I feel like Steve Martin in the movie “The Jerk” when he gleefully celebrated that the new phone book came out – well sort of. I am a bit of a jerk, but I’m referencing the gleeful celebration of an actual auto show. Though the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), aka the Detroit Auto Show, had been cancelled for 2020 (because pandemic), the producers of the show were finally able to offer up a morsel of auto show goodness with a show called Motor Bella, held outdoors at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan.
The show, currently open to the public, runs through September 26, and the format is similar to the tried-and-true NAIAS show, with each automaker having their designated areas. While being outdoors is certainly safer with Covid protocols, it has the added benefit of actual ride-and-drive opportunities. You can take Jeeps, Broncos and other vehicles on off-road courses, there are driving courses for trailering with pickup trucks, and there is even a road course for hot laps in performance cars.
So, let’s look at some of the best trucks and SUVs at Motor Bella.
My mission at Motor Bella was to get any time I could get with the Lightning. I scoured the Ford exhibit looking for it. I saw a camouflaged mule Lightning off in the distance. I snuck around for a photo. Then, I was told I could watch a presentation on it, and that one didn’t have any camouflage. Even sitting through a hokey PR presentation was worth it, as I got to see the F-150 Lightning spin on a turntable and see if from every angle.
I was impressed. That big bold light bar that spans the grille like a mustache did not disappoint. Ford even opened the front, and I got to see the frunk. This truck looks like an F-150 and, when compared the goofy Tesla Cybertruck, looks like something that will resonate with many truck owners, especially fleet managers and small business owners.
The highlight of the day, however, was a pair of hot laps while riding shotgun in the same F-150 Lightning that President Biden drove during a publicity stunt. I was driven by one of the engineers who worked on the electric truck, and he showcased the quick take off and the incredible handling.
He revealed a great 50/50 weight transfer, which helped through tight turns and also told me there was in fact, one-pedal driving options for the F-150 Lightning. That was a feature I absolutely loved in the Mustang Mach-E.
My first impression, having not driven it, is that the Lightning will be a hit with some truck enthusiasts. The looks are a hit, and the interior feels just like a regular F-150, which is a good thing. The overall performance and handling is also worthy of the name “Lightning” as it felt quite performance-oriented, like the gasoline Lightning truck from decades ago.
The Stellantis N.A. display at Motor Bella was impressive. It has everything from Jeep to Dodge to Ram. The product line is impressive, and it really showed Stellantis is heading in the right direction. Then, I sat in the Jeep Wagoneer. It was nice. Impressive. I liked it. Someone said, if you like this, go sit in that Grand Wagoneer over there.
That was the best advice of the day as the Grand Wagoneer put the grand in the name. Let me state this as clearly as possible without any exaggeration: The Jeep Grand Wagoneer is the most impressive SUV I’ve seen in the last 5 years, if not the last 10.
Jeep is targeting the likes of Lexus, Infiniti, Lincoln and Cadillac with this big luxurious SUV, and honestly, the bar got raised – by a lot.
The exterior looks are stunning and thoroughly modern. But the inside was awe-inspiring. I kept thinking: How could this be a Jeep? I’m used to sparse interiors with less-than-impressive touch points. So, I have to ask: Who does Jeep think they are with this Grand Wagoneer?
There’s a passenger-side screen for people riding shotgun to watch movies on a tablet-sized screen, and they can even adjust the navigation and send it over to the driver’s screen. In the second row, the seats kick back, like loungers. The interior cabin space is impressive for this full-size SUV.
The one caveat is the big price tag. The one I fell in love at Motor Bella had a $100K sticker price. Jeep will have some marketing work cut out to convince someone to forego a luxury brand and spend that kind of money on a Jeep. But trust me when I say this: You have to see it for yourself, then you can almost justify that price tag.
When Ford launched the Maverick, I was beyond impressed. It seemed to create a segment where a need existed. I liked the hybrid engine and the fuel economy and the looks. But I had yet to see it up close or sit in it. And I wanted to see how the back seat compared to something the size of the Tacoma.
I loved everything I saw aesthetically from the Maverick and found the bed to be long enough with the unique tailgate that can adjust to certain angles. Ford was wise to show that off with a Maverick with some lumber in the back. It felt “truck enough” in that regard.
Climbing into the back seat, however, one of my big concerns played out. It was small. I’m barely 5-feet 9-inches, and my knees were hitting the front seats. I only wear a size 8 shoe, and my feet were under the front seats. Getting in and out of the cramped back seat was also a little disappointing.
But otherwise, the attractive looks and right-size still seems like Ford will have a hit on its hands with the right buyer.
We’ve covered the new-look Tundra extensively — to mixed thoughts and reviews. Having seen in person now, I find the looks to be good. There are other better-looking trucks out there, but I don’t find it as awful as some of the leaked photos and videos made it look.
In fact, I know it’s challenging to design trucks. It is, after all, just a rectangle, so it’s hard to give it distinction. I was hoping Toyota would have multiple trims there, but it only brought the Limited. As such, I found it to have stand-out looks. If the old Tundra was dated and kind of dull, this new one certainly cannot be categorized as such.
I was not able to get inside, however, which was a disappointment. I’m sure I’ll get some real seat time in the next-gen Tundra soon.
How can you not hold in high esteem the 75th Anniversary of the first mass-production 4×4 pickup? That’s what Ram shows off with this gorgeous Power Wagon.
The black grille mesh with a Gunmetal R-A-M grille badge just stood out so beautifully. And there’s that Hemi badging on the side that puts the power in Power Wagon. There were a lot of trucks from several different manufacturers at Motor Bella, and the Power Wagon, by far, stood out amongst all of them, even the other trucks from Ram and Jeep.
The Ram Power Wagon 75th Anniversary Edition has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $65,250, plus $1,695 destination.
General Motors’ display at Motor Bella might not have been as big as Ford or Stellantis, but I give it credit for one thing: Most of its vehicles were tucked safely under an enclosed area. And on a wet, rainy day, that was appreciated. Tucked away in the corner was the all-new Hummer EV SUV.
When you first see it, there’s so much familiarity to it. The throwback styling to the hulking, gas-guzzling behemoth of the past is still there, but this time it’s all-electric. Yet, it has modern flare with a little bit of a Tesla Cybertruck vibe to it (in a good way).
The Hummer EV is available as both a pickup and an SUV, and I was disappointed GMC only displayed the SUV. Nevertheless, the new Hummer was one of the stars of the General Motors area — which included some awesome Corvettes, so that’s saying a lot.
It was absolutely great to have an auto show to go to. And it was nice to see the familiar faces of colleagues. However, it would be nice if for once, there could be an auto show with decent weather. You would think outdoors in September would’ve worked out, but the torrential rain during the media preview did dampen the enthusiasm somewhat (literally). While it looks like rain again on Saturday in Detroit, those interested in going to the show over the weekend should get a clear day on Sunday.
It’s good to see the manufacturers and dealers supporting Motor Bella, even if some of the other brands and OEMs had minimal displays. For example Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru and Kia are represented but didn’t have the impressive displays or drive events. There are some luxury car representatives, too, that always get people excited.
All in all, Motor Bella was a success and made me excited to feel somewhat “normal” once again.