Hot! Not! NAIAS 2012

In the fourth of our snapshots at carmakers pushing green car design and those who need to work harder, we take our hats off to the new Mercedes SL for shedding the pounds and looking healthier for it and the forthcoming Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid for trumping Toyota’s new plug-in hybrid Prius not only in the MPG stakes but very definitely in the looks department too. Meanwhile we wonder what’s going on with the wonky Chrysler 700C minivan concept and question the presentation of the long-awaited new Acura NSX.


The first month of the year is traditionally a time to start diets to offset previous excess so it was highly appropriate that Mercedes chose Detroit in January to launch its new lighter-weight SL. Given ‘SL’ stands for ‘Super lightweight’ it’s very on-brand to have shed 140kg – or two fit grown men – in the case of the SL350 V6 (now 1685kg). An almost all-aluminium (89%) body is at the heart of the change and it also uses even lighter magnesium around the rear bulkhead. Less mass to lug around benefits fuel economy – up almost 30% – as Dr Zetsche, chairman of Merc’s parent group Daimler, points out, “the new V8 version offers the same performance as the previous V12 – while delivering even more miles per gallon than the previous V6.” Like most good diets, the one doing the dieting tends to look healthier after too. So it is with the longer-hooded, wider and lower SL.

Meanwhile, the Ford Fusion Energi puts some design life into the plug-in hybrid segment, with its Aston-alike grille making the new plug-in Prius hybrid look even fuller and promising over 100mpg (13mpg more than Toyota). Not bad going from the Blue Oval brand.


‘Wonkiest-looking mainstream concept of 2012 so far’ award goes to the Chrysler 700C. Not mentioned at all in the run-up to the Detroit show, because either A) it genuinely managed to stay top secret or B) it was a rush job and touch-and-go whether it would be finished in time. The latter seems more likely given the highly peculiar side window graphics and super-odd area below the B-pillar and above the feature line. And why put a SEMA-style black bonnet on an MPV? Did anyone say ‘unresolved’?

To a far lesser degree, but perhaps of more concern given its previous model’s great history and halo status for the brand, the Acura NSX concept disappointed more than it excited. Compact proportions and hybrid power was a good starting point but its Audi R8 meets old Mazda front-end design, zero interior concept plus a frankly dusty exterior on a dark show stand robbed the supercar of some serious ‘WOW’ factor. Underwhelming.  

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