2013 New York motor show highlights
That approach was reflected perfectly in this year's show, which was relatively light on global debuts but busy enough to warrant international intention. Some big players, such as BMW, settled for North American debuts. Audi, meanwhile, showed a car at private viewings down the road from the show, instead of in the hall itself.
Others brands, such as Kia, Mercedes and Volvo, found a niche model to reveal (the latest generation of Soul, the well-specced CLA45 AMG and R-Design editions of the S60, V60 and XC60). Subaru, meanwhile, committed PR suicide by, in effect, ignoring the opening day altogether and keeping its WRX Concept under wraps until its potential media audience was much reduced.
The biggest player was Jaguar Land Rover, which revealed two new performance Jags – the XJR and the hardcore XKR-S GT – and more significantly, the all-new Range Rover Sport. The launch took place via a live global webcast and was easily the biggest story of the 2013 New York motor show.
Here are the highlights of this year's New York motor show.
Audi A3 Saloon
Let's start with a cheat: the Audi A3 Saloon wasn't actually at the New York show. Instead, the German manufacturer parked a couple of examples (an S3 and a 2.0 TDI) in a studio beside the Hudson river on Tuesday.
Even so, the A3 Saloon is probably one of the more significant cars to break cover (of sorts) in NYC. It has the same wheelbase as the A3 Sportback, but is significantly longer to accommodate a boot of 425 litres (1200 with the rear seats lowered). As with the A3 hatches, it's not about to win prizes for daring styling, although the squat S3 does have a bit of a menacing look about it – not to mention 296bhp and four-wheel drive to back that up.
Audi sources aren't sure if the A3 Saloon really is a rival for the recently launched Mercedes-Benz CLA, which is longer and far more dramatically styled. However, expect those in the market for a downsized three-box saloon will definitely be cross-shopping between this pair – and the A3 could score well on practicality (its boot opening is squarer than the CLA's), access to the rear seats (again, a much larger opening) and, in particular, price.
The '2014' CTS was a global debut – although the jury's still out on when and if we'll be offered this model in Europe (Cadillac's focus is now firmly on the US and China), let alone in right-hand drive and with a diesel engine in the UK.
However, the US firm is making some bold engineering claims about its new 5 Series rival, which has been on a reasonably successful diet and adopted some new engines (including, whisper it, a four-cylinder petrol).
Even Cadillac sources will admit that the company has years of work to do if it's to break down conventions in Europe and really position itself as an alternative to the German manufacturers. However, the CTS's styling is only likely to make that more of a challenge; Caddy has a good recent history of producing sharp-edged lines in some of its big sellers (including the baby ATS), but there's something a bit unresolved about the latest CTS, particularly around the rear haunches. One wag quipped it looked like 'a Chinese copy of a Mercedes E-Class' – and while that is a bit harsh, perhaps not far wrong.
Even the premium car manufacturers are split on the point of hot limousines – BMW doesn't go there at all, while Mercedes will happily sell you an AMG S-Class – but Jaguar signed up to the second of those two approaches by launching the XJR in New York.
The XJR gets a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine with 543bhp and 502lb ft of torque – enough to take it from 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds. The XJ's aluminium construction ought to give it decent agility – and Jaguar makes a point of saying it's been developed not only at the Nurburgring, but also on UK roads (north Wales, then). We'd like to think that means it might have some sophistication to its ride.
It looked fantastic at New York, particularly with the satin-finish 20-inch alloy wheels. Ian Callum's styling team have done a nice job of beefing up a fairly sophisticated-looking limo; even the long-wheelbase version manages to look sporty.
At £92,500+, will the XJR make any noticeable difference to sales? Not a bit of it. Will it prove a useful halo model for the XJ range? Perhaps. Fascinating though the car is, and effective though the execution may be, is there any point in developing rapid cars for people to be chauffeured in?
Jaguar XKR-S GT
You sense that the XK is bringing ever-diminishing returns for Jaguar – but it still provided the base for one of the company's two New York stars, the XKR-S GT. An ultra-hardcore version of the XKR-S, now with height-adjustable Eibach shock absorbers and Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, the XKR-S GT focuses on handling and downforce instead of power.
