2018 New York Auto Show Recap - Optimism in the City
Outside of my hometown of Chicago, New York City remains one of my favorite metropolises. I don’t know why – Manhattan is overstuffed with cars and people, garbage is put out on the sidewalks, hotel rooms are no oasis from street noise, and most goods and services are way too expensive.
Perhaps New York has a unique sort of charm that compensates for all its flaws, some sort of charisma that continues to exist despite the continuing transformation of Manhattan into a living Disney city for the wealthy.
I mean, in what other city would I be brazenly approached by a young man trying to sell me cocaine as I walked back to my hotel after some late-night pizza (partake, I did not. Drugs aren’t my thing. Pizza was good, though) while almost within sight of the most famous urban intersection in the world – one that was undoubtedly crowded to the gills even at that hour? In what other city would I have a surreal on-street argument with a fellow pedestrian over an innocent, touristy picture I took of a street sign? There’s this “only in New York” feeling, a sense that certain things happen to you that just wouldn’t elsewhere.
It’s the kind of place where you can swear bloody murder because the F train didn’t show, but find value in the 40-minute walk across lower Manhattan you undertake instead, all because you don’t feel like doing the logical thing and hailing a cab. SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown all look much better from on foot.
I took that walk to go see the new AT4 trim level of the 2019 GMC Sierra, one that likely won’t be seen much on NYC streets. That was two days, give or take, before the first press day of the 2018 New York Auto Show. Three days almost to the minute after I saw that new truck, I looked out the window of my plane as it took off from LaGuardia, hoping for one last glimpse at the skyline and a few more seconds of reflection on the show – but gray skies clouded my vision and my eyes involuntarily shut as the post-show fatigue hit.
When I awoke over Lake Michigan, I started mulling over a show that was busy but not insanely so. There was a little something for everyone, from mainstream sedans to compact crossovers to concepts to a rear-drive Lincoln SUV. Sure, some things were missing, as Bark notes, but unlike this year’s Detroit show, which was truck-centric, New York sort of touched all bases. Fitting, since the Mets were wrapping their first game of the season as my cab dropped me off at the airport, within sight of Citi Field.
I walked away from the show with a strange sense of optimism – I found myself liking the products on the floor, at least at first glance, more than I typically do.
Let’s start with Nissan. The current-gen Altima has been the forgotten one in the midsize sedan class almost since it launched. I’ve always found it perfectly pleasant to drive, but also extremely easy to forget. It’s not fun to drive like a Mazda 6, nor is it a jack of all trades like the Camry. The last time I drove one, I remembered it more for the fuel economy and trunk space (ample room for four adults’ luggage) than for any other reason. Large, comfortable, fuel efficient, and bland as hell – that was my take.
Nissan learned its lesson. Not only in the styling department – the new Altima borrows so much from the larger Maxima that I kept calling it by the other’s name – but in other ways, too. For one, the brand is bringing the variable-compression turbo tech from the Infiniti QX50 into the Altima. For another, the Altima is now the first Nissan sedan to ever offer AWD in the U.S. ProPilot Assist, which allows for limited autonomous driving, is also available. All of this shows me Nissan is making an effort to get buyers that aren’t fleet managers to pay attention to the Altima again.
Next up on my list is Volkswagen. The Atlas Cross Sport Concept made me roll my eyes – yay, a five-seat Atlas! You can sort of achieve the same thing by buying a Tiguan and folding down the useless third row. The Tanoak truck concept, though – funny name aside, I do want. I’m a sucker for car-like midsize pickups like the Ridgeline, probably because I live in a city and the big cowboy Cadillacs don’t work for me. I really hope it gets built.
Moving on, I dig the new Toyota RAV4 and its more-rugged styling. But let’s face it, it could look like the automotive equivalent of a platypus and Toyota would move as many as it can build.
I also have cautious optimism for the Acura RDX, but recent brand history is going to be a bit hard to overcome.
Now to the disappointments. I have little to say about the Subaru Forester because I didn’t get much time near it, but I am bummed there’s one less manual transmission option out there, and sad to see the XT trim go.
I find the Aviator perfectly fine but I worry about using a smartphone as a key – the TTAC staff is even more verklempt about the possibly of not having a fob.
Then there’s the Cadillac XT4. I wrote the post on it, and as I went through the specs my initial take was that it was just par for the course for the class. I thought it looked OK in photos. But seeing it up close – well, I don’t feel as good about it. The front-end styling is attractive enough, but Matt Posky and I took note of the plastic cladding, with Matt being especially repulsed. The whole package felt underdone, like a steak taken off the grill too soon.
That’s unacceptable for a $35K vehicle that moves into the $40K range with popular options and will compete in the luxury class. It’s almost as if Cadillac thought that slapping its name on a compact crossover will be enough. And maybe, given the popularity of crossovers, that’s the correct thinking, at least from a sales perspective. But it feels like a disservice to a proud brand that still offers up good product and just dropped a honkin’ V8 into the CT6 V-Sport.
Maybe the XT4 will drive well enough to assuage my concerns. We shall see. Right now, though, I am not optimistic.
Not optimistic regarding the XT4, sure, but overall feeling better about the slate of unveils at an auto show than I’ve felt in a while. And I didn’t even mention all of them – I only had so much time and wasn’t able to spend much of it at Kia or Hyundai. I’ve also glossed over the Mazda Kai Concept which, despite what Mazda PR won’t say, is almost certainly the next 3 (I dig it), the next Corolla (thumbs up), and the Honda Insight (intriguing), as well as the Genesis concept I never got near.
New York’s auto show has always struck me as contradictory – an auto show in a place where I’d rather do anything but drive? New York may not be the most natural city for an auto show, but so what? Somewhere between the $16 sandwiches (not a typo) and $8 beers, the city that never stops lightening your wallet still manages to serve as a good host.
Now, about that VW kastenwagen…
[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]
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