Detroit Auto Show 2011: The Top 10 Debuts

Though it’s been on the ropes for a while now, Detroit is still alive, and so are the three car-building conglomerates that call it home. And while the home teams have made plenty of fumbles in the past, each one seems to be clawing its way back from the brink with fresh products that appear to be competitive with the four-wheeled wares being peddled by the foreign nameplates.

And what better place to show off those new higher-quality cars and trucks than in Motown itself? Of course the domestics don’t have Cobo Hall all to themselves, and the imports have brought some pretty impressive hardware themselves. And considering competition drives innovation and motivates companies to work harder toward creating better products, it’s no surprise just about every automaker in attendance brought it’s A-game. But if we had to pick the absolute cream of the crop, it would be the following 10 rides.

Porsche 918 RSR Concept


2011 Porsche 918 RSR Concept


When Porsche unveiled the incredible 918 Spyder concept last year at the Geneva Motor Show, many industry watchers simply dismissed the open-top hybrid supercar as a stylish piece of window dressing intended to appease the global green lobby. Since then, however, Porsche has announced that the car will be going into limited production and, to reaffirm how serious the company is about building it, has built its idea of what a fixed-roof competition version of the 918 might look like.

The howling V8 in back is augmented by the same flywheel-based hybrid system found in the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid that raced at Petit Le Mans in October. The flywheel sends jolts of juice to the two electric motors (one for each front wheel) at the push of a button, and when combined with the gas engine, total output comes out to a staggering 767hp. Will it ever show up on a race track? Hard to say…

Hyundai Veloster


2012 Hyundai Veloster


If you’re like us, the Honda CR-Z probably leaves you cold. While the styling is neat, it seems to do neither sporty nor the economy thing well, despite a light(-ish) curb weight and a hybrid drivetrain. A CRX resurrection it ain’t.

Hyundai, meanwhile, has a small front-drive sport coupe of its own on the way. The Veloster (based on the eponymous concept car of a few years ago) marches to the beat of its own drummer with an odd three-door design (There’s an additional front-hinged one on the passenger side.) leading to a back seat (something the U.S. market CR-Z lacks), a big, near horizontal rear hatch, and centered twin tailpipes. Power comes from a direct injected 1.6L four sending 138hp to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed dual clutch tranny. That kind of power might not sound like a recipe for fun, but when you consider the curb weight is 2,584 lb. (borderline anorexic by new car standards), projected fuel economy (a CR-Z-topping 40 mpg) and the target price (somewhere in the neighborhood of $17k to start), the Veloster sounds like a sporty and stylish – yet super practical – little runabout.

Chrysler 300


2011 Chrysler 300


While the Chrysler PT Cruiser was as hot as stolen diamonds in the first few years of its life, its recent demise was greeted by a chorus of, “They still made those?” Virtually all of that consumer apathy stemmed from the fact that it barely received any updates other than the introduction of a convertible version and a mild facelift.

Not wanting history to repeat with the 300Chrysler is finally revamping it for the 2011 model year. While it should still appeal to the hip-hop set (Chrysler brand chief Olivier Francois even quoted lines from Eminem’s seminal “Lose Yourself” in his thick French accent during his introductory spiel for the car. No, really.), the streamlined exterior and interior styling, improved fit and finish and revised powertrains should enhance this snazzy sedan’s mainstream appeal too. The new 3.6L Pentastar V6 – making 292hp – comes standard, while the 5.7L Hemi V8 is optional and now rated at 370hp. An upcoming 8-speed automatic transmission should help the V6 model hit 30 mpg. That should hold people’s attention for a while.

Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTEC


2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTEC


Not to be outdone by its former, uh, associate in the fuel efficient big sedan wars, Mercedes-Benz is dropping its acclaimed 50-state legal 3.0L V6 turbodiesel into the S-Class to create the S350 BlueTEC, the first diesel S-Class offered in the U.S. since the W140-generation S350 Turbodiesel of 1995.

While some may question the wisdom of offering both diesel and hybrid versions of the same basic vehicle simultaneously, the company is already doing it with the M-Class SUV. And assuming the V6 makes the same kinds of numbers it does in other applications (210hp400 lb.-ft), this executive express should have plenty of pep and exceptional fuel economy, particularly on long interstate slogs. As diesel S-Class owners ourselves (No, really.), we’re on Wolke Neun.

