2019 NAIAS: The Good, The Bad, The Boring

The 2019 NAIAS was the quietest it's ever been, but there were still a few noteworthy reveals.The new year kicks off with a bang for the auto industry, as collective attitudes shift toward an undecided future crowded with electric and autonomous technologies battling a renewed fervor for all-things-throwback. CES dazzled audiences with wild and wonderful innovations, effectively kicking off the auto show season. (See our coverage here.) But Detroit? Well the 2019 NAIAS (North American International Auto Show) definitely tried to blend past and future in new and exciting ways—and a few automakers succeeded. But with a number of key brands choosing to skip the event, the overall vibe was noticeably subdued.

Already launching with a dejected air, this year’s NAIAS was further plagued by a massive water main break in downtown Detroit less than two days before the event’s opening. With nearly every major European automaker opting out of the famed auto show this year, and vehicle debuts down to 30 from last year’s 69, adding a boil advisory to the lackluster attendance and winter weather doesn’t exactly scream, “Welcome to Motor Cityyyy!!

Regardless, there were a few reveals garnering excitement—several of which we forecasted here. So, let’s check in on audience reactions and further revealed specs.

Toyota Supra

First up is quite possibly the most important release of the 2019 NAIAS, the 2020 Toyota Supra. With a legendary reputation, rabid fanbase, and twenty-year hiatus since the last model release, Toyota really needed to nail this one. And they, um, certainly elicited a reaction?

Riding on a BMW Z4 platform with a BMW B58 3.0L inline-six under the hood and sporting a noticeably BMW-derivative interior, it feels well, a wee bit too much like a BMW. Adding insult to injury, fans were bereft to hear that Toyota will not be offering a manual transmission, opting instead for the immensely popular (and well-regarded) ZF 8-speed automatic. (Really?? Fans want TO DRIVE this vehicle, not have it drive them…)

While the exterior borrows heavily from the 2014 FT-1 concept, fans still had plenty to gripe about. Body lines are interrupted by non-functioning air-intake vents, the shorter wheelbase gives off a mildly unsettling aesthetic, and that nose? Well, polarizing to say the least.

On the bright side, specs reveal a curb weight of 3,397 pounds with a 50/50 weight distribution and its German engineering gives it 335 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. But at a $50k price tag, should some things just stay in the past?

Ford Explorer and Mustang Shelby GT500

Two other major debuts at 2019 NAIAS came from the Blue Oval, in the form of the redesigned Ford Explorer and new Shelby GT500.

Redefining Crossovers

The best-selling SUV of all time gets an all-new rear wheel drive platform shedding 200lbs, a mildly updated exterior design, and a majorly revamped interior design showcasing an optional Tesla-esque 10.1” infotainment touchscreen. Also on the docket are some exciting drivetrain upgrades.

The 2019 NAIAS was the quietest it's ever been, but there were still a few noteworthy reveals.

A turbocharged 2.3L EcoBoost inline-four is still standard, but power output increases from 280 hp to 300. A turbocharged 3.0L EcoBoost V-6, available on higher trims, pushes out 365 ponies, compared to a previous 350. Both are mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Interestingly, Ford is also offering a hybrid version of the classic SUV using a naturally aspirated 3.3-liter V-6 engine and proprietary electric motor, offering 318 hp and roughly 24 mpg. And sticking with the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure vibe, Ford has also added a new performance ST model that pushes 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque from the 3.0L V-6.

You’ve Got The Power

The Mustang Shelby GT500—Ford’s most powerful production car yet—debuted with a supercharged 5.2L V-8 and—get this—an automatic-only transmission. While that little nugget didn’t seem to bother Mustang fans the way it did Supra fans, perhaps the 700+ hp makes it easier to swallow. That, and the fact that the seven-speed dual clutch transmission was engineered specifically for this car.

The 2019 NAIAS was the quietest it's ever been, but there were still a few noteworthy reveals.

