Detroit Auto Show 2018: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – prototypes [w/ poll]

Acura_RDX-prototype-Detroit-Auto_Show-2018After discussing the what’s hot and what’s not in Detroit this year, let’s also bump heads on the prototypes and concept cars. Of course, these are all in different stages of market readiness, with the RDX and Insight virtually production ready, the Enverge and Xmotion merely hint at what could be, and the Q Inspiration and LF-1 Limitless  at varying degrees between those two ends of the scale.

Acura RDX

Bart: not

The RDX prototype shows pretty much exactly what the next generation of Acura’s second-best seller will look like when it launches later this year as a 2019 model. It’s definitely a huge step forward from the interchangeable looks of the current generation and fortunately does away with the controversial chrome beak grille, but somehow I’m struggling to find originality in its design. I feel like I’ve seen it all before, either from Acura itself (like the new grille) or from other brands (Mazda, from the rear 3/4). But the real disappointment lies in the technologh: the new Acura-exclusive platform architecture promises sharper handling, better fuel economy and blah blah blah…. A 2-liter turbocharged engine and 10-speed automatic transmission? This thing is so 2017, where’s the future? Mercedes-Benz and BMW will have EV versions of the GLC (under its EQ subbrand) and X3 in showrooms by the end of this year. The Lexus NX has had a hybrid version since its launch in late 2014, what are Honda and Acura waiting for?

Kriss: hot

While I agree with Bart that the RDX does not offer a compelling glimpse into the electrified future, I think as a de facto debut of a production car the RDX is really rather compelling. For starts, it is the nicest evolution so far of Acura’s new design language, much closer to the Precision Concept from two years ago than I thought the company would get with an SUV. What’s most impressive to me is how Acura managed to make the RDX looks long and sporty (for a crossover) by giving it a cab-backward design, clearly sacrificing interior space to add style. And it’s probably this shift that has me most optimistic for the brand that has long struggled to create any distinctive identity for itself and its models.



GAC Enverge

Bart: hot

If GAC wanted to get noticed in Detroit this year, it has succeeded. And if people were still unsure about where the Chinese stand in terms of technology, they should now be aware that the Chinese are seemingly ahead instead of behind. But it’s the eyecatching design that seals the deal for the Enverge (the Chinese still have a lot to learn on names, though). The exterior is pretty funky and attractive and I can imagine the production version of this car, without the scissor-doors but with side windows. The interior is all concept car with razor thin seats and an almost full-width space-age digital display. And the technology, while still far from production ready, is not that out-of-this-world at all: of course it’s an EV, with a range of 370 miles (600km) thanks to a 71 kWh battery that has wireless charging capabilities. So it’s not even because of the surprising scarcity of concept cars this year in Detroit, but on its own merit that this is one of the stars of the show.

Kriss: hot

I am 100% with Bart on this one – the Enverge is exactly what you need a concept to be – eye-catching, a bit “out there”, but with enough design cues that can be translated into an attractive production car. While it’s a bit unfortunate that the front design reminds me of an Opel, an impression not helped by the similarity of the logos, I think the prototype is an impressive effort for such a young company. My only worry is that the Enverge has very little to do with the GA4 compact sedan that GAC also showed at Detroit, suggesting that rather than previewing a particular production model, it is merely a “look at what we can do” exercise designed to bring people’s attention to the brand.



Honda Insight

Kriss: so-so

My thoughts on the Insight are captured pretty neatly in the article I posted when the model was first revealed – I think it’s a good-looking car, but in its current form it may struggle to break into the market in a meaningful way. Why? Well, despite its good looks, it shares too much of a resemblance with the Civic, on which it is clearly based, and as such may fail to open wallets for those who crave a more distinctive statement of their eco-intent. But more importantly, the drivetrain (a low-stress 1.5-liter aided by an electric motor, with no plug-in option mentioned) seems decidedly old-school, at a time when customers are abandoning the non-plug-in Toyota Prius for its plug-in Prius Prime sister.

Bart: so-so

I’m on board with Kriss on the Insight, I don’t really get what Honda’s after with this model. They already have the Clarity which has PHEV, EV and FCEV versions and is therefore the most futuristic model in the Honda line-up, also in terms of design. However,even with these cars Honda has been playing it safe in terms of technology and range. The new Insight is more “normal” with just a hybrid drivetrain and unexciting looks, and as Kriss said that may be a bit of a drawback if people want to show off their choice for a hybrid. Or, if that’s not Honda’s intent, then why not call this just the Civic hybrid? It obviously already shares that car’s bones and could lift on the strong recognition of the Civic name. Having said all that, I think it’s by a large margin the best looking of the three generations Insight, even though the somewhat serious and traditional front doesn’t really fit with the swoopy and almost coupe-like lines from the side and rear.



