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New York Auto Show – Thoughts and Judgements (Oh So Much Judgement)

The grueling two days making up the New York Auto Show press preview have finally come to a close (so many free cappuccinos…), so it’s time to reflect on just what happened. Overall, it was a pretty average show, but my gut seems to indicate the overall event was actually one of the more exciting, involving shows of late. Maybe it’s because of the infinitesimal indications that the economy is starting to climb out of the pit so large, Gerard Butler uses it for overly dramatic drop-kickings. Or maybe it was just the free beer.

Let’s talk press conferences. There were a few notable stunts and oddities this year. Mercedes-Benz chose the American 2010 Olympic gold medalist bobsled team to drive out their new, mildly updated R-class. Sadly, this was the first I’d heard of the U.S. victory. I just assumed the Jamaicans always won.

"If they make one Cool Runnings joke, we're getting back in and driving away."

Infiniti put on a brief Cirque du Soleil show before yanking the sheet off their new truck-based QX56 sport-ute. At first, I thought it was just some CDS-style dancers, but, nope, turns out Infiniti actually pulled some real performers from the famed Canadian dance-circus. All they had to do was pay a shitton of money and become the official vehicle of Cirque du Soleil, as both the dancers and the car company represent “inspired performance.” (I couldn’t make that up.) I don’t know about anyone else, but the whole thing gave me a wicked acid flashback.

Scion unveiled their new iQ and tC coupes in what can best be described as a rave setting, if most raves featured a thirty-foot tall mesh projection screen with a car behind it and house music imploring the listener to “jam it in your hole” over and over again. (Then again, maybe raves do these days. I haven’t been in a while.)

Roger Sterling takes a minute from banging his secretary to introduce the new Scions.

Unsurprisingly for anyone who’s seen one of their “cheeky” ads, Mini took full advantage of the date of their press conference to play an April Fools Day prank on the audience; touting their square, cloaked concept as a concept called the “Mini Excel,” the sheet was ripped off to reveal a large SUV-shaped plywood box with “April Fools” written on the sides. Then several roadies (Minies?) converged on the stage, each grabbing a piece of the box and removing it to reveal the Mini Countryman underneath. Incidentally, Mini’s spokesperson was the only one of the days not wearing a collared shirt; beneath his suit coat was a black T-shirt with MINI written in white print. However, his closed jacket concealed about half the word, so I spent most of the show thinking he was just a big Nine Inch Nails fan.

Of course, at any event involving a large group of competitors, there will be winners and losers. In many cases, determining which is which is pretty easy; in the event of an auto show, it’s entirely subjective. Which means it’s perfect for this site. Presenting the 2010 New York Auto Show Winners and Losers!

Winner: Hyundai. Five years ago, the idea of a Hyundai competing against Mercedes-Benz would have been much, much funnier than anything Dane Cook had ever performed. But unlike Cook, Hyundai has spent the last few years improving themselves. The Genesis sedan introduced the world to the concept of a luxury Hyundai – and the new Equus sedan sets that idea in stone.

Offering quality nearly even with Mercedes, BMW and Lexus, the Equus sets out to fight the luxury brands’ top-level sedans at a much lower price point. Fun-to-drive isn’t really the game here – leave that to the Panamera – but for those looking for a relaxed, brisk full-sized luxury sedan with oodles of comfort (and yes, an oodle is the basic unit of comfort), this Hyundai will probably be a perfect fit. It’ll probably poach Lexus LS sales like an ivory hunter with a Holland & Holland .600. Starting between $50,ooo and $60,000, and with features its competitors either charge heavily for (reclining rear right-side seat, rear fridge) or don’t offer at all (nose-mounted camera for seeing around corners, standard iPad in lie of a paper owner’s manual), the Equus will almost certainly clean up the lower end of this market.

You know how Hyundai is serious about this car? Their traditional “H” doesn’t appear on it. Instead, buyers get an abstract Y-shaped logo that looks like a weird-but-I’ve-seen-weirder sex toy.

