New York, New York

Hope springs eternal, and, with apologies to Alexander Pope, there was lots to stir in the human breast at this year’s edition of the New York Auto Show.  What struck me the most, is how so many segments of the automotive spectrum have extremely exciting vehicles.

For instance, Alfa Romeo is returning to North America.  The 4C is an impossibly small, never-mind-what’s-behind-you-because-you-can’t-see-out-the-back-window-anyway drop-dead gorgeous piece of automotive sculpture.  An incredibly wide sill greets the driver, which is best overcome by just resigning yourself to falling into the form-fitting seat.  The cockpit is small, intimate and feels fast standing still.

Move over to mainstream Kia, which is a microcosm of the entire industry.  The Soul EV has a very large 27kWh battery, will trade on the funky cred of the latest Soul chipmunk campaign (they got the goils, who doesn’t like them?) and will likely have a functional range of 150+ kilometres when it goes on sale in the fall.  The new Kia Sedona van will be a small player, but Kia and Hyundai seem determined to play in every space sans pickups, where even mighty Toyota hasn’t been able to make inroads.  The unfortunately named K900 premium sedan (K-9?) will likely find some buyers at a $70,000+ price point which is thousands less than a similarly sized Lexus.  While admiring the spacious rear seats, I overheard a number of executives from another car company joke about the price.  One executive said to another, “How much do you think this thing is worth?”.  The other said, “I dunno, $25,000 or $26,000?”  The other replied, “Try $66,000”.  “For a Kia?  No way, they’ll never sell.”  I’m continually amazed at how short sighted the domestic car industry can be.  Back in 1989, they said similar things about Lexus.  “It’s a Toyota.  No one will pay more than $50,000 for a Toyota with a different name.”  Lexus is among the leaders in sales and customer experience.  Wouldn’t any manufacturer like to have Lexus in their product portfolio?

Acura downsized and upsized, all at the same time.  The TL is gone, so is the TSX.  Combine the letters, and get the TLX.  Watch this space soon for a profile of this new vehicle and the competition.

BMW seems to find endless ways of spinning its core vehicles into other body styles and segments.  The 1 Series has become the 2 Series, so, will there be a new 1 Series? I wouldn’t count it out.  The new X4 is a variation on the X3 SUV, but it looks to me like the answer to a question no one really asked.  The X6 I like, but I can’t wrap my head around the styling of the X4. Yes, it really does look like someone backed the X3 into a wall and bent the sheet metal to the hatchback form.  However, move to the 435i Grand Coupe.  It’s a hatchback, based on the 435i Coupe, but with four doors instead of two.  I didn’t understand this vehicle until I sat in the back seat.  It looks like a coupe.  It’s functional with the hatch. It’ll easily carry four passengers, and the back seat has enough room for baby seats or an adult journey for four to dinner.  It’s not an SUV.  It’s not a van.  It looks great.  It will sell in droves.

Audi’s answer to the X4 is the A3 Sportback.  A small, wagon-like hatch, it’s like our existing A3 that never made it to the US market until now.  A perennial best seller in Canada, we’ll wait and see if it makes it north of the border.

The Jeep Renegade revives an old name on a new platform. Based on the Fiat 500, but with its own style and all-wheel drive systems, it competes in the Mini Countryman, Kia Soul space, with the advantage of the Jeep heritage for off-roading.  I can see it doing well in urban areas, where the vehicle will only need all-wheel drive to mount the curbs at the mall.

Nissan debuted the all-new Murano.  The styling will be controversial, not in a JUKE way, but more in the way of taking the existing design language found in Sentra and Altima and extending it to its logical conclusion.  There is all kinds of visual interest in this iteration of Murano, which has always been one of the most attractive sport cross-overs on the market.  The boomerang headlights are echoed in the tail lights, and the C-pillar black out combined with the black rear door kick-up lightens the entire body profile.  The pinch point for the lower kick-up is reflected in the front door crease which provides flow to the sides and leads the eye to the back of the vehicle.  I think the design is brilliant.  The market will decide if Nissan has gone too far.

Over at Infiniti, a long wheelbase version of the Q70 will go on sale in North America, after finding a market in China.  A revised QX80 has been described as a ‘mobile man-cave’, equipped with just about every available amenity.  I like the formal look of the QX80, and with variations of the GMC Yukon/Chevy Suburban twins dominating the landscape, the  QX80 offers an opportunity for owners who still need seating for seven or eight and the ability to tow more than 5,000 pounds to stand out from the crowd.

Toyota has made some changes to the Camry to keep it fresh against the year-to-date better selling Altima.  A new Hyundai Sonata heats up this market segment with a Sport version with four(!) exhaust tips on a family sedan.  The Volkswagen Jetta receives some minor tweaks with LED lighting up front and revised tail lights and interior trim offerings.

All-in-all, another great show, with lots to see, some things to savour, and others over which to drool.  Will the automotive juggernaut continue into the spring?  Judging from this year’s show, it’ll be hard for people to keep their wallets closed.

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