Forgotten Places: 2016 New York International Auto Show (Part 2)

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Situation Report: the pretzel I’m eating isn’t life changing. It’s not even changing the course of my afternoon, which is frankly the least I could’ve expected out of it for four dollars. Hell, for four dollars, a pretzel better come with a handwritten note from God himself. I’m at Lexus now, there’s another booth professional going over the details of the new LC sports car, which is spinning on a turntable. The man is expressive, but he sure seems to love a lot of things. He’d love to tell you about the engine. He’d love to tell you about the carbon fiber roof. He doesn’t seem to understand that using the word over and over again dilutes the meaning. “YOU DON’T LOVE ANYTHING, DO YOU?!?” I want to scream, but I keep silent. Maybe he’s crying out for help, spinning slowly out of control like the car behind him, but is confined to the script Lexus has saddled him with. 0 to 60 in less than five seconds… of pure emotional agony, he seems to be saying. Welcome back.

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This is part 2 of our jaunt around the 2016 New York International Auto Show; if you want to go back and read part 1 you can do so here, but don’t feel obliged to by any means. NYIAS is a big place, and I just wandered around aimlessly for several hours, so there isn’t really a whole lot of narrative structure to be found here. Even less so this time around, because I lost the notes I took while I was here. I think I lost them, actually, behind the grille of this other Lexus, the LX. I mean, look at that thing- it’s like the cow catcher on the front of an old train. It’s an ugly car, but I can’t hate it. The LX is a Toyota Land Cruiser underneath, after all. Another notable at the Lexus booth is an RX that was at New York Fashion Week. It was painted with old fashioned, curly-corded, pink telephones. I don’t get it, but then again I don’t think it was designed for me. Oh, and kudos to Lexus for letting us plebeian masses sit in the high performance F cars. I like how Lexus is resisting the forced-induction revolution for the time being, even if it makes their cars less powerful than the competition. Also, the GS-F smells like peanut butter.

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I kind of breezed by Acura, as most people should, frankly. Part of the reason is that they wouldn’t let anyone near the new NSX, thus shattering my planned fantasy to become Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction. Initial reports about this car have been mixed. I think it’s partially because it was left in the oven for too long. Does that deserve some more explanation? That deserves some more explanation. Okay, so the old NSX was a mid-engined, Ayrton Senna-influenced piece of brilliance from the 90s, when Honda still had it together. It was discontinued in 2005, and ever since then there have been myths and rumors as to its triumphant return, some of which were propagated by Honda themselves. First it was going to have a V10 engine, then it was cancelled, then we saw a front-engined, V8 Honda racing around in Japan, and everybody thought that was the new NSX for a time. Then they released a concept car which was different from the car in Japan, then they put a convertible version of that concept car in the first Avengers movie, and then they made a Super Bowl commercial for the car with Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno, and all the while we were being showered with blurry NSX photos and unconfirmed reports and wild speculations. And then, just this year, nine years after the initial announcement, they release the finished product to scores of people chanting “eh” and shrugging. We’re the dog that finally caught the car. And it’s just the slightest bit hollow.

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Toyota brought along the new Prius, which is smaller than I thought it was going to be. Prii (that’s the plural, I swear) now come with lithium-ion batteries, which are cleaner to manufacture than the old nickel-hydride ones. Bafflingly, the new Prius is slightly less powerful than its predecessor, because if there’s one thing this car needed it was the ability to go slower. Fuel economy ratings are in the low fifties, which is just about as good as you’re going to get for the price. Tesla is making all the news these days, but Toyota is the one providing all the bread and butter. They also brought along something called the Prius Prime, which is the plug-in version. You know, Fisker Karma-style, but this one won’t burst into flame unexpectedly. At least, I don’t think. I didn’t get a good picture of the Prime, but you can kind of see a silver one in the distance in the picture above: right beneath the giant Toyota logo hovering ominously over the stand, watching over all of us. It reminded me of something, that giant logo. I couldn’t place it, though. Oh, and Toyota is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Corolla by painting it purple and making it look like a catfish.

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In other news, Toyota’s group project with Subaru, the FR-S/BRZ sports cars, are getting mixed up in the sense that what was formerly the Scion FR-S is now the Toyota 86. Otherwise, the car gets a little bit more power, which is fine, and a new front bumper, which in my opinion makes it look like it just ate something that didn’t agree with it. I shouldn’t criticize it too much though: affordable sports cars are in short supply at the moment, and Toyota did a nice job with this one, bumper and name-change aside. The bump in power should assuage the people complaining that the car doesn’t make enough of it, if only for a time. Actually, those people kind of annoy me- we begged Toyota to make us something interesting for years, and then they finally did, and then we whined at them. Small power figures in cars like this are fine because of the Slow-Car-Fast rule: it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than it is to drive a fast car slow. Plus, because the car makes so little power, you’re never going fast enough to get yourself into trouble with Mr. Police Officer, Sir. Let’s enjoy what we have! I could sit in a Camry, but I don’t feel like being depressed today, so let’s move on. That old P1800 from Volvo at the top of the frame sure looks nice, doesn’t it?

