The Drive Staff Picks: The 6 Most Important New Cars From the 2018 New York Auto Show

Crossovers and concepts, sedans and self-driving cars—NYIAS was packed with big reveals.

This year’s New York International Auto Show was, in something of a turn away from recent trends, actually worth everyone’s time. With automakers from Acura to Volvo rolling out both new production cars and fresh-faced concept vehicles. Unsurprisingly, crossovers made up much of the show’s big news; a spate of fast, powerful ones, like Jaguar’s 550-horsepower F-Pace SVR and Maserati’s 590-hp Levante Trofeo, grabbed much of the headlines, but Lincoln’s luxurious new plug-in hybrid Aviator and Toyota’s all-new RAV4 arguably mean far more for the industry at large than those jacked-up supercar wagons. 

But there were also signs that carmakers haven’t given up on the sedan and coupe shapes we know and love. Instead of debuting an SUV of its own, Korean luxury carmaker Genesis surprised the world with a dagger-shaped all-electric gran turismo; Kia, its fellow Hyundai-group brother, revealed the second-generation of the K900 road yