Ford’s Atlas concept snorts in the face of GM’s new pick-up trucks

Posted by cdnlive January 16th, 2013

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The ‘CDN F150′ in front of Ford World HQ, Dearborn after a 2000 miles and 4 days trip from Las Vegas

For those of you that have been paying close attention to our twitter feeds over the past few days (@JoeSimspon and @OwenReady if you want to follow the ramblings of a pair of car designers turned critics), you’ll know we drove from CES in Vegas to the auto show here in Detroit in a Ford F150 pick-up truck. As Europeans we now understand why most of middle America drives pick-ups and no longer believe a truck to be quite the unsophisticated thing the average European believes it to be.

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The Ford Atlas concept shown at NAIAS today, previewing the next gen F150

So given our 2000 miles exposure to truck culture, it was interesting to see Ford unveil the Atlas (a next-gen concept for the F150) and to see GM’s Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pick-ups here in Detroit.

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The new Chevrolet Silverado truck

And while we’ll no doubt be accused of bias, it’s the Ford that really struck a chord – taking all the good stuff of the current F150 and moving it on by a convincing and appealing step, 85 percent of what you see here is production ready, including (we’re told) the snorting snout and double-stack headlamps.

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Ford Atlas concept features much more sculpted nose, with large ‘snorting nostrils’ intake

It might seem unfair to compare a concept vehicle to a production one, but even compared to our current generation F150 test car, sorry pick-up, the new GM pick-ups seem a little underwhelming. Boxy, agricultural and lacking in any real flair or true character, they’re more representative of the idiom the average European thinks of when they think ‘pick-up’. That is to say, unsophisticated.

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The Chevrolet Silverado interior

The Ford concept, by comparison, is representative of how Ford and its team of designers absolutely ‘get’ what a pick-up should be and gives a few easy clues as to why the F150 continues to be the best selling vehicle in North America. Based on this evidence, that looks set to continue for a long, long time.

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Above and below – Ford Atlas exterior and interior
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by Joe Simpson

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Volkswagen concept cars built as well as production

Posted by cdnlive January 16th, 2013

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While every other company keeps its concept cars behind velvet ropes, guarded by surly-looking minders to save their delicate prototypes from the grubby hands of the press and public, VW positively encourages visitors to poke, prod, jump in and generally investigate.

The CrossCoupe concept has been on the motor show scene for over a year (we first saw it in Toyko 2011) yet here sits on the stand amongst the production offerings while the new CrossBlue has been put through its paces mercilessly over the last couple of days with hundreds of people folding the seats, climbing into the third row and slamming the doors and tailgate.

It’s obviously a huge financial commitment from VW but one that pays dividends when it comes to communicating perceived quality.

Owen Ready

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Lexus IS – good ugly

Posted by cdnlive January 15th, 2013

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Following yesterday’s disappointment with the Infiniti Q50 (not bad but lacking sparkle) all hopes rested on Lexus’ new compact premium sedan to take the fight to the Germans in this most fiercely contested of segments. Thankfully for those of us who are slightly bored of the predictably uber-competent cars from Audi and BMW, it succeeds.

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The first thing to say is that it’s not as well-executed as the Germans but it’s more daring as a result and has that most elusive of qualities – character.

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Let’s get that nose out of the way first. Yes it’s brave and yes it’s bold but in the metal and plastic it’s rather less scary. It’s certainly not pretty but it’s good ugly. The separated lamps read as one graphic from a distance, the schizophrenic upper, main unit resolved by the bold lower ‘tick’ DRL. The grille is (too) big but rams home the point that Lexus now owns the pinched, spindle graphic, pinching it from under Infiniti’s nose.

What you can’t see in the pictures is the level of subtle and brave surfacing that creates a barrelled effect behind the front wheel and creates a twisted surface that runs through the lower door sufaces, rocker and up into the lamp graphics. It’s a new form language that Lexus is sure to run with.

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In profile its proportions aren’t as bang-on as you’d hope for a small, rear-wheel drive sedan – its rear wheel in particular sits a little too far back, the conclusion of the DLO sitting irritating forward of its centre. To be honest most people will skip over this, their eyes following the steep flick up into the rear lamps that creates the illusion of a short, stubby tail. It’s also good to see its stance still looks good even on 18-inch rims.

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It’s challenging, fun, perhaps a little ugly but is better for all of the above.

Owen Ready

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Panorama: GM’s world, as seen from above in Detroit

Posted by cdnlive January 15th, 2013

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(click twice for larger image, three times for full size)

by Joe Simpson

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Acura (Honda) NSX Concept finally gets the interior it deserves

Posted by cdnlive January 15th, 2013

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Mixed reviews of the Acura NSX concept that debuted here last year (we were relatively impressed, many designers thought it was dull and a missed opportunity) were always couched by the fact it had no interior. Having seen it painted red in China and its shape hiding under a cover yesterday, we weren’t too inspired at the thought of it being wheeled out as a hard model yet again.

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But, to our surprise, it’s back in Detroit with a full interior, which looks to feature production architecture. Like several cars at the show it features a combo of red and black leather and suede-like trim plus carbon fiber colour and materials scheme.

The suede-like trim caught our eye, especially on the head lining where it’s deep red hue gives the cockpit a warmth and homeliness that’s unusual for a sportscar.

