2018 New York Auto Show Hits, Misses, and Revelations
The New North American International Auto Show?
NEW YORK, New York — The New York International Auto Show has hereby won the right to call itself the North American International Auto Show next year, as it has usurped the erstwhile holder of that title, Detroit, with more newsy and relevant car and truck unveilings. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Porsche all will be here again in 2019.
This year, New York has the usual fleet of new sport/utility vehicles, including such high-volume models as the Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester. But there are actual autos—cars—here as well, including a Nissan Altima that proves the brand's revived commitment to the midsize sedan segment.
And there is a concept car that has taken our breath away like no other concept, at Detroit, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, or even Geneva has, this year …
HIT: Genesis Essentia Concept
And the winner of the "Wait, that's a Hyundai?" award is this breathtakingly beautiful concept car. What a work of art.
Star of the show, and probably the auto show season. It's exactly the sports grand touring (electric vehicle) design that Genesis needs in order to build up its luxury brand credibility.
MISS: Cadillac XT4
The XT4 looks to be a solid ute with an efficient 2.0-liter engine, it has technology on par with the competition, and the interior looks to be well built. It's just that it doesn't move the compact crossover market in any real way. There's nothing groundbreaking here. I know Cadillac is thrilled to have another crossover and it will likely sell well for them. But other than the Cadillac style, it's just another in a crowded sea of offerings. The fact that the refreshed CT6 with its 4.2-liter twin-turbo V-8 took center stage at Cadillac's New York show stand and not the XT4 speaks volumes.
HIT: Cadillac XT4
Has there ever been a good small Cadillac? The former Standard of the World has been trying and failing for the better part of four decades, but it looks like they finally got it right. The XT4 is cute and playful, a little cheeky even, and yet it still has the dignity and stateliness of a proper Cadillac. The XT4 may prove be the first baby Caddy worthy of the name.
HIT: Cadillac CT6 refresh
Cadillac injected a good dose of Escala concept design language into the CT6's facelift, while adding the CT6 VSport and the new twin-turbo V-8 options. I think it works. Cadillac's successor to the Northstar V-8 has been an on-again, off-again proposition for more than a decade, as the luxury brand faced the question of whether it could credibly take on the Germans and Lexus (and now, Genesis) by sticking with the modern Chevrolet small block instead spending big cash on its own, overhead-cam V-8. The timing of its release isn't great, but the low-volume, hand-built nature of the twin-turbo 4.2-liter suggests it will be an expensive and rare option. Now, if only Cadillac could do something about the sub-German interior quality.
HIT: Cadillac CT6 VSport
When the CT6 first came out, I wrote a review challenging any 7 Series owner to take the twin-turbo V-6 CT6 for a spin. If they came back and said the Caddy wasn't as good as their Bimmer, either they were lying or they didn't know how to drive. The addition of a twin-turbo V-8 can only make this car better. Now if only Cadillac can do something about the snoozer styling…
HIT: Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport Concept
There are a lot of compliments I can fling in the direction of the seven-set Volkswagen Atlas; "sexy" is not one of them. But now that I've seen the five-seat Atlas Cross Sport—whoa, Nellie. This new SUV-to-be combines the Atlas' squared-off styling cues with the shape of the old Touareg. Love, love, love. What we saw here in New York is the concept version, but the Atlas Cross Sport is destined for production and I doubt it will look too much different. I can't wait to see the real thing.
Or is it Atlas Sport Cross? Cross Atlas Sport? Hate the name, but as SUVs go, the new two-row 2020 VW Atlas is rather rakish for a sport/ute. It is to the three-row Atlas what the VW Arteon is to the Passat.
HIT: Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak Concept
Designed as a vision of how VW could potentially expand the Atlas lineup, the Tanoak's massive mug screams truck, though the production model would likely have some functional limitations. It definitely looks cool, and given that the Atlas line is built here in the U.S., a truck version is not out of the question.
How do I love VW's proposed pickup? Let me count the ways. First, I love the way the box cuts into the cab. It puts me in mind of the old Ford Explorer SportTrac, another sort-of pickup that wasn't trying to look like a miniaturized F-150. I love the way the Atlas' squared-off styling works on a pickup truck. And I love the fact that VW is being honest about this being a utility vehicle with a pickup bed, rather than a pickup, period. (Are you listening, Honda?) Volkswagen says they have yet to make a decision about putting the Atlas Tanoak into production, and they are gauging public reaction. Public, I implore you to react. I want this thing to happen.
MISS: Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak Concept
Well, you asked, VW. The company says its gauging public and press reaction, and is looking at clinic and sales data before its pickup truck concept gets a green light for production. The first sport-ute pickup was the Chevy Avalanche—remember that one? —and the only unibody, transverse-engine competitor, the Honda Ridgeline, typically does well in its first year (which means, maybe 35,000 units) until everyone who wants one has one, then it settles in below 20,000 per year. The latest Ridgeline AWD gets 18/25 mpg, not much better than the V-6, 4WD Chevrolet Colorado (17/24) or Toyota Tacoma (18/22), and the Chevy and Toyota are available with both four-bangers and RWD, so where's the unibody truck advantage? While the VW Atlas Tanoak is a credible looking, nearly full-size truck, it's not going to do much to utilize the Chattanooga plant's capacity.
