No shortage of showstoppers from Japanese automakers at NAIAS

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By Neil Moore
Metroland Media

DETROIT, MICH.
–  At the second media day at the North American International Auto Show, one of the real showstoppers came courtesy of Toyota and its FT-1 Concept.

The name stands for “Future Toyota,” and according to its designers at Calty Design research, it was built upon the company’s sports coupe heritage that dates back to the 2000GT, Celica, Supra and MR2, not to mention concepts like the Lexus LF-LC.

The look is sexy and curvaceous – new ground for an automaker that is known for well-made but plain transportation. The body features inlets, ducting and vents to manage airflow and reinforce its stability on the track. A retractable rear wing deploys at higher speeds for added downforce.

The FT-1’s long bonnet pulls back to a small cockpit, with wraparound windshield and side glass openings – a distinct nod to the 2000GT.

Will Toyota shed the notion that everything has to look like a Camry or Prius, and actually build it? One can only hope.

Over at Subaru, company reps took the wraps off a more fetching WRX STI for 2015. Not that there was anything wrong with any of its formidable, race-bred predecessors, but it has indeed come a long way in styling from its googly-eyed, boy racer beginnings.

Under the hood is a 2.5-litre turbo four that produces 305 hp and 290 lb/ft of torque. It is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. SI-Drive performance management offers Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp settings.

The STI’s new platform is stiffer, and with active torque vectoring, drivers can expect even better handling.

Attention has also been paid to the interior, which is roomier and benefits from upgraded materials and new user technologies.

Also coming is the WRX STI Launch Edition, which features WR blue pearl paint and gold BBS forged alloy wheels, along with other special trim. This has been limited to 1,000 units worldwide.

If the auto show had an award for best paint job, top honours would be given to Infiniti Eau Rouge Concept – named after a corner at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamp in Belgium. It had an exterior finish that I could only describe as stunning.

It was some kind of candy-apple red, with a hint of silver. Mind you, it’s actually a silver car, overlaid by 24 layers of clearcoat, each containing only a small amount of red pigment.

Which demonstrates the kind of meticulousness that went into this Q50 variant that, in reality, only shares the front doors and roof pillar arches with Infiniti’s popular luxury performance sedan.

The Eau Rouge Concept is wider than a stock Q50, with a larger deck lid spoiler for greater downforce. Indeed, performance aspirations are embedded in the design, which features aerodynamic elements inspired by the company’s partnership with the Red Bull racing team.

These include extensive use of carbon fibre: in the functional side skirts that help manage airflow, in the large front splitter and the rear diffuser. Here, you’ll another F1 styling cue in the Eau Rouge’s rear fog light.

And with its massive, yet lightweight, 21-inch alloys set tightly within the large wheel arches, the concept gives an overall impression of being hunkered down and perhaps a bit menacing. Dark chrome trim adds to the effect.

“Infiniti, in my view, needs to develop a range of high-performance cars,” said Infiniti President Johan de Nysschen, later acknowledging his strong desire to bring the Eau Rouge to market.

He also noted that if they were to build this vehicle, it would have to deliver power upwards of 500 hp and 600 lb/ft of torque.

It must have been a day for stunning red paint jobs as Acura unveiled the 2015 TLX Prototype, which showcases the performance and design direction for their all-new luxury sport sedan. It will launch mid-year and will find its place in the Acura car lineup between the compact ILX and the RLX flagship.

The TLX is powered by one of two engines. First is a direct-injected 2.4-litre i-VTEC four cylinder, mated to an eight-speed dual clutch transmission with torque converter.

A 3.5-litre V6 is also available, employing direct injection and i-VTEC, with variable cylinder management for better fuel economy. It is paired with a new close-ratio, nine-speed automatic. The TLX has a taut exterior, with long sloping hood and short rear deck, enhanced by its low and wide stance, short front and rear overhangs, and pronounced wheel arches over custom-designed five-spoke 20-inch alloys.

It is 3.8 inches shorter than the TL it replaces, yet rides on the same wheelbase.
Two-wheel-drive models – either four or six cylinder – will get Acura’s all-wheel steering (P-AWS) technology. The company’s proven SH-AWD system is only available in V6 models, giving the TLX improved all-weather handling.