The New York Auto Show was a surprisingly robust event with a feast of products for any price point. But covering a show of this magnitude as a lone reporter was no small feat. With a wealth of product comes a wealth of showy stage productions and, of course, a metric ton of happy babble from the company men. They have their job, I have mine. On to the truth.
Mercedes started things off with the SLS AMG in race trimmings, the crowd burst into applause. Which quickly died upon presentation of the new E-class Wagon, complete with a power fold bench seat. The redesigned R-class was a decent parting shot, since it looks far better in person than the outgoing model. Mercedes claims there’s an international demand for a “clean” earth friendly SUV, and there was no shortage of “BlueTec” diesel greenwashing to prove the point.
Infiniti was rich with contrast: a pair of delicate Cirque De Soleil zebra dancers forshadowed the manatee-like Infiniti QX56 waiting under cover. The on-stage executives promoted nothing even remotely green or progressive, quite refreshing in its stale-ness: body on frame design, big block V8 power and extra luxuries not previously seen. The un-macho looking QX56 does have a vastly improved interior, a step up from the Navi-Escalade, but it’s still no Land Rover. Expect pricing to reflect that sentiment.
Ford was light on product, but we already know the good stuff. The new Fiesta and Focus look like American Idol soon-to-be-stars under the auto show lights, even if one Fiesta sported nasty tattoo graphics. There was the all-electric Transit Van and Focus, plus claims that the new (to Lincoln) MKZ hybrid will out-hybrid the Lexus HS250 in fuel consumption. And with greenwashing in mind, Ford and Microsoft are partnering in an optimization study to prevent theoretical blackouts when electric cars theoretically rule the roadways. Theoretically speaking. Ford was light on what their involvement entails: nothing was even remotely actionable, even if they made enough electric cars to upset the power grid of a small town.
Chevrolet wisely spent most of their time on the upcoming Cruze sedan, though they couldn’t resist mentioning the Volt as their future. But the Cruze is their “near” future. And the new Cruze “RS” has unique styling bits, with none of the performance upgrades we (must now) miss from the Cobalt SS. The Cruze Eco was more interesting, and not because the name sounds better than “XFE.” The unique fuel-saving features include a bumper with closable holes at highway speeds, one reason why Chevrolet thinks the Cruze ECO will be the most fuel efficient non-hybrid on the market. While not an especially eye catching vehicle in person, the Cruze’ details inspire a closer look, most notably that cloth covered dashboard.
Scion cornered the market on buzzwords and catchy one-liners: the new Scion iQ needed that to mask its unchanged Toyota profile. No matter, the iQ features “premium materials” for a premium urban hipster. Or something like that. But the CVT transmission doesn’t jive with the brand’s youthful aspirations. And the new tC is a wash: while it loses the old model’s clean and borderline elegant styling, it’s still the best looking Scion in the lineup. While steering feel, exhaust note and MPGs supposedly improve with the new skin, the Toyota FT-86 will be this brand’s final nail in the coffin. Even the way cool, 80s-retro, 3-way speakers in the tC’s door panels don’t stand a chance against a real performance car at a similar price point.
Hyundai might be the star of the show. Two new powertrains for the Sonata made themselves known: a 274 horse, 2.0L turbo four with direct injection and a full parallel “Blue Drive” Hybrid model. The turbo four has a torque peak low enough to banish all V6 competition, but the Blue Sonata Hybrid is 14% sleeker than the base model. Apparently Hybrids are the only models worthy of improved aerodynamics. But Hyundai claims this Hybrid will be fun to drive, as there’s a proper 6-speed automatic in lieu of a CVT box.
Then there’s the new Equus: longer than a Lexus LS460, sporting a Maybach-like air suspension, a seriously wide set of tires (245mm front/275mm rear) and a Tau-V8 underhood. The interior upgrades water the mouth, even in person: leather dash, Alcantara headliner, heated steering wheel, reclining heated/cooled rear seats and a four-passenger option with a small fridge in the rear console. It’s not the prettiest sedan by a long shot, but Hyundai made an impressive piece of kit. Maybe even the Hyundai Sonata of S-classes.
And the Hyundai dealership experience for a 50+k vehicle? Not applicable: the Equus’ test drive begins at your home or office, ditto when the concierge service nabs it for servicing, leaving the owner with an Equus or Genesis loaner. Out of the box thinking is hard to find at a press conference, so kudos to Hyundai this time ‘round.