What in the heck is a Tanoak? I'll give VW credit. I highly doubt that name was trademarked and it vaguely makes me think of trees, so there's that.
HIT: Light up VW badge
VW showed this on their Atlas concepts. Please, Volkswagen, make this happen. Please.
REVELATION: Tanoak is a tree. Don't name your pickup after a tree.
If you're going to build the Tanoak, Volkswagen, and you probably will despite my objections, please, please change its name to something relevant to your brand: VW Atlas Chicken Tax Exemption.
HIT: Genesis G70
Three words: Manual friggin' transmission.
We were still reveling in the stunning beauty of the Genesis Essentia when Hyundai's nascent luxury brand unveiled its BMW 3 Series competitor, the G70. Already, the fluid, organic lines of the Essentia have translated to a production model. That should be no excuse for denying the Essentia EV production, however.
MISS: 2019 GMC Sierra AT4
This would have totally been on my "hit" list but for the wheels, which, like the Grinch's heart, are two sizes too small.
REVELATION: Something else for Bugatti?
I spoke with Stephan Winkelmann, who has bounced from his longtime role with Lamborghini to Audi and then to help launch Audi Sport, about what's next from his current Volkswagen Group brand, Bugatti. As always with any exec, he wouldn't talk specifics, but when I asked if there was room for something else coming for Bugatti beyond the Chiron variants, his non-answer ("I think the brand has a lot of opportunities to do more") and grin spoke volumes. It seems silly to put Winkelmann in charge of a brand to simply oversee 500 Chirons being built. My money is on some sort of SUV, because of course.
HIT: Lincoln Aviator
When I first saw the design sketches of the Aviator, I thought, Oh, here we go, another Range Rover clone. Shouldn't someone remind Ford that they sold Jag-Land Rover years ago? But after seeing the new Aviator in person, I changed my tune. This is a good-looking Lincoln with handsome proportions and a great interior. The promise of rear-wheel-drive is, well, promising. Lincoln is keeping mum on the powertrain specifics, only saying that it's a twin-turbo engine, but if it's anything like the 400-hp grin-generator in the Continental, then life with this Lincoln is going to be very, very good.
HIT: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
The present Corolla iM hatch looked decent, but it didn't excite in any real way. The significantly reworked 2019 Corolla hatch has the potential to change that, thanks to its new TNGA platform underpinnings and Toyota's new 2.0-liter engine mated to either a six-speed manual or CVT with a launch mode. No power ratings yet, but it should top at least 150 horses. Kudos to Toyota for keeping the hatch in the Corolla lineup. I hope it drives as good as it looks.
HIT: Nissan Altima
Looks like the Altima has picked up some of the Maxima's mojo, and I love it. I'm sure some will disagree with me, but I think this is a great looking car inside and out. I can't say I'm optimistic about the driving experience, not after the lackluster showing of the Rogue and Rogue Sport, but I'm hopeful that Nissan can pull some of that old-time magic out of its hats and make this Altima as good to drive as it is to look at.
It seemed Nissan had given up on sedans when the now-retiring Altima came out, and went straight-to-rental. But the new one, with its optional variable compression turbo four (replacing the V-6 option) and an interior that would have been considered premium a decade ago, indicates that Nissan is as dedicated to the future of its sedans as is Honda.
HIT: 2019 Toyota RAV4
Whoa. Wait. What? When I first saw the new RAV4, I figured it was an early April Fool's joke. Nope—despite the fact that the current conservatively-styled RAV is selling like ecstasy at a rave (do either of those things still exist?), Toyota has taken the RAV4's styling in a completely new direction—and what a stunner it is. Some of Toyota's recent designs have been a bit awkward, but I think this one works, inside and out. In a way, it reminds me of the love child that might result from the coupling of a 4Runner and a Venza. That's a good thing. Let's hope the market agrees.
Toyota has split the RAV4 into two designs, both ditching the Camry-like nose. The Adventure series comes with a Tacoma-like grille that's supposed to make you think you're driving body-on-frame sport/utility, which doesn't quite work on that level, though it does take a lot of the "cute" out of this cute/ute.
MISS: 2019 Subaru Forester
I know, I know—you don't mess with success. Still, did Subaru have to make the new Forester look so much like the old Forester? Frankly, I'd be perfectly happy if the new car looked more like the first-gen Forester. Twenty years is long enough for a retro-mobile, right?
