2007 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible concept
2007 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible concept. Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos.

Story and photos by Jil McIntosh

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Photo Gallery: 2007 North American International Auto Show

For an auto enthusiast, it’s like being a kid in a candy store: three days of all the newest in production and concept vehicles, revealed one after the other, all under one roof. It’s almost impossible to whittle the list down to just ten “must-see” vehicles, but here, not in any particular order, are my candidates. And I’ll even take the opportunity to “go to eleven”, and include a surprising little number that may well be the most important vehicle shown in the last twenty years.

Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

At the 2006 show, the buzz was all around the return of Detroit muscle, with the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger playing catch-up to the Ford Mustang. Chevrolet’s reveal was over-the-top, with a marching band, a parade of vintage Camaros, and finally the real thing, a silver coupe driven through the company’s enormous display.

That would be tough to top, and Chevrolet didn’t even try when it introduced its hotly anticipated Camaro convertible concept. The wraps were officially removed the night before, at an invitation-only black-tie celebrity gala, and when the media came in the next morning, the car was simply sitting on its stand. The lack of fanfare was disappointing, but the Camaro certainly isn’t.

2007 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible concept
2007 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible concept. Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos.

Chevrolet says it will sell the production coupe in 2009, with the convertible to follow later that year. While the show cars are concepts, it’s expected the production versions won’t stray too far. Finished in Hugger Orange similar to an original 1969 colour, with twin gunmetal sport stripes, the convertible is identical to the coupe, save for minor changes to accommodate its soft-top roof and tonneau cover. It’s powered by a V8 with manual transmission, rides on 21- and 22-inch tires, and features LED taillamps, rear spoiler, Corvette Z06-inspired hood scoop, rear fender gills, leather interior and deep-set, vintage-style gauges.

Nissan Altima Coupe. Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos.

Nissan Altima Coupe

Building on the redesigned Nissan Altima, the Altima Coupe sheds two of its doors and gains a whole lot of panache. It’s shorter both in wheelbase and overall length than the sedan, with a lower roofline, which puts its two-door styling into perfect proportion and also, according to the company, allows for “nimble handling and sporty performance.” We’ll have to take their word on that, but we can certainly say that it works for its looks.

Like the sedan, the Altima Coupe offers four-cylinder or V6 performance, six-speed manual transmission or CVT, and numerous available features including Intelligent Key proximity system, Bluetooth hands-free communication, rearview monitor and touch-screen navigation system.

The inside is as nice as the outside, since the coupe shares the sedan’s much-needed interior improvements, along with sport-style front seats. There isn’t much rear legroom, but this is a driver’s car, and what a gorgeous one it is – all the lovely lines of an Infiniti G35, but without the extra cost.

Ford Interceptor

Ford Interceptor concept
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Ford turns out some of the coolest concept cars, and the Interceptor is right up there with them. This “all-American” sedan is a brute, from its in-your-face styling to the Ford Racing 5.0-litre under a real shaker hood.

Based on the Mustang, the Interceptor features a huge three-bar grille, LED headlamps and taillamps and 22-inch wheels. The innovative low-back bucket seats incorporate heating and cooling vents, while the dash, headliner and wheel are wrapped in leather.

Ford Interceptor concept
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Park the car, and headrests deploy from the roof. You may not see those on a production vehicle, but don’t rule out the Interceptor’s four-point “belt and suspenders” seatbelt design, which the company says needs some work to iron out the wrinkles but which may show up one day in place of the current three-point versions.

When you’re done ogling the Interceptor, don’t forget to stop by the Lincoln booth for a look at the equally impressive and delightfully refined Lincoln MKR concept, which might just be a glimpse of what a new LS reintroduction could look like.

Toyota Tundra

2007 Toyota Tundra
2007 Toyota Tundra
2007 Toyota Tundra. Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos.

Trucks may have stood for a long time as the last bastion of North American supremacy, but Toyota has shattered that wide open. Its all-new Tundra is built in Texas, it debuted at the State Fair there, and it’s ready to prove itself.

Available in 31 models, including the Crew Cab that made such a splash at the show, the Tundra can tow up to 10,800 lbs even though it’s classified as a half-ton. And towing becomes that much easier with a new optional backup camera that allows the driver to position perfectly over the hitch, without the need to buy a navigation system with it. The tailgate is also dampered with a gas-charged strut, so it’s easy to open and close, and doesn’t bang if it’s dropped.

Inside, the Tundra can be optioned from work truck to luxury liner, including rear-seat DVD system. Perhaps the cleverest add-on is a centre console storage area that holds hanging files or a laptop computer, for those who need to write out the bill once the work is done.

BMW 3 Series Convertible

BMW makes the all-new 3 Series even better by slicing off the roof. Well, not quite: it chops it into three pieces and stows it in the trunk.

2007 BMW 3-series convertible
2007 BMW 3-series convertible. Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos.

Following the new sedan, coupe and wagon models, the 3 Convertible offers all the pleasure of open-air motoring with the model’s first-ever retractable roof. The three sections, made of lightweight steel, drop in just 22 seconds and store under a solid tonneau; the windows are larger than on the previous convertible, for better visibility when the roof is up. And should sunshine give way to storm clouds while you’re stuck inside, the whole thing can be buttoned up by remote control.

While you’re at BMW’s booth, pay close attention to the 7 Series on the other side: it’s powered by hydrogen, and even more remarkably, a limited number are in actual everyday use in several markets. While many automakers are working with electric hybrids, BMW prefers hydrogen – it set nine speed records with the hydrogen H2R race car in 2004 – and has turned out a luxury vehicle that runs both on hydrogen and gasoline, and switches seamlessly between them.

Nissan Rogue

While Canadians could buy the Nissan X-Trail, American buyers had no opportunity to get into a small Nissan SUV. The company rectifies that with the all-new Rogue crossover utility vehicle.

2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue
2008 Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos.

Although the face may look familiar, this isn’t just a mini-Murano. The Rogue uses a four-cylinder with CVT, available all-wheel drive, standard ABS and six airbags, and available leather seating, fold-flat front passenger seat, detachable one-touch folding cargo organizer and 17-inch alloy wheels. Like the Murano, it’s got a driver-oriented cockpit, along with loads of storage space, comfortable seating and lots of legroom.

Don’t stop there, though; look across the floor at the fantastic and futuristic Bevel concept vehicle, which is what you get when you leave a minivan alone in a room with a science-fiction novel.

Volvo C30

2007 Volvo C30
2007 Volvo C30. Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes we get lucky: Canadians will be able to buy the curvaceous new Volvo C30 in April, while Americans have to wait until the end of the year.

The C30 is one of those ultra-rare instances where an automaker brings out a curvaceous concept car with delightful features such as a glass tailgate, which you just know is strictly for the show crowd – and then turns around and builds it for sale. At first, I honestly thought the models on display were concepts, rather than production vehicles.

2007 Volvo C30
2007 Volvo C30. Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos.

Based on the S40, but aimed more at single folks and couples than families, the C30 comes only with a T5 turbocharged engine; here in Canada we’ll also get a naturally-injected 2.4-litre five-cylinder. Pricing will be $27,495 for the 2.4i, and $31,995 for the T5, before a long list of available options.

How did we luck out on getting all the good stuff in Canada, and well before our neighbours to the south? It’s fun to imagine that it’s because this little number was designed by Volvo’s Studio Chief Designer, Simon Lamarre, who just happens to hail from Montreal.

Mercedes-Benz Ocean Drive

Mercedes wowed the crowds with the best display at the event: real ice skaters, skating on real ice, inside the building (which was a good plan, since the freakishly mild weather meant it was too cold to happen outside). A little carpet over the ice, and it was time to debut the Ocean Drive.

Mercedes Oceandrive Concept
Mercedes Oceandrive Concept
Mercedes Oceandrive Concept. Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos.

The Ocean Drive is only a concept, and that’s a shame, because this four-door drop-top is drop-dead gorgeous. Based on a long-wheelbase S600, the Ocean Drive is the company’s first four-door convertible since a handful of built-to-order 300d cabriolet models in 1962.

The Ocean Drive boasts a 12-cylinder engine, LED headlamps, electric soft top, 36-spoke 21-inch wheels, bird’s-eye maple trim and DVD screens in the back of the front head restraints. It’s a shame there are no plans for production, because this has to be the loveliest car at the show.

Audi R8

If you can look at the Audi R8 and not be overcome by an overwhelming desire to drive it, you’d better check your pulse.

Audi R8
Audi R8. Click image to enlarge.

The R8 comes three years after the unveiling of the Audi Le Mans Quattro concept car upon which it’s based; it’s the company’s first mid-engined sports car, and that’s a 420 hp V8 FSI engine back there. Air for cooling and breathing sweeps in to the high-revving engine through a side deflector that pulls the R8’s styling together from top to bottom; should you want to show off the powerplant at night, you can order indirect LED engine compartment lighting.

There’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel, full LED front and rear lighting, sport or bucket seats, aluminum space frame, 18-inch wheels and, of course, Quattro all-wheel drive. It’ll travel from zero to 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 298 km/hr. But only 15 are being built each day, so you’d best get your order in early.

Acura Advanced Sports Car/Honda Accord Coupe

Across the aisle from each other, the sister companies unveiled some pretty impressive hardware that will eventually trickle its way down to showrooms. The Acura Advanced Sports Car Concept gives a styling peek at the replacement for the Acura NSX, while the Honda Accord Coupe will form the basis of that popular model’s two-door version.

Acura Advanced Sports Car Concept
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The Acura uses a front-mounted V10 engine with a high-performance, rear-wheel drive version of the company’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). Features include slim LED headlamps – meant to mimic the original NSX’s pop-up headlights – along with wraparound rear taillamps, 19- and 20-inch custom billet wheels, carbon ceramic brake discs, flush-mounted door handles, carbon fibre underbody and a cabin made entirely of tinted glass.

Acura Advanced Sports Car Concept
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The Accord Coupe concept uses the next-generation of Honda’s ACE (Advanced Compatibility Engineering) safety frame and a more powerful, lower-emissions V6 that saves fuel through Variable Cylinder Management technology. That’s the technical stuff; the passionate part is that the Accord Coupe is simply stunning.

But it goes to eleven — I promised you a final one, and here it is. Possibly the most important vehicle at the show was a little number with the catchy name of CFA2032A. (Yes, that’s really what’s in chrome on the side.)

Changfeng Liebao CS6
Changfeng Liebao CS6. Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos.

That bright yellow SUV was one of five vehicles displayed by Hunan Changfeng Motor Co. Ltd., which held the first-ever press conference by a Chinese manufacturer at the show. Two of the vehicles were outlandish concepts, but there were two SUVs and a pickup truck that looked like they could readily go into production.

Call it the thin end of the wedge: Changfeng wants to sell its vehicles in North America, and they’ll be inexpensive transportation. The quality on the show vehicles wasn’t very good, and many people discounted them, but remember that the Japanese and Korean manufacturers were new to these shores many years ago, and with quality that could – and did – get better. When they were first shown to the public, most people scoffed at the idea of them being major players in the auto industry. Perhaps history repeated itself this year; perhaps, in twenty years, major reveals by Chinese automakers will all be part of the Detroit event.

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