but from fuel economy to connectivity, its features can be had in competitors' products too.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David