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NAIAS: Big Mouth Styling Comes To Detroit

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On: Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 1:41PM | By: John Welch

NAIAS: Big Mouth Styling Comes To Detroit

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Mitsubishi's open nostriled schnoz or Audi's? One could argue that Aston Martin, or even Rolls Royce started this trend. I wanted to write a no-nonsense info article about all the new fangled curiosities circling the floor of the COBO Center, but after seeing my subjects lined up next to each other, I am unable to shake the creeping fear that gaping grilles are 'in' and here to stay.

Off the top of my head I can think of no less than nine new models or concept cars that are sporting rhinoplasty. The Chrysler 300, Ford C-Max, Ford Vertek, Mini Paceman, Honda Civic, Hyundai Curb, Toyota Prius C, The Mercedes SLS E-Cell (but all SLS models count), and the Chevy Sonic all feature grille work that is large, wide and ornamental. Not to mention the Audi A6 and all of its variants as well as the E-Tron. Granted, most of these examples are evolutions of previous design themes, but they were less exaggerated in their original flavors. These are the hood ornaments of the 21st Century, if you will.

The 2011 NAIAS played host to a smorgasbord of new technology, concept weirdness, and delightful presentations, but I was too busy staring at gorgeous, hook-nose free debutantes, such as the Porsche 918 RSR (they've riced it out already?!) and Cadillac CTS-V Coupe SCCA. Expect full write ups on both cars. We will feature coverage arranged by region throughout the week, but for now let's explore the besnouted new concepts and models on the NAIAS floor.

Chopping the show's exhibitors up into regions has proven itself to be an efficient way to go about auto show coverage; love it or hate, that's what we're gonna do. Being the Homers we are, our first stop is North America.


The big news for Chevy, of course, is the new Deawoo Aveo . . ahhggk** . . Chevy Sonic. A smart looking little hatchback or four door sedan (the latter being a bit slab sided; the look has grown on me) which features a stretched version of the previous Aveo's Audi-aping grille. Combined with large, ovoid headlamps this is one of the more attractive takes on the popular styling trend. The interior has a motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster, upmarket materials, and stylish shapes. There are now-requisite vertical a/c vents, another auto trend to be discussed later. Another Sonic positive, it will be built at GM's Orion Assembly Center, in MIchigan, making it the only small car produced in the US.

One unsettling component in the Sonic recipe is its Cruze-derived powertrain. Just like the Cruze, there are two small, DOHC four cylinder options, and, just like the Cruze, they make absolutely no sense. You can choose from a 1.8 liter mill or what seems t be the obvious choice for the modern driver, a 1.4 liter turbo. The problem is, their power outputs are nearly identical. The larger, naturally aspirated engine churns out 135 bhp, as opposed to the turbo's 138. It is also significantly cheaper to buy and operate. The 1.4's turbo is cast into it's exhaust manifold, ala Neon SRT-4, which centralizes mass and lowers complexity, but makes engine modification a nightmare. Also, the bottom ends of both engines are wrapped in pre-war iron blocks. Iron blocks?! If the turbo made 170 or more horsepower then maybe a iron block would be beneficial, but in their current spec an iron block is just plain cheesy. And obviously cheap. This car really must be built in the land of pushrods and throttle body injection.


Building on the success of models like the LaCrosse and Regal, Buick is jumping into the small car market with its own Cruze-platformed contender, the Verano. A spacious (for its class) interior similar to other Buick products belies the Verano's bargain bin size, unfortunately its tepid acceleration is nothing to write home about. A 2.4 liter Ecotech four mated to a six-speed autobox delivers 0-60 runs of 8.0 seconds, not exactly lightning quick. The Verano will get a 2.0 liter turbo in the future (255 bhp might make this car a winner), but for now it is relegated to granny grocery getting. Hey, if it works for Lexus . . . (sic).


I have always despised Chrysler products. I'm not sure why. The consistent interior rattles, maybe? Crappy paint work? Cracker Jack dash materials? Poor acceleration, gas mileage, and brand cache, perhaps? Whatever the reason, Chryslers have been garbage for a very long time. Sergio Marchionne doesn't think they have to be. The Fiat chaiman has injected a serious dose of cash in Chrysler and the new products show it. Are they good, or just good for Chryslers? A picture says a thousand words, and to me, those words are various grunts and whistles. Every Chrysler interior is much improved, from the new Chrysler 300 to the old Dodge Journey. My apprehension comes from the moderate exterior updates that accompany these slick cockpits. Chrysler brought a 70th Anniversary Jeep Grand Cherokee to NAIAS, but this is a trim package and the improved Jeep has been covered. Let's look at two products that cause much trepidation: the Chrysler 200 and 300.

The 200 looks, well, like a Sebring. Headlights lifted from the Ford Focus do not a winner make. Look at the body, it's a Sebring. How do they think they're going to be able to pawn this car off on a suspicious car buying public?! Very simply, the PentaStar V6. 283 bhp will go a long way to improve a cars desirability, and, frankly, if it goes like stink then it will sell like hotcakes. Use any cliche you'd like, power is the best marketing device, and the 200 has power in spades. Interior details are still sparse, but the updated sheetmetal (the hind-end treatment is almost attractive) and the intoxicating power should help move plenty of Chrysler 200s.

The 300 doesn't seem to have changed much. It's gotten uglier, if that is possible. Squinty head lights and a toned-down grille signify that this, ladies and gentlemen, is the new Buick. Yuk, who cares? Not I, not I . . . save 6 grand and buy a Charger.


Hot on the heels of the GMC Granite Concept, here comes the GMC All Terrain, a heavy duty take on the Ford Raptor theme. Daddy likey. Less radical and possibly more useful than a Ford Raptor, the All Terrain HD packs Duramax power along with all of the styling cues you would expect from a faux-Drakar monster. That means menacing, cut back fenders, and the ability to pull stumps, a trick the Raptor is not capable of. In our world of traffic congestion and speed cameras, who needs a truck that can cruise at 120, anyway? Not that the All Terrain can't do that, it can, it's just that it can also demo a house or pull out a stuck mud truck or tow a herd of cattle. The interior is tame by the standards of the exterior, with a few minor trim pieces added to the already confortable GMT900 cabin. Production likeihood? Say 75%, we will wait with bated breath.


Continuing with the schnoz-happy styling imputus, Ford presents the Focus-based C-Max, a small people carrier in the vein of the Mazda5 or Kia Rondo. These interesting little vanlettes have been on my radar for a while. Anyone who's paying attention will remember Car and Driver's project Mazda5. By slipping the 2.3 liter turbo mill from a MazdaSpeed 3 under the 5's bonnet, C&D was able to create the ultimate useful sleeper. And it was good looking too.

The C-Max hits all the right notes for its class; size and space are perfect and ride height is just right. The best part: Ford does the turbocharging for you. Carrying a 1.6 liter EcoBoost four, the C-Max boasts impressive power from a small package. Unlike the GM turbo mentioned above, this is an all-aluminum motor with a turbo that can be serviced without removing the entire front clip. Up to seven passengers can travel in big-mouthed style inside the C-Max, and there are more efficient choices coming. The Hybrid C-Max Energie is just as attractive and may get phenominal mileage.

The Ford Vertek is a promising Crossover, similar to the GMC Granite. Not ready for production but damn close, the Vertek might replace the extremly boring Escape, also equipped with EcoBoost power and a slick piece of glass that spans the windshield and rear hatch.

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