2019 New York Auto Show: Hits, Misses, and Revelations

There were plenty of important debuts—some good, some bad—at this year’s event.

NEW YORK, NY—While hot, new metal wasn't quite as plentiful at the New York show as it was last year, the 2019 edition capped the auto-show season with more significant introductions than did Los Angeles last November and Detroit in January. The ratio of crossovers and SUVs to cars was rather nicely balanced, as well. Without further ado, here are our editors' picks, rejects, and head-scratchers from the town so nice they named it twice.

HIT: Genesis Mint Concept
This concept car looks even better in person than it does in pictures. Tidy dimensions, fenders wrapped tightly around the wheels, sheetmetal creases as sharp as those on a Marine's dress uniform—this thing is just breathtaking, and I am genuinely sad for those who will only see it in two dimensions. Would if the brand's production cars were this stunning . . . —Aaron Gold

This one snuck up on me, in part because of some preshow comments that the design is somewhat derivative. But every time I came across the Hyundai stand and saw it, I liked it more and more. —Todd Lassa

HIT: 2020 Hyundai Venue
The New York show offered more confirmation that crossovers and SUVs are continuing to proliferate, whether we like it or not (we don't). But it was refreshing at least to see something different like the Hyundai Venue, a boxy little thing with a brawny grille, an available contrasting-color roof, copious tech features the cool kids will love, and a six-speed manual option to go with its 1.6-liter four if you like (we like). This is Hyundai's seventh vehicle in its SUV lineup, and like the rest of the industry, it's probably cooking up even more. I can't wait—not. At least we're intrigued by the Venue. —Mike Floyd

REVELATION: Hyundai and Genesis cars
At the preview of the 2020 Hyundai Sonata in Seoul a few weeks ago, design chief SangYup Lee spoke of how much easier it is to design an SUV than a car, and he offered up the revolutionary new Sonata and the boxy Venue as proof. Even as the Venue ups Hyundai's SUV count, Hyundai and Genesis continue to emphasize cars. At the Genesis stand, we got an urban EV car concept instead of the SUV some were expecting, because the luxury brand needs it when its dealerships break off from Hyundai. When Gen Z starts to buy their first new vehicles and reject the idea of driving what their parents own, Hyundai and Genesis will be well positioned. —TL

HIT: 2020 Hyundai Sonata
I can't decide if the new Sonata is pretty, but I love how unique it is. As a child of the 1970s, the bumperless design really melts my butter, and the integration of taillights, spoiler, and sheetmetal is, as the Germans would say, der Scheiße. And the interior—the current car's best feature—looks as good as ever. As one who complained that the last generation of sedately styled Sonatas had lost their mojo, I'm really pleased to see that the new one is daring to be different. —AG

REVELATION: Your phone as car key
Automakers have been playing around with apps that can manage or monitor your car for a while now, but at the New York show, we started to see a new feature proliferate: the use of your phone as the key to the car. It's not entirely new, but Lincoln and Hyundai made big deals of their new phone-as-key options and we expect more to follow. It only makes sense as the car key has morphed into little more than an electronic device, and you always have your phone with you. Paired with an app, it opens up even more flexibility to set up the car to your preferences as you enter. —MF

HIT: 2019 Porsche 911 Speedster Heritage Design Package
Awfully long and awful name, and isn't the 911 by definition a "heritage" model? Still, this is the one 911 roadster to have. I'd even take this over a mid-engine Boxster with its inherently superior polar moment of inertia. The Speedster rear hood bulges, the exterior graphics, the cognac and black leather interior, and especially the real, three-pedal six-speed manual transmission all make for an irresistible driver's car. Were I to buy one, Porsche can keep the matching watch, though, as I'm tired of overpriced-car/overpriced-watch tie-ins. —TL

