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The Best New Cars, Trucks, and Concepts From the Detroit Auto Show

From muscle cars and family crossovers to straight-out of sci-fi concept vehicles.  

The North American Auto Show has been held in Detroit each January since, roughly, the end of the last ice age. Luckily, starting in 2020, it will move to June; that time of year happens to be a lot more pleasant in Detroit. So sucking in the world’s media, who currently would rather put needles in their eyeballs than visit the Motor City in the dead of winter, will be easier. Also, even though a lot of people claim the traditional car show is dying, it’s dealers, not carmakers, who care about the shows.

Car shows are big festivals that celebrate the automobile, and they’re just about the only way their customers can cross-shop apples-to-apples family cars, sports cars, and electric vehicles under one roof. Sure, when everything drives itself in some utopian future, we won’t care. But that’s still a long way off. So as long as you still have to get to work, get the groceries, get the kids to school, to band/hockey/soccer/etc. practice, you need to care about what debuted in Detroit. Here are the standout rides of the show, from  muscle cars and family crossovers to straight-out of sci-fi concept vehicles.

Mustang Shelby GT500

Nobody needs more than 700 horsepower in a rear-wheel-drive car. Then again, when the muscle car wars were in their heyday in the early 1970s, getting 375hp from the Mustang Mach 1 was astounding. And that was from the equivalent of a seven-liter V-8; circa late 2019 the newest GT500 will rain down over 700 horses from a mere 5.2-liter V-8. This is all to do battle with the latest 650hp Camaro ZL1 and the Dodge Challenger Hellcat with 717hp. Ford’s basing the car on the strong platform of the GT350, which is good, because the GT350 actually handles decently, and to this point beasts like the Hellcat are basically only amazing in a straight line and a hot mess at the first apex.  On sale: Fall 2019. Price: Roughly $80,000.

Subaru STi S209

It’s highly unlikely that you will be lucky enough to own or drive one of these STi S209s. Subaru is only selling 200 of them in the U.S., and when supply is that tight, your chances of buying one evaporated nanoseconds after the car made its debut in Detroit. But we’ll tell you about the car regardless, because it’s very cool, and could foreshadow what Subaru does with their next WRX.

The STi pushes out 341 horsepower from the same 2.5-liter engine that’s in the stock STi include revising the turbo and the intake — minor mods any owner might do now. But in some ways we’re more interested in significant chassis tuning that stiffened the car and gave it a .6-inch wider stance. Subarus in this class have, especially of late, tended to feel under-gifted in the handling department. You can make one track ready and stiff as nails, but getting an STi that’s also pliable around town, like the very affordable, but also tight Honda Civic Type R? Good luck. So even though the S209 will be impossibly rare, it might signal the benchmark for the next-gen car when it hits the streets in 2021 or so. On sale: Late summer. Price: Roughly $60,000.

Nissan IMs Concept

Nissan was one of the first carmakers to get electric vehicles (EVs) into the mainstream, and recently announced you can get a Leaf e+ with 226 miles of range. Given that Leafs used to just offer about 80 miles of range, that’s impressive. Yet Nissan, like Chevy with its Bolt, has yet to expand into multiple EV offerings.

The IMs showcases the start of that effort, and this crossover concept boasts some pretty impressive stats. Nissan’s suggesting a very specific, 380 miles of range, as well as precisely 483 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque from dual motors, one at each axle, for all-wheel drive. There are other aspects of the concept that are more fanciful, such as suicide doors with no center pillar to the roof, and of course it’s meant to have an autonomous mode and rolls on 22-inch wheels. Scrap all the latter, debut an EV crossover for five passengers with AWD and this much range, and you’d have a serious hit. Especially at a Nissan-ish price. The catch: You’re going to have to wait about two years to see this revolution get started.

Ram Heavy Duty

Much like not “needing” north of 700 horsepower from your Mustang GT500, the argument for “needing” to be able to tow an object that weighs 35,100 pounds is negligible. But the new Ram Heavy Duty can do that, and boasts an absurd 6,570-pound payload. More pedestrian Ram 1500s ride on an independent suspension, and it’s the best-riding pickup on the market.

But you need a lot more stiffness to handle the amount of work the kind of which the Heavy Duty is capable, so it gets leaf springs out back. It also gets airbags, which is good, because it means when you’re not hauling solid lead around just for fun the Heavy Duty will ride a lot more smoothly. It also gets a sleeker nose, which matters a lot because trucks can scream with excess wind noise, and a brace of interior tech. We’ve loved Rams because while they give you great infotainment options and the instrumentation is very straightforward. That’s still true, and preferable in case you want to change the radio station or answer a phone call while towing the Titanic. On Sale: Summer. Price: Roughly $60,000

Kia Telluride

Kia, we hardly knew ya? Kia’s going considerably upscale in the looks of its new Telluride and if first impressions count, this eight-passenger crossover is going to be a serious hit.