REVELATION: Subaru's design "aesthetic
Look at the Mark I Forester on Subaru's stand, and you can see that the Crosstrek has replaced that model [full disclosure: I just bought a new Crosstrek] in the brand's expanding lineup. The Forester is compact SUV-sized, which is to say, like a Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, etc., and like those rivals has grown over the years. As for the design, well, you generally don't buy from this brand for the styling, so much as the anti-styling.
MISS: Acura TLX 2.4 A-Spec
At their press conference, Acura mentioned that the V-6-powered TLX A-Spec was proving to be a big hit with younger and more affluent buyers, so they have decided to bring out a version of this car with the 2.4 liter engine. Er… guys… First, it's the V-6 engine and AWD system that make this car. Second, why would affluent buyers opt for the cheaper engine? To be fair to Acura, there's a good business case for bringing this car to market. Buyers (presumably the less affluent ones) like the less-expensive four-cylinder engine and the appearance of the A-Spec package, and Acura is simply giving 'em what they want. I'm sure it'll sell, just as "rallye stripes" sold in the 1970s. Still, I can't see it enhancing Acura's "precision performance" image. Why not put the Accord's 2.0T engine in the TLX SH-AWD? Now that would be an A-Spec to get excited about. Save us, RDX!
HIT—I hope: 2019 Acura RDX
The current RDX is, in my opinion, one of the better vehicles in Acura's lineup; the fact that it's an aging and fairly conservative design, both visually and mechanically, doesn't say much about this lost-in-the-weeds brand. But the new RDX looks to be a ray of hope. With a longer-and-lower look than the current car, it's attractive without being silly. The 2.0-liter turbo engine should prove to be just as much of a gem here as it is in the Accord (assuming it's the same basic engine with a different tune). The SH-AWD system is back, and we know from past experience that it's a winner. And from the few specs that Acura revealed, it's likely that the value equation—an oft-overlooked strong point of the Acura brand—will remain intact. Acura says the RDX is the pattern for things to come. Let's hope so. And let's hope it doesn't disappoint us.
REVELATION: Aaron Gold is an even more enthusiastic car critic as a staffer.
Gold has been contributing to Automobile Magazine's Hits, Misses, & Revelations for a good number of international auto shows now, but New York marks his first as a newly hired staff editor. We usually like to break up these Hits and Misses with contrasting opinions from various staffers and emphasize the point/counterpoints, but the fact is, the rest of us simply can't keep up with Aaron's interest in all manner of Hyundai and Kia.
MISS: Hyundai Kona Electric
I love nearly everything about the battery-powered Hyundai Kona, especially its Tesla-beating 250-mile range (tell me again why people are still waiting for the Model 3?). But the grille is a deal-breaker for me. Yes, I understand the aerodynamic advantages of sealing up the front end, but to me the Kona's most appealing aspect is its Citroen-esque styling. The Kona Electric totally loses that, and it just doesn't have the same visual impact. If corporate sibling Kia could find a way to stick the Kona's 250-mile battery in the Soul EV, that's the one I'd buy.
HIT: Hyundai Santa Fe
I figured the cool styling of the Kona was a dead end, but the new Santa Fe features the same squinty-eyed look in an acceptably conservative package. (See, Jeep? It can be done.) The rear view is a bit of an Infiniti rip-off, but I'm okay with that. As one who has lamented the watered-down styling of the latest iterations of the Elantra and Sonata, I really like the visual direction the Santa Fe is taking.
HIT: Hyundais' new Santa Fe naming strategy
The all-new two-row Santa Fe Sport is now just called Santa Fe, while the old three-row Santa Fe becomes the Santa Fe XL. The XL is a carryover of the old model, and Hyundai will soon replace it with an all-new three-row SUV with a different name. There will not be a quiz. No more trying to lump two models together under one sales number, and I hope a beginning of the end of the "Sport" name for sport/utilities.
MISS: Hyundai Tucson
Okay, so maybe adopting a Kona-like front end isn't a guaranteed recipe for success. The updated Tucson isn't bad looking, but it's not as attractive as the Santa Fe—or the current Tucson. Nice interior, though.
MISS: Kia K900
Kia had wanted a car on Hyundai's rear-wheel-drive Genesis platform since about 2007, and the K900 always seemed like a consolation prize to me, especially when the delectable Stinger arrived. Now the warmed-over K900 redesign looks even more like a Hyundai sedan from the '90s, albeit with the right dash-to-axle proportion. Kia sold 834 K900s in the U.S. in 2016, and 455 in 2017. Cutting it from the lineup should have been obvious.
REVELATION: The Hyundai-Kia rivalry
One of the better-kept secrets in the automotive world is that corporate siblings Hyundai and Kia fight like—well, like real siblings. So just when it seemed like the two brands had sorted out their roles—Kia as more modern and athletic, Hyundai/Genesis as softer and more luxurious—along comes Kia with a super-posh K900 and Genesis with a sporty G70. I guess this sibling rivalry is alive and well.
HIT: Aaron Gold as a staffer
See what I mean?