Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne talks truck wars, Chinese vehicles, and electric and autonomous vehicles at the 2018 Detroit auto show with Detroit News autos team writers Ian Thibodeau and Nora Naughton. Tom Gromak, The Detroit News


The luxury segment has been transformed by SUVs. Long-hooded sedans with flowing, coupe-like roofs are out. Five-door hatchbacks are in. The monotony of designs has forced manufacturers to make SUVs with more coupe-like roofs, sacrificing the rear head and cargo room that drew customers to utes in the first place. But the elevated seating position rules. Even sports-car manufacturers have taken the plunge, with Porsche, Jaguar, Maserati and Lamborghini utes making big profits. Buick, once an also-ran sedan brand, has been transformed by an SUV lineup of Encores, Envisions and Enclaves. Look for a Ferrari SUV soon. I am not making this up.

Acura RDX

What it is: Acura calls its RDX ute a prototype, but in truth this is the near-production version of the most important Acura debut in some time. Adopting the design cues of the Acura NSX supercar and Precision concept, the RDX gets racier lines, a “diamond pentagon” grille, turbo-4 and standard features galore, including a huge panoramic sunroof and adaptive cruise control.

Payne’s take: With talented designer and race-car fan John Ikeda at the helm, the RDX signals a return to Acura’s sporty roots. The RDX promises nimble handling and brings back the A-Spec and Type-S performance trims. For all the exterior flash, the interior is more important with an industry-first touch-pad positioned within easy reach that projects onto a 10.2-inch display in the driver’s line-of-sight.


What it is: First seen as a concept at last year’s show, the X2 continues BMW’s addition of coupe-like SUV designs to its lineup. Like X4 is to X3, like X6 is to V5 — so is X2 to X1. The couple-a-grand more-expensive X2 shares the X1’s chassis and 228-horsepower turbo-4. But visually the X2 is noticeably different with a narrower greenhouse and new pentagon-shaped kidney grille. The design cues accentuate a sportier, crouched body that is 3.2 inches shorter and 2.8 inches lower than the X1.

Payne’s take: In a development that will cause BMW purists to lose sleep, the X2 marks the second Bimmer with a front-wheel drive based platform and longitudinally mounted engine. Shared with a Mini, for heaven’s sake! The all-wheel-drive X2 makes the best of these heresies with BMW’s typically taut engine setup and three drive modes. The design tweaks are cool, too, from the new kidneys to the BMW logo on the c-pillar.

Lamborghini Urus

What it is: Lambo joins other exotic sports carmakers like Porsche, Jaguar and Maserati with an SUV. And what an SUV. With a longitudinally mounted, 645-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 under the hood, the Urus will sprint past most sports sedans while comfortably carrying four adults and their luggage.

Payne’s take: Where are the scissor doors? Urus means ancestor of domestic cattle, and this SUV proves that a crossover design will domesticate a Lambo. The Aventador-like design cures are unmistakably there: the front jet-fighter scoops, the sharp, chiseled body lines. But the upright five-door utility has inevitably compromised sex appeal. Buyers, however, will rejoice at the more domesticated, ergonomically friendly interior.

Mercedes G-class

What it is: The icon of the Mercedes SUV lineup, the G-class’s rugged exterior changes little (the front fender-mounted turn signals, for example, now retract in a collision to protect pedestrians) in this comprehensive remake – but the interior gets a major facelift. The dash and console conform to other Mercedes, with instruments and infotainment screen encased under a single pane of glass – the latter operated by Benz’s signature touch-pad. The big turbo V-8 and three locking-differentials carry over.

Payne’s take: As Wrangler is to Jeep’s SUV lineup, so is the tough “Gelandewagen” to Merc. The difference is the G-class must conquer Austria’s Schokl mountain (not the Jeep’s Rubicon). It stickers for $120,000 and doesn’t (ahem) come with detachable sway bars. The G-class is coveted by celebrities and comes with quilted leather seats and fashionable flat-black paint to look the part.

Lincoln Nautilus

What it is: Formerly known as the MKX. The Nautilus is the latest Lincoln ute, following the Truck of the Year Navigator, to shed its alphanumeric badge for a more approachable, organic name. Nautilus also gets a new face, adopting the handsome Bentley-like grille first seen on the flagship Continental sedan. Two turbo engines (4- and 6-cylinder) mated to an 8-speed transmission are offered — as are smartphone-app compatibility and an active-safety system to automatically steer you out of harm’s way.

Payne’s take: Lincoln eradicates the polarizing split-wing face with major plastic surgery. That should allow suitors to focus on the interior ergonomics, which are some of the industry’s best. Console storage is everywhere, thanks to a space-saving, button-operated digital shifter. Navigator and Nautilus suggest an aquatic theme. May I suggest the compact MKC be called Nemo?

Read or Share this story: