2017 North America International Auto Show Part 1

If there’s one thing automotive journalists don’t like, it’s the Detroit Auto Show—or as it’s officially known, the North American International Auto Show. Not that there’s anything wrong with the show. It’s just that Michigan in January can be an inhospitable place meteorologically. Bitter cold, snow, freezing rain, and a view of ice floes on the Detroit River.

Fortunately, it’s warm inside the Cobo Center, where the NAIAS is held, and the show always has interesting and important debuts. The 2017 North American International Auto Show was not different, with first looks at new production models—some that won’t be available until next fall—and concept vehicles that won’t be available as something you can drive for even longer. Here’s the first batch of what we saw in Detroit:

2018 Lexus LS

Remember how revolutionary Lexus was when debuted 27 years ago…or how, to those who weren’t around then, how mundane that first Lexus looks now? As revolutionary as the idea of a luxury car from Japan was then, the world premiere of the fifth generation of Lexus LS takes another huge step forward today. Rather than the blocky three-box sedan of yore, the new 2018 Lexus LS wraps luxury in a coupe-like profile, a new statement for Lexus. Less obvious to the casual observer, the LS rides an all new platform, dubbed Global Architecture-Luxury, that will be shared with future Lexus products, including the Lexus LC 500 luxury coupe. Power for the LS500 is all-new, a twin-turbo V-6 rated at 415 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque, and with a new 10-speed automatic transmission, capable of launching the LS500 from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. Those numbers were once reserved for performance cars, not luxury sedans with 28-way adjustable driver’s seat and heated/cooling/reclining back seats. The new LS is bigger, its wheelbase growing by 1.3 inches for more room inside, combining with greater width for more elbow room and better handling. And of course it has a bigger, more dramatic Lexus spindle grill. But exciting? We’ll tell you when we drive it. It arrives in May.

2018 Lexus LS NAIAS

The next-generation Lexus LS sports an even bigger spindle grille than before.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

Volkswagen introduced its new made-for-America Tiguan long-wheelbase crossover SUV. It’s new, not a stretched version of the current Tiguan. The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is based on VW’s new Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) transverse-engine vehicle architecture, and although it’s called the long wheelbase Tiguan, it’s the only one you’ll be able to buy here. The regular length Tiguan will be sold in Europe but not in the U.S. That leaves us with a bigger Tiguan, with ostensibly three rows (standard with front-wheel drive, optional on all-wheel drivers): It’s only 10.7 inches longer than the outgoing Tiguan, so there won’t be real adult-sized room in the way-back. Power will come from VW’s 2.0-liter direct-injection inline-four that’s down 16 horses from its predecessor but with 14 lb-ft of torque more, or specifically 184 horses and 221 lb-ft.  We’ll expect better fuel economy and performance from the new numbers. The new Volkswagen Tiguan’s cabin’s a tech rich place if you spend for it, including Fender audio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink. With the extra length, however, and the new full-size Volkswagen Atlas SUV, what happens to the caught-in-the-middle Taureg? Goodbye.

NAIAS Volkswagen Tiguan

The Volkswagen Tiguan grows, not only longer but adding an optional third row seating.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept

Volkswagen is teasing us with a microbus again. This time it’s called the I.D. Buzz and like every other microbus we’ve seen since original’s demise, it’s a concept vehicle. But this concept shows not only the shape of things to come but also how those shapes will be moved. And according to Volkswagen, that will be by electricity. Volkswagen plans its first full battery electric in 2020, and hopes to sell a million electric vehicles by 2015. VW showed the I.D. all-electric sedan concept at  the Paris auto show this fall, and the I.D. Buzz shares the same platform (called Modular Electric Drive Kit, or MEB), with a lithium-ion battery running under the full length of the floor. The Buzz has two electric motors providing all-wheel drive. Total output is rated at 369 horsepower with a range of 270 miles. Like the original Microbus, the Buzz is a master of space utilization, with seating for up to eight in a footprint the size of a Passat. Anticipating autonomous operation, the front seats can swivel for easy conversation between the front and rear seats (always a good auto show staple). But will the I.D. Buzz become hardware of remain autoshow vaporwear. Tune in in 2020 to find out.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept

With the Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept, VW promises us a Microbus…perhaps…but electric this time.

2018 BMW 5-Series

Like the heroic movie scores by John Williams, BMWs are familiar yet individually distinctive, automotive versions of the music from Star Wars, Superman and the Olympic Overture. And now comes the all-new 2017 BMW 5-Series. BMW introduced three versions of its mid-size sedans at Detroit, the 2017 BMW 540i, and the first-ever BMW M550i xDrive, and BMW 530e iPerformance. Although dedicated followers of the brand will recognize the nomenclature, the 530i will be powered by 248-horse 2.0-liter four, 540i has the BMW 3.0-liter inline six making 335 horsepower with either rear-wheel or X-Drive all-wheel drive. The M550i xDrive is powered by a 456-horse V-8 with an 8-speed automatic transmission, a luxury sedan that can go 0-60 mph in 4.0 seconds. The 530e iPerformance, as its name suggests, is a plug-in hybrid with electric drive and a four-cylinder gasoline engine for a combined 248 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. BMW says it will go 0-60 in 6.2 seconds, and for local commuters, the 530e will go up to 15 miles in pure electric mode. BMW brags that the new 5-Series will have “the most advanced personal driver connectivity available, with features including optional Gesture Control.” We understand that’s not a road rage control device. The BMW 5-Series arrives in dealerships in February, with the M550i xDrive and 530e iPerformance available later in the spring.

2018 BMW M550i xDrive

The first-ever BMW M550i xDrive, shown here in Euro trim and obviously not at the auto show.

Nissan vMotion 2.0 concept

We love outrageous concept cars, those raw styling exercises fueled by pure emotion. Which is to say: Nissan vMotion 2.0 concept, yes. Nissan says the concept “signals the company’s future sedan design direction,” although the protuberant prow vMotion 2.0 will surely be blunted by the time it reaches production, and yes, the bodyside contours look like we’ve seen them before. Right, Dodge Charger? But what Nissan designers call “emotional geometry” and “gliding wing design theme” should translate well into production. Beyond the pretty face, the vMotion 2.0 hints—well, shouts—future smarts. Although there’s some gimmickry—the Nissan nose badge glows when the car is in semi-autonomous ProPILOT mode—the vMotion 2.0 promises not so much full self-driving but rather “autonomous driving support technology on urban roads and at intersections.” We don’t have to get to full autonomous in one giant step, friends.

NAIAS Nissan vMotion 2.0 concept

Nissan says the vMotion 2.0 concept shows where the brand design is heading.

2018 Toyota Camry

The Toyota Camry has been the top selling car in America for the past 15 years, and they certainly don’t want to mess with success. On the other hand, time—and the competition—marches on, so the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry is new to the bones, built on the Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA, and while the basics are similar, the 2018 Camry gets a lower profile with a dramatically more coupe-like roofline and of course, more drama for the grille. Engines are new, too, including a new 3.5-liter V6, and a new 2.5-liter inline-4 gasoline engine matched to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. The Camry Hybrid returns with, yes, a next-generation Toyota Hybrid System (THS II). Toyota bows to conventionality with simulated six-speed shifting in sport mode for the Hybrid. The Camry gets a new double wishbone rear suspension, and  Toyota engineers also worked at a sportier driving feel—with performance-driving enthusiast Akio Toyoda (and Toyota CEO) as the judge—and we’ll tell you if they succeeded when, yes, we get to drive it. It arrives late summer 2017.

AkioToyoda with the 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Toyota CEO AkioToyoda introducing the 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid, one of three trim levels shown.