What’s rarer than a flying car at an auto show? A flying car that has actually flown. Terrafugia’s Transition Roadable Aircraft is front and center in New York City’s Javits Center at the 2012 New York International Auto Show that kicked off Wednesday (press days) and opens a nine-day public run Friday. The show’s tech themes include more hybrid vehicles, 500-hp supercars with microprocessor driver engine management that allow for 20 mpg driving when you’re not hot-rodding, and high-end downsized cars for baby boomers who don’t want to give up their luxuries just yet. The Germans keep coming with diesel engines in hopes of making Americans see efficiency the worldview way, and Lincoln showed off a new MKZ in hopes of making the world see luxury the American way.
First, the Terrafugia. Its somewhat awkward nomenclature is their way of saying, “This is mostly an airplane that can be driven on public roads. But, hey! Ours is actually flying, unlike 75 years of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science cover photo mockup airplanes.” The typical user drives to a private airport, flies a couple hundred miles to another private airport, folds the wings behind the plane-car, and from there drives a couple miles to their vacation home. Terrafugia says the plane should be for sale this year.
Acura’s insistence that six cylinders is enough for a luxury car doomed the Acura RL. Also, it was smaller and cheaper than the Lexus LS, not good things in the minds of luxury car buyers. Acura is back with the 2013 Acura RLX concept: bigger and with more technology that its predecessor. The top end RLX has an all-wheel-drive hybrid drivetrain and includes what is called Acura Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. Translation: torque vectoring, or a microprocessor-based stability system that overdrives the outside wheels through a corner for faster corner or (in winter) safer cornering. It’s likely to be a detuned version of the new Acura NSX sportscar drivetrain. For those who want to keep costs down, the Acura RLX (which is coming to market even if it’s called a concept) will also offer a front-drive-only version of the RLX with the world’s best front-drive-only torque vectoring. (Translation: Ford is already doing it on front-drive cars.)
BMW is finally bringing its baby SUV, the BMW X1, to the US this fall as part of the X1′s mid-life refresh or life cycle impulse (in BMW-speak) and it fits a whole lot of trends into a car smaller than the Toyota RAV4: It targets city dwellers who need small vehicles for tight parking spaces; it speaks to baby boomers who have fewer possessions (and kids) to lug around but still want an upscale vehicle; and it has many but not all of the big-Bimmer tech goodies that can raise the price of a new Bimmer by $20K, including BMW’s suite of applications that live in the center stack for music, information, and navigation. The starting price at $32,000 is reasonable and, yes, adults can fit in the back without feeling squashed. The X1 works because the big brother X3 in its second generation got almost as big as the first generation BMW X5 while the X5 got as big as the X7 uber-SUV BMW never launched (yet).
Ford wants to make its Lincoln brand world class. It broke the Lincoln booth away from the main FoMoCo booth and found space next to the Mercedes-BMW-Lexus-Acura section of the Javits Center. It unveiled the 2012 Lincoln MKZ with lots of technology, all of it priced more affordably than what you’d pay on German or Japanese luxury sedans: lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and cross-traffic (in back) alert, and the next generation (that is, the easier to use generation) of MyLincoln Touch. It’s been a long time since anyone sang about a Hot Rod Lincoln in the present tense but horsepower is creeping up without resorting to V8s: turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines and a hybrid four-cylinder system that will top 40 mpg in the city. While engines are getting smaller, sunroofs are getting bigger. The MKZ offers a panoramic sunroof with 15 square feet of glass. Imagine a 4×8 sheet of plywood cut in half. That’s your sunroof.
Infiniti briefly showed off its version of the Nissan Leaf electric car, called the Infiniti Zero Emission Concept. It looks more swoopy and aerodynamic than the rounded-box Leaf. At the other end of the performance spectrum, Dodge showed off a revision of the 500-hp Viper, this one with more creature comforts such as cruise control.
Diesel engine cars and SUVs have the most efficient combustion engines in highway driving. Some, such as the VW Passat, get as much as 800 miles per fill-up. So Porsche is bringing to the US its Porsche Cayenne Diesel, which at $56,000 is not that outrageous, in the scheme of other Cayennes and the BMW X5 and Audi Q7. Even VW’s Tourag SUV can push into the mid-fifties with its diesel version. Porsche also showed off custom colors such as the raspberry-ish upholstery and a Porsche 911 (above) that, in some light, takes on a pinkish cast. Those are the Cayenne’s alloy wheels in the background.
As a counterpoint to flying cars, Mini showed off an ocean-going car, the Mini Yachtsman. Unlike the Terrafugia that will be built in limited quantities, this is one of a kind. The Mini Yachtsman was cobbled together as an April Fool’s joke, and also a subtle poke at yacht-sized SUVs. When Mini launched a decade ago, its marketing campaign consisted of Minis strapped to the tops of SUVs and driven around big cities.