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I’m going to start a torrid love affair with the BMW i8, and I don’t care who knows. And the i3 can join in if it wants. I just love that BMW had the courage to make their electric cars look like something out of a Syd Mead creation. The i8 and i3 are hopeful visions of the future, they’re promises that idea of the car will be okay in years to come. They’re assurances that we will be okay in years to come. And they come with cool taillights- look, you can even see through the ones on the i8! How cool is that? BMW is a bit of a divided company right now, with the i3 and i8 heralding in the future, and the rest of the range trying to establish itself in the present. The problem is they may have lost touch with their past. Let me give you an example. In the 80s, which many consider to be the heyday of BMW, you could walk into a dealership and you had three options: the 3-series, the 5-series, and the 7-series. That was pretty much it. You could fiddle around with different engines, equipment, and colors or whatever, but each was guaranteed to be a rear-wheel drive, well-appointed car that focused on people who loved to drive. I understand that businesses and markets evolve. But I just wish BMW kept at least a little bit of their soul when they sold it off to Billy Crystal. Now they offer cars with names like X1 xDrive28i, which I can only assume was invented when some BMW staffer repeatedly smashed his head into his keyboard in frustration over his company building a front wheel drive “Sports Activity Vehicle.”

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Here are two BMWs, separated in name by only one digit. Their respective missions, however, are as different as chalk and cheese, which is a real expression that everyone uses. The red-orange one is an M1, a supercar made in the early 1980s by BMW in an effort to beat Porsche in some races. However, just as BMW were putting the finishing touches on, so far, their only honest-to-God supercar, the rules to the races changed, thus deeming the M1 ineligible. But BMW wasn’t going to let all their hard work go to waste, so they salvaged some bits of the M1 for future use. First was the straight-6 engine, which developed around 275 horsepower and saw use in the later 635 CSI and the very first M5. Next was the Procar- an 800 horsepower racing version that competed in a series of races in which only M1s could take part (take that, establishment!). And finally, that “M” badge, which has since been worn by some of the most legendary fast BMWs. The M3, the M5 and the M6 all trace their origins back to that plastic supercar at the top of the frame. So too does the new M2, the other car in this picture. See, while many wax lyrical about the great M cars of BMWs past, a growing number of people, myself included, feel that they’ve started to loose the plot (see things like the X6M and the aforementioned keyboard-smashing). The M2 is the company’s attempt to reboot: to return to what made it great. It’s small, it has a straight-6 (though it’s turbocharged this time around and good for 365 horsepower) and it, according to initial reports, drives like an old BMW. Which is about as high as praise gets.  In short, the M1 is Sean Connery. The M2 is Daniel Craig.

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What is this? Just take a wild guess, there are no wrong answers. Is it a Cadillac? Audi? Are we still at BMW because I just can’t leave the M2 alone? Nope! It’s a Hyundai. Well, kinda. Hyundai released a car in 2009 called the Genesis, and now they’re spinning it off into its own thing, kind of like how Phil Collins did his own thing after leaving, ahem, Genesis. Anyway, the Hyundai Genesis is now in its second generation (the Exodus?) and is now called the Genesis G80. The former Hyundai Equus is now the Genesis G90, which has an extremely commodious backseat. The car in the picture above is the New York concept, which is supposed to give us some insight into what their smaller, 3-series sized sports sedan, which in Genesis-world will be called the G70, is supposed to look like. We got some news this morning about future Genesis products, namely smallish crossovers and one particularly intriguing “Near Luxury Sport Coupe,” so expect the name, however silly, to stick around until at least the end of the decade. I liked the first Hyundai Genesis, especially with the five liter V8, so color me interested.