Recline function, yes. Legroom to use it, no.

Loser: Dodge/Chrysler. Unable to muster up the energy for a press conference, the closest thing the company managed to excitement were a pair of tiny Fiat 500s from their new parent company, along with a duo of identical twins to show them off.

Otherwise, the whole display was pretty flaccid. (Yes, folks, that’s a dick joke.) Chrysler’s business plan these days seems to consist of trying to sell two-tone special editions of the 300, while Dodge is relegated to selling musclecars to the Provincetown set.

Come on, Chrysler! You used to make such great concept cars. Even had a good stretch of production models there, with the PT Cruiser and the 300. This is just sad. If Hyundai can throw two separate press conferences, you can summon up five minutes to show off something. Subaru threw a new wing on the STI and called it a day – can’t you do that to the Viper?

The model budget doesn't seem to have taken much of a hit.

Winner: BMW. Pulling the sheets off five models at the show is a pretty good way to get on this list. (Not four, Kia. Five.) Consistently building some of the most fun-to-drive cars on the road helps, too. Granted, three of the reveals were just tweaks, but if loading a 3-series with 20 extra horses and a seven-speed DSG is what ladies call “freshening up,” I understand why they do it so often and it takes so long. Same goes for the mods to the Z4 and X5.¬†Improvements on the 7-series – like the road-going ICE train called the B7 Alpina, now brilliantly available with xDrive AWD, and the ActiveHybrid 7 capable of going 0-60 in 4.7 seconds while still allowing you to be incredibly smug – are more than appreciated as well.

Who wants to race to Alaska?

But the new 5-series could be my new “realistic” dream car. Especially in 550i form, equipped with the company’s magical 4.4 liter twin turbo V8 cranking out 400 horses – an engine capable of moving the 5200-lb X6 from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds flat – and the available six-speed manual! (Though living in the city, I might just test-drive that eight-speed automatic. Though I’d feel like a poseur every day if I bought one.) The new 5 is handsome (much more so in person than in pictures), exceedingly comfortable, and quite big inside – big enough I could fit quite comfortably in the back seat, even with my 36″ inseam. (And I’ll just say it – comfier back seat than the new Bentley Mulsanne. No one else will say it, ’cause they don’t want to get booted off the Bentley gravy train, but I speak the truth!) Hell, the trunk is huge, too. I’ll take mine in Deep Sea Blue, please.

Winner: Cadillac. They surprised all of us with a CTS-V Sport Wagon, going on sale this fall by order only. I just need a nice juicy raise by Christmas.

Loser: Toyota/Lexus. Apparently shamed by the whole “AAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!” problem (also known as JESUSFUCKINGCHRISTTHECARWON’TSTOP-gate), Toyota and its luxury brand were silent for the whole show. No apologies, no on-stage seppuku, no carefully choreographed bawling. Which was unfortunate, because at the very least, Lexus had a couple models worth mentioning. The LFA supercar made its New York debut in a matte-black shade that suggests Lexus is courting Bruce Wayne and the rest of the billionaire vigilante market. The CT 200h hybrid compact showed up for the first time too, complete with an ad for an interactive BMWFilm-like promo featuring a “Driver” played by the Boondock Saint Who Isn’t Young Indiana Jones. But no one told us anything about it.

Winner: The Lotus Elise. Because I discovered, while it takes about 30 seconds of gymnastics, I can actually fit inside it. Even with the hard top on.

Loser: The Subaru WRX STI. First, Subaru bumped up the power of the regular, cheaper WRX so it actually became quicker than the big-ticket STI. Now, the company has outfitted the WRX with a new, tough-guy look rendering it all but identical to the STI. Granted, four-door STIs (a new model, by the way) receive an Airbus-grade wing on the rear spoiler, but how long ’til some dude in an Ed Hardy T-shirt sticks one on his WRX?

While fun to drive, the WRX STI can result in other people correctly assuming you're a douchebag.

Winner: The backseat of the Rolls-Royce Ghost. It’s like sitting on a cloud made of dead cattle. (Wait, that came out wrong.)

"Would you like to see my Rolls-Royce?" is ranked #6 on the list of Top 10 Pick-Up Lines.

Loser: the asshole cameraman who spent a good five solid minutes filming the back seat of the Hyundai Equus through its open door, preventing the rest of us from sitting in it. Then, when I asked him if he was going to be much longer, simply snarked, “Yes.” By far, biggest loser of the show.

We’ll have more photos – and probably some snarky remarks of our own to go with them – coming soon! So stay tuned.

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New York Auto Show – Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi gave the New York crowd a look at their new Cute Utility Vehicle, originally dubbed the Outlander Sport. Mitsu execs avoided the name during the presentation, referring to it awkwardly as “a member of the Outlander family” – technically true, since it shares a wheelbase and much of its underpinnings with the larger SUV – but a 2.0 liter four-cylinder in any sort of truck hardly screams “sport.” (Unless they’re talking about the activities you can do after driving there.)

Still, it seemed odd that the company didn’t use the baby ‘ute’s name during the press conference. A lack of faith in the title? Is it just a placeholder name? Given Mitsubishi hopes to make it their best-selling model within three months of its arrival in showrooms this fall, that name can be pretty important. I wonder if Apple has given up the copyright on “iSlate” yet…

This post was modified to reflect the fact that we found out the car’s name after our initial post.

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New York Auto Show – Bentley

Bentley’s press conference was short and sweet – a few words about the new Mulsanne flagship, a quick introduction of the Continental Supersports Convertible, and it was on to finger sandwiches and scones for lunch. (Ham and white bread? Seriously, Bentley? At least the pesto-and-mozzarella combo was tasty.)

The droptop Supersports, for its part, can be running 60 mile-per-hour wind through your air in 3.9 seconds and top out at 202 mph (but probably not with the top down). I’d avoid the buttermilk color of their featured example, but that’s only because I don’t want everyone thinking I’m from Miami.

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New York Auto Show – Mini

Oh, Mini. Given the nature of April First and the company’s reputation, it was hardly a surprise when the company yanked the sheet off their boxy “study” dubbed the “Mini Excel” to reveal an SUV-shaped box with “April Fools” painted on the sides. But it certainly made my day.

Underneath the box, of course, was the new Countryman SUV, which continues to win me over despite how pxymoronic the idea seems. I hope CCO can get their hands on one. Having taken a Mustang convertible off-roaring at Bear Mountain, I’d like to go up there and try it again in something that’ll handle better on- and off-road.

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New York Auto Show – Hyundai

Wait, you’re probably thinking, didn’t Hyundai have a press conference yesterday? Well apparently they have money to burn, because they decided to throw a second one today to announce their new flagship model – the Equus.

While the name summons up images of Daniel Radcliffe in the nude commuting unpleasantries to horses, if it weirds you out too much, just think of it as Genesis-Plus. It looks like a larger, more angular version of the Genesis.

Considered Hyundai’s entry into the full-sized luxury sedan segment, the Equus doesn’t look like it’s trying to fight the 7-series for sportiest entry or the S-class for most intimidating. Rather, it wants to beat the Lexus LS at its own game.

Equipped with a 385-hp version of the Genesis’s V8, the Equus comes with the bevy of cool gadgets needed for its class, from a camera mounted on the front grill to see around corners to a reclining rear seat with massage function. Oh, and instead of an owner’s manual, each Equus comes with a custom iPad. Convenient? Maybe nor. But certainly awesome.

Sadly, this car didn't have an iPad in the glovebox. Yes, I checked.

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New York Auto Show – Kia

While their stand boasted four models under wraps, there was nothing revolutionary from the Korean brand this year. The big news was the world debut of the 2011 Optima, which receives an extensive redesign that looks quite stylish from every angle…except the front, which looks a bit like what would happen if you tried to splice together a Camry and an Accord. (Which was probably what they were aiming for.)

