New York motor show 2014 - our top cars
* Our man's pick of the show * Stars from BMW, Mazda and Mercedes * New Discovery concept also among our favourites...
The New York motor show used to be a major spring event in the motoring industry’s calendar, but these days it's more of an American oddity. It's been increasingly marginalised by the colossus that is the Chinese spring show (it’s Beijing’s turn over Shanghai this year), so the NYC stands aren’t exactly dripping with global debuts. This, we’re told, is a show for people who buy cars, not necessarily those who study and write about them.
There were a few significant new cars – BMW X4, Mercedes S63 Coupe and even the face-lifted Mini Countryman, but for the most part the covers were being drawn off metal that had already been seen last month in Geneva or, more commonly, product that isn’t destined to make it beyond US border control. Even Volkswagen, which desperately wants to ramp up its US sales appeal, had a quiet New York, with a lightly revised Jetta and little else to sing about (its cooler stuff will be in Beijing, strangely enough).
Yet again, though, the show was stolen by Land Rover, which is proving that it is possible to make a global splash from this most domestic of US events. Last year the British brand relied on Daniel Craig and closed city streets to grab the headlines as it launched the Range Rover Sport. This time chief designer Gerry McGovern took the limelight to showcase the next generation of Discovery (and therefore Freelander) – although he did have some help from a Space Shuttle, the USS Intrepid and Virgin’s forthcoming spacecraft.
What did they have to beat to get attention, though? Here, in no particular order, are the models that stood out for us in the New York halls.
Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept
The big star of the show is ostensibly a concept, but you’d be crazy to think that the Discovery Vision is anything but a very strong hint at how the next generation of mainstream Land Rovers is going to look.
The British brand has decided to drop the Freelander name from its line-up, preferring to build upon the strength of the Discovery badge. So the car unveiled by Gerry McGovern is hugely significant; it previews not only the next Discovery, but also the look that will be adopted by its smaller brother, to be called Discovery Sport (in the same way that Range Rover has a smaller stablemate called Range Rover Sport).
The styling didn’t draw universal praise from the assembled crowds but it’s easy to see how the basic package could be adapted to become a seven-seat 4x4 and downscaled to replace the five-seat Freelander. It has enough of the Range Rover about its front, while still managing to look like a separate family of models, particularly around its rear end.
Expect the production versions of this new generation to start rolling out next year. Land Rover is still enjoying huge success globally, and we see plenty in the Discovery Vision Concept to suggest that this trend will continue.
Mercedes had a relatively busy show, with the global unveiling of a new production model - the S63 AMG Coupe, plus the confirmation of the badge that’ll be on its forthcoming Porsche 911 rival, and a sneak look inside the cabin of that car.
In truth, the details on the Mercedes-AMG GT (that’s what it’s called) were more significant than the S63 Coupe, which cracks 60mph in less than four seconds and promises genuinely alarming speed for something that big.
The GT will be a V8 sports car that will be aimed at the higher end of the Porsche 911 range, although if the luxurious cabin pictures are anything to go by it could also prove an extremely stern rival for lower-end Aston Martins too. The cabin looks sumptuous, with lots of (garish) red leather and a chunky lower centre console that mimicks the eight cylinders of the engine. It's good to see what appears to be an exhaust button, too – a sign that Mercedes is preparing a switchable system that allows you to turn up the volume when you want to be reminded that you've got an AMG V8 sitting ahead of you.
Mercedes hasn't announced performance figures or an on-sale date, but it has confirmed that the car will be unveiled in September, which means a public debut at the Paris motor show. After this preview of the cabin, we can't wait to see the exterior.
BMW’s new ‘small SUV coupe’ was probably the most significant production car debut. The X4 is designed for X3 customers who want something a bit more rakish. It’s lower than the X3 (only 4cm, but it looks more) but not much less spacious inside. There are 200 litres less load space though.
In the metal it’s a more easily appreciated thing than the polarising X6; it doesn’t look anywhere near as tall, for starters, making it seem more in tune with the ‘SUV coupe’ categorisation. The front of the cabin is very familiar X3 territory, while back-seat passengers should have decent leg- and headroom, providing that they’re not much over 6ft tall.
Throw in a pretty generous standard equipment list (even entry-level SE editions get a powered rear hatch, Variable Sport Steering, 18in alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, heated front seats, an upgraded media package and xenon headlights) and you’re left with a niche model that could have surprisingly mainstream appeal. The X6 has been a surprise sales smash; we’ll be less shocked if the X4 does well.
Okay, so Mazda’s star is actually a stripped-bare chunk of raw mechanicals, but it’s a significant one. The bits on show are basically the oily parts of the next generation of MX-5, the iconic small roadster that’s due to be shown in its entirety later this year.
Mazda has already said that the car will be around 100kg lighter than the one it replaces, so you could end up with a baby roadster that weighs not a lot more than a tonne. That has appeal, and the sophistication of the suspension set-up displayed in New York would appear to indicate that Mazda isn’t scrimping on the chassis either. It’s encouraging to see the position of the engine relative to the front axle; this is clearly a vehicle designed around nimble handling.
We’d expect the next MX-5 to come with a choice of 1.5- and 2.0-litre petrol engines, with outputs ranging from around 130bhp up to 200bhp. While the model’s success will also depend on which bodywork Mazda decides to wrap around these mechanicals, it’s an encouraging start.
Ford is celebrating the 50th birthday of its famous Mustang sports car, a model that's notched up more than 3000 appearances in TV shows and movies over the years, and become one of the most famous badges in American motoring.
The latest Mustang will ultimately be sold in right-hand drive and in the UK, but sadly, that's unlikely to happen in time for any British buyers to get the limited-edition '50th anniversary' edition of the car that was unveiled by Bill Ford in New York.
The Mustang 50th comes in a choice of two colours that hark back to shades offered on the original model. It's based on the Mustang with a Performance Pack, so you get a 5.0-litre V8 producing 414bhp. Other touches include a numbered plaque in the cabin and chrome detailing on the tail-lights (it sounds tacky, but it's smart in the metal). In a nod to the original launch year of the Mustang, just 1964 examples will be built; it's a shame that even a few of that allocation won't make it to British buyers.