By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. The New York International Auto Show is one show I always look forward to attending for some reason, even though the whole exercise veers toward the tedious most years. This year was no exception. Why? Lots of hype but the reality is that there wasn't much there, there.
Yes, there were some product hopefuls of note that made their debuts. Subaru finally came out with a large SUV concept – the “Ascent” - aimed at all of the Subaru faithful who had wandered off in the desert when their need for a larger vehicle went unfulfilled by their favorite brand. The Ascent changes all of that. And it means that the Subaru momentum – barring a major screw-up – will go on unabated. In fact, in a preview of our next Brand Image Meter due in a couple of months, Subaru will ascend to our highest ranking.
The Subaru Ascent Concept.
Toyota took the wraps off of its FT-4X, for “Future Toyota”-Four-Wheel Drive Crossover. It’s a four-wheel-drive "toolbox" - their words, not mine - created at Toyota’s Calty Design Research Inc. in Newport Beach, California. There was a lot of bad-mouthing directed at this concept by some auto journos but make no mistake, the significance of this vehicle is twofold: 1. It means that Toyota is getting ready to seriously challenge the Jeep Wrangler, which is huge, because Jeep has been gliding along with no competition ever since GM was forced to delete the Hummer brand due to the bankruptcy. And 2. Much to Ford’s chagrin, it is very likely that Toyota will beat the new Ford Bronco to market with its entry, which may not seem like a big deal now, but it is, in fact, a huge deal. Does the FT-4X have some design elements that won’t make production? Yes, of course, but I expect its overall funkiness will be present and accounted for in its production counterpart, and that is a very good thing.
The Toyota FT-4X concept.
The big news from New York, judging by the hordes of people crowded together at the press conference, was the debut of the production version of the Lincoln Navigator. Decked out in an unfortunate shade of “yachting” blue – listen, vive la difference and all that but it didn’t come off well, I dubbed it “Apologetic Blue” – the new Navigator is everything the Navigator faithful could want, and much more. But that isn’t the question here, is it? The question is whether or not the new Navigator will conquest shoppers away from the acknowledged King Kong of domestic luxury SUVs, the Cadillac Escalade. The new Navigator seems to touch all the bases, but prying buyers’ hands away from the Escalade is an entirely different thing. I expect the Navigator to bring existing Navigator and pro-Ford customers back to Lincoln showrooms in droves, but whether or not it can go beyond that is one of the giant “we’ll see” questions of the year.
The Lincoln Navigator.
Other quick takes? Except for the mildly entertaining Mercedes-AMG GT Concept – their “me too” competitor to the new Porsche Panamera – the Mercedes display was lackluster and borderline embarrassing. They chose to show a special package of the GLA-AMG, which veered dangerously close to ClownCarVille, it was that bad. And, as if to top that off, they showed a matte-finish puke green Mercedes-AMG GT R that was too stupid for words, plus a plethora of AMG-tinged SUVs that blended together in a non-seamless blur. Overall, there was not one thing about the Mercedes-Benz display that even remotely said, “we have it goin’ on.” Not one.
The Mercedes-AMG Concept.
Speaking of Porsche, the Panamera Sport Turismo is this year’s leading entry to AE’s “The Question That Absolutely No One Is Asking” Sweepstakes. All I have to say is, why? Or better, WTF?
The Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo.
The Nissan display was so horrendously bad I won’t even bother going into it. That company – and their current sales trajectory – remains a mystery to me, one that I have no interest in exploring. Audi was bathed in its usual smugness, punctuated by R8s painted in matte finish that did damn near the impossible: make the R8 look ordinary. Not attractive. Audi also officially renamed its performance division “Audi Sport,” which garnered not one bit of attention as in, who cares?
And of course Alfa Romeo showed more of its cobbled together Stelvio SUVs than were even known to exist, bringing smoke-and-mirrors marketing to a new level of absurdity. Does the Stelvio matter? No. Will it save Alfa Romeo? No. Despite Marchionne's statements to the contrary (see "On The Table" -WG) he needs to make a deal, everything else - including the resurrection of Alfa - is just a sideshow at this point.
BMW arrayed all of its vehicles to look exactly like a dealer lot, apparently, because BMW is now officially phoning it in at every major auto show. So did Jaguar and Land Rover for that matter. As for the Range Rover Velar, it’s nicely generated but beyond that, am I missing something here? It didn’t look new, at all. But then again, maybe that’s the point, because the people paying giant piles of money for these things don’t want any surprises.
Speaking of dealer lots, Kia, Hyundai and Toyota all crammed their displays with as much product as possible, not to good effect I might add. Oh, and this just in: The unfortunate Kia Stinger absolutely sucked in Detroit and it still sucked upon further review in New York. The fact that this unfortunate exercise that blends ideas from oh, at least six different existing designs has garnered even half the attention that it has is just the latest in a long line of industry embarrassments. Move it along, folks, there’s nothing to see here. And the new VW Golfs looked polished and bright - thankfully, VW operatives know not to screw that car up. And the Genesis SUV concept looked to be a solid entry, but certainly nothing special. Hyundai better be careful here, because Genesis needs to be special, and that SUV isn’t.
And speaking of clown cars, the Honda Civic Type R was so bitterly disappointing I don’t know where to begin. Burdened with every obligatory add-on body piece that could be found, plus even a few more that were pasted on for good measure, the Type R has a scattered look that is just flabbergasting. It made me go back and look at the Civic itself, and the real problem is that design has not worn well, at all. In fact to use the term “design language” in conjunction with the Civic is an oxymoron. I don’t care one lick about the alleged performance of the Type R, it looks like a refugee from “The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.” And believe me, that couldn’t be further from being a good thing.
The Honda Civic Type R.
And last not but least – and by the way, if, as a manufacturer, your car/truck/SUV didn’t make the cut in my column I hope it triggers deep introspection – there was the Bugatti Chiron. With a mid-mounted, 8.0-liter, direct-injected W16-cylinder engine with quad turbochargers operating with sequential boost that develops 1,500HP and 1,600 Nm of torque, the Chiron is almost beyond comprehension. And with the capability of going 0–186 mph in 13.6 seconds and a top speed that’s estimated to be over 280 mph – all for a cool $3 million base price – if the Chiron represents The End of the Automotive Era right before we dissolve into a cesspool of smelly, shared autonomous pod cars, then I am good with it. The Chiron is an eloquent rebuttal to all of the naysayers who want to do away with the freedom of driver-operated mobility.
And I love it.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
The Bugatti Chiron.