HIT: Subaru's show stand
Subaru's National Park Service-themed booth, with its hanging vegetation, misting rocks, and ever-changing LED-screen floor, was by far the coolest setup at the New York show—and kudos to Subaru for giving over such a large bit of real estate to the National Park Foundation. Subaru is the Park Service's largest corporate donor and by the way, shame on us as a country that we have to rely on donations to preserve our national parks, which are home to some of the most breathtaking scenery on the entire planet. A National Park Pass costs $80 a year ($20 for seniors) which is hands-down the biggest vacation bargain you'll ever see. Buy one, if only to assist Subaru in supporting the NPS, and be sure to visit at least some of these national treasures before business-friendly politicians let them erode away to nothing. —AG

Auto-show stands during press days are usually pretty staid affairs: Build a riser area where the hottest car spins, arrange the rest of the lineup about the floor, then sprinkle in some automaker messaging, interview areas, and maybe a small lounge. Subaru blew up that formula for the reveal of its new Outback. Its giant log-lounge motif came complete with copious foliage and ground-cover-esque carpet, a massive faux boulder wall, and some impressive visual effects. The theme was two-fold: to showcase the Outback's go-anywhere spirit and highlight Subaru's connection with the National Park Service, to which the automaker has donated an impressive $68 million to date. —MF

HIT: 2020 Subaru Outback
A couple of truths about the Subaru brand. One, it's the SUV maker for consumers who hate SUVs. (Disclosure: I'm one of these.) And, two, nobody buys a Subaru for its styling except perhaps the BRZ. To that second point, the all-new Outback does not look much different than the old model, but I like it anyway. The Outback upholds the first point because it's a competitor for such pricey option-loaded two-row midsize SUVs as the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, Honda Pilot, and Chevrolet Blazer, yet the Subie stands out against these amorphous boxes for its station-wagon proportions. The new 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four-powered Onyx Edition is brilliant, with blacked-out wheels and badging, and the water-repellent StarTex urethane heated seat material is used in place of vinyl or actual hides. All Subaru leather, except the Nappa option in top spec models like the new Outback Touring XT should switch to StarTex. In addition to being vegan-friendly, we're told dog fur cleans off it easily. —TL

HIT AND MISS: 2020 Toyota Yaris
I like Mazdas and I'll take 'em any way I can get 'em—even with a Toyota badge. (If it isn't obvious from the interior and the rear view, the new Yaris hatch is a rebadged Mazda 2, as is the Yaris sedan.) The Yaris's mere presence in the Toyota lineup makes it a hit. Yet new Yaris hatchbacks are automatic-only. The stick persists in the sedan, but don't stick-shifty type of people gravitate towards hatchbacks?—AG

HIT: 2020 Lincoln Corsair's back seat
Lincoln is doing a better job than Cadillac of designing and executing luxury SUV interiors that are competitive with European luxury marques. The all-new Corsair's outboard rear seats are heated and offer dual-zone climate control. This will go over well in China as well as the U.S. —TL

MISS: 2020 Cadillac CT5's back seat
Interiors continue to be Cadillac's Achilles heel. The new CT5's interior does not have heated rear outboard seats, or rear dual climate-control. When I first noted this after a preview of the car in Detroit, I compared the rear seat with that of the Alfa Romeo Giulia I was driving. While the Italian car's interior is executed better, it doesn't have those rear-seat features, either. But when the CT5's specs came in a couple of days after the preview, they put a different perspective on this new Cadillac. Turns out that like the CTS, it's the same size as a Mercedes-Benz E-class or BMW 5 Series, but Cadillac is placing it in the BMW 3 Series segment, with a base-price in the low $40s. The price luxury buyers pay is in the car's de-contenting relative to expectations for its size. —TL

MISS: Lincoln "clients"
Toyota's Jack Hollis quit calling his automaker's customers "clients" a few auto shows ago, but now Lincoln Motor Company president and chief marketing officer Joy Falotico has picked up the bad habit. To which I politely request: STOP IT! STOP IT RIGHT NOW! THEY'RE CUSTOMERS, DAMN IT!—TL

