Life seems to be getting ever busier lately, to the point that Saturday and Sunday have largely become makeup days for whatever work didn’t happen during the week. But ever so often, it’s good to take a break from the routine and do something fun. So this weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s far west side. This is my experience.
My trip to the New York International Auto Show always begins in perhaps the most ironic way possible. I leave my apartment in southern Connecticut on foot, walking to the train station. Once on the train platform, I swipe my credit card at a kiosk in exchange for a $29.50 off-peak, round-trip ticket to Grand Central Terminal. The train usually arrives almost precisely on schedule, not hampered by weather in April. Once at Grand Central, I walk out the doors toward Vanderbilt Avenue and grab a cab over to the Javits Center, typically arriving just as the doors open to the public.
While you can purchase tickets via the web in advance, I’ve never seen a long line for purchasing them upon arrival. There was literally no line at a credit card kiosk, where I purchased one adult ticket for $15.00. From there, I walked through security, consisting of a fairly painless process, after which I presented my ticket for admittance. Once inside, I try to get a quick feel for the place, knowing that I’ll be back around to take a second look at everything eventually.
So let’s cut to the chase. Every year I pick one or more vehicles that I wouldn’t mind having; typically something new to the scene. This year I’m picking two, based on environment or purpose of use. I’m not suggesting that I could necessarily afford either of these vehicles, but they aren’t priced out in the stratosphere like some of the more exotic cars there. So here goes.
Favorite Red State Vehicle
If I were currently living in what some would describe as the Land of the Free – interior US states with a lower population density, excluding Illinois – I’d love to drive the 2014 Chevy Silverado 1500 High Country 4×4, exhibited on the Javits floor in White Diamond Tricoat paint. The perforated brown saddle leather interior of this crew cab is remarkably comfortable, and doesn’t try too hard like some pickups adorned in a Western motif. Thankfully the Silverado High Country on display didn’t include the optional sunroof, which I took issue with on other vehicles sharing the same chassis. (We’ll talk about that later.) The only thing standing between this 2014 Chevy Silverado High Country and perfection is the fact that Chevy doesn’t offer it in the purer Summit White paint available on their other trucks. That, and the window sticker of $53,860.00, which puts in the same neighborhood as the aggressively capable Ford Raptor.
Favorite Blue State Vehicle
These days I live so close to the East Coast that the water next to my building goes in and out with the tide. I park in one parking garage at home, and another at work. And in this setting, I’ve become a fan of just-big-enough small sedans. As long as there are seating positions where my 6’ 5” self and an occasional front-seat passenger are comfortable, I don’t otherwise care how small the overall car is or whether there’s enough room in back for anything larger than a laptop bag. So, when Audi announced that an A3 sedan was coming to America, they got my attention. And it turns out they brought the perfect one to the show.
The Audi A3 TDI sedan in Glacier White Metallic with Titanium Gray interior and 18” 10-spoke wheels really is an extraordinarily attractive small sedan, inside and out. The car’s new enough that I’m not finding the turbodiesel version on audiusa.com just yet. It’s safe to assume that the A3 TDI will use a variant of the same engine that powers diesel versions of the Volkswagen Golf, Jetta, and Passat. After playing with the driver’s seat adjustment, I found a seating position in the A3 sedan where I could see myself remaining comfortable for extended periods of time. The interior of Audi’s A3 sedan is tasteful and relatively clutter-free.
Audi’s A3 sedan seems well-positioned to compete with the similarly-sized Mercedes CLA250, Lexus IS 250 and Acura ILX, with gas mileage from the diesel variant likely to edge out all but the hybrid version of the Acura ILX, and then perhaps only in city driving. There was no price tag on the A3 TDI sedan at the auto show, but of all the cars there, this is really the one that I’d most like to integrate with my current lifestyle down the road.
Other New Stuff
Of course the New York International Auto Show is an opportunity to see the first public examples of several new cars every year. This year, for instance, Acura introduced their new TLX sedan, which replaces both their outgoing TSX and TL sedans, thereby filling the gap between Acura’s baby ILX and large RLX. Combining the old TSX and TL into one car is a bit of a challenge, as the two covered a fair amount of ground in both sizing and pricing. It’s my understanding that the new TLX maintains roughly the wheelbase and interior dimensions of the larger of the two cars it replaces, while giving up four inches of overhang to compromise on exterior dimensions. Acura includes the engine options of both former cars: a 2.4 liter inline-four and a 3.5 liter V6, mated to new 8 and 9-speed transmissions respectively. While show attendees couldn’t sit in the TLX this year, it seems well-positioned to serve as Acura’s mid-sized sedan for several years to come.
The Soliloquy slideshow at the top of this article also includes the Ford Mustang 50th Anniversary Edition, the new Porsche Macan and Jaguar C-X17 SUVs, the Lexus RC 350 and Cadillac ATS coupes and the Fiat-inspired Jeep Renegade. Unfortunately, in the case of the Renegade, the only thing they appear to be rebelling against is Jeep’s legacy of off-road prowess.
GM’s Large SUVs
This year we get to see GM’s refreshed SUV lineup that shares the same platform as last year’s all-new Silverado and Sierra pickups. Every sample of the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL and Cadillac Escalade there were well equipped, and it showed. A black Chevy Suburban LTZ on display stickered north of $70,000. With a pricetag like that, these vehicles may well be the exclusive domain of doctors, lawyers and well-paid executives, and not the Midwestern families that historically drove them. I also have a major bone to pick with GM on the basic design. Every large SUV there was equipped with a sunroof that opens below the roofline, subtracting space from the interior headroom of the vehicle. In each case, I found myself having to make significant adjustment to the drivers seat to avoid hitting my head on the artificially low roof. One might feel like they should be able to hop into a Tahoe or Escalade without having to lower the seat significantly from the default position. Needless to say, I’d advise full-grown men to steer clear of the $995 power sunroof option. Given the significant expense of these vehicles, and the fact that a brand new Yukon burst into flames while on a test drive in Anaheim recently, it may be wise to avoid these vehicles altogether. At least for this year.
Let’s Talk Tech
Not long ago, it felt like many vendors at the New York Auto Show were trying to use technology for technology’s sake in their displays. In 2012, every car had to have an iPad-powered display sign in front in order to pass muster. These days, the sales professionals still tote iPads, of course. And some of the vendors still have electronic, interactive displays out in front of their cars. But just as many are comfortable with traditional static signage that conveys the appropriate information. And while social media was certainly still mentioned, it didn’t feel central to any major displays, such as Audi’s 2013 use of a giant Tagboard. If only automakers understood this lesson inside the cars.
The Mercedes S-Class isn’t the only new vehicle with a mostly or fully-digital dash, containing digital representations of traditional analog gauges. While digitally depicted gauges can sometimes look OK when driving, as soon as you shut off the car, they look like nothing at all. Just as I’d rather have a mechanical automatic watch than some digital smartwatch with fake hands, I’d rather have a traditional speedometer and tachometer on my auto dashboard. And I’m going to be particularly unhappy if digital gauges move down-market and get implemented with noticeably less attention to detail, a la, the Cadillac ELR. If this makes me an old fogey in my late 30s, I’m OK with it.
While my day started out at a relatively crisp 39 degrees Fahrenheit, by mid afternoon New York was at 66 degrees under a mostly sunny sky. As I left the Javits Center, I again hailed a cab on 11th Avenue for the ride back to Grand Central. My taxi was a yellow Toyota Camry with all the windows fully down, offering a steady dose of what passes for fresh air in Midtown. Ironically, considering I’d spent the day at the auto show, my afternoon taxi driver reminded me why I’d never actually want to own a car in New York. He used every scrap of pavement not currently occupied, disregarding lane markers and stop lights in order to get one or two cars ahead of where he might have otherwise been. He was driving binary: full gas, followed by full brakes. At one point, a non-descript black Ford Taurus tried to pull out in traffic. My taxi driver denied it as he raced past, at which point the Taurus flashed on red and blue lights. But it came to nothing, and I arrived at Grand Central in literally the fastest time possible. The subsequent train ride east had none of the same excitement.
The New York International Auto Show is always a fun way to spend a day. One doesn’t have to love everything about the current state of the auto industry in order to find plenty to see and learn. With so much there, everyone’s experience is sure to be different. I was fortunate to take a break from the routine and make the visit. This year’s show runs through Sunday, April 27th. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $5 for children under 12. For more information, visit autoshowny.com.