TCC's Best Cars—And Surprises—of the 2010 Detroit Auto Show

January 14, 2010

We're just back from the 2010 Detroit auto show and nursing our sore feet from several days of taking it all in at Detroit's Cobo Center. Taking a look back at the hurricane of posts on The Car Connection, along with our other core sites Motor Authority and Green Car Reports, we've picked just a few standouts. And with the ostentatious feel of past shows seemingly in a slumber this year again—and attendance way down, as this picture of the usually packed lower level of Cobo Arena looking sparse just moments before the global debut of the Focus helps emphasize—we're pleased to report to you more about the cars, less about the publicity stunts, the glitz, the glamor.

Without further ado, here are our quick picks, plus some surprises from the show floor:

2012 Ford Focus, at 2010 Detroit Auto Show

2012 Ford Focus, at 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Best Production Car: 2012 Ford Focus

The new Focus looks athletic, almost voluptuous, and features like a new direct-injection engine and twin-clutch automatic—even in the most affordable models—will likely put rival models to shame. So, likely will the Focus' much-improved fuel-economy—and the Web-capable MyFord system, which looks like it will remain a generation ahead of other media and calling interfaces and be available in the Focus at launch. Above all, the new Focus is a small car that doesn't look like an inexpensive car, appealing for many of the same ways that made the original Mazda3 so popular. Stay tuned in coming months as we hope for more up-close time with the Focus.

Audi e-tron Concept for 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Audi e-tron Concept for 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Best Concept Car: Audi E-tron

The new, smaller E-tron concept shown at Detroit made most of us who were there at the Audi stand swoon. It looks good in pictures, but they don't quite do it justice; in person, you'll notice a lot of nuanced surface work, along with details that give it a softer look to contrast with the aggressive front end. It's one of those cars that you'll keep wandering back to if you head to the public days at Detroit. Shorter than a Nissan 370Z, and about the same overall length as a Tesla Roadster, the little e-Tron has presence—and a twin-electric-motor and lithium-ion powertrain good for 124 mph and 0 to 60 in less than six seconds. We're crossing fingers for production; the E-tron is already rumored to call out the design direction for an Audi sports car a step smaller than the R8—an R4, perhaps?

Detroit Auto Show: Volkswagen New Compact Coupe (NCC) concept

Detroit Auto Show: Volkswagen New Compact Coupe (NCC) concept

Best Prototype: Volkswagen NCC

The very attractive, well-proportioned New Compact Coupe (NCC) concept that Volkswagen showed at Detroit (under the guidance of design chief Walter de Silva) was officially a concept; but it looked ready for production…and a bit like a smaller sibling of the Audi A5. VW also told us that the New Compact Coupe showcased a nearly production-caliber interior for the upcoming New Compact Sedan (Jetta) to debut later this year. We hope to see this coupe at dealerships soon—with a the hybrid system, of course.

Chrysler-branded Lancia Delta live at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Chrysler-branded Lancia Delta live at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Best Conversation Piece of Detroit: Chrysler-Branded Lancia Delta

It's not clear whether this Lancia Delta—almost completely unchanged but fitted with Chrysler badges—was intended to test the waters for the brand itself or to show a new direction for Chrysler as an expanded outlet for Lancia. With no press conferences at the Chrysler stand, and spokespeople tight-lipped on specifics, it was rolled out unceremoniously, along with an electric Fiat 500 that Chrysler could bring to the U.S. in addition to the gasoline 500 about a year from now.

2011 Ford Mustang GT

2011 Ford Mustang GT

2011 Ford Mustang BOSS 302R

2011 Ford Mustang BOSS 302R

Softest Muscle Car Rollout Ever: 2011 Ford Mustang GT and BOSS 302R

Ford decided not to give the new Ford Mustang GT, its all-new V-8 engine, or the Boss 302R racing model, any official time in the limelight—no heavy-metal music, no sounds of burnouts, no revving of the new V-8, even. In fact, the 302R didn't even make it to the show in time for the press days, with people on the Ford stand citing a "snag" (we couldn't find a better explanation). Perhaps it would have taken the fizz out of Ford's big announcement moving battery and hybrid-component production to Michigan? But if Ford wanted to keep the Mustangs on the down low, Michigan State Senate majority whip Jason Allen didn't allow us to completely forget about them, saying that everyone should "check out Mustang Alley over there, they're great cars, and that's how we roll here in Michigan."

2010 Detroit Auto Show

2010 Detroit Auto Show

BYD, at Detroit auto show

BYD, at Detroit auto show

Most Noticeable Change In Media Tenor: BYD stand

The seriousness with which journalists approached BYD's press conference this year was an about-face to last year's conference, where there was still more than a little snickering—even after BYD had moved up to the first floor of Cobo and gained Berkshire Hathaway as an investor. After all, just a year before that, BYD had displayed several of their Chinese-market cars that just didn’t seem ready for North America anytime soon. But the Warren Buffet factor—along with the company's 160-percent growth this past year in the Chinese market and plans for global expansion—have been impossible to ignore. It's true that, for the second year in a row, BYD claimed that it plans to bring its e6 EV to the U.S. by the end of the year. But eventually we predict they'll pull it off.

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