This year's Detroit Auto Show saw the debut of many new luxury cars, both in production and concept forms. Interestingly, many of these new luxury cars were distinctly un-German in execution, a refreshing change of pace for the automotive industry.
Up until Detroit, an automaker trying to stage a luxury comeback made cars that were aimed squarely at their german competition. Cadillac, Jaguar and Genesis (née-Hyundai) have all done this and for good reason: German luxury cars sell well and receive critical acclaim.
We've seen countless "3 Series fighters" and "S-Class competitors," but you wouldn't necessarily use terms like those to describe the luxury cars displayed at the Detroit Auto Show. Of course, these cars will compete with the Germans for sales, but their approach is significantly different.
Lincoln Continental, Buick Avista and the Return of 'Personal' Luxury
As my former colleague at Jalopnik, Jason Torchinsky , traditional American luxury has always been about isolating the driver from the experience of driving as much as possible. Detroit became incredibly skilled at producing what it called a "personal luxury car," which embodied the values of smooth luxury.
Lincoln's new philosophy of "quiet luxury," which it announced along with the new Continental, seems to be a return to the ideals of personal luxury. At its press conference, Lincoln didn't talk much about engine specs or handling, instead focusing on the interior.
The seats have 30-way (!) adjustments and the rear seats feature a middle seat that folds down to reveal controls for chauffeured passengers. Of course, many of these luxuries are targeted squarely at China where luxury car buyers prefer being driven over driving, but there's something distinctly American about 30-way seats.
As Torchinsky says, the Continental stands in very sharp contrast with the Cadillac CTS, which especially in 640 horsepower CTS-V form, is squarely aimed at the BMW 5 Series and M5. That car is, of course, comfortable, but it values superlative handling and driving enjoyment over being the last word in comfort.
That's not to say the Continental is better than the CTS at all, just starkly different. Even though I prefer sporty cars, it was nice to see a car that is unabashedly comfortable.
Similarly, the Buick Avista concept stands in contrast to its GM brothers at Cadillac, even while riding on the same platform as the ATS and CTS. The Avista is very much a European Gran Turismo in the classic sense, but it also brings to mind the gorgeous first-generation Riviera.
If put into production, the Avista would be a nicely American contrast to the M3-fighing Cadillac ATS-V. The Buick, with its twin turbo 3.0-liter V6, would trade some horsepower and handling prowess for the ability to eat up highway miles.
The Avista is a personal coupe for the 21st century and we sincerely hope Buick builds it.
Volvo, it could be argued, kickstarted the trend of the un-German luxury car with the launch of the second-generation XC90 last year. Indeed, our colleagues at Car & Driver described the XC90 as "refreshingly un-German" in their .
The S90 sedan continues the XC90's proud Swedishness. While Volvo will likely offer a sportier Polestar version of the S90, the car in its current form emphasizes high tech and a unique interior design. The S90 is, ostensibly, an E-Class/5 Series/A6 competitor, but like the Lincoln Continental, the S90 stands in sharp contrast with something like a Cadillac CTS.
Lex Keermakers, Volvo Car USA's President and CEO said that Volvo's Chinese parent company Geely is pushing Volvo to be "more Sweedish."
Volvo right now embodies the values of safety and sensibility of all Volvos past, but it's doing so with some genuine sex appeal. The XC90 is unlike anything else in its segment and the S90 promises to be similarly different.
Infiniti Q60, Lexus LC 500 and a New Paradigm for Japanese Luxury
While the Infiniti Q60 and Lexus LC500 will exist in different price sections in the market, they both have a similar task: changing the perception of their respective brands. Both have struggled for a strong identity and languished in the shadows of their German counterparts in recent years.
Infiniti teased us with the GT-R-engined Q50 Eau Rogue sedan and subsequently disappointed us when it decided against putting it into production. While that undoubtedly would have been a cool car, its new direction, lead by the Q60, might be a better way forward for Infiniti.
Instead of trying wade into battle against the M5, E63 AMG, RS7 and CTS-V with the Eau Rouge, Infiniti will now offer a reasonably priced, sharply styled grand tourer. It's not trying to be the last word in performance, but the Q60 doesn't need to be.
The Lexus LC 500 has similar aspirations to the Q60, but it aims higher up in the marketplace. It's somewhat of a competitor to the BMW M6 and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe, but it stakes out its own claim in blending luxury in performance.
More than anything else, the LC 500 makes a strong statement of intent: Lexus will make cars on its own terms, for the first time standing in contrast to the German brands it has always looked to dethrone. It's the first time Lexus has successfully recaptured the spirit of the mighty LFA, an individualistic supercar if there ever was one.
Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota, noted that Lexus is commonly criticized for being "boring" before rolling out the LC 500 on stage at the Detroit Auto Show. Naysayers–myself included–were immediately silenced by the sheer presence of the big, beautiful LC 500.
Parked next to an M6 or an S-Class Coupe, the LC will stand prouder than any Lexus before it, barring the LFA. It's the sort of car you find hard to believe it will be put into production, but it should be on the road next year.
These luxury cars make great promises for the future. Of course, we haven't driven any of the aforementioned cars yet, but our expectations are high for these un-German cars. It's refreshing to see any automaker standing out from the crowd, let alone five.
We'll still love our German luxury cars too, but we can't help but be excited about this new direction for the auto industry. All hail the un-German luxury car.