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DETROIT AUTO SHOW: Motor City rolls out the latest in classy chassis

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This was my first-ever trip to the North American International Auto Show, known throughout the auto industry as the Detroit Auto Show.

This annual extravaganza promised the opportunity to lay eyes on the latest and greatest offerings from automakers around the world. An "auto" show is all about the here and now, and also offers a glimpse into the future of motordom. New or updated models that will hit showroom floors in the near future are officially unveiled amid bright lights and throbbing music, and the wraps are taken off concept vehicles that may or may not ever become reality.

The latest technology is bantered about like the weather, and automotive public-relations reps do their very best to sing the praises of their products and how they're poised to alter the automotive landscape. Statuesque ladies who look 10 feet tall and are wrapped in skin-tight dresses flank the vehicles like mannequins, and automotive journalists from around the globe gobble up food, wine and information while weighing in on the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Cruising through massive Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit, it's easy to get distracted by all the bright lights, loud music, statuesque ladies and the frantic frenzy that seems to surround the unveiling of even the most mundane new vehicles.

There were far fewer electric- or diesel-powered vehicles than we anticipated, proving that, despite all the buzz, gasoline is still king. That said, throughout the two-day media preview, there were certainly more than a few cars and trucks that grabbed my attention and kept it.

Here's a sampling of my favourites.

Chevrolet C7 Corvette

ARRIVING with the timelessly classy Stingray moniker, the unveiling of the 2014 Corvette was without question the darling of Detroit this year. It's always big news when America's sports car gets redesigned, and the buzz surrounding the new Vette was ear-shattering.

The car was officially unveiled at a gala event Sunday evening, and mere moments after the spotlight hit it, Twitter was aflutter with photos of the car from every angle. And for every tweet there was a varying opinion about the success or failure the Corvette team delivered.

From where I was sitting, as a lifelong Corvette fan and an owner of one of these fantastic plastic beauties, Chevrolet hit a whopping home run with the latest Vette. If I had only one word to describe this beast, it would be MENACING. The combination of angles and curves on the new body makes my knees a little weak. And, thanks to the retail red paint on the display model, it smelled a bit like a Ferrari but still managed to maintain its distinct American identity.

With gobs of power, a beautifully crafted interior and curb appeal out the wazoo, the C7 Corvette is everything an aging motormouth like me wants in a sports car. Who cares if a flock of 20-something bloggers and their tens of readers disagree? Give these kids time and they'll someday realize Chevrolet didn't build this car for them -- they built the C7 for folks who dream of actually owning one, and you can add me to that list.

Infiniti Q50

IS it just me, or is Infiniti, the luxury leg of Nissan, building some of the sweetest-looking rides on earth?

Case in point is the new Q50. With flowing lines that scream luxury, yet somehow elicit the muscular curves of a thoroughbred, this long, lean sedan oozes both grace and grunt. Metrosexual male executives around the world who want to easily find their car in the company parking lot amid a sea of black BMW sedans will surely be lining up to buy this beauty.

Infiniti describes the Q50 as possessing a "tight, athletic appearance." Most of us will never be described in such glowing words, but it's nice to know our car can be.

Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra

ALTHOUGH images of the 2014 truck offerings from the General have been making their way around the Internet, this was my first chance to lay eyes on them, and truth be told, they look WAY better in real life.

The photos didn't do much to inspire me, but up close and personal, these trucks have a powerful presence and scream abundance from every angle. The square-looking grill flanked with LED lights is a styling masterpiece, and the new interiors are both refined and functional.

Dodge took Truck of the Year honours for the 2013 Ram, but with a little action on the Mopar front this year and the somewhat dated-looking F-150 not getting a redesign for a couple of years, the new Silverado and Sierra may just be the trucks to beat in the foreseeable future if the driving impression lives up to the looks.

Lexus IS

AS much as I love the posh ride of a Lexus, the truth is many of their models have reminded me of a Japanese Buick. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'd like a little more punch with my plush.

With the new IS, however, Lexus has created a sinister sedan that not only promises to put you in the lap of luxury but also packs the punch of a prizefighter. This entry-level luxury cruiser offers either rear- or all-wheel drive and the available 3.5-litre V-6 engine can allegedly be tuned to pump out more than 300 horsepower. As well, there's just something about that new angular spindle grille that gets my blood flowing.

Lexus has never had a problem selling me on luxury; now it looks like they also have lively covered.

Ford Atlas

There was no shortage of dorky-looking concept vehicles on display in Detroit. But when Ford surprised everyone and unwrapped the Atlas truck concept, it appeared to offer a legitimate look into the future of the F-150.

Leaner, lighter, more fuel-efficient and abundantly more handsome, all eyes were on the Atlas. It's a sure bet more than a few of its thoughtful attributes -- including a slick combination tailgate step/cargo cradle, active front air dam and retractable running boards -- will wind up on the revamped 13th-generation F-series trucks, expected to be launched as 2015 models.

With the Atlas concept, Ford may have stolen the General's thunder at the Detroit show, but the fresh, new GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado models are already a reality and are poised to hit showrooms in this fall. The truck race is heating up -- again!

willy@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2013 F1

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