Philip King: high­lights from the Detroit mo­toror show­show.

There were sev­eral bright spots at the Detroit show­case, de­spite a sur­pris­ing num­ber of ab­sen­tees

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - PHILIP KING Mo­tor­ing editor

The an­nual cur­tain-raiser for the global car in­dus­try, the Detroit mo­tor show is rightly re­garded as one of the year’s premier events and, af­ter suf­fer­ing a few woe­ful years in the wake of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, has grad­u­ally re­cov­ered its mojo in lock­step with the US re­cov­ery.

This time the eco­nomic set­tings could scarcely be bet­ter. US ve­hi­cle sales rose 6 per cent last year to hit 17.5 mil­lion — a level un­seen since a decade ago. Home-grown brands Jeep and GMC were among the stand­outs. Lo­cally made pick­ups, led by Ford’s F150, took out the top three spots in the best­seller charts and on th­ese big ve­hi­cles car­mak­ers en­joy big mar­gins. One rea­son for the pickup boom is cheap fuel, with oil dip­ping below $US30 a bar­rel as the show opened.

At the other end of the mar­ket, many lux­ury im­porters cel­e­brated record years, with Land Rover, Volvo and Audi en­joy­ing the big­gest gains. But it was an oddly sub­dued Detroit show this year, with many ab­sen­tees, es­pe­cially among pre­mium brands, while many that did at­tend had lit­tle to say. It sig­ni­fied an in­dus­try catch­ing its breath af­ter a postGFC dash, with prod­ucts mid-cy­cle and hands de­clared.

The lack of brands such as Land Rover and Mini is more sur­pris­ing than the ab­sence of top-tier play­ers such as Maserati and Fer­rari, which tend to be selec­tive about when they at­tend. Some, like Bent­ley and Rolls, are nurs­ing wounds from the col­lapse in top-tier Chi­nese de­mand. Last year, Rolls sales in China were cut in half.

Of course one im­porter, Volk­swa­gen, had no choice but to turn up and face the mu­sic af­ter be­ing caught cheat­ing on emis­sions tests. US jour­nal­ists were keen to wit­ness con­tri­tion — Golf won North Amer­i­can Car of the Year last year, af­ter all — and that led to an awk­ward mo­ment in a me­dia scrum for Volk­swa­gen chief Matthias Mueller when he was con­fronted by a doubter and the ex­change was cap­tured by tele­vi­sion cam­eras.

Volk­swa­gen be­lieves a demon­stra­ble com­mit­ment to al­ter­na­tive fu­els is part of the an­swer. It showed a plug-in hy­brid ver­sion of its Tiguan SUV and an elec­tric Kombi con­cept, fresh from the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Ve­gas. Ev­ery­one loves a Kombi, right?

An­other part of Volk­swa­gen’s strat­egy was cold, hard cash. “We want to make this right in the Amer­i­can way. We’ll do ev­ery­thing in our power to make it right, to re­gain your trust,” said Volk­swa­gen

US boss Michael Horn as he an­nounced an ex­ten­sion to the $500 hand­out to af­fected own­ers.

Volk­swa­gen sales fell 5 per cent state­side last year but its brand Audi dodged the fall­out, with sales up 11 per cent. Still, it had an al­ter­na­tive driv­e­line con­cept to re­veal, just in case. The H-tron Quat­tro, a com­pan­ion ve­hi­cle to the pure elec­tric E-tron Quat­tro un­veiled in Frank­furt a few months ago, is a zero-emis­sion SUV pow­ered by hy­dro­gen fuel cells and a bat­tery. The strik­ing de­sign pre­views an even­tual Q6 pro­duc­tion model.

Porsche was an­other Volk­swa­gen group mem­ber with some­thing to cel­e­brate. Its US sales rose 10 per cent in 2015, mainly thanks to its Ma­can SUV. Nev­er­the­less, the US re­mains a vi­tal mar­ket for the 911 sports car and Porsche rolled out a re­freshed 911 Turbo, as both coupe and cabri­o­let. This pin­na­cle 911 can now reach 100km/h in less than 3 sec­onds and is more fuel ef­fi­cient de­spite adding power. Here, the range starts at $384,900. Don’t Google US prices, it will make you weep.

Im­ported coupes and con­vert­ibles were plen­ti­ful at the show. BMW took the wraps off its first M2, a car that em­bod­ies the spirit of its fa­mous 2002 from the 1970s, it says. It also re­minds buy­ers that just be­cause it’s mak­ing front-wheel drive mummy-mo­biles now, in its cen­te­nary year it hasn’t for­got­ten its roots. The M2 ar­rives here next quar­ter, start­ing from $89,900.

BMW also showed an M Per­for­mance ver­sion of its racy X4 SUV, the X4 M40, al­though Aus­tralia will miss out on this one.

Mean­while, Mercedes rolled out a re­freshed SLK, its small con­vert­ible now dubbed SLC, and the most ex­pen­sive car you’ll be able to buy with a three-pointed star: the S65 Cabrio, with a tur­bocharged V12 and a price well above half a mil­lion when it ar­rives late this year.

Less glam­orous but more vi­tal to Mercedes prospects was its new E-Class lux­ury sedan, with cut­ting-edge au­ton­o­mous driv­ing ca­pa­bil­ity that means it can steer it­self for up to a minute. It ar­rives midyear and starts from $80,000.

Other coupes put the fin­ish­ing touches to con­cepts un­veiled pre­vi­ously at Detroit. They in­cluded the In­finiti Q60, a two-door ver­sion of the its main­stay Q50 sedan, and the Lexus LC 500, which ap­peared in con­cept form fully three years ago and re­mains at least an­other year from launch. Un­der the bon­net is the brand’s long-serv­ing 5.0litre V8 and Lexus says the LC 500 is its most dy­namic car since the LFA — a one-off supercar that in ret­ro­spect set the bar a lit­tle too high for sub­se­quent mod­els.