Poised to compete with the Challenger SRT Hellcat and Camaro ZL1, it appears the horsepower wars are back on. Exact performance specs won’t be released until shortly before the vehicle goes on sale, but Car and Driver predicts an output of around 720 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque. Pricing also hasn’t been released, but expect something in the $70k range.

Subaru WRX STI S209

Subaru lovers went gaga over the long-awaited American-release of a limited edition STI model. Specs reveal the new Subie will pack an upgraded 2.5L flat-four under the hood serving up 341 hp, a significant boost for the STI. The familiar EJ25 also sees a new intake system, fuel pump, and injectors, while the car itself is riding 1.7 inches wider, sporting bigger tires and 19×19 gold-painted wheels.

Performance improves further with new Bilstein shocks, a stiffer suspension, and new Brembo brakes. Unlike some other reveals at the 2019 NAIAS, Subaru is offering this limited-edition ride with one transmission: a six-speed manual. Expect a price tag around $50k.

Generic Reveals

Debuting to golf claps and stifled yawns were the VW Passat and Cadillac XT6.

Featuring new interior and exterior styling, the second-gen North American Passat remains largely unchanged as it’s riding on the same platform as last generation. While it’s still a handsome sedan, consumers are showing a clear preference for bigger and bolder, leaving most onlookers largely underwhelmed with this offering from the only European carmaker in attendance at the 2019 NAIAS. That being said, we’ll throw the new Passat a bone and say that the aesthetic upgrades have been tastefully chosen, leading us to think that this car’s looks will age better than many competing passenger cars.

Debuting to golf claps and stifled yawns at the 2019 NAIAS were the VW Passat and Cadillac XT6.

Similarly disappointing was the Cadillac XT6 reveal, which frankly feels like too little too late. As the brand seeks to build its crossover lineup amid dwindling sedan sales, it seems to have missed the boat on this one. With attractive yet generic looks and a noticeable lack of Cadillac’s very well-reviewed Super Cruise, most people are left wondering, “Why bother?”

Ehhh-lectric Car Concepts

As CES continues to outshine the Detroit Auto Show in attendance and excitement, the same seemed evident in electric car concepts.

INIFINITI, who hoped to debut a new EV crossover concept as part of its 30th anniversary with the show, humiliatingly had to push its vehicle onto the stage as it wouldn’t start. And while parent company Nissan’s IMS “lifted sedan” concept was admittedly cool, it felt out of place at such a watered-down event (pun intended).

FCA Continues to Kill It

Still riding high on the release of the Gladiator at the LA Auto Show, as well as record-breaking JL Wrangler sales and snagging Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year for the RAM 1500, FCA dazzled with another noteworthy debut at the 2019 NAIAS: the RAM Heavy Duty.

Redesigned from the ground up, the RAM Heavy Duty sits on a new high-strength steel platform and upgraded suspension. (Coil springs in the 2500; rear-leaf springs in the 3500; air suspension upgrades available for both.) The body has shed 143 lbs and the interior has undergone a MAJOR overhaul, sporting a decidedly non-work-truck vibe. But what’s really exciting about this new beast is what’s under the hood.

Three engines are available: a base Hemi 6.4L V8 mated to an eight-speed automatic putting out 410 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque, a standard-output 6.7L Cummins inline-six turbo-diesel mated to a six-speed auto serving up 370 hp and 850 lb-ft of torque, and an optional mother-of-all-mothers high-output 6.7L Cummins I6 turbo-diesel paired with a specially-design six-speed Aisin automatic throwing 400 hp and 1,000 LB-FT OF TORQUE. Four digits, guys. FOUR DIGITS OF TORQUE OUTPUT. Additionally, FCA promises a max towing capacity of a whopping 35,100 pounds. Color us seriously excited.

What did you think about the 2019 NAIAS? Overrated or underappreciated? Let us know in the comments below.

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