There seemed to be more news about sports-car companies making SUVs in 2017 than their core, two-door performance products. But they were out there. Ford started delivering the street-legal, $450,000 version of the LeMans-winning GT race car to a lucky few customers. At the other end of the income spectrum, Mazda rolled out its sexiest Miata yet, the RF hardtop. Corvette introduced the most fearsome, front-engine ZR1 ever before it transitions to a new-generation mid-engine design next year. Speaking of front-engines, the incredible Dodge Viper was put out to pasture. We’ll miss you, Snake.
Ford Mustang Bullitt
What it is:Putting an exclamation point on Mustang’s latest mid-cycle upgrade, the Bullitt is the third ’Stang to honor Steve McQueen’s movie original (the others were produced in 2001 and 2008). Highland Green is the featured color, just like the movie car, and a Shadow Black will also be offered. The Bullitt is trimmed in GT premium-spec with performance package, 6-pot front Brembo brakes and a 15-horsepower upgrade over the V-8’s usual 460 ponies.
Payne’s take:Your steed for high-speed chases through San Francisco (or Detroit) streets. The Bullitt bears all the signature cues of McQueen’s original (see the 1968 car right next to the ’19 on the show floor), right down to the white cue ball on the manual shifter. But this is also a thoroughly modern, electronic beast as the Ford GT-inspired 12-inch digital instrument display attests.
What it is: An upgraded 2019 i8 coupe gets its world debut in Detroit alongside its new brother the i8 Roadster (first seen in LA in November). Upgrades to the e-mobile are minor, with the hybrid electric three-cylinder gas powertrain gaining 12 horsepower for a total of 369. The Roadster keeps the Coupe’s dramatic scissor doors while adding a retractable cloth top that disappears in 16 seconds at up to 31 mph.
Payne’s take: The jaw-dropping high-tech i8 is something right out of a Disney sci-fi “Tron” movie. With electric-motor torque, it explodes off the line. With a carbon-fiber chassis, it’s a well-balanced sports car. Only the skinny eco-tires and three-cylinder gas engine keep it from the supercar ranks. Gorgeously green, it’s a unique entry in the market.
What it is: The Korean automaker’s hatchback retains its unique three-door architecture — but everything else is new. The aging chassis has been replaced, sharing the same skeleton as the compact Elantra sedan. Exterior design maintains the Veloster’s bold, punky style, but the lines have been sharpened. The roomier interior gains Hyundai goodies like smartphone-app connectivity. The drivetrain gains, too — with the standard 2.0-liter up nine horsepower.
Payne’s take: Like VW’s Jetta and Golf stablemates, the Veloster is Hyundai’s hatchback alternative to the Elantra sedan. It comes loaded with personality — and spunk. Where the Elantra GT Sport is no slouch in the handling department, the Veloster Turbo upgrades its rear suspension to multi-link from the Elantra’s torsion beam. The turbo has been downsized to 1.6 liters, but maintains its predecessor’s 201 horsepower, while improving mpg.