MISS: 2019 Mazda CX-5 diesel
We realize Mazda poured a heck of a lot of cash into its long-delayed diesel-engine project, and we hope it works out. But we're pretty sure it won't, given that Dieselgate still hovers over the market like a giant toxic cloud. It's also pretty spendy at approximately 42 grand to start. Too bad, because the 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D engine is torquey and pretty efficient on paper. We fear it's arriving too late to have a positive effect for Mazda. —MF

Did the U.S. diesel program prove too costly for Mazda to cancel? I still don't understand why Mazda's American arm didn't use Dieselgate as an excuse to spike the project. As it turns out, the CX-5 diesel will require exhaust aftertreatment in the U.S. when deliveries begin this summer—part of the delay was said to involve drivability issues without such controls—and I don't find the SUV's 27-mpg city and 30-mpg highway EPA ratings very impressive. Despite all of that, R&D chief Ichiro Hirose said at Mazda's press conference that the 2.2-liter diesel will next be added as an option on the 6 sedan. —TL

MISS: 2019 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition
Red roof rails and hood? Whoever thought that looked good, Nissan, find them and fire them. And what's with the Dodge logo on the doors? (I know it's a BRE racing thing, but it's also a Corvette Grand Sport thing and, well, Dodge. )—AG

HIT: Pete Brock
Nissan interviewed the designer of the Shelby Cobra GT coupe and Chevrolet Corvette Stingray to reminisce about his years running '70s Datsun Zs and 510s with Brock Racing Engineering. I agree with Aaron that BRE Datsun's red-and-white livery doesn't translate well to the new 370Z, but Brock does deserve the recognition. —TL

MISS: Nissan's 50th Anniversary 370Z and GT-R
We know, times are tough in the industry with all the change swirling, and it's hard to make low-volume special-edition models with some bite. But these two cars deserved a better treatment than a glorified sticker package given how special they are to Nissan and the automotive world in general. Having a car around for 50 years is a big deal, and it's too bad Nissan couldn't do better. All will be forgiven though if we get a new Z to go with the long rumored, next-gen Godzilla. —MF

HIT: 2020 Toyota Highlander
Back in the 1980s and '90s, the Camry hit the mark with every new model. It may not have been exciting, but it was what buyers wanted. Now it seems like the Highlander has settled into that same groove. The last version was ideal for the market, and the new version is ideal for the market. We can say with blue-chip certainty that it'll be a hit with buyers. —AG

REVELATION: All-New 2020 Toyota Highlander vs. All-New 2020 Ford Explorer
Despite its mediocrity, the 2011-19 Ford Explorer managed to be the segment's bestseller, while the Toyota Highlander nipped at its heels, sometimes outselling it in certain months in recent years. Now new models of each are about to hit the market, so this is a sales race I'll be watching closely. The wild card here is that the '20 Ford Explorer reverts to a rear-wheel-drive platform in order to make the business case for the next all-new Mustang. Will three-row midsize SUV buyers notice or care about the new Explorer's elegant proportions?—TL

MISS: 2020 Ford Escape
When I first laid eyes on the new Escape, I thought someone had put the wrong car in Ford's booth. The phoned-in design makes me feel like I'm back in the 1990s. What the hell happened here? Did the designers go on strike? Did someone Photoshop the headlights from an old Mazda 3 onto the design as a joke, and someone else accidentally put it into production? To my eye, the front-end styling of the Edge, Explorer, and EcoSport are among their best positive attributes, and I can't understand why the Escape's front end has zero family resemblance. It's such a shame, because the interior is lovely. Someone at Ford must share my opinion, because once the floor was rearranged for the public days, they hid the Escape behind a tree and a giant pillar. —AG

HIT: Kia HabaNiro concept
It's a shame that most showgoers won't be able to see what I like most about the HabaNiro: all the truly useful dream-tech on the inside. The swipe-and-toss virtual display on the dash is cool, and I'm even more intrigued by the lack of a rearview mirror—instead, the HabaNiro tracks your eyes and displays a full-width camera view when you look at the spot where the rearview mirror ought to be. These are technologies that seem attainable given the state of today's tech, and I hope we'll see them soon in future Kia vehicles. —AG