Infiniti Q Inspiration Concept

Bart: hot

Sexy! That’s the first thing that comes to mind when looking at the Q Inspiration for the first time. And every subsequent time. The future of the sports sedan won’t be death-by-crossover, if this is what it looks like. The long hood, swoopy lines, sharp lights and impressive grille give the car actually a pretty harmonious overall look. It won’t take much of work to turn this car into a production version, and the same goes for the powertrain. The Q Inspiration is powered by Infiniti’s VC-Turbo: the turbocharged petrol engine with the long-awaited and highly impressive Variable Compression technology that will debut in the QX50 this year. Of course it has autonomous driving tech on board, as it showcases what Infiniti is capable of. But I already know what they’re capable of, the real question is whether they’re capable of having the balls to let the next generation Q70 and Q50 share more than just a whiff of this car’s swoopy lines.

Kriss: so-so

Hmm, I don’t think I share Bart’s enthusiasm on this one. For starters, I don’t think the Q Inspiration Concept is that great-looking – sure, the rear is pretty nice in a “Audi A7 Mk II meets Porsche Panamera” kind of way, but the grille is awkward and the sides over-scalloped. But the bigger concern for me is that Infiniti has a history of presenting attractive concepts, only to turn them into slightly awkward production models (think Q60 Coupe) – not quite as bad as Subaru, but not far off. I want to believe that Infiniti will eventually get it right, and the Q Inspiration would be a very good place to start, but I will believe this one when I see it.



Lexus LF-1 Limitless

Kriss: so-so

OK, let me get this out of the way first – I really don’t like the grille on the LF-1 Limitless – it is gauche, oversized, and detracts hugely from the car. Look beyond it, though, (yes, I know that’s very hard), and the rest of the package looks rather intriguing. For starters, the proportions of the LF-1 are pretty great – a long hood, large “premium gap” (distance between front wheels and door opening), a cab-backward profile with a swoopy tail. The surface treatment (again, excluding the grille that extends into the hood) is very nice too, giving the model an upscale look. And this is probably the most intriguing aspect of the LF-1 for me: the production model it may foreshadow. If Lexus finally takes the plunge into developing a fully-electric model, the LF-1 would be a great way to do it – it would have the Tesla Model X licked for looks, and could be a great “crown jewel” for a brand that has lacked a proper one since the first generation LS sedan arrive in early 1990s.

Bart: not

I see where Kriss is coming from with his comments. My first reaction to the LF-1 Limitless was immediately one of disgust with that ridiculous grille that they really need to get rid of quickly. But Kriss’ words have inspired me to look further and indeed it has interesting features behind its fascia, but still not enough for me to grow to like it. It’s a much more realistic concept car than the UX concept of a year ago, especially the interior (though still very futuristic). Then again, I liked the proportions of the UX better with its shorter overhangs where the LF-1 is a bit too stretched for my liking, especially the rear overhang and the hood. And is Lexus bringing back the 1950s with its rear light wings? Though certainly original, I’m not convinced I find it very attractive. What I like a lot are the displays besides the dashboard that replace the wing mirrors as this is a very realistic solution that we should see become reality as soon as regulations allow it.



Nissan Xmotion

Bart: hot

Nissan has gone out of its way to tell us the Xmotion (Say: Cross Motion) is just a concept for design elements that will return in its future crossovers, and not a successor to the Xterra. On one hand that’s a shame, because I think there’s a market out there for a car like that, but on the other hand it’s good to see which direction Nissan is taking its next generation SUVs. I like what I’m seeing here, is what I mean. It has the same funky cool-factor that the Toyota FT-4X crossover from the NY Auto Show had. I like the grille design and hope this is one of the elements that hints at future production models, as it’s intimidating without the aggression of Lexus grilles, and the clean rear is attractive in its simplicity.

Kriss: hot

Unlike the Infiniti Q Inspiration, which I feel will be hard to translate into an attractive production car, the Nissan Xmotion has huge production potential IMO. The reason is that, while still very much a concept car, the Xmotion has a lot of strong details that should translate easily, like the bold grille, lights and air-intakes assembly, clean but strong side graphics, and funky details such as the wheel design, the indents above the door windows, or the wrap-around windscreen. If Nissan can find a business case for building a successor to the Xterra than I think the Xmotion is a great start.


Let us know what you thought of the Detroit debuts in the comments section and poll below:

Which concept car was the star of the Detroit Auto Show?

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