A Dozen Don’t-Miss Models at the New York Auto Show

04/08/07 - The New York Times



LOOKING for America’s next top model? If you’re interested in something more substantial than underfed young women preening on television for a modeling contract, you’ll find plenty of candidates at the New York International Auto Show.

From now through next Sunday, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center plays host to some beauties that show off their nicely proportioned wheels, bodacious bumpers and glittering grilles.

As in any beauty pageant, contestants will be judged on their personality, poise, performance and sex appeal. Think of New York as the final elimination round in a series of competitions over the last four months at auto shows in Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and Geneva. The winners here advance to the true test: the showroom floors of America’s car dealerships.

New York also provides a curtain call for popular performers from earlier shows, like the headline-grabbing (but so far nonfunctional) Chevrolet Volt hybrid electric car, which made its debut in January in Detroit.

Sadly, another electrifying concept car, the retro Holden Efijy from Australia, a crowd favorite wherever it has gone, will not be displayed in New York.

Also missing from a show attended by lots of high rollers will be the $1.4 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4. And, in perhaps the oddest omission in a city where drivers truly do think small, the tiny Smart cars that go on sale in the United States early next year skipped this show.

Still, there are plenty of cars that deserve the attention of New Yorkers attending the show. Here are a dozen highlights:

1. FORD FLEX Hmmm. Ford hires Boeing guy as president. Ford announces new vehicle with seating for six.

But relax: it’s not six across, with two middle seats and a center aisle for a drink cart. The 2008 Flex is a six-passenger people mover (a seventh seating position is available) based not on the Boeing 737, but on the Ford Fairlane concept car of 2005.

This classy-looking crossover wagon is clearly a knock-off of vintage models from Ford’s Land Rover division. When Ford first showed the Fairlane at the 2005 Detroit auto show, the question was asked, “Will Ford build it?” My reply was, “Over Land Rover’s dead body.” That, it seems, was not a consideration.

2. FUNKMASTER FLEX FORD EXPEDITION Please don’t confuse this funked-out S.U.V. with the unfunky Flex crossover. The hip-hop impresario Funkmaster Flex actually introduced a nearly identical version of the Halloween-hued Flexmobile last November in Las Vegas, at the huge Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show for the aftermarket customizing industry.

Flex’s Expedition is one of three customized limited editions that Ford is showing in New York. The two others are an F-150 pickup reimagined by the customizer Chip Foose and a 540-horsepower King of the Road Mustang, the Shelby GT500KR, finished by the racecar legend Carroll Shelby.

3. GMC YUKON HYBRID What’s new in environmentally friendly green machines at the auto show? Shockingly little, though General Motors is showing some new hydrids including the 2008 Yukon. This is G.M.’s first full-size S.U.V. hybrid, and it features a two-mode system developed in conjunction with DaimlerChrysler and BMW that results in a mild increase in mileage. The two-mode Yukon hybrid goes on sale late this year.

The most intriguing electric car at the show may be one in the display of LeMay collection classics in a far corner downstairs. Look for the 1912 Standard Electric, a fully functional battery-powered runabout that would put many of today’s electric car concepts to shame.

4. TAXI ’07 Hybrid hunters may be more successful outside the convention hall. This curbside exhibit, organized by the Design Trust for Public Space, demonstrates what the future may hold for the city’s bumblebee-colored taxi fleets.

Taxi 07 is not a static display; the vehicles actually work, and in some cases make runs through Midtown. The exhibit features electric cars, gasoline-electric hybrids and taxis with special features for riders with limited mobility. And be sure to savor this bit of fantasy: the exhibit and the taxis are waiting daily, fair weather or foul — unlike cabs on the real streets of New York.

5. BENTLEY BROOKLANDS: Neither you nor your chauffeur may ever drive a 2008 Brooklands coupé (say COO-pay), but you can drool over it here.

This latest derivative of the Arnage sedan is expensive, with a price around $350,000, and it’s exclusive, since only 550 will be built. It is also fast, since it comes with a 530-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 that churns out an incredible 775 pound-feet of torque.