BMW 650i Convertible


BMW 650i Convertible


Although pictures of it were released during the Los Angeles Auto Show two months ago, Detroit marked the first appearance of BMW’s revised big convertible in the metal. Though the basic shape remains the same, most of the styling details have been toned down relative to its rather polarizing predecessor. The fabric top with a vertical rear window that doubles as a wind deflector is also carried over. But the greasy bits living under the hood and center console are most definitely not holdovers from the prior model : The 4.4L twin-turbo V8 replaces the 4.8L normally aspirated unit, and output rises to 400hp and 450 lb.-ft. As before, a 6-speed manual is available, but the automatic now has eight forward ratios. The ultimate cruising machine? Quite possibly.

Mini Paceman Concept


Mini Paceman Concept


While it seems like just yesterday that Mini’s lineup consisted solely of the Cooper and Cooper S hatchbacks, the BMW subsidiary has lately been adding models at a rate that makes rabbits look chaste. The latest production addition to the family is the Countryman, a four-door pseudo-SUV, but the latest concept – called the Paceman – is of a decidedly sportier persuasion.

Ostensibly a two-door, chop top Countryman, the Paceman concept features a John Cooper Works-tuned 1.6L turbo four producing 211hp. Though the company won’t explicitly say it, the wording of the press release certainly makes it sound like a production version appearing in the next few years is all but a done deal.

Toyota Prius C Concept


Toyota Prius C Concept


Despite still being one of the most popular vehicles among eco-conscious buyers, the buzz surrounding the Toyota Prius seems to have cooled considerably in the last year or so. Toyota, to its credit, is not taking this lying down and is hard at work on creating a whole Prius family. The first addition to reach showrooms will be the Prius V (essentially a station wagon version of the current Prius hatchback), which also bowed at Detroit. But the more significant Prius reveal of the show was the little blue machine seen here, the Prius C Concept.

Though the styling is awkward at best, the two box shape offers a good compromise between interior volume and aerodynamic efficiency. And don’t let the “concept” tag fool you; the Prius C is headed to production, and Toyota is already touting it as the most efficient “cordless” hybrid. Watch this space.

Ford C-Max Energi


Ford C-Max Energy


When it comes to family friendly vehicles, driving one inevitably means surrendering any hope of getting fuel economy much over 30 mpg, right? If we may trot out the vintage ad tagline, Ford has a better idea. Actually, it has two ideas, both of which are wrapped up in the short-wheelbase C-Max mini-minivan currently available in Europe. (We’ll soon be getting the longer Grand C-Max but, to avoid confusion, it will simply be called the C-Max. Thatavoids confusion?)

The first one is the C-Max Hybrid, which will use a new evolution of Ford’s hybrid system. The second – and more noteworthy one – is the C-Max Energi. The C-Max Energi which, like the C-Max Hybrid, is scheduled for the 2013 model year, will use a Ford-built plug-in lithium battery and an electric motor as the primary power source, while a gas engine will help extend the range to what the folks in Dearborn claim will top 500 miles. If that sounds like the concept behind the Chevrolet Volt, that’s because it is. The difference is this thing will have more room for more of whatever – and whomever – suburban life throws at you.

Kia KV7 Concept


Kia KV7 Concept


If the popularity of vehicles like the Scion xBNissan Cube and Kia Soul are any indication, it might really be hip to be square or, more accurately, cubic. Now Kia is stretching (literally) the box-on-wheels concept with a, well, concept minivan called the KV7.

This funky flight of fancy features gullwing rear doors, lounge style seating (complete with swiveling front buckets), a built-in computer sitting on a “floating” table and a Wi-Fi hotspot make the KV7’s cabin a sweet place to hang out. Better yet, there’s a turbocharged 2.0L four-banger making 285hp to move this party bus from A to B…quickly. Prospects of eventually reaching showrooms? Not so good, which is a shame since we’d love to see the giant hamsters pitching this on the boob tube.

Cadillac CTS-V Coupe Race Car


Cadillac CTS-V Racer


Well, we started with a wicked fast race car, so why not end with one? We’ve already seen the artist renderings of this bad boy, which will be vying for top honors in the Sports Car Club of America’s World Challenge GT classthis season, but the actual finished product looks just as badass. While the specifics on the powerplant are still hush-hush, you can count on it being a booming pushrod V8 belonging to GM’s LS-series family. You can also count on drivers Andy Pilgrim and Johnny O’Connell using it to terrorize the likes of PorscheViper and Mustang on road courses and street circuits across North America. We can’t wait.