Jaguar claims the car produces 145kg of downforce at its artificially limited top speed of 186mph and it's not difficult to see how this could happen. The aero tweaks include a sizeable front splitter, specially modified air ducts on the engine, guide vanes at either side of the front bumper and, most noticeable of all, a huge rear wing.
The XKR-S GT is being limited to 30 examples, split between the US (25) and Canada (the rest) – but sources say there's no reason why right-hand-drive examples couldn't be made for the UK if there were enough demand. It's hard to see that not happening; even at £130,000, there would be a few takers and that's all it would need.
Interestingly, the XKR-S GT has been developed by Jaguar Land Rover's ETO division (Engineered To Order) – and the boffins there are working on a number of other projects, including hot Range Rovers. These will start with a performance Evoque, probably before the end of this year, but could also include hot full-sized Range Rovers. The XKR-S GT is drool-worthy show fodder, true, but it could also be the start of something really exciting.
Possibly the most polarising debut at New York. The Jeep Cherokee takes the 'Marmite' looks of the recently unveiled Grand Cherokee and concentrates them down further. Its wide, chrome-lined grille and ultra-thin headlights look even more dominating on the smaller car – although the side profile is much more mainstream.
The Cherokee is, in effect, a rival for the Land Rover Freelander; it's around 10cm longer than that car, wider and taller. It comes with a range of four-wheel-drive transmissions, a nine-speed automatic gearbox and Jeep's 'trail-rated' badging, which is supposed to indicate a fair amount of off-road ability.
What it doesn't have, right now, is a diesel engine. So when the Cherokee does make it to the UK in 2014, it will need to be priced right and at least offer the option of one of Fiat's diesel motors. It's a striking vehicle, though, and Jeep's recent history would suggest it'll come with a load of standard kit. Providing Jeep doesn't ignore those obvious European demands such as diesel, the Cherokee should find customers.
The Kia Soul is a big seller in the United States, so it made sense for Kia to launch the new version of the car in New York.
The distinctive Soul styling has been largely retained, although elements from the Track'ster concept car have also been incorporated. It gets a lengthened, widened and stiffened chassis, and Kia claims refinement and practicality have both been improved. The interior quality did look a step forward from the current car's, with more soft-touch dashboard plastics and a large touch-screen controller.
In UK terms, the Soul has been a hit on Mobility and struggled to find sales with other buyers – and this new model isn't likely to change the recipe enough to alter that trend. The UK, it seems, is waiting for the production version of the Provo that was shown at the Geneva motor show – and it's likely to get it within the next two years.
If you are after a new Soul, though, you've got a while to wait; it'll be on sale early next year, with a choice of 1.6-litre petrol or diesel power.
Range Rover Sport
Launched with incredible pomp, several celebs and one of Hollywood's hottest current properties (Daniel Craig), the new Range Rover Sport completes the revitalisation of the Range Rover line-up started by the clean-slate Evoque 18 months ago, and continued by the Range Rover itself in 2012.
The Sport blends elements from both of those cars into an effective shape, with the Range Rover's presence up front and the Evoque's tailing roof line. It adds a third row of seats (though in reality, we'd be surprised if they're used any more than very occasionally), and gets a wide range of better-quality interior finishes. Range Rover Sport buyers wanted 'the same but better', we're told – and on the face of it, it looks like that's what they're being given.
More significantly, the Sport sheds more than 400kg (at least one model, probably a forthcoming four-cylinder petrol, will sneak under two tonnes). That brings huge benefits in fuel efficiency, but should also help with agility; the pre-launch footage of chief test driver Mike Cross drifting the thing around Rockingham race circuit was impressive and mildly terrifying, in equal measure.
Just one problem: after its New York event, where can Land Rover now go when it launches, say, the next generation of Defender? Simple. It has to involve royalty – and a parachute.
Volvo R-Design models
Volvo's hot R-Design sub-brand continues to expand – and it was launched on three further models at New York: the S60 saloon, V60 estate and XC60 SUV.
The three editions take Volvo's neat, understated styling and promptly attempts to overstate it – which means LED daytime running lights, a matt black front grille, a rear diffuser and different exhaust pipes. The cabin gets sports seats featuring subtle R-Design branding.
These variants will be offered in Britain and Volvo expects them to account for almost a third of the sales for these models. That sounds a little optimistic but then, Audi and BMW sell plenty of S line- and M Sport-fettled editions, so why not?
By John McIlroy