Top 10 Cars of the 2015 New York Auto Show

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This week the New York International Auto Show opens with a series of high-profile global vehicle debuts. As the competitive energy within the auto industry escalates every carmaker is being pushed to produce models with more compelling design, cutting-edge technology, superior performance and improved fuel efficiency. And while the New York auto show has always provided a first glimpse at a few key cars and trucks, this year’s show has more crucial global debuts than I’ve seen in my 20 years in the industry. That’s great news, not only for the show itself but for consumers and car enthusiasts looking for one last hurrah in the traditional auto show calendar (the New York auto show is always the last big show until fall). Normally I’d have to struggle to list 10 big deal world debuts in the Big Apple AAPL +1.81%, but the 2015 New York International Auto is bursting with all-new, never-before-seen cars that will play critical roles in each brand’s upcoming product plan. This will be a high-level look at each vehicle. You can see more details and breaking news from the show floor all week at Kelley Blue Book.


1. Lincoln Continental Concept: The attractive styling and advanced features seen on Lincoln’s new Continental concept are almost overshadowed by the car’s name — it’s not an acronym! It’s encouraging to see Lincoln embrace its rich history with a sleek luxury sedan wearing an iconic badge. Convincing serious — and notoriously elitist — luxury buyers that Lincoln is a genuine player in the premium market will be a long road, but a car like the Lincoln Continental Concept will shorten the journey if it materializes as a production model with the same flare seen on the show stand. Given Lincoln’s recent launch in China a car like the Continental, with its premium interior and first-class rear seating, is a smart step toward bolstering the brand’s global appeal.


2. 2016 Chevrolet Malibu: After struggling to establish the current Malibu in the ultra-competitive midsize sedan category Chevrolet is set to make a splash with its all-new 2016 version. The sleek shape wraps around an all-new interior while featuring a long list of high-tech features. Parents will be able to monitor their children’s driving behavior, and a new hybrid model will offer class-leading fuel efficiency of at least 45 mpg. Looks like Chevrolet will finally give the segment leaders in this category something to worry about.


3. 2016 Cadillac CT6: It’s been too long since Cadillac offered a competitive, top-tier luxury sedan, which means the CT6 can’t arrive soon enough. As the brand continues to rebuild its image a worthy competitor to iconic models like the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class will go a long way toward establishing Cadillac’s premium pedigree. I’m not sold on the latest naming convention, as I feel it will lead to more confusion than the existing nomenclature, but if the CT6 provides a powerful blend of advanced luxury features and capable performance the name won’t hold it back.


4. 2016 Lexus RX: The RX has been Lexus’ most successful model since it was introduced nearly 20 years ago. This means the brand has to balance bringing in new customers without alienating the existing fan base when redesigning the RX. This new version offers a more aggressive look than past models, reflecting Akio Toyoda’s mantra to increase his products’ emotional appeal while maintaining their high quality and refinement. Did the designers go too far with this one? We’ll know soon enough, but the latest RX will surely maintain its balance of luxury, technology and functionality, which will overcome any potential styling quirks in the eyes of traditional Lexus customers.


5. 2016 Scion iA and iM: Toyota’s Scion division has never delivered the kind of consistent, high-volume traffic its parent company, Toyota, wanted when it introduced the “youth brand” back in 2002. A combination of funky styling and low-cost materials, both designed to appeal to young buyers, seemed to turn away as many shoppers as it pulled in. With two all-new models debuting in New York Toyota is clearly refusing to admit defeat. The sedan, which sits on the Mazda 2 platform, offers styling that suggests Scion has finally found the right balance between low cost and “cheap.” However, while the new sedan and hatch look fine there’s still no SUV in the line-up, and in today’s world that’s an undeniable handicap for any brand trying to grow volume.


6. 2016 Jaguar XF: Jaguar caused quite a stir when the new F-Type debuted last year, yet it needs to refresh the rest of its line-up if it wants to increase sales and stay competitive in the luxury market. The new XF retains much of the previous car’s look, but a lighter, stronger chassis and improvements in drivetrain and suspension technology, along with a more advanced driver interface, will enhance the XF’s performance and appeal. Jaguar’s upcoming SUV will truly expand the brand’s customer base when it debuts next year. Until then the updated XF will give luxury sedan shoppers a compelling reason to consider the brand.


7. 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: The market for hybrid vehicles remains a tiny niche, and as fuel prices faltered in 2014 so did the market for hybrids. Toyota itself has shown increased dedication to fuel cell technology and is planning to introduce a consumer-ready fuel cell car next year. But hybrids remain a key component of the automaker’s near-term plan, and an all-new RAV4 Hybrid will debut in New York. The compact SUV segment is the hottest slice of the U.S. market right now, which means a RAV4 Hybrid, all by itself, could significantly increase total hybrid sales.


8. 2016 Kia Optima: Kia’s efforts to inject visual appeal across its model line have paid off in recent years. The current Optima is considered one of the best looking cars in the midsize sedan category, which puts pressure on Kia’s design team to improve an already attractive model. Thankfully they succeeded with the latest Optima, keeping the same sleek profile while enhancing details to further elevate its on-road presence. The Optima’s sales volume hasn’t yet approached segment leaders, but it’s visual appeal continues to bring in new customers, consistently moving that number in the right direction.


9. 2016 Nissan Maxima: The large (non-premium) sedan category isn’t dead…yet, though sales over the last decade confirm it’s fading fast. The reason why is easy to explain: why would anyone spend more for a sedan that’s only slightly larger than today’s midsize family sedans (Accord, Altima, Camry, etc.) when those sedans offer not only comparable interior volume but also the same degree of premium features? For example, the distance between an Altima and Maxima has all but vanished, though fans of the original “four-door sports car” can take heart that Nissan hasn’t surrendered. At one time the Maximum owned the large sedan category, and an all-new one will appear in New York to defend what’s left of its turf.

10. Mystery Machine: No, not the van from Scooby-Doo, this is a vehicle, that cannot be written about until April 1st when the embargo lifts. It’s a big deal. The details will be provided on Wednesday.

Source: Forbes written by Karl Brauer

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