The 2010 New York International Auto show had so many new vehicles on display that we had to split our Winners & Losers story into two posts. First, we discuss the cars we poked and prodded; next up will be crossovers and SUVs.
2011 Kia Optima
David Thomas: Winner
For me, this was the most interesting car that debuted. It’s basically the Hyundai Sonata in a different wrapper, but I prefer this wrapper. It’s a manlier midsize sedan with a distinct look and sophisticated interior. The Kia badge on this package might actually be the most jaw-dropping aspect of the entire show.
Joe Wiesenfelder: Winner
This was definitely a standout. I'm not sure what the styling means for Kia, because it's different and much bolder than the other models it has introduced recently — even the Sportage, which shared the Optima's introduction at this show. On its own merit, though, it looks great. Kia's new interiors are generally a step behind Hyundai's in cabin quality, but this might be an exception.
Kelsey Mays: Winner
It amazes me that the last Optima — a real caterpillar among family cars — has emerged into this butterfly. Joe’s right: Kia’s is the more appealing cabin. The Saab-like dashboard is particularly attractive. The 2011 Sonata GLS we tested handles sedately, and from other evaluations I’ve seen, the sport-tuned SE seems to ride quite firm. Let’s hope Kia can strike a better balance between the two.
Mike Hanley: Winner
Kia reworked so many things about the Optima's styling that you can think of it as the Heidi Montag of car redesigns. Most of the changes are good, resulting in a family sedan with styling that could make it the star of a luxury-car showroom. The good stuff continues on the inside, with a roomy cabin and premium materials. The strides Kia has made in the past 10 years are nothing short of remarkable.
2011 BMW 5 Series Winner
Yep, it’s sexy. Yep, it’s much better looking than the last generation. Yep, I want to drive one. Seriously though, the 535i will get 29 mpg on the highway and 300 horsepower, which almost makes this impractical luxury sedan — it’s bigger than the 3 Series without much more usable space in back — a smart buy.
It's nice to see the 5 Series attractively styled again after the misfire of the previous generation. But what's with the white stripe above the headlights? Holy hell, it's spread to the other models, too! Two steps forward, one step back.
Joe, please. The last 5 Series wore more eyeliner than Adam Lambert. This is hardly offensive. It’s a well-proportioned car — on styling alone, a legitimate successor to the beloved E39 5 Series of two generations ago. If its dynamics are as good as its predecessor’s — and its crash-test ratings improve — BMW will be back in the driver’s seat.
The redesigned 5 Series picks up where the current 3 Series left off, bringing that model's appealing proportions and lines to BMW's midsize sedan. My only quibble with the exterior is the chrome-accented turn signals in the front fenders. David's right: The backseat is smaller than you might expect from a car this large. The cabin details, however, are exceptional. There's no reason to expect the driving experience will be anything less.
2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
You know what I like best about this hybrid? It looks cool. Sure, it gets great mileage, features a unique lithium-polymer battery and has fancy-schmancy LCD screens, but did you see that grille?
It's impressive that its highway mileage, in particular, is so high and that Hyundai developed its own hybrid system rather than copying, co-developing or licensing another company's. Automakers struggle to decide how much different their hybrid versions should look, if at all, and Hyundai made the right move here. Though I like the grille's size and overall design, what's with the shiny bar? Supposed to deflect air? It might deflect shoppers.
I don’t buy all the hype around the higher highway mileage figure. If you work through the EPA’s combined calculations, the city mileage figure ends up mattering a lot more. Still, the Sonata Hybrid’s 38 mpg overall is impressive. And let’s not forget that Toyota and Ford have hit their quotas, leaving Fusion Hybrid and Camry Hybrid buyers without any tax credits to reap. That’s not the case with Hyundai.
I know this thing gets great mileage but I've seen its grille and I'm not impressed. It's just dreadful. I can tolerate the regular Sonata's showy chrome front end, but the sea of black plastic that dominates the front of the hybrid is unconscionable. Add the blue-accented wheels and clear-lens taillights and this is not the way to differentiate a hybrid.
2011 Hyundai Sonata Turbo Winner
It’s a bit strange that the high-performance offshoot of the Sonata doesn’t look as out there as the hybrid, but the turbo is about what’s under the hood — a 274-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder — that gets 34 mpg on the highway. I like the wheels, too.
Agreed. I have great respect for Hyundai's decision not to offer a V-6. Yes, it's a bit risky because shoppers might be locked into the cylinder-count mindset, but the commitment allowed them to build a lighter car, which pays off in mileage for all versions.
I fully expected a premium fuel requirement to sour the Sonata Turbo’s presumed efficiency. Not the case: The car runs fine on regular unleaded. If Hyundai can quell the setup’s usual bogeymen — torque steer and turbo lag — this car should have V-6 competitors rethinking their strategies.
Like Kelsey, I'm a little concerned by how much power the turbo four-cylinder is sending to the front wheels. If Hyundai has managed to wrangle it well then the performance and efficiency combination this car offers might be hard to touch in the midsize family-car segment.
2011 Scion iQ
DT: LoserIn the category of answering the question no one is asking, Scion unveiled a Smart ForTwo competitor with nearly unusable rear seats that look so dangerous they had to invent a special airbag just to protect the unfortunates who don’t call shotgun. No thanks, Scion.
Dave is high. This is a great idea and, best I can tell, a great execution. We trash the ForTwo for many reasons, but the overarching one is it has turned some people off to small cars. That's due to execution, not concept. The iQ offers cargo space when you need it and an extra seat (and a half) when necessary. Tradeoffs, yes, but there have to be some in a small car. I'm not crazy about the projected zero-to-60 time (more than 10 seconds), but it has to be better than the ForTwo's transmission.
I disagree with Dave’s specifics, but the iQ still raises concerns — namely, the physics of such a small car as it relates to rollover propensity and the diminutive mass carried into a collision. It won’t be hard for the iQ to top the low-IQ ForTwo, but calling that the bar would be insultingly low.
Appropriately enough, the iQ sat across from the Smart ForTwo on the show floor. Its styling is remarkably similar to the Smart's, but the iQ packs a more conventional continuously variable automatic transmission that should make the driving experience notably better. For such a small car, some people might expect better than the iQ's projected combined mileage in the high 30s, but as with the Smart, the iQ's cute-factor will draw people in -- at least initially.
2011 Scion tC Loser
I’m on the fence with the new tC. On the one hand, I’m glad this is actually a new design and not just another restyling. On the other, I think the Kia Forte Koup is already more distinctive and has a better interior. Same with the Honda Civic coupe. That’s not a good sign since it took six years for Scion to update the tC this go round.
I like the exterior changes, but I think the interior quality needs to be better — if not today, then within a couple years as competitors redesign and improve. Also, if early estimates are correct, the six-speed automatic adds only 1 mpg in city driving versus the four-speed. What's up with that?
Agreed. The outgoing tC displayed a bygone era of cabin quality — for most cars, not just Toyota. Padded door and dash surfaces, upholstered window pillars and precise air-conditioning controls have been traded for the stuff that typifies today’s compact class: High style, low rent. Bah.
For a brand so set on standing out from the crowd with models like the xB and all-new iQ, the redesigned tC coupe is remarkably similar looking to the car it replaces. There are plenty of new lines that Scion followers will recognize, but the average buyer will wonder what all the fuss is about.
2011 Volvo S60 Winner
Volvo is using the term “naughty” in seductively suggestive ways to describe the new S60. While I don’t think it’s naughty, the new S60 is pretty damn sexy. The black model they had on the floor shimmered under the lights, revealing shades of purple, green and blue. The inside was stylish, too. If Volvo wants to reinvent its safety-first image it picked a good car to start with.
A loser strictly from a personal aesthetic perspective. I think the current S60 generation is one of the best-looking cars Volvo ever made, and it showed the company was bursting out of its literal box. This one doesn't do it for me.
By Volvo’s own estimates, the 300-hp, all-wheel-drive S60 looks to run more in line with a Cadillac CTS than the much quicker BMW 335i or Audi S4. Perhaps that won’t matter to Volvo faithful. But the automaker claims the S60 will be “the sportiest Volvo ever.” Those figures don’t put it off to a good start, and few Volvos past have impressed me with handling finesse. Here’s hoping this one can.
Volvo's been building some great-looking cars and crossovers lately, and the redesigned S60 luxury sedan continues that trend. The front overhang is a little longer than I'd like to see but otherwise it's handsome — and that's without weighing the inside, which blends Volvo's unique materials and design into appealing cabin architecture.
2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid Loser
The prize for least surprising reveal goes to … the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. It’s basically a Ford Fusion Hybrid wrapped in the trappings of the slightly refreshed MKZ, which I think is already overpriced for what you get. Folks in this segment aren’t flocking to hybrids, and I think most would rather spend similar money on something unique…like a Volvo S60.
I don't blame Ford for making another Fusion Hybrid copy; there might be some demand, and increased volume could drive costs down. In the auto-show sense, though, it's completely overlookable.
Nuts to you guys. The Fusion Hybrid is the best current example of hybrid technology applied to a family car. Bumping up the price and throwing it into an MKZ might not make headlines, but it’s sure to get a few more shoppers over to the Lincoln side of the showroom.
I'm with Kelsey. Some shoppers might not like how similar the MKZ Hybrid's styling is to the regular sedan's, but its exceptional EPA-estimated gas mileage — Lincoln is looking at 41/36 mpg city/highway, which would make it the most efficient luxury hybrid available — should turn a lot of heads. This is a big win for Lincoln, a luxury brand that's still in the midst of reinventing itself.
2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon Winner
As a dad of two and the owner of two station wagons I thought Mercedes did a near-perfect job in the design of their latest estate — as wagons are called overseas. The interior and exterior are flawlessly executed and the rumble seat in the back is a throwback to happy times for many a parent. However, in our helicopter-parenting world I’m not sure how many will entrust their littlest — the seats won’t be comfortable for anyone past Justin Bieber fandom age — in an area not fully cocooned by airbags.
I don't have kids, but I like the utility of wagons and the alternative they represent. SUVs and crossovers have improved in the past few years, but they're still generally overlarge and inefficient — strictly to satisfy image purchasers. The E wagon is shaped more for use than for style. I really like the way the front seats motor forward automatically when you fold flat the second-row backrests.
Let’s not forget Mercedes also furnished us Yanks with an E63 AMG wagon. It’s the only German automaker with the nuts — both chutzpah and rogue executives — to marry this utility to such unfettered hedonism. (The BMW M5 and Audi RS6 come as wagons overseas; we get only an M5 sedan and no RS6 whatsoever.) For Mercedes, the utility is clearly back. I can only hope the hedonism is on its way.
Just having a folding rear-facing seat in the cargo area makes the E-Class wagon a winner in my mind because it brought back memories of riding in the same type of seat in my parents' Buick LeSabre wagon as a kid, but its thumbs-up status is confirmed by its hunkered-down stance and nice proportions. Like Kelsey, I hope an AMG-tuned version is in the cards for the U.S.
2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon Winner
Did I already mention that I like wagons? That’s probably why this one gets a green W from me. I’m also glad Acura listened to buyers — not enthusiasts — and stuck with a four-cylinder and automatic transmission to get the mileage up to 30 mpg. The same formula is what made the TSX so popular during the $4 gas era.
The more wagons the better. I'm a little disappointed by how much the rear strut towers encroach on the cargo area, but it still beats a sedan.
Thirty miles per gallon with premium gas recommended is not as impressive as it used to be, even in a premium car. I’m not convinced TSX buyers are as sensitive toward gas mileage as the non-luxury hoi polloi. The utility is nice, but leaving the sedan’s V-6 off the table is unfortunate.
Acura has a tough road ahead convincing luxury shoppers to buy a wagon, but I give the brand credit for having the guts to try. It looks pretty good, and despite some intrusion into the cargo area that might limit the size of large items you can lay flat, it's decently practical. Who knows, it could generate a cult following like the Integra's.
2011 Lexus CT 200h Loser
I actually like everything about the CT. It reminds me a lot of the Audi A3 and is probably the most interesting looking car in the Lexus lineup. It’s just that it sat in a purposely darkened booth and got little attention. The company didn’t even make an effort to remind journalists it was in the Big Apple. We have a lot to cover and Lexus sure didn’t stick out.
I think showgoers will notice this more than Dave did. Hybrid shoppers will find it. In my book, any hybrid that lowers price and raises mileage is a winner. Most luxury hybrids leave a lot to be desired in terms of efficiency.
Something about the CT struck me as un-Lexus, and I came away underwhelmed. Perhaps it was the smallish size and cutesy design; perhaps it was the marketing tie-in to a cinematic series similar to BMW’s “The Hire.” The CT 200h puts a combined 134 hp to the front wheels. The preview had it doing four-wheel drifts. Ridiculous, defined.
There's already evidence that American luxury shoppers don't like hatchbacks, so I'm not sure what Lexus is trying to prove with the new CT 200h. Sure, it's a hybrid, but it looks like a Mazda3 hatch and will likely cost around twice as much. I don't get it.
2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Winner
Mechanically, the new STI promises to be incrementally better than the existing, pretty awesome 2010 version. Now, it also comes in a sedan body style with a big wing on the back. It looks cool enough. I don’t really care much about the wing, which was the focus of the company’s presentation, but I’m glad the wheels aren’t gold anymore like the previous STI sedan's.
I'm surprised to hear myself saying (writing) this is a winner, because the styling is so over the top. But I think the hatchback is dorky looking, so I welcome the sedan, even with its giant wing. For whatever it's worth, the STI sedan's styling is more consistent than it was in the previous generation, when the wing was the only exaggerated feature.
Wings notwithstanding, the sedan body style revives an STI offering from the prior generation. That’s certainly a plus.
The sedan's wing is huge, but it actually doesn't look that excessive on this car. Subaru's supplied photos don't do the purple paint job justice -- and the lighting at the Subaru stand didn't help, either. There were places where the color looked just brilliant, though, and I bet it's a head-turner in natural lighting.