The scissor doors and even the dash with its trick high-tech rearview mirror are what us grizzled veterans call "auto-show eyewash," but the overall design does provide a big hint, I'm told, of the look of the next-generation Niro hybrid/plug-in hybrid/pure EV, including the cool C-pillar/rear-quarter-panel contrasting color graphic. And that's just what the popular, but somewhat plain-looking green crossover needs. Look for a mid-cycle refresh of the Niro soon, with an all-new model that looks something like this in two or three years. Love the concept's name, by the way. —TL

MISS: 2019 Kia Stinger GTS
Don't get me wrong, I love the Stinger to death, but when I heard Kia had a higher-performing version out, my first thought was "Oh good, it's getting a stiffer suspension!" No such luck. Instead we have an AWD version that can supposedly drift like the RWD version, something any Stinger buyer can already get by buying the RWD version. Come on, guys. To Kia's credit, the bright-orange paint, carbon-fiber trim (which I think should spread to other models), and upgraded interior show that Kia knows how to do a limited-edition car, and the price is certainly reasonable. But stop messing about and give us the Stinger we really want. —AG

HIT: Chevrolet Lego Silverado
The full-size Lego Silverado isn't new, but now Chevrolet has a booth where you can build your own (slightly smaller) version. Yes!—AG

HIT AND MISS: Mercedes-Benz EQC Edition 1886
Even with an estimated full-charge range of 200-plus miles, the EV SUV coming to the States next year looks like another Tesla killer. But I can't get on board with this 1886 edition, which is named for the year Karl Benz, not Gottlieb Daimler, built his first three-wheeled horseless carriage. Daimler's Mercedes and Benz did not merge until the 1920s. —TL

MISS: Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING Editions
Celebrating great lap times on the Nürburgring: Great. Limiting production to mere tens of each: Fantastic. $16,000 price premium: Okay, we can deal. Painting them in boring silver or grey: FAIL. —AG

MISS: Volkswagen Tarok Concept
Give it up, VW. Even Chevrolet had trouble trying to sell an SUV-based pickup truck, the Avalanche, and that was body-on-frame. Ask Honda how many unibody Ridgelines it sells, or talk to Subaru about its last Baja experiment, then factor in that the Tarok is a smaller, Tiguan-based compact pickup truck. Come on, Volkswagen of America, get over the Chicken Tax. —TL

MISS: 2020 Acura TLX PMC Edition
Soooo, let me get this straight: Acura goes to the trouble of building a bunch of TLXs at the same Performance Manufacturing Center that makes the NSX, but it doesn't do anything to enhance the performance? Are sales of the NSX that slow? And can they really find 360 buyers who will cough up $50,000 to keep a few specialized technicians from getting bored?—AG

REVELATION: It's still just an auto show
On the Mercedes-Benz stand, several cars had their interiors powered on during the second press day, when many non-press manage to make it onto the floor, so that those people could sample the MBUX infotainment system. Meanwhile, at the Toyota and Mazda stands, gearshift knobs already were removed to keep the general public from pilfering them. —TL

MISS: Cars up, trucks down
The New York auto show's policy of putting cars upstairs and trucks downstairs just doesn't make sense anymore. First of all, it means that some of the vehicles that will appeal most to consumers—the Jeep Gladiator, Toyota's TRDs Pros, and the new pickup trucks from the Big Three—get a rather plain showing, as most automakers only have one glitzy booth. Second, automakers that don't have trucks per se (Mazda and Subaru, for example) get their product selection split in a rather weird way. NYAIS, it's time to go to one booth per manufacturer and split the show between two levels. Take it from the folks who run the Detroit and Chicago events, you should be happy to have this problem. —AG

HIT: Honda HR-V
See what I did there? Actually, I think it's pretty cool that Honda showed off the actual HR-V that was crashed in the IIHS's difficult small-overlap crash test. Few people visit a showroom, breathe in that new-car smell, and then think, "This is the car I might die in." Kudos to Honda for reminding people there's more to think about when buying a new car than electronic gewgaws and brand cachet. "—AG