NEW YORK, New York — What’s the world coming to when the closest consensus we can reach about auto show debuts involves an oversized SUV that has been evolving since the time when dinosaurmobiles roamed the States?
The answer is that the world is coming to Gotham. This year the event could easily have been renamed the New York International Sport/Utility Show.
The good news is that like last year, New York in 2017 was a pretty big, relevant show, outshining both Los Angeles and Chicago.
Here’s what we saw…
Hit: Lincoln Navigator
We’re not so sure how big the market will be in the future for gargantuan SUVs, considering the rush to smaller crossovers. But Lincoln appears poised to continue to snare more than its share of that segment’s sales thanks to the latest incarnation of the Navigator. With a classy interior and an exterior with just enough style points to make it stand out in a good way, the Navigator is also arriving at an opportune time given that a new version of its primary domestic competitor, the Cadillac Escalade, is still at least a couple of years away.
Ford and Lincoln want to take a chunk out of General Motors’ dominance of this very profitable segment. Independent rear suspension and EcoBoost V-6 power is not enough, so now Lincoln has upped its ante with impressive interiors. Beside the IRS question, this is what will be giving Mary Barra fits as she plans a new Cadillac Escalade to premiere about 2020. Though the blue-over-blue show floor example was far too preppy-nautical for my tastes, every touch point I sampled had padded leather soft to the touch, including inside the door pulls and door map pockets. The Navigator’s interior seriously outclassed the Cadillac CT6s’ on a nearby stand.
Sometimes, one good new product is all it takes to relaunch a brand. The impeccably designed 2018 Lincoln Navigator is one such product. I had flashbacks to my high school days, when the original Navigator came out and instantly became the ride to have for the rich kids of South Orange County, California. This new Navigator could very well reclaim that title.
Miss: Lincoln Navigator
The interior is quite nice, but then, so was the Continental’s — in concept form. The Navigator’s exterior, however, is more than a bit boring in profile, and just far too busy and without a clear theme or style from head-on. It’s sure to be a quality SUV, but it lacks the presence I’d hoped for in a new range-topping SUV from Lincoln.
Revelation: Lincoln is not yet dead
My esteemed colleagues at Motor Trend and I agreed Lincoln probably shouldn’t still be alive. Somehow, the company appears to be saving grace with the latest flagship SUV. It doesn’t venture far from the concept’s original design — a big plus.
Furthermore, the Navigator exudes a level of luxury that we haven’t seen in years with Ford’s luxury brand. It probably won’t off-road well, but that’s not the point. Like the glorious Lincolns of yesteryear, the latest Navigator is a modern interpretation of posh, American luxury and excess. It’s just great.
Hit: Range Rover Velar
If the Range Rover Sport and the Range Rover Evoque had a baby it would be the Range Rover Velar — and it’s not just a baby only its parents could love. Land Rover got so much right with the Velar, but the best part for me is the interior. The Norwegian wool and suede option at the Land Rover display is so elegant, I wanted to have a suit made out of it.
It’s the Gallivanter Baller LE from “Grand Theft Auto V” in real life, and that’s just cool. If the Range Rover has always been the Mercedes S-Class of SUVs, the Range Rover Velar is the Mercedes CLS. I swooned over it. It might appear more biased for the road, but that’s fine. You have the standard Range Rover for off-road and curb-hopping prowess.
Miss: Genesis GV80 Concept
Proof that the vast majority of new unibody/car-based sport/utilities are little more than anonymous, amorphous transportation modules distinguished only by various levels of interior luxury. From the profile, the concept could easily have been an Infiniti or Lincoln or Audi SUV. What’s left to distinguish this hint at the production version, expected by the 2020 model year, is the grille, and even then, there’s not much that shouts the name of a nascent luxury brand that needs to quickly establish a strong identity.
Revelation: That’s Quad Lamps to you
The upstart Genesis brand made the biggest splash from a press conference standpoint at least, trotting out an impressive live musical ensemble during the reveal of the concept version of its first ever SUV, the GV80, and part of a six-vehicle rollout by 2021. Genesis brand leader Manfred Fitzgerald says a version of the GV80, which reportedly has plug-in hybrid hydrogen fuel cell powertrain (whatever that is) under the hood, will hit the market in roughly two years. Luxury is the Genesis way, and its interior was duly impressive, with top shelf materials and OLED elements as part of a reimagined cockpit design. While its exterior shape didn’t break a lot of new ground, Fitzgerald made a point to say the GV80 would not feature headlights, but rather Quad Lamps, which were two light slits on each side. Got it.
Hit: Acura TLX A-Spec
I’ve been a fan of high-performance Acuras since I grew up in my mom’s first-generation 3.2 TL Type-S. I remember its throaty, rev-happy V-6, which prompted me to buy a V-6 manual Accord. So it makes me happy to see a sporty TLX surface, even if it’s not a full-fledged Type-S model (Hey Acura, don’t forget about those).
Hit: A Hellcat to tow your Hellcat
Six drive modes. Bilstein shocks. Twenty-inch Brembo stoppers. An eight-speed automatic transmission. A 6.2 liter V-8 with a top speed of 180 mph. It makes 707 horsepower, 645 pound-feet of torque, will accelerate from zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds and tows 7,200 pounds. The only thing I don’t like about the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is that I haven’t driven it yet.