While we had our suspicions right away, it became quite obvious the Optima is just Kia’s version of parent company Hyundai’s Sonata when they announced its identical powertrain. It’ll be interesting to see how the market splits between the two models, which really seem to differ only in looks. But hey, it works for Ford and GM…

Kia also unwrapped a hatchback version of its Forte compact (which doesn’t honestly look that much bigger in back), their new Sportage (surprisingly good looking, but it’s been seen before) and a new sporty trim level for the Sorento called the SX. They lowered it one whole inch! X6 M drivers, beware…

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New York Auto Show – Subaru

After revamping their volume models like the Legacy/Outback and the Forester in the last couple years, Subaru has turned to fixing up their performance models, using the NY show to unveil their updated WRX and STI.

Telling the difference between the two is gonna be harder for everyone from now on, since the WRX received a wide-body makeover causing it to look nearly identical to its more powerful sibling. And the number of doors is no longer a good indication either, as a new four-door STI was unveiled to a cacaphony of Linkin Park-like music and a series of compressed air blasts to tease the sheet off the car.

Of course, the giant new wing exclusive to the STI sedan could be a good way to tell them apart – except I’m sure WRX owners will be bolting the same wing onto their cars as soon as the new STI hits showrooms. Only testing will tell whether this updated STI will prove faster than its ostensibly wimpier brother…or whether the WRX will continue to render the STI all but obsolete.

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New York Auto Show – Acura

The Acura press conference was a small affair, since the only model they were introducing was their new TSX Sport Wagon. Looking almost identical to the European Honda Accord it is, the wagon is really pretty attractive; few wagons are more athletic looking, at least.

Since the TSX skews towards a relatively small niche of buyers, I imagine the wagon – which offers nearly identical performance with the additional space this smallish sedan could use – will do pretty well.

Then again, maybe I’m just optimistic and happy because I’m in the back seat of the new Bentley Mulsanne as I type this. Mmm…sumptuous.

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New York Auto Show – BMW

BMW’s mandate this year was more about presenting an array of new and improved well-established models than showing off, and it worked well for them.

BMW North American VP Jack Pitney (who rode in on the company’s new 193 horsepower superbike) walked the audience through five models. The 3-series and Z4 both received new, sportier models to top out their model range (not counting M cars, of course). Likewise, the X5 got an upgrade, with an eight-speed automatic and new engines capable of 25 mpg highway.

But the 5- and 7-series models were the press conference’s biggest stars. The new Alpina B7 made its stateside debut, with a 500 horsepower twin turbo V8 – and surprisingly, available AWD. While not present, the ActiveHybrid 7 also was mentioned – specifically, the fact that the 455-hp hybrid can do 0-60 in 4.7 seconds.

2011 Alpina B7 xDrive

The new 2011 5-series also showed up. While most of the details were known far and wide before the show due to its earlier Euro unveiling, it was nice to see it in the metal; even nicer was the news that BMW will bring both 535i and 550i versions to the States with a six-speed stick at no cost. (This announcement sent a wave of unsolicited applause through the crowd.) If you’re lame, you can still get one with an eight-speed auto…but don’t tell your fellow Bimmerphiles.

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New York Auto Show – Volkswagen

Volkswagen’s press conference wasn’t exceptionally exciting; the company gave U.S. audiences their first look at the Touareg Hybrid, but coming immediately after the very similar Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid…it was rather anticlimatic. (I can see the ad campaign now: “Love the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid? Settle! For the new Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid.”)

I honestly wandered away. Way to hold my attention, VW. I’m a simple man, it doesn’t take much to keep me captivated. Some pyrotechnics, a wild animal or two. Have somebody try and pull donuts in the Touareg on your giant, empty stage. They probably won’t succeed, but at least it would entertaining!

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