The Brooklands made its world debut at Geneva last month, but it is new to New Yorkers, as is another dream machine from Geneva, the $130,000 Maserati GranTurismo coupe.

6. DODGE DEMON The success of G.M.’s new small sports cars, the Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice, hasn’t gone unnoticed by DaimlerChrysler. The Dodge Demon is the Chrysler Group’s answer. This sleek little roadster initially gets only 172 horsepower, but it should still be very quick because it tips the scales at just 2,600 pounds. A high-horsepower version may also be in the works, however. This is definitely one of the show’s top head-turners.

7. SUBARU IMPREZA WRX The outgoing WRX (and its sister vehicle the Tribeca, also being hastily redesigned) was as ugly as a toad, but with a relatively light weight, a turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive, it was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. The new model looks as if it received, if not a full-blown open-mouth kiss, at least a peck from a princess. Now it has a measure of beauty to go with the brawn. What’s not to love?

8. SUZUKI SX4 SEDAN This vehicle is Suzuki’s take on a Subaru WRX STi, only without the hot engine, the six-speed transmission and the all-wheel drive. Yes, it only goes half as fast (0 to 60 in about 9 seconds, compared with about 4.6), but it also costs only half as much. It’s also a sporty take on basic transportation that appears to be hitting the right chord with budget shoppers.

Last year, Suzuki finally achieved its long-sought goal of selling 100,000 cars in North America. With an improving lineup of enticing models like the SX4, Suzuki probably has some momentum toward its new goal of 200,000 sales by 2010.

9. JEEP LIBERTY The replacement for this compact S.U.V. has been long-awaited — for some, since the Liberty displaced the Cherokee in 2002. Despite general disappointment among the motoring press, the Liberty has been a minor hit for Jeep, notwithstanding its polarizing styling, anemic engines, off-road limitations and morbidly obese curb weight (especially with the discontinued diesel engine). The original Liberty caught on with women looking for a soft off-roader with a macho look. The ’08 Liberty’s more angular styling evokes the Cherokee. For a first-person demonstration of how the new Liberty performs, head for the big Camp Jeep sandbox outside the Javits center.

10. MERCEDES-BENZ CL65 AMG Only 40 of these celebrations of automotive excess will be available, starting in the fall. How excessive are they? Start with a twin-turbo V-12 engine, 612 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. Add a liquid metal exterior paint that had been available only on auto show concepts. The CL65 commemorates the 40th anniversary of Mercedes’s AMG engine-tuning subsidiary. The new CL65 is slightly larger, more aggressive looking, and has eight (yes, eight) more horsepower than the ’06 model. All for $200,000, give or take a euro.

11. HYUNDAI GENESIS The promise of the Genesis is luxury, power and performance on a blue-collar budget. The nearly production-ready concept is due to reach dealers next year and will have Hyundai’s first V-8 engine. On top of upscale styling, the rear-drive sedan flaunts a lush interior, a five-link independent suspension and acceleration from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in less than six seconds. The car will have “well over 300 horsepower,” Hyundai says, and a price “well under $30,000.”

12. CHEVROLET TRAX, BEAT AND GROOVE These three design studies being shown by G.M. may be harbingers of new G.M. small cars in Asia and Europe. Because they’re powered by low-output one-liter engines, these putt-putt cars are unlikely to be built or sold in this country. But the company is making a point this year of showcasing the creativity of its worldwide design studios. All three designs shown here come from the former Daewoo studio G.M. acquired in South Korea.

BONUS It could be the coolest car on display, and you’ll find it downstairs, far away from the big manufacturers’ exhibits. It’s the Seven-Eight-Nine coupe from a customizer called N2A (for No Two Alike). An amalgam of immortal Chevrolet styling cues from 1957-59, it is crafted on a Corvette chassis. One look and you’ll probably ask the same question I did: why didn’t someone at G.M. think of this?