For starters, it’s beautiful inside, with optional heated and cooled leather seats for the first two rows, and very slick cockpit design that reminds us of Mercedes. Parent-centric features include an optional intercom system to speak to kids in the second- and third rows via a built-in microphone for the driver, and audio output only to the front row, since said kids will likely be looking/listening to their own devices out back.

Kia’s also baked in a lot of safety systems we like, including more standard ones, like automatic emergency braking, and less standard ones, such as a feature that reads the road behind your car and makes sure it’s clear for a passenger to open their door. If there’s a car approaching, the Telluride keeps the door locked until the passage is clear. With just shy of 300hp from its V-6, the Telluride balances potency with likely reasonable fuel economy. If everything else is as good as it looks, Kia’s created a pretty serious winner. On Sale: Mid-2019. Price: Roughly $42,000.

2020 Toyota Supra

You’ve likely only “driven” past Supras in video games. However, you were lucky enough to drive an actual one, you’d know the two-seaters for their combination of livability for commuting, with a reasonably forgiving ride, yet tremendous capability when the road opened up.  The rebooted Supra, we hope, has all of that goodness. Mind you, the basic bones of the car are shared with BMW, because Toyota and BMW partnered on development, with BMW getting a new convertible Z4 out of the project. Toyota sticks with a metal roof for their version of the rear-wheel-drive sports car, yet get a German-made, turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine with 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque.

What’s very Toyota, they’re saying, was chassis development, so we hope that means it will have the same flexible character of 1990s Supras. One good “tell” is that the 2020 car is actually lighter weight than some of its 1990s cousins, and that’s excellent, because if you’re a fan of smaller sporty cars (think Miata or Lotus), you know that the enemy of staying fun is weight. One bummer is that at least at first the only transmission is a clutchless auto with paddle shift. Then again, given the state of America’s traffic, and the fact that this is the default of even Porsches these days, that’s hardly the end of the world. More two-seat, rear-wheel-drive sports cars? That’s a net positive in our book.  On sale: Late 2019. Price: $49,990

2020 CADILLAC XT6

Here are a few unsexy as well as sexy things that make Cadillac’s newest crossover a smart play for the upscale parenting crowd. One, it gets a relatively tall roof, and larger “greenhouse” (a.k.a., bigger windows) than is common in this segment. That means you have a smaller blind spot than in most SUV beasts, and that makes parking and passing a lot safer. Also: More outward visibility means your children will feel less carsick. Note that this isn’t the titanic truck that Cadillac sells in the form of an Escalade, even though it can carry seven passengers. And it’s not meant to be, because Cadillac is pushing agility as well as utility with the XT6, so it will drive a lot more like a car. And the 310hp V-6 will offer plenty of punch, but won’t gulp gas like that ’Sclade’s V-8. On sale: Late 2019. Price: Starting at roughly $46,000.

2022 Cadillac EV

GM also revealed a future car that’s, to be honest, late to the party. While GM’s electric Bolt was if anything, an early EV entry to rival Tesla’s just-out Model 3 sedan, the crossover EV concept that Cadillac just showed should have debuted two years ago. That’s because all its rivals (Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes, BMW) already have a five-passenger electric on the road or are about to.

Concepts tend to lag actual production by at least two years, so Caddy’s behind the curve. Sure, GM says this new architecture is better than what debuted beneath the brilliant Bolt, because it’s modular, meaning it can run as AWD, front- or rear-wheel drive, but unlike, say, Toyota, which successfully created an entire Prius brand, Chevy’s yet to do the same with the Bolt. It’s incredibly important that GM nails this, as it is for all carmakers (see Nissan’s IMs EV in this feature), it’s just odd that their strategy seems less consistent than rivals.

2020 FORD EXPLORER ST

So you need a three-row crossover but you still have a soul? Here’s the ticket, the hot version of the all-new Explorer. Importantly, the latest Explorer isn’t the truck-based beast of yore. This eight-passenger family cart is on a car-based chassis and comes in either rear- or AWD. It’s sure to handle much like so many other crossovers out there today that are, likewise, not on truck chassis. (Aside: Car chassis SUVs drive like sedans rather the trucks for this reason, and unless you need to tow a motor home, are far more preferable.)

The deal with the ST version is it gets a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 good for a muscular 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque, and an ultra-smooth shifting 10-speed automatic you may have experienced in the excellent F-150. Top speed, should you need to run from the federales on your next grocery fetching run, is 143mph. While it comes with a specially tuned suspension, you can even get yours with a unique Track Pack, which promises likely enlarged brakes and we’re betting wider rubber. Since Jeep makes such tunes for its Grand Cherokee and they sell exceptionally well, this was a very wise play by Ford. On sale: Summer. Price: Starting at roughly $55,000.