The 10 Best of Detroits Past
It’s the beginning of January, and that can mean only one fantastic thing: the 2014 North American International Auto Show is right around the corner. While kids all over the world were sitting up last month waiting for Santa, we were sleeping soundly, knowing Santa probably didn’t have the ability to bring us the things on our wish list.
My, how the tables have turned. Now we’re the sleepless ones, waiting impatiently for Detroit’s auto show to kick off Monday (for the press, at least—the general public can’t go until next Saturday). This year looks to be a particularly promising one, with cars like the 2015 Subaru WRX STi, 2015 GMC Canyon and 2015 Lexus RC F set to make their debuts. We could go on for hours about what we’re excited to see in Detroit this year, but we thought it would be more fun to take a look back at our favorite cars that had their big coming-out parties at the North American International Auto Show in years past. (Don’t worry—we’ll have plenty to say about the 2014 show in a few days.)
10. Back in the ’90s, Saab made the decision to drastically improve its aging 900. What it came up with was the 1999 Saab 9-3, unveiled at the 1998 North American International Auto Show. A subsidiary of General Motors at the time, the famed Swedish automaker had an instant hit when the first 9-3 crossed the stage in Detroit. The car went on sale later that year, earning a Top Ten rating from Fortune and gaining many new Saab loyalists along the way. After more than a decade of sales, production halted in 2012, following Saab’s 2011 bankruptcy. Fortunately, under the ownership of National Electric Vehicle Sweden, the 9-3 is back in production as a 2014 model (although not available in the U.S.) and is currently the only vehicle in Saab’s lineup. Here’s to Saab’s return and hoping we see a third-generation 9-3 in Detroit in the future.
9. Unlike the 9-3, it looks like our next pick really has hit the end of the line: the Toyota FJ Cruiser. Unveiled at the 2005 show and put into production for the 2006 model year, the FJ Cruiser has earned a reputation for pure off-road prowess. Capable of fording over 27 inches of water and approaching obstacles at a 34-degree angle, the FJ Cruiser is one of the best off-roaders out there. What we really love about the FJ Cruiser, though, is what it symbolizes. At a time when everyone else was concerned with fuel economy and practicality, Toyota took a chance on a vehicle meant for nothing other than off-road fun. This approach worked at first—early sales numbers were through the roof. With time, however, FJ Cruiser sales began to fall. If you want a new FJ Cruiser you’d better hurry up, as 2014 will be the car’s last year.
8. It’s pretty amazing how much pickup trucks have changed since the North American International Auto Show started in 1989 (if you don’t believe us, wait until the 2015 Ford F-150 debuts on Monday). In 25 years they’ve changed from being strictly utilitarian work vehicles to daily commuters and even luxury cars. One truck that has led the charge to modernize pickups is the Ram 1500. The current model, introduced at the 2008 show as the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 (Ram would become its own brand the next year), has pushed the limits of what a pickup truck can be, in a good way. With innovations like the RamBox Cargo Management System and adjustable ride height, the Ram 1500 has brought both more utility and greater comfort to pickup trucks. We can’t wait to see what Ram comes up with next.
7. In 2011, Chrysler rolled out a much-needed update to its flagship Chrysler 300. The result was nothing short of awesome. While the original 300, launched in 2004, was a capable car, the 2011 redesign was a vast improvement. Chrysler dumped the smaller engines of the first generation and added a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (and kept the 5.7-liter Hemi V8). Additionally, the body was completely redesigned and the interior redone with higher-grade materials. While the first-generation 300 looked good, the second generation looks great, feels great and drives great. If Chrysler continues in the same direction, we’re in favor of seeing more cars imported from Detroit.