Porsche and VW were far too similar, so they get wrapped together. Both presented versions of the same Hybrid SUV, be it in Cayenne or Touareg livery. The Cayenne promises to run on full electric power up to 97 mph, also promising to be an “exciting and green” vehicle. The VW event took forever to get to the point, thanks to an overload of corporate drivel to impress the top brass. But VW wants to bring Electric vehicles to the “mass market”, so I suggest they talk to Ford and Microsoft about that. But the highlight was when a VW Designer was asked why their Hybrid lacks a unique, Prius-like design language: turns out VW wants their hybrids to add to the cohesiveness of their product portfolio. Biggest. Cop. Out. Ever.
BMW lectured the media with impressive adhesion to their branding cohesiveness and core values. Then they launched the mother of all product offensives, three distinct 7-series for starters: a six-banger with 25 MPG highway, a Hybrid that claims to be the fastest on the market and a hi-po Alpina B7 iteration. The Z4 and 335i receive an “S” package with 20 more horses, a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox and 40 more lb-ft of torque with an over boost feature. Most important was the all new 5-series: a step in the right direction, yet still no match for the E39 body style. BMW made a point to mention that the I-6 and V8 have a 6-speed manual as a no cost option. Which generated applause from the crowd. Heck, even I was clapping.
Acura applauded themselves for sticking to Honda’s platforms while other brands become full-line manufacturers of SUVs and high performance machines. Well, they meant that in an eco-friendly, greenwashing way. They took the wraps off the TSX Wagon: designed to meet the “lifestyle” needs of urban dwellers with more efficiency than SUVs and yesteryear’s wagons. Well, duh. The old woody wagons weren’t different than the sedans from whence they came, and the TSX Wagon messed that up: there’s a proper manual transmission in the TSX sedan, but not here. I can hear the sighs of disappointment from some of our Best and Brightest already.
Subaru introduced the 2011 WRX and STI, after patting themselves on the back for increasing market share last year. Thankfully, the WRX looked great on the floor, with a wide body kit for a 1.5” wider track. The STI gets 18 inch wheels over the WRX’s surprisingly rational 17-inchers. Their presentation included the phrase “The Wing Is Back”: loyalists and displaced Plymouth Superbird fans rejoice? Subaru insists this wing improves their coefficient of drag, but I’d suggest removing it entirely if being slick was the intended mission.
Kia attributed their recent sales successes to being a great value in the market, a refreshingly rational form of corporate cheerleading. After promoting their Microsoft-UVO entertainment (SYNC-like) system, three less-than-amazing new cars arrived: the Sorento “SX” sport appearance package, the latest Sportage cute ute, and a Forte 5-door hatch. And then, magic: the Kia Optima, a badge-engineered Hyundai Sonata, arrived with everything but the Hyundai’s BlueDrive Hybrid system. Pictures don’t do it justice, the Optima is an eye-catching design inside and out. I could barely get my hands on it, as the media was literally shrink-wrapped around it. The Kia staffers were all smiles at that instant, with good reason: the Optima is quite a looker on paper and in the flesh.
MINI made a lame attempt at an April Fool’s joke, as their Russian Nesting Doll sitting under a tarp started off as a stereotypically-retarded four door SUV. After the first layer disappeared, another comical SUV-looking thing arrived: this time it was a MINI Countryman. While the interior space and ambiance make this MINI a poor man’s Aston Rapide, the gotta-have-it factor of a MINI is waning in the face of similarly assertive cute-utes from Japan and South Korea. While this brand certainly has its place, nobody corners the market on style anymore.
Mitsubishi presented the iMiEV electric car, which, like most of its electrified ilk, will be available in fleets this year. The press shall receive a few, don’t expect a TTAC review any time soon. More importantly, a suitably hunky entry-level Mistubishi CUV made its debut. I heard several Outlander-based titles mentioned, but the actual vehicle wore no model designation, and the press release calls it the “little brother” to the Outlander CUV. No matter, the Outlander on a smaller scale certainly had curb appeal.
Looking past the gimmicks and hype, the final auto show of the 2009-2010 season showed an industry that is responding to the economic and energy challenges of the past several years. But the eco-achievements of all the hybrid and alt-energy vehicles on display have a darker side, chief among which is the apparent death of the manual transmission even on enthusiast models like the Sonata Turbo and TSX Sportwagon. Other innovations, such as Hyundai’s novel approach to customer relations with its new Equus line promise a less-expected revolution in the industry. Perhaps someday the constant demand for change will reach a point where it leaves the old-school futurama glitz of the auto show behind. Until then, we will continue to wade through press events like these, to cut through the hype and bring you the ever-changing truth about the auto industry.