We weren’t allowed to sit in the concept but our perception is that you sit very low in a similar fashion to the Corvette, cocooned by a sharply rising centre console that’s not disimilar to Porsche’s latest, together with a wrapping door and IP architecture. We couldn’t tell whether the NSX will retain the original’s super-low scuttle one of the things that makes it and the McLaren 12C feel so unintimidating and easy to place on the road. Given Honda’s history, it’d be a shame if they lost this feature, so we’ve got our fingers crossed.

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As is the fashion in so many cars at this show, the NSX features two primary screens, one for the gauge cluster (though why the two analogue flanking gauges for temperature and fuel isn’t it an advanced hybrid?) and one for the centre console that projects into the main passenger volume.

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The graphics appear to be a development of some of Honda’s hybrid interface displays, but we wish we could see them in their full, rather than demo mode.

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Perhaps most interesting from a design perspective are the flying handle elements on the door architecture, which bring the exterior’s flying buttresses theme inside. It’s nice to the see carbon fiber being used as structure and individual element rather than just trim garnish.

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Last thing of note is the elegant centre gear shift and switch selector, a very glossily rendered and compact arrangement for many of the car’s key controls.

Joe Simpson

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Nissan’s awesome Datsun models

Posted by cdnlive January 15th, 2013

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As Nissan prepares to bring Datsun back to the wider world as a new budget brand, we couldn’t help but be stopped in our tracks by these wonderfully detailed old Datsun die-cast models.

Joe Simpson

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Maserati Quattroporte: bigger on the outside, better on the inside

Posted by cdnlive January 15th, 2013

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Maserati’s Quattroporte disappointed us in the press photos. The car’s grown quite a lot, and appeared to have lost some of the previous generation’s character. We stand by that view on the stand here in Detroit, where the Quattroporte looks like it’s riding a little high, is a little long in the wheelbase and a little soft and indistinct in some of its surfacing, particularly around the shoulder.

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However, it definitely works better in the metal. Particularly when seen form the rear, it has a simple elegance.

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Step inside and what might look like an underwhelming interior in pictures is exactly as you might hope an Italian luxury interior would look and feel. In the back, there’s now room for two broad 6ft something men in bespoke Italian suits. Their coiffed heads won’t touch the ceiling and there’s enough leg and foot space enough for long, comfortable rides. This won’t go un-noticed in China.

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But it’s the use of materials that really stands out. Forget the predictable carbon fiber trim option and have a look at the matte, grained wood. This is used as a primary element in the upper IP and is cut across the grain to give a real 3D effect. Maserati’s not alone in offering this, but it’s genuinely beautiful to look at and touch – the next step beyond wood veneer.

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It’s mated with chrome, that’s joyously – but simply – executed. The centre horizontal bar of the air vent runs out and along the IP, where it feautres a surface break for the trad Maserati clock. But it’s even better on the doors, where a lovely long wand of a door handle is visually extended right under the wood fillet to form elegant underscores to the door cappings.

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In true Italian style, the stand guys told us that someone had shipped the wrong power packs to the show, so the cars couldn’t be powered up properly, meaning we can’t comment on the HMI/touchscreen interface yet, though it derives from Chrysler’s new uConnect system, which bodes well as it won awards at CES last week.

Joe Simpson

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Panorama: Nissan’s cantilevered show stand spectacular

Posted by cdnlive January 15th, 2013

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(click on the image twice to see the bigger size – or three times to see the full resolution image)

Joe Simpson

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Panorama: Maserati show stand personalisation zone

Posted by cdnlive January 15th, 2013

maserati-stand

Maserati is making a big push in the States (and soon in China too) and its stand here in Detroit is the perfect example of the brand’s core values – exclusive, understated and Italian. The personalisation options are key to this – rich, high-quality leathers and a choice of seven trim options, including some very tasteful open-pore woods, perfectly displayed in a quiet corner of its booth.

Owen Ready

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Lexus IS interior: a new lead in the pursuit of perfection [w/video]

Posted by cdnlive January 15th, 2013

Lexus IS 1

We’re impressed by the new IS. We’ve repeatedly criticised Lexus for failing to live up to its premium aspirations and for falling way short of the standarda set by Audi and BMW in particular. But with the IS interior, the company now has a core architecture and form language that makes the 3-Series look boring and the A4 old.

Prime billing goes to the incredible motorised gauge cluster, the video demonstration of which you can see below:

It’s an idea that Lexus has taken straight out of its incredible LFA supercar and to give the consumer something so titillating, so different to anything else you find in the market means that – we suspect – Lexus will find a whole new generation of buyer for this IS. We love its camera-like motorised noise. Knowing Lexus, they probably could have made it silent, butthis would have taken away from the theatrical quality of the operation.

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Sadly, it’s not perfect. Above all else, the lovely gauge pack shows up Lexus’s dreadful RTI mouse-like controller interface for the centre screen even more. Here, it doesn’t even appear to feature the force feedback and magentised-centring that the bigger GS does. The overall level of PQ, while a step up, could still do with greater consistency and a decent editing process (too many materials and a few odd bits of bad plastic in here).

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Change those two irks, and the Lexus would blow away everything else in the class right now from an interior perspective. As it is, we’re still excited by this interior and think that, with that gauge pack, it gives Lexus a real USP in a very crowded market. We’re interested to see how its competitors will respond.

Joe Simpson

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