It comes down to 840 horsepower for the Challenger SRT Demon, 707 horsepower for the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. Basically, they’re a big middle finger to the trend of tree-hugging hybrids and EVs — these are cars made against all odds. Whether we like it or not, the future of the internal combustion engine is uncertain at best. The chance we may never see cars like these two again in the not-so-distant future is a genuine possibility, so we need to appreciate the Demon and the Trackhawk as much as possible.
Revelation: Quattro GmbH by any other name
Audi has never really had an engineering problem when it comes to all-wheel drive. Its Quattro system has become the Gold Standard the world over. But Audi knew it had a marketing problem when it came to its Quattro GmbH performance arm, the division that builds its high performance R and RS sports cars and customer racecars. So now it’s Audi Sport to the rescue. Headed by former Lamborghini boss man Stephan Winkelmann, Audi Sport now is the counterpart to Mercedes-AMG and BMW M, with eight new RS cars coming to the U.S. in the next 24 months. Good move.
Hit: Toyota FT-4X Concept
It’s hard to get excited about a Toyota except for the 86. But the FT-4X stuffs futuristic FJ Cruiser-style looks into a super-compact package that makes us eager to see a production version that stays true to this vision.
Built on the next-generation RAV4 platform, the Toyota FT-4X concept is the New York show’s standout. It’s “compact enough to drive through the city,” Calty Design Research chief Kevin Hunter says, but also, according to project design chief Ian Cartabiano, ready for a “spontaneous adventure to Joshua Tree or Montauk.” Interior lights double as removable flashlights, there are electrical ports in the SUV’s roof, and the center armrest detaches to become a North Face camping tent. Best thing about the FT-4X, though, is that Toyota uses physically rotating knobs and buttons instead of swipe-screens in order to control various accessories.
Revelation: Not so hard core, but not soft core, either
Toyota’s FT-4X concept is targeted to what they’re calling a “casual core” millennial audience (personally I prefer “outdoor casualist”). Is this a demographic that will appreciate each of Calty Design Studio’s killer interior features, like an armrest that’s also a sleeping bag, a removable stereo that becomes a boom box, and door handles that double as removable water bottles? I’m not convinced. From the sound of the new moniker Toyota created for this smart phone toting generation, neither are they.
Revelation: “It’s a Buick” is no longer a slur
If there was any doubt left about Buick being a brand worthy of youthful aspirational consideration, it has been certifiably removed by the two Regal variants and the stylish second-generation Enclave (despite the Avenir trim being on the underwhelming side due to the limited number of changes it introduces). Shelve the derisive “It’s a Buick” jokes, folks, because with this new crop, that’s a statement that can truly be made proudly.
Miss: Buicks in the basement
Of all GM brands at the show the only one that brought anything new to the party was Buick with the Regal Sportback, the TourX and the Enclave and Enclave Avenir. In fact, Buick had the most new products of any OEM present. So why is its display relegated to the basement where the cars might be overlooked? Buick should have been on the main floor, front and center.
Miss: Buick’s Avenir Trim Level
This top-trim level needs more trim. When Buick revealed its Avenir concept sedan at the 2015 Detroit auto show, it had us all impressed. Even our automotive design editor Robert Cumberford, a hard man to please, dug the Avenir’s duds. But at this year’s New York show, when Buick unveiled its Avenir trim level on its revamped Enclave, it left me flat. Maybe the Enclave was the wrong vehicle to introduce it, but a revised grille and other small exterior updates on the outside and upgraded leather interior didn’t seem all that special. I get it, automakers do these sorts of minor trim level package updates all the time, and for what it is, it isn’t that bad. Perhaps I was expecting too much given the excitement around the concept.
Revelation: Buick Regal
I’ve never been a fan of Buick, despite the brand being a huge cultural status symbol in the country of my family’s origin. My grandmother did own several. But Buick’s been making excellent strides by repurposing Opels, making them the best modern Buicks yet. The latest Regal is no different, essentially a restyled second-generation Opel Insignia. It works, and this one has my attention even more. Now, where’s the Regal GS?
Hit: Mercedes-AMG GLC63
If there’s a better-looking crossover on the planet, I haven’t seen it. Also, AMG power!
Miss: Kia Rio
Over the last couple of decades, Kia has gone from being a rental lot punchline to becoming a brand where every new model is a significant improvement over its predecessor. This new Rio, on the other hand, seems to have gone backwards in the aesthetics department. Looks are first impressions and for me, the Rio doesn’t make a good one. I’m sure it will be good to drive for an entry-level car. But the wheels are too small and the bodywork just appears too busy and pudgy. Kia can do better.
Revelation: Volkswagen rebrands, post-Dieselgate
Volkswagen has faced a rocky year, by its own hand, and now it’s looking to re-brand itself around crossovers and a closer-to-full-line range than its previous concentration on small cars. That rebranding pushes its focus into cars and buyers that have been, historically, much less concerned with emissions and gas mileage.
Miss: Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Evidence that the company is in dire need of resuscitation.
Revelation: Cars will be trucks, and trucks will be cars…
It’s a mixed-up automotive world ‘cept for Range Rover. When Land Rover design vice president Gerry McGovern noted that the Range Rover Velar, making its North American premier Tuesday night at Lincoln Center, is the brand’s lowest-slung model “so far,” I asked how low Rangies might go in the future. “My view is if Rolls-Royce and Bentley can do SUVs, why can’t Range Rover do luxury sedans?” You heard it here first. Now all that’s left is resuscitation of the luxury sedan market.