Gas prices aren't as cheap as they were two months ago, the economy is in deep doo-doo, unemployment rates are skyrocketing, available credit is nil, and many of the world's automakers are up to their proverbial necks in financial troubles. Sounds like the perfect time to debut some flashy, heavy, gas-guzzling SUVs and crossovers, right?
Apparently that's the mindset of many automakers at this year's New York Auto Show. Acura went so far at the release of its new ZDX to suggest that the best way to overcome the current dismal state is by introducing exciting, emotion-grabbing (read: pricy, non-essential) vehicles again. Well, that's one way of looking at things.
Acura has boldly stated that its ZDX is not targeted at BMW's X6 sport activity coupe, yet a single glance at the profile of both vehicles would suggest otherwise. While sharing the same broad arched grille that has found little love at the helm of the TL, the general consensus here in New York seems to be that the ZDX is the best-looking effort to come out of Acura's newest design direction. Don't like the photos? Trust us, it looks better in person. Power comes via Acura's VTEC V-6 (likely the 3.7-liter unit from the Acura TL) and transfers through an all-new six-speed SportShift manumatic gearbox - it's clear that Acura selected its powertrain for sporting pretensions. While this category of vehicle is hard to define, with elements of sports coupe, sedan, and SUV all present, there is no getting around the fact that the ZDX will turn heads when it hits real roads and will feel more sedan than SUV to drive. Pricing, yet undetermined, could make or break the ZDX - a vehicle even Acura admits "no one needs, they just want."
If the ZDX feels too much like an X6 knock-off for you, BMW has you covered with the real thing - only more so. The Munich-based automaker came to New York with its Motorsports GmbH. version of the X6, dubbed X6M. Bringing a staggering 555 horsepower from its twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 engine along with a host of suspension, exterior, and interior enhancements. A first for BMW, as the only all-wheel drive vehicle to receive the M treatment, the X6M has left plenty of hardened industry vets scratching their heads as to the vehicle's purpose. Offering limited performance compared to a purpose-built sport sedan or coupe, and losing practicality and efficiency to a full SUV, the X6M seems compromised at both ends. Further confounding the pundits was the X5M - an SUV which BMW was content to release information on, without bringing the actual vehicle to New York. Still, with BMW claiming to have its entire first year of X6 production already spoken for, the X6M seems to be as simple an idea as giving the consumers even more of what they're already buying. It's hard to argue with a business plan like that.
Land Rover didn't miss out on the fun either, showing off its all-new LR4 - the current LR3's successor - and the revamped 2010 Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models. The LR4 sees vast changes over the outgoing LR3, with a revised suspension, new 375-horse 5.0-liter engine straight out of the Jaguar XF, and sharper looks that update the car's appearance to better compete in the marketplace. Land Rover says that the LR4 is as far as it can take the model without starting from a clean sheet of paper. Refreshed styling and increased functionality comes to the Range Rover duo, as does the same 5.0-liter engine for 2010, no doubt helping to cut development and production costs across the Land Rover/Jaguar board. Hopefully, the common engine will also help boost Land Rover's dwindling reliability ratings and sales at the same time.
Domestic automakers weren't without shiny new SUVs to show off in the Big Apple either. The 2010 GMC Terrain made its debut, based on the second-generation Equinox platform and featuring either a 2.4-liter four-cylinder or 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, both offering direct-injection. Both engines make a case of their fuel efficiency, offering a 500 mile driving range on a single tank of fuel. The four-cylinder is also slated to reach up to 30 mpg on the highway. With that kind of mileage and a price starting in the low-$20,000 range, this could be one of the more sensible options from the current SUV offerings -- and exactly what the automaker needs. When presented in dark colors, the Terrain even manages to look more expensive than it will cost.
Over at the Chrysler stand, the long-awaited 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee was finally unveiled following years of anticipation. Chrysler chose to take the model slightly upscale, with a more elegant exterior, soft-touch interior design, a host of tech and luxury features, and a choice of the new 280-horsepower Phoenix "Pentastar" V-6 engine with direct injection and variable valve timing, or the 360-horse 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. Whether the Grand Cherokee's upscale shift (the underpinnings are even based on Mercedes ML architecture) will be enough to take on Cadillac's new SRX remains to be seen, but sales, traditionally strong in Europe, are expected to stay that way. Across the Pond, the 2011 Grand Cherokee will be offered in both right-hand drive and diesel variants.
And last, for those of the eco-friendly, fuel-miser mindset that still want an SUV, Mercedes-Benz and GM had just the tickets. Mercedes brought out its alternative to BlueTEC diesels, the ML450 Hybrid. The ML450 Hybrid is a full two-mode hybrid, with a 3.5-liter Atkinson V-6 and two electric motors sending power to all four wheels via Mercedes 4MATIC system. Nickel-metal hydride batteries are employed to keep the juice flowing, and combined with the gasoline engine, total horsepower reaches 335. A 520 mile range is given for the ML450 Hybrid, and a combined 22 mpg is to be expected - that's roughly 60% better than the V-8 ML550. The cost? Still undetermined, but look for the starting point to be in the $50,000 range. Eco-friendly is obviously not always the same as checkbook-friendly.
That price looks like a relative bargain compared to GM's eco-friendly entry across the hall. The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Platinum's base price is second only to the low-volume XLR in the Cadillac lineup, starting at a whopping $85,885. Want four-wheel drive? That'll be almost $3000 more, please. Yes, it's an expensive way to get your "Save the World" message across, but it's also a pretty pleasant place to shout it from. With a two-mode hybrid setup featuring a 332-horsepower V-8, the Escalade Platinum Hybrid achieves 20 mpg in the city, while cosseting occupants in Aniline-leather-swathed luxury. Twenty-two-inch wheels, a DVD entertainment system, magnetic suspension, LED headlamps, and a CTS-derived front grille are all standard - as they probably should be for the price.
Listen to some sources and you'd believe that these trying times have consumers rushing to cheap, small, efficient automobiles. The truth is, that following the drop-off from record high gasoline and oil prices SUV and truck sales are climbing once more while hybrid vehicles are sitting in showrooms. Did the New York show confirm that reality? You be the judge.
Be sure to check out the rest of our 2009 New York Auto Show coverage!