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I’m at Scion now, and frankly, it’s like walking through a block of death row inmates. Everyone here knows what the future holds. The decision to kill the Scion brand must’ve been a quick one. I mean, they just released two new cars. And they got James Franco to sell them! The booth professionals here don’t apparate out of thin air; they all kind of congregate together, talking among themselves. They’re dressed like extras from a will.i.am music video. They know that the end is nigh. Scion, instead of highlighting their new cars, instead brought along their wacky concepts from years past, and you know what? That’s just fine. The whole Scion brand was a poorly thought out marketing exercise, and were never really what their Toyota overlords wanted them to be anyway. We’ll examine Scion in a bit more depth in a future Forgotten Metal post, so for the time being I’ll let YouTube’s Mr. Regular explain the problem they encountered. In short, show, don’t tell, people what to think is cool. So as “Scion” turns into “Scion by Toyota” turns into nothing at all, I sit here in the last… I guess it’s a tC? I don’t even know anymore. It’s not that bad, really. Just misguided. It’s almost evening now. The booth professionals gather together for one last picture, smiling as a man in a black, Toyota-logoed suit snaps a photo on an iPhone. “Let’s get out of here,” says one as they disperse. “It’s time to eat!”

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This man from Mitsubishi is giving a presentation to no one. Exactly zero people are in his audience. And yet he soldiers on, full of energy and marketing jargon. If there is a better metaphor for how interested people are in Mitsubishi, I haven’t seen one. The company is caught in a Catch-22. They have no money, so they can’t make anything new or interesting. But because they don’t have anything new or interesting, no one is buying Mitsubishis, which means they have no money. They just introduced a sedan version of the Mirage, called the G4, but that’s kind of like trying to fix the Greek debt crisis with some used gum and a prayer. Nissan just bought them though, so who knows? Maybe the tide of irrelevance will turn. In the meantime, keep preaching, Mitsubishi man. Even if no one is listening.

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This is getting depressing, so let’s do some wrapping up, which I suppose means picking a winner. The new Volvo XC90 is certainly a runner up. I got locked in one while trying to figure out if Volvos actually do have the best seats in the business (they do). In the words of the man who eventually saved my from my extremely well-appointed Swedish prison: “There are worse places to be trapped.” Fair enough, random man, fair enough. As much as I like the XC90, and Volvo’s claim to eliminate deaths in their cars by 2020 (my suggestion for Volvo’s new slogan? “Volvo: Live Forever, Never Die”), there are better things around, so let’s move on. Also: moose. Big moose.

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This guy is a Scion employee, and I’ve captured him in the midst of asking this (extremely pretty) girl from Fiat for a job. Scion’s a real bummer right now, isn’t it? Thankfully, Fiat’s doing pretty well, and is poised to do even more weller with this: the 124. The 124 shares its suspension and interior with the Mazda Miata, which is, as we know, the best. The engine, however, is Fiat’s own: a turbocharged, 1.4 liter unit from the 500 Abarth. That means the 124 is good for 160 horsepower. The car in the picture is the fanciest 124, also called the Abarth. That means some adjusted suspension and braking bits, as well as a number of cosmetic enhancements, namely color contrasting paint on the hood and trunk as a homage to the original from the 70s. Confusingly, the Abarth doesn’t get any additional power over the standard 124, which means that it joins the Volvo as a runner up. Fine company, but no winner. For that, we have to take a walk to…

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That’s right: Alfa Romeo. Alfa’s return to the United States (for real this time, they swear) is spearheaded by this: the Giulia (pronounced “Julia”). It’s a sedan intended to go toe-to-toe with BMW 3-series, Mercedes C-Classes, and Audi A4s. And it’ll fail, probably. Crash and burn. Pretty dramatically, if I had to make a prediction. It’s already kind of happening. Reliability has never been, and continues not to be, Alfa Romeo’s strong suit. Alfa’s relationship to reliability is like Sid Vicious’ relationship to Nancy. The Giulia is pretty though, isn’t it? And it’ll be great to drive, as all Alfas are. Briefly, that is, in the spaces of driving Nirvana between breakdowns. And that will ultimately seal Alfa’s fate in the US. But there’s another way to look at this. In a couple of years, after everyone’s written Alfa Romeo off, and all the people who bought Giulias are getting frustrated with the constant reliability problems, the price of used Giulias will start to drop. Like a stone, if we’re lucky. At that point, we’ll have cheap Giulias for everyone! Think of all the money we’ll save! All the money that can go towards repairing our frustratingly brilliant Italian sports sedans! It’ll be great, I promise! Guys, come back!

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Additional Thoughts:

  • Some other runners up include the new Cadillac CT6, the Mazda Miata RF, the Porsche 911 R and the Porsche 718 Boxter.
  • And so ends our two-part journey to the 2016 New York International Auto Show. I hope you enjoyed living vicariously through me. With that said, our regularly scheduled programming will resume soon.

 

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2 thoughts on “Forgotten Places: 2016 New York International Auto Show (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: The Titanosaur | Forgotten metal

  2. Pingback: The Titanosaur | Forgotten Metal

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