Tag Archives: ML450

2009 New York Auto Show Review

This year’s New York Auto Show was, for the most part, notable for its lack of notability.

While the NYIAS usually ranks as America’s most heavily attended auto show, with around a million visitors a year, the automotive industry has never treated it quite with the gravitas they do for other shows – the Detroit Auto Show, for example. This is pretty sensible – Detroit is Motor City, while in New York, the people ride in a hole in the ground.

But even considering its location in one of maybe two places in the U.S. where having a car is treated less like a modern convenience and more like an annoying rash (“I have to treat it twice a week?”), this year’s NYIAS was rather listless. Or, as the kids might put it, meh. There were no spectacular new models revealed. The press conferences were quite reserved – no Jeeps erupted out of volcanic calderas constructed in the parking lot. (That happened in 2007. Seriously.) There wasn’t even any apocalyptic undercurrent to the affair – no Hail Mary concepts (“it’ll run on urine!”) or manic attempts to convince everyone that things were great. There was just a slight sense of melancholy draining the energy out of the place.

But that’s not to say the show was a loss. There were still quite a few manufacturers who availed themselves of the opportunity, in true New York tradition, to whip open their trenchcoats and flash the goodies for the world to behold.

The new Acura ZDX concept, for one, has the potential to prove reasonably successful – at least, by the standards of the “Four-door Utility Crossover Koupe” class. (If Kia can spell coupe with a K to be “cool,” I can do it for a cheap joke.) Sadly, boss company Honda’s decision to freeze development on its V-8 means the ZDX will be handicapped from day one against the competing Infiniti FX and BMW X6,  both of which offer six- and eight-cylinder models. Still, the Acura MDX crossover upon which the ZDX is based has done all right with just a V-6 – it offers top-of-the-class driving dynamics and quality. If the ZDX manages to improve on its brother while coming in around the same price as the six-cylinder Bimmer and Finnie, it should do well for itself.

acura-zdx-prototypejpg

And while we’re on the subject of FUCKs, I’d like to point out that, mocking acronym aside, I don’t find them nearly as insensible as some others in the automotive industry do. While the idea of them as anything close to a proper coupe is hilarious (and not lame Jimmy Fallon hilarious, but seriously Tina Fey hilarious), they offer what people like about SUVs – high seating, ground clearance, all-wheel-drive, roomy interior – with a more attractive design and sportier performance. That sounds like a win-win.

Another example: the BMW X6 M, also unveiled at NYIAS. 555 horsepower, 500 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. All the straight-line performance of a BMW M5, and probably 95 percent of its handling capabilities – plus you can drive the bastard through a blizzard, carrying twice as much in the trunk. It’s the logical extension of convenient performance: the sport sedan gave us sports-car performance with room for four; the sports-FUCK gives us equal performance with room for four and all-road capability. In fact – and I may be going out on a limb here – I’d take an X6 M over a current generation M5, given the sedan’s unsatisfying choice between the harsh, grabby sequential gearbox and the performance-crippling manual.

2010_bmw_x6_m

Volkswagen took the wraps off the American versions of the new Golf, complete with hot-to-trot GTI edition. The biggest news here is the new styling, which depending on the angle, can either make the car look tough or raccoon-eyed. Still, the sleeker lines are a definite improvement over the current, bland-looking car. VW’s betting heavy on their 50-state-clean diesel technology in this car – they guesstimate 30 percent of sales will be oil burners in the first model. Diesel Jettas, for their part, have been scooping up 30 percent of Jetta sedan sales and half of the Jetta wagon market, so this might be realistic. Still, will people want “sportier” gasoline engines in the cooler Golf?

2010_volkswagen_golf_gti

The other big news, of course, has nothing to do with the mechanics of the car; VW changed the car’s name from “Rabbit” to “Golf.” This marks the second time VW has executed this exact name change in America for the car, having done so decades ago. They switched it back to “Rabbit” for the new 2006 model – I can only assume to capitalize on some perceived nostalgia for 70s-era compacts. Judging by the reversal, I’d wager they didn’t find any.

Mercedes-Benz used the auto show to unwrap a somewhat surprising ML450 Hybrid – surprising because M-B seemed to be putting its eggs into the efficient diesel market, especially on its SUVs. Nevertheless, Benz fused a 3.5 liter V-6 to a pair of electric motors to make a combined 335 horsepower and 385 lb/ft, while eking out an estimated 21/24 mpg, city/highway. In contrast, their ML320 BlueTEC diesel pumps out 210 horsepower, 398 lb/ft and makes 18/24, city/highway.  Assuming they both cost about the same, the hybrid has a definite edge around town – factor in the cheaper price of gasoline than diesel and the cache of the “Hybrid” badge, and the new model will probably outsell the oil burner by a decent margin. But it’s good to see Mercedes taking the green thing seriously.

mercedesbenz_ml450_hybrid

Jeep, sadly, doesn’t seem to be following the same track, at least if the 2011 Grand Cherokee is any indication. It still limits your choices to gasoline six- and eight-cylinder engines –  a 3.0 liter diesel is only available outside of the States. (Strange, given that Jeep’s website lists the current model rocking the diesel six. Expect to see that remedied within the next three years.) The V-6 is all new, a 280-horsepower, 260 lb/ft 3.6 liter that’s supposed to deliver a whopping 11 percent improvement in fuel economy. Given the current 4WD model gets 15/19 with its V6, that should at least bump it over the 20 mpg mark – but being unveiled just after Mercedes’s 24-mpg hybrid M-class, and just before GMC declared the 2WD GMC Terrain will get 30 mpg, the Jeep’s figures hardly look like the sort of leap forward Chrysler needs right now.

2011_jeep_grand_cherokee-thumb

But thankfully, the Grand Cherokee’s physical figure comes damn close to making up for it. This is one good-looking truck. Previous GCs have bounced between ruggedly square and generically curvy, but this is the first one that could genuinely be called hot – er, in an automotive sense. In fact, pretty much the only reason this baby’s on this list instead of the Terrain is because of how it looks. The GMC gets 30 mpg on the highway, has a quality interior, is big enough for four of me (if you’re above 6’2″, you know how hard it is to find cars in which you can sit behind yourself), and will probably cost at least eight grand less when it comes out this summer – a full year before the Jeep. But the Terrain is a 5. The Grand Cherokee is a 9.

While the Honda Element continues on with its admittedly…homely styling, the new “Dog Friendly” package transforms the car from a utilitarian box to a utilitarian box every one of the 43 million Americans with canine companions will look at and say, “Aww…” In all honesty, I’m shocked that no one’s thought of this before. Car companies have made specialized models for all sorts of esoteric markets – wealthy ranchers,  yuppie outdoorsmen, extraordinarily rich socialites, and most notably, Frank Sinatra fans – but so far as I know, no one’s ever arranged such a simple, yet logical, package for such a wide market. (Well, Dodge did build a model called the LaFemme just for ladies, but it failed, in no small part because the idea was utterly moronic.)

Dog Friendly Honda Element Concept

Let’s face it – despite the fact that most of us love our dogs more than we love our second cousins (fine, first cousins), the vast majority of us simply let them hop into the back seat and drive off without a second thought. We don’t belt them in, transforming them into living cannonballs in an accident. We don’t buy them Powerades at the 7-11, and rarely consider the climate back there. The average American’s consideration for his or her dog’s well-being in the car probably extends to cracking the rear windows.

He's too darn cute not to see again.

He's too darn cute not to see again.

But when dog owners hear about this package, I’m willing to bet they’ll at least be intrigued enough to come in and take a look. And, sure, you could probably build your own version of the kit at Petsmart for far less than it’ll retail for, but remember, we’re lazy! Anyone motivated enough to do all that work must be some kind of weirdo. But buying a pre-made package…that shows love. I’ll bet you Honda won’t have a problem selling any of these – and I’ll bet every manufacturer you hear snidely deriding the option is working on copying it.

Speaking of plagiarizing Honda, a round of applause for Kia, ladies and gentlemen! If you slapped a Civic badge on the new Forte Coupe, not only could you pass yourself off as someone with classier taste in cars, you’d probably be able to score service at a fair number of Honda dealerships across the nation. I mean, you couldn’t have your catalytic converter replaced without being noticed, but you could probably snag an oil change.

2010_kia_forte_koup

Though in all honesty, you’ll probably be getting a fair number of complements from Honda owners, because this new coupe is…alluring? Wait a second – has Kia actually made a cool car? Remarkable, but true. Kia quality has been steadily increasing since the brand’s arrival (not like it had anywhere to go but up); that, combined with their T.J. Maxx pricing, has been their ace in the hole these last couple years. Throw in eye-catching styling and halfway decent performance, and we may have ourselves the automotive equivalent of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays – an upstart franchise without any big names that surprises the hell out of everyone.

Now, astute readers (or Kia fans – do they even exist?) will point out that I have the two-door Forte’s name wrong, and that it’s actually called the “Forte Koup.” My misspelling is entirely intentional.  Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine (who happens to be a professional writer) about when it’s acceptable to change the spelling of a word for artistic reasons. He pointed out that while it often looks better, if you want to be taken seriously, you need to spell it right. Kia ought to know better – and I’m not going to disgrace all the hard work of the engineers and designers by referring to it by a bastardized moniker.

That, and I simply can’t stand typing “koup.”

Finally on our list of noteworthy NYIAS debuts comes a pair of cash cattle from Subaru – the brand-new Legacy sedan and Outback wagon. If you’ve ever ventured into one of the New England states, you’ll understand what this means. Up there, the arrival of new Subarus is celebrated in much the way a bountiful harvest or the birth of a new child is. Farmers and their families congregate in the village green, often traveling ten or twenty miles along muddy, washed-out excuses-for-roads in their old Subies to reach the festivities. The local minister leads everyone in a prayer, glorious odes are sung, then everyone sits down for an enormous potluck supper. Afterwards, the assembly examines every inch of the new models; questions are asked and answered, brochures poured over, Subaru salesmen toasted with cider and beer. Eventually, the masses place their orders for the vehicles that will carry them through the worst God and nature can throw at them through the next four to eight years of their Rockwellian existence.

Though they mask it well, the hearts of stoic New Englanders warm for this car.

Though they mask it well, the hearts of stoic New Englanders warm for this car.

So, yes, this is a big deal.

But aside from the joyful noise arising from parts north, it was a pretty low-key auto show. It seems like most people in the automotive industry are just trying to ride things out as best they can. Perhaps one of the most surprising turn of events was the number of new SUVs – even with gas prices reduced from last year’s highs, “green” remains the color of choice these days, so it seems a little odd that out of this list of notable, five of the nine vehicles are sport-utes (not including the Outback, whose impression of one has gone from Frank Caliendo quality to Sasha Baron Cohen caliber). Here’s hoping next year’s show finds the industry on more stable ground – so we can drool over something better than a new Jeep.

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2009 New York International Auto Show – Day One Unfiltered

We’ll have a comprehensive piece in a few days summarizing and analyzing the 2009 NYIAS, but in the meantime, content yourself with our raw notes from the Javits floor. We’re goin’ gonzo!

Mercedes-Benz, 9:30 a.m. Little sign of the recession here. Look, a $545,000 Mercedes-Benz SLR 722 convertible! A $300,000 SL65 Black Series on a goddamn pedestal! Thankfully, the espresso bar is still there. Also, a live jazz band stage-side. The pianist’s playing a Steinway. Heh. Pianist.

Mercedes always has the best countdowns – giant chrome numbers ticking off on the screen above the stage, flying by to a bombastic orchestral soundtrack via tachycardia-inducing subwoofers.

And here we go! The theme: “Road To The Future.” Is it in the sky?

And the first new car is…the ML450 Hybrid SUV. Their first full hybrid – Prius style! Developed exclusively for the U.S. and Canada. We’re special. Hmm, 335 horsepower, 381 lb/ft, and 21 city/24 highway. This actually doesn’t sound so bad.

Also an updated GL-class. And the new E-class!

Ooh, here’s Grammy-winning jazz singer Dianne Reeves to sing a new song “dedicated to the launch of the new E-class!” What a good use of cash reserves in these lean times – a famous vocalist! What, they couldn’t get Billy Joel?

"Better than sex! Better than drugs! Better than ice cream!"

Dianne's will have a Grammy on the hood in place of the three-pointed star.

“Better than anything except being in love,” goes the song. So…we’re not going to fall in love with this car?

E320 Bluetec diesel makes 23 city/32 highway, along with 210 hp and 400 lb/ft of torque. Sweet. Why can’t Ford put an engine like this in an F-150?

The E-class coupe is “the most aerodynamic production car in the world.” Seems random.

And here comes the hairy nutsack – the E63 AMG! Unveiled to clashing guitars, no less! Kick-ass! 518 horsepower, 465 lb/ft! And a staggering 12 percent improvement in fuel economy! Holy shit! Call the president – the auto crisis is over!

Mercedes-Benz's giant balls

Mercedes-Benz's giant balls

Chrysler, 10:00 a.m: Here comes jolly hunchback and Chrysler vice chairman Jim Press. He’s driving out in a Fiat 500! That’s like half a step away from out-and-out blowing Obama’s automotive taskforce!

Okay, Press has spent about five minutes talking about how wonderful a “marriage” with Fiat would be. This is fuckin’ trippy. The official spokesman of Chrysler – CHRYSLER! – is admitting his company is so screwed, they’re happily accepting a forced marriage…to FIAT. The mighty have gone subterranean.

But their first electric car will be out by 2010! Yay! Sunshine and puppies!

Finally – the new Jeep Grand Cherokee bucks onto the stage. It bounced up the steps on the edge of the platform. That was pretty cool.

And it’s surprisingly good looking! Seriously, wow! I’m impressed! It’s almost…sexy. (Warning: maybe NSFW, definitely emotionally scarring.)

Sexy Jeeps? Please, God, let's keep it from going this far.

Sexy Jeeps? Please, God, let's keep this from going too far.

A 146 percent increase in body stiffness over the old model, which was apparently made entirely out of duct tape.

Land Rover, 10:30 a.m.: Three models hidden under sheets, then again hidden behind giant LCD screens. And here goes another fancy countdown – ooh, numbers plunging into water! Kinda makes me have to pee.

More generic-brand rock music, another video montage…and here they are! Three all-new – wait, those cars look exactly the same as the old models.

Apparently the LR3 has now been replaced by the LR4, which looks pretty much identical. Quick note to Land Rover – if automotive journalists can’t tell it’s an all-new model, you might want to try something a little more revolutionary. Like, say, curves.

The LR3. Er, the LR4. Oh hell, why can't we still call it the Discovery?

The LR3. Er, the LR4. Oh hell, why can't we still call it the Discovery?

Ooh, they’re preparing a compact Range Rover “cross coupe!” I wonder if it will be anything like…

Acura, 11:00 a.m.: …the new ZDX crossover! Or four-door coupe, or sports-activity coupe, or elevated sports sedan, or whatever they’re calling this niche this week. True fact: they change the category’s name every time Glenn Beck cries.

When you leave the car idling for more than a minute, those lights pulse like a Mac.

When you leave the car idling for more than a minute, those lights pulse like a Mac.

Acura’s Jeff Conrad claims it’s “an entirely new category of luxury vehicle.” Except for the BMW X6. Or the Infiniti FX. Yeah, nice try.

Two models (the blonde on the right is hotter, just so you know) peel off the cover, to reveal…THE IRON MAN MARK 2!

Oh, no, it’s the ZDX. It’s just all burnished metallic with glowing blue concept-car headlights. Damn. I was really excited to see it fly through the roof.

Man, Iron Man was a great movie.

Man, Iron Man was a great movie.

Very Japanese up front – headlights like the new Mazda6. Those’ll change for production. Otherwise, looks like an Acura TL nose and MDX tail grafted onto a BMW X6. Not bad, really. But I need to see it with production lamps before rendering final judgement.

It’s for “active and adventuring individuals,” they say? That’s me! Excuse me while I take take a ten-mile jog while reading up on sub-Saharan parasites for my trip to the Congo next month.

Only a V6? Oh, right – they killed their V8 engine program. Bad move, Honda. You’re gonna need that. Or chop half a ton out of the thing if you want to fight BMW and Infiniti on their turf. (Or I guess they could turbocharge it…)

Production models – all with a panoramic glass roof! – hit dealerships this fall. Gonna have to see how it drives.

General Motors, 11:30 a.m.: “Gone, Gone, Gone,” by Robert Plant and Alison Kraus, is playing in the background as we wait for the conference to start. Someone has a black sense of humor.

Three models being shown off, two of which are already out on stage, since they’ve been around the block a few times already. Pontiac G8 GXP? Seen it. Buick Lacrosse? Does the name still mean masturbation in French-speaking Quebec? Because otherwise I don’t care.

Apparently GMC is the General’s “premium truck brand.” No, Cadillac is your premium truck brand. They sell the Escalade, the Enzyte Escalade (it’s several inches longer), the Farmer’s Escalade (it has a truck bed, so it’s clearly intended for hauling manure), and the SRX mid-size sport-ute. GMC is a neglected brand that hasn’t had a proprietary model since Obama stopped using pot.

But wait – here’s the GMC Terrain! It’s a small SUV that gets 30 mpg highway and arrives this summer! And I actually fit in back! Wow! Why isn’t it a Chevy?

The GMC Terrain is made entirely of journalists.

The GMC Terrain is made entirely of journalists.

Scion, 12:05 p.m.: The whole ballroom is lit up like a techno club. If Scion reps start asking us if we “roll,” I’m not sure which answer I should give.

Today’s concept, they claim, is for today’s “urban youth” who embrace “urban culture.” Not sure if they’re talking about Gossip Girl or The Wire.

“A microsubcompact car is perfect for their progressive lifestyles.” Because the smaller the car, the thicker the pot smoke inside.

And the iQ Concept lowers itself from the ceiling. It looks like a Smart car with mutated, Sideshow Bob-like feet. It’s radioactive green. Amazingly, this looks cool.

Next week, Serena and Blair try to score rock in their iQ.

Next week, Serena and Blair try to score rock in their iQ.

Holy shit, the name of the paint color actually is “radioactive?” I thought of that in half a second. Maybe I should go into PR instead.

And it comes with a 10″ LCD screen inside that folds into the console and projects rave lighting when turned off. Does this seem, in any way shape or form, like a good idea?

Wow, up close, this thing has a serious wide stance. Like, a Senator Larry Craig wide stance.

WITH HIS HAMMER PANTS DOWN!

WITH HIS HAMMER PANTS DOWN!

Volkswagen, 12:40 p.m.: Stefan Jacoby, President of VW of America, says they don’t expect to match the gains they made in 2008. Dude, we came here to dream about shiny new cars, not get gut-punched. Why not tell us the Easter Bunny isn’t real, too?

The covers come off the new Golf and GTI – and they’re not very different. Except the Rabbit is now the Golf again.

Sweet. Can we eat now? I'm hungry.

Sweet. Can we eat now? I'm hungry.

The design director’s been talking about the car’s styling for five minutes. Fuck it – I’m going to lunch.

Lunch, 1:05 p.m.: Well, at least it’s free.

BMW, 2:00 p.m.: Seven new Bimmer models go on sale this year, and eight in 2010. How many ways can you split a Bavarian creme pie?

Ahh, the world premiere of the BMW X6M. 555 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of delicious absurdity. 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds? Man, I can’t wait until they strap this engine into the next-generation M5.

Tim Allen says: "Arf Arf Arf!" (No? I though the 90's were coming back.)

Tim Allen says: "Arf Arf Arf!" (No? I though the 90's were coming back.)

But because cosmic scales must be balanced, BMW’s karma is evened out by introducing the X6 Active Hybrid for later this year. Any Buddhists at BMW these days?

I'm blue, abu-dee abu-dye...really? They're not back yet?

I'm blue, abu-dee abu-dye...really? They're not back yet?

Apparently 63 percent of power for their Spartanburg, S.C. plant comes from sucking methane out of a nearby landfill. The other 37 percent comes from harvesting methane farted out by the employees.

Wandering about, 2:20 p.m.: Props to Porsche and Land Rover/Jaguar for rocking the lounge setup – each one has leather couches, munchies and beverages. But LR/Jag with the win for the open bar and hors d’oeuvres. The Germans only have Coke and communal M&M bowls.

Bentley, 2:30 p.m.: Hip, James Bond-ish music blares from suspended speakers – surprisingly hip for someone proudly portraying the symbols of HM The Queen and HRH The Prince Of Wales on the wall.

Today’s launch is “one of the most important cars in our history,” they say? Well, unless you’re hiding a surprise plug-in diesel hybrid – oh, no, it’s just the Supersports you showed at Geneva. I mean, biofuel capability is nice, but is a slightly faster, sportier Continental GT really THAT important just because it runs on moonshine? I mean, outside of Brazil.

It runs on gasoline, E85, or Hennessy XO.

It runs on gasoline, E85, or Hennessy XO.

But kudos to the Bentley spokesman for going old-school and forgoing the teleprompter for a paper copy of his sheet. Well done, old chap.

Porsche, 2:55 p.m.: Porsche unveils the newest version of the 911 GT3. That’s all. It’s light, it’s fast, it makes more power than any naturally aspirated six-cylinder does. I want one.

I think that's a good image to leave you with.

I think that's a good image to leave you with.

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