6. Also unveiled at the 2011 show was the 2012 Hyundai Veloster. A quirky car by any measure, the Veloster grabbed our attention and never let go. The most visible feature of the Veloster is its odd 3-door configuration, with a longer door on the driver’s side and 2 shorter doors on the passenger side. Whether or not you like its unique looks, there’s no denying the Veloster is fun to drive. Equipped with an inline 4-cylinder pushing out 138 hp and a 6-speed manual standard, the Veloster performs well in its base form. That being said, if you upgrade to the Veloster Turbo, power gets bumped up to 201 hp, making the Veloster Turbo one of the most enjoyable cars on the road today.
5. Next on our list is a Swedish car born in Detroit: the Volvo XC90. Unveiled in 2002 for the 2003 model year, the XC90 has become a staple here in New England, mostly due to a mix of its superb safety record and ability to handle whatever winter throws at it with ease. The XC90 is large and comfortable, with plenty of room and a low center of gravity—the perfect combination for winter. Okay, it may not be the most exciting thing to drive or look at, but given the start this winter has gotten off to, we’re still head-over-heels in love with it.
4. Long an industry giant, the Jeep Grand Cherokee seemed to have lost its way. Luckily, that changed when Jeep significantly redesigned the Grand Cherokee for 2011. However, that change was nothing compared to the 2014 update unveiled at the 2013 Detroit show. With new engines (including a diesel option), a new transmission and a plethora of technology upgrades, the new Grand Cherokee has become a car that is nothing short of a pleasure to drive. With the 2014 Grand Cherokee, an American icon has finally returned to its rightful place among the off-road elite.
3. Last year’s show was an impressive one. Not only did we see the new Grand Cherokee, but we also saw Mercedes completely shake up the luxury car market—dramatically. No, it wasn’t the new S-Class, Stuttgart unveiled the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class in Detroit. Since it went on sale, the CLA has dominated the luxury market and helped Mercedes claim the title of best-selling luxury car in the U.S. In fact, the CLA is so hot that Mercedes has already warned dealers to expect low supplies, as it simply cannot produce cars quickly enough to meet demand. With a base price of $29,990 (and the spectacular AMG version coming in at $47,450), good looks and good (although not overly impressive) performance numbers, we expect the CLA to continue flying off lots.
2. Cadillac has been impressive as of late, racking up awards left and right and making almost everyone wish their car wore a set of laurels. That return to prominence reached its culmination at the 2012 show when Cadillac unveiled its 2013 Cadillac ATS. While Cadillac had been improving dramatically for a few years before the 2012 show, it was the 2013 ATS that signaled to the world that Cadillac was back—and in a big way. In 2013, the ATS won the title of North American Car of the Year, and many critics signaled that the car was indeed a worthy competitor to the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Since then the car has continued to impress, getting even better this year and paving the way for North America’s 2014 Car of the Year: the 2014 Cadillac CTS.
1. Some pretty impressive cars have been unveiled at Detroit in years past (especially the very recent past), but none has been more impressive than the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Where to begin with this car? After years of producing Corvettes that could not keep up with their European rivals, GM finally got it right (as it has with Cadillac) and designed a Corvette worthy of carrying the checkered flag. From day one, the Stingray has received intense praise, largely due to its bold styling, impressive build quality and blistering performance numbers. Equipped with a massive 6.2-liter 8-cylinder engine pumping out a whopping 450 hp, the C7 bolts to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds. While earlier Corvettes had similarly impressive performance numbers, what sets the C7 apart is that the car’s build quality finally matches its performance abilities. In the past, many potential Corvette buyers chose to spend more money on comparable European models, largely due to the fact that the Europeans had a reputation for producing more comfortable cars that lasted longer. That is not the case anymore. The Corvette is back and trouncing its rivals—and it all started in Detroit.
What are your favorite cars to debut at the North American International Auto Show?
Used Saab 9-3
Used Toyota FJ Cruiser
Used Ram 1500
Used Dodge Ram 1500
Used Chrysler 300
Used Hyundai Veloster
Used Hyundai Veloster Turbo
Used Volvo XC90
Used Jeep Grand Cherokee
Used Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
Used Cadillac ATS
Used Chevrolet Corvette