One sur­prise came from Gen­eral Mo­tors brand Buick, which turned up with an at­trac­tive coupe called Avista, with a clear lin­eage to its Avenir con­cept from last year. That was a prod­uct of Holden’s de­sign stu­dio in Mel­bourne and if Avista ever gets made, it would be a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to the Monaro.

Un­like last year, when Ford stole the show with its spec­tac­u­lar GT supercar, it was dif­fi­cult to pick a stand­out this year, with con­tenders in­clud­ing the Buick Avista, Lexus LC 500 and a stun­ning con­cept called Pre­ci­sion from Honda’s pre­mium divi­sion Acura.

How­ever, I couldn’t help but ad­mire Volvo’s S90 large sedan for its qui­etly as­sertive Swedish­ness. Shar­ing many com­po­nents with the XC90 large SUV, which was anointed North Amer­i­can Truck of the Year, it’s the se­cond in a wave of fresh prod­uct from the Swede and a con­fi­dent ex­pres­sion of the na­tion’s aes­thetic val­ues, beau­ti­fully ren­dered down to its Thor’s-ham­mer headlights.

Volvo was cel­e­brat­ing the most pro­duc­tive year in its nine-decade his­tory af­ter sell­ing more than 500,000 ve­hi­cles for the first time, al­though you wouldn’t know it from the stage de­liv­ery of Hakan Sa­muels­son, whose dead­pan speech seemed per­fectly matched to the mood of the show.

AUDI H-TRON QUAT­TRO CON­CEPT

What is it? A large hy­dro­gen-pow­ered fourseater SUV with racy mod­ern de­sign. A study for an even­tual Q6 based on Q7 un­der­pin­nings.

Driv­e­line Two elec­tric mo­tors, one at the front and one at the rear, pow­ered by a 110kW hy­dro­gen fuel cell boosted by 100kW from a bat­tery when re­quired.

Pluses Zero emis­sions and a 600km range when all three hy­dro­gen tanks are full. It re­fu­els in just four min­utes and takes less than seven sec­onds to hit 100kmh.

BUICK AVISTA

What is it? A 2+2 grand tour­ing coupe heav­ily in­flu­enced by the Holden-de­signed Avenir sedan con­cept from Detroit last year.

Driv­e­line Tur­bocharged 3.0-litre V6 driv­ing the rear wheels via an eight-speed au­to­matic.

Pluses A Buick with real vis­ual ap­peal that tran­scends the US. If it ever gets made it would be an ideal per­for­mance car for Holden, suit­ably re­badged.

PORSCHE 911 TURBO

What is it? The lat­est ver­sion of Porsche’s pin­na­cle 911, with more power but im­proved ef­fi­ciency.

Driv­e­line Tur­bocharged 3.8-litre flat-six cylin­der in two states of tune: 397kW and 427kW. All-wheel drive.

Pluses Vis­ual changes are sub­tle but ef­fec­tive. Tech­nol­ogy up­dates in­clude an new in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. Fastest Turbo can hit 100km/h in 2.9 sec­onds.

MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS

What is it? The tenth gen­er­a­tion of Mercedes’ large lux­ury sedan adopts the styling of the larger S and smaller C.

Driv­e­line Range of four and six-cylin­der petrol and diesel en­gines, in­clud­ing the first in a new fam­ily of diesel units and a plug-in hy­brid.

Pluses It lifts the bar on au­ton­o­mous driv­ing with the abil­ity to over­take and nav­i­gate with­out lane mark­ings. De­buts smart­phone-style wheel con­trols.

VOLVO S90

What is it? A large sedan that’s the se­cond car in a wave of fresh prod­ucts from Volvo, fol­low­ing last year’s

XC90 SUV.

Driv­e­line Four-cylin­der petrol or diesel en­gines us­ing forced in­duc­tion, plus a plug-in hy­brid.

Pluses

Au­then­tic and per­sua­sive state­ment of Scan­di­na­vian de­sign of­fers some­thing dif­fer­ent from the generic Ger­mans.

LEXUS LC 500

What is it? The pro­duc­tion ver­sion of a 2+2 per­for­mance coupe that ap­peared three years ago as a con­cept.

Driv­e­line A nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 351kW 5.0-litre V8 driv­ing the rear wheels via the in­dus­try’s first 10-speed au­to­matic.

Pluses It’s built on a new plat­form and pro­duc­tion be­gins next year. The LC 500 has been con­firmed for Aus­tralia.

BMW M2

What is it? A small per­for­mance coupe in the best BMW tra­di­tion.

Driv­e­line A new 272kW tur­bocharged 3.0-litre straight-six en­gine driv­ing the rear wheels via a six-speed man­ual or seven-speed dou­ble-clutch au­to­matic.

Pluses Zero to 100km/h in 4.3 sec­onds and dy­nam­ics to match, with the front and rear axles from the M3/M4 and a rear diff. Start­ing price $89,900, it ar­rives next quar­ter.

IN­FINITI Q60

What is it? A two-door coupe com­pan­ion car to the Q50 mid­size sedan from Nis­san’s pre­mium divi­sion.

Driv­e­line Tur­bocharged four-cylin­ders or V6s, with rear-drive stan­dard but all-wheel drive an op­tion across the range.

Pluses It’s a “dar­ing vis­ual state­ment”, ac­cord­ing to Nis­san boss Car­los Ghosn, which “re­in­forces In­finiti’s rep­u­ta­tion for per­for­mance”.

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