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Muscle cars, trucks, and EVs roared into the subdued 2019 Detroit Auto Show

For the past several years, the Detroit Auto Show has battled against CES for the attention of the media and exhibitors. Detroit conceded; 2019 was the last edition of the event held in January. The 2020 Detroit Auto Show will take place in June. Moving it places it far from CES on the calendar, and it will let organizers hold part of it outdoors.

2019 was also the quietest edition of the Detroit Auto Show in recent memory. The list of car companies who didn’t attend this year’s event was longer than usual, which reflects the industry’s waning interest in the traditional auto show model. That doesn’t mean nothing exciting happened at the show, though. Sexy sports cars we’ve waited over a decade for, new variants of the country’s best-selling models, and futuristic concept cars basked under the spotlights in the Cobo Center.

2020 Cadillac XT6

The 2020 XT6 takes Cadillac into one of the hottest segments of the market. It’s a three-row crossover positioned in the space that separates the XT5 and the body-on-frame Escalade. It shares some its mechanical and chassis components with the Chevrolet Traverse, but everything customers see and touch is Cadillac-specific, including the exterior design and the interior. It ushers in what Cadillac calls a jog function that lets the front passengers use the infotainment system’s controller knob like a joy stick to jump from menu to menu.

Pricing will start in the vicinity of $50,000. When it lands in showrooms in 2019, the 2020 Cadillac XT6 will compete against the Infiniti QX60, the Acura MDX, and the Audi Q7, among other three-row luxury crossovers. Front-wheel drive and a 310-horsepower V6 engine will come standard, and all-wheel drive will be offered at an extra cost.

2020 Ford Explorer

The family-friendly, cop-approved Ford Explorer returns with a bolder design, a new rear-wheel drive platform that makes it better to drive on- and off-road, and additional variants developed to lure customers away from the competition. At launch, the lineup will include turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines. Ford will expand the catalog with a fuel-sipping hybrid model and a performance-oriented, 400-horsepower variant badged ST a little bit later in the Explorer’s production cycle. Inside, upmarket variants come with a 10.1-inch, portrait-style touchscreen that displays Ford’s familiar Sync 3 infotainment system.

The 2020 Ford Explorer will reach showrooms in the summer of 2019. Pricing will be available closer to its on-sale date.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Ford largely stood on the sidelines as Chevrolet and Dodge waged a full-fledged horsepower war to dominate the muscle car segment. In Detroit, it finally jumped into the battle with one of its most iconic nameplates as a weapon. The Mustang Shelby GT500 made its comeback with over 700 horsepower from a supercharged, 5.2-liter V8 engine. Ford won’t release full specifications until later in 2019, but it promises the GT500 is its most powerful street-legal car ever. The V8 shifts through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, though Road & Track learned Ford is open to the idea of offering a manual gearbox if enough customers demand one.

Ford redesigned the rear suspension to keep the 700-plus-hp output in check. Visually, the GT500 is a mean-looking evolution of the 2019 Mustang with huge air intakes up front, a heritage-laced cobra emblem attached to the front grille, a sizable wing on the trunk lid, and available carbon fiber wheels. Inside, Ford added an eight-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, a 12-inch driver information display, a 12-speaker sound system, and loads of carbon fiber trim. Pricing information and availability will be released closer to its on-sale date.

Infiniti QX Inspiration concept

Infiniti previewed the direction it will take in the coming years with a concept car called QX Inspiration. It’s an electric crossover with a bold front-end design, and a much more angular greenhouse than any of the company’s current models. Inside, it offers a relaxing, lounge-like cockpit with space for four passengers. The design is inspired by Japanese culture, which gives the QX Inspiration more personality than we’re used to finding in a futuristic design study. The QX Inspiration may not reach production as-is, but certain elements of it will influence future models. Infiniti has notably pledged to electrify its entire lineup by 2021.

2020 Kia Telluride

Kia gave us a glimpse of the Telluride, its eight-seater SUV, during New York Fashion Week in 2018, and it fully unveiled the model at the 2019 Detroit show. Talk about being worlds apart. Closely related to the Hyundai Palisade under the sheet metal, the Telluride stands out as the South Korean firm’s biggest SUV. Power comes exclusively from a 3.8-liter V6 engine that delivers 291 horsepower and lets the Telluride tow up to 5,000 pounds. It’s aimed at families, so it comes with enough USB ports and cupholders to keep its passengers connected, charged up, and refreshed during a long road trip.

Lexus LC Convertible concept

Lexus LC convertible concept
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Lexus gave show-goers in Detroit a taste of spring with the LC Convertible concept. Like its name implies, it’s a topless version of the LC, the Toyota-owned brand’s flagship coupe. The concept is all about visual drama. Lexus hasn’t announced powertrain specifications, and it won’t confirm production plans just yet. “A production version of this concept would be exhilarating in many different ways,” Tadao Mori, the car’s chief designer, said in a statement. We hope that means it’s coming in the not-too-distant future.

2020 Ram HD

2020 Ram HD pickup
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The 2019 Ram 1500 unveiled during the 2018 Detroit show surprised us. It represented a significant leap forward over its predecessor in terms of design, technology, and powertrain hardware. These improvements have made their way to the bigger, brawnier 2500 HD and 3500 HD models unveiled in Detroit. Both trucks are available with the 1500’s tablet-like, 12-inch touchscreen that displays the Uconnect infotainment system.

Ram offers a wide variety of configurations, ranging from a bare-bones work truck to a six-wheeled luxo-cruiser with German car-like luxury and pricing. The powertrain palette is just as diverse, but the highlight is undoubtedly a 6.7-liter, turbodiesel straight-six engine that makes 400 horsepower and 1,000 pound-feet of torque. Properly equipped, Ram’s Heavy Duty pickup could tow Mount St. Helens to Nebraska.

2019 Subaru WRX STI S209

Subaru has released many limited-edition variants of the WRX STI in recent years, but it has never brought them to the United States. The S209 will break with tradition when it arrives in American showrooms later in 2019. It’s equipped with a 2.5-liter, turbocharged flat-four engine tuned to deliver 341 horsepower. That’s a generous increase over the standard STI’s 310-hp rating. The four-cylinder sends its power to the four wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. Visually, it receives fender flares and a sizable wing on the trunk lid.

The Subaru WRX STI S209 will go on sale later in 2019. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but keep in mind Subaru will only send about 200 cars to the U.S. market. If you want one, our advice is to act fast.

2020 Toyota Supra

Power for the Supra comes from a 3.0-liter, turbocharged straight-six engine borrowed from the BMW parts bin. It makes 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque, a 50-horse drop compared to the Z4 it’s based on. Neither company has explained this not-insignificant decrease. Rear-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission are the only drive options offered, and pricing starts at $50,000.

2020 Volkswagen Passat

Unlike some of its rivals, Volkswagen still believes in the shrinking sedan segment. The Wolfsburg-based firm introduced the redesigned 2020 Passat in Detroit. It isn’t a brand-new model — it’s still based on the platform that has underpinned the current model since 2011 — but Volkswagen noted that every body panel with the exception of the roof is new. We drove an early prototype at the company’s proving grounds in Arizona and concluded it’s an improvement over the 2019 Passat but not a groundbreaking update. Volkswagen played it safe.

Inside, the clean, straight lines that emphasize the cabin’s sense of width remain. The Passat comes standard with an eight-inch touchscreen that displays the latest version of Volkswagen’s infotainment system. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility come standard. The list of standard features also includes important driving aids like forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, and a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alert. Adaptive cruise control is offered at an extra cost.

Made in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the 2020 Volkswagen Passat will compete against the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry when it arrives in showrooms.

Volkswagen also made two significant announcements in Detroit. First, it confirmed plans to build electric vehicles in its Chattanooga plant starting in 2023. The expansion will cost $800 million, and it will directly create 1,000 jobs. Second, it outlined the terms of an alliance with Ford. The two companies will begin their collaboration by jointly developing commercial vehicles, including a small commercial van and a pickup truck.

The rest

With the IMs concept, Nissan set out to prove it’s capable of building an electric car that’s much sexier than the homely Leaf. The design study surfs every wave in design with light bars on both ends, a back-lit emblem, and a fastback-like roof line. It’s electric and autonomous. There’s no indication the IMs is headed to production anytime soon, but some elements of it could trickle down to production models sooner or later. Hyundai went in a different direction; it turned the Veloster N into a race car that’s certainly not electric or autonomous.

Lexus gave the RC F a mid-cycle refresh, and it expanded the lineup with a limited-edition model named Track Edition designed specifically for the race track. Finally, Chinese automaker GAC unveiled a 22nd century-like van concept it designed in the United States.

Who was missing?

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

In 2018, Mercedes-Benz introduced the first brand-new G-Class in decades at the Detroit Auto Show. In 2019, the brand chose to sit out the event. It instead traveled to CES to unveil the second-generation CLA (pictured above), a model that’s considerably more tech-savvy than its predecessor. Rivals Audi and BMW skipped Detroit, too. Mini didn’t have a booth in Detroit, neither did  Porsche, Volvo, Jaguar, and Land Rover.

Finally, credible rumors claimed Chevrolet would unveil the eighth-generation Corvette at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. It’s a long-awaited model that will shift to a mid-engined layout for the first time in the nameplate’s decades-long history. Chevrolet allegedly had to postpone the next Corvette’s introduction until the summer of 2019 due to a major electrical issue uncovered during the final phase of testing.

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Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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