New York International Auto Show 2012

The New York Auto Show is one of the smallest on the international circuit, but that doesn't make it any less relevant. This year, automakers unveiled iterations of the traditional sedan typology and revised SUVs and muscle cars in the form of the SRT Viper and Shelby 1000. But hybrid efficiency and smaller displacement engines were both hallmarks of the 2012 show.

The main focus was unquestionably on the typical three-box sedan segment: Acura showed the RLX concept, a thinly disguised production preview for the forthcoming RL replacement, whilst Lexus, Lincoln, Nissan and Toyota presented their new mid-size sedans in the form of the ES, MKZ, Altima and Avalon respectively.  Infiniti tested the waters for a new G-sized electric vehicle, and Chevrolet showed the 10th iteration of its full-size Impala.

Here is a synopsis of some of the more noteworthy green designs:

Infiniti LE Concept

Infiniti says: "Rather than taking an EV and adding an Infiniti badge, we are taking an Infiniti and removing the tailpipe." – Ben Poore, Infiniti Americas Vice President 

Spec Sheet: Based on the Leaf architecture, the LE is longer, lower and wider and features a 34kW/h battery that’s good for 100-mile journeys.  The battery can be recharged via a wireless inductive charging system that sources power via an electrified pad. 

Sporting characteristic Infiniti design cues such as the double-arch grille, crescent-cut C-pillar and strong shoulder line, the LE concept also features aerodynamically optimized wheels, spoilers at the front and side, a high rear deck and a rear diffuser; all of which combine to return an impressively low 0.25Cd figure. 

The Infiniti LE was one of the few alternatively propelled vehicles to wear its environmentally efficient credentials on its sleeve.  A stark contrast to the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid unveiled in New York two years ago (which had an entirely new front-end design, specific head- and tail lamps and aero wheels), the LE’s electric-inspired design cues are relatively subtle – a blue hue adorning the front and side spoilers, door handles and wheels.  The electric theme was also highlighted through the use of ambient blue lighting in the interior, which featured Infiniti’s now familiar double wave treatment.

Fisker Atlantic Prototype

Fisker says: “Fisker Automotive is transitioning from a start-up automaker to a fully-fledged mainstream car manufacturer and the Atlantic is a crucial milestone in that process.” – Tom LaSorda, CEO Fisker Automotive.

Spec Sheet: Details of the Atlantic’s exact specifications are limited. What we do know is that it’s propelled by Fisker’s next generation EVER powertrain, which mates a 2.0-litre turbocharged BMW engine to a range extending battery pack. 

Though the Fisker Atlantic made it to New York, it wasn’t seen at the show itself. It was instead unveiled at an exclusive event away from the main venue so as not to detract attention from the recently available Karma.  Aimed at young families who want a practical high-end vehicle with an electric powertrain but without the range anxiety of an all-electric car, the four-door plug-in series hybrid is roughly the size of the Audi A5 Sportback – though with a conventional trunk rather than a hatch.

The prototype features two prominent lines defining its profile, with a low roofline and hidden rear door handles lending a coupe-like aesthetic. Fisker’s characteristic grille is joined by intricate headlamps, while thin LED taillamps shaped like boomerangs adorn the rear end.  A long wheelbase and short overhangs are credited with improving cabin space, while a spider web-like cross brace beneath the car’s glass roof is claimed to offer enhanced headroom. Inside, the Atlantic is swathed in leather and technical materials like aluminum.

Lexus ES300h / Toyota Avalon

Lexus says: “The Lexus ES brought new levels of refinement, sophistication and quality to the entry luxury segment when it entered the market in 1989, and through the years it has consistently been a sales leader for us,” - Mark Templin, Lexus Group Vice President and General Manager.

Toyota says: “This is a car that captures Akio Toyoda’s vision for more exciting vehicles – a car that’s going to lead the way to an exciting new era of design and driving enthusiasm.” Bob Carter, Toyota Division Group Vice President & General Manager 

Spec Sheet: The Lexus ES and Toyota Avalon are newfound platform siblings. But while the sixth generation ES has grown larger, the fourth generation Avalon has actually become smaller. This is the first ES to offer a hybrid powertrain - a good indication that future Avalon models will as well.

Part of Akio Toyoda’s plan to reinvigorate Toyota design, both the new Avalon and the ES are far more contemporary than their predecessors. 

The Avalon features a chiseled aesthetic honed by Kevin Hunter’s design team in California. Its front face accentuates its sportier pretensions through a slim upper grille joined by more prominent lower air intakes. In an effort to attract younger clientele, greater emphasis has been placed on the rake of the windscreen and backlight, and the body panels are now adorned with more dramatic surfacing.

Lexus is also following this more aggressive, youthful formula with the ES. The signature spindle grille now adorns the front end – nestled between L-shaped LED elements in the headlamps – while long horizontal LED taillamps accentuate the width of the vehicle. As with other hybrid models at the show, the only visible indicator of the alternative powerplant is discreet badging on the decklid and rear door.  The ES and Avalon are just two of 19 new or updated models set to debut across the Japanese automaker’s Scion, Toyota and Lexus brands this year.

Lincoln MKZ

Lincoln says: “[The MKZ] is proof of our commitment to deliver a new breed of Lincolns for a new generation of Lincoln clients.” – Jim Farley, Group Vice President, Global Marketing, Sales and Service

Spec Sheet: Available with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder Ecoboost powertrain as standard, Ford is also offering a 2.0-litre four-cylinder hybrid variant as well as a 3.7-litre V6 unit. The hybrid powertrain is rated at 41mpg city/36mpg highway.

The MKZ is the first production Lincoln to come out of the luxury division’s new design studio, led by Australian Design Director Max Wolff. Though the design was initiated before Wolff started at the studio, he worked with the team to implement some Lincoln design DNA into the new vehicle. 

“Every new car design starts with proportions and stance,” said Wolff. “And that’s something that I feel the team was particularly successful in nailing down with this particular vehicle.”  Incorporating horizontal elements – like the a split wing front grille and full width LED taillamps – to enhance the width of the car, the design features a fresh take on the Lincoln face, with a level of detailing which isn’t readily apparent at first glance.  The MKZ is a clean and contemporary design devoid of extraneous complexity.  The MKZ hybrid doesn’t feature any indication of its powertrain save for a subtle ‘H’ on the trunk lid. While every press conference touted mpg figures and weight reductions, the days of shouting about environmental efficiency through excessive decals appears to be over.

Chevrolet Impala

Chevrolet says: “Our design team was challenged to create a new classic, but that didn’t mean relying on nostalgia”– John Cafaro, Director of North America passenger car exterior design. 

Spec Sheet: The first full-sized Chevrolet Impala to benefit from an available 2.4-litre Ecotec four-cylinder engine paired with eAssist (electrical assistance) technology. Power is estimated at 182hp/172 lb-ft with 35mpg expected in highway driving.  

The Chevrolet Impala marks the 10th generation of the fabled nameplate, which made its debut at the GM Motorama show in New York in January 1956.  Far more sporting than its predecessor, the exterior design carries elements of the Camaro’s front face, giving it a family feeling, while the profile has a generous body to glass ratio to keep it looking safe and robust. Sculpted body panels and a low roofline lend a more powerful aesthetic though the characteristic front drive proportions are retained.  The car’s overall dimensions are nearly identical to those of its predecessor, though its wheelbase has been extended 25mm, enhancing interior space and improving ride comfort. The cabin also exudes quality through higher-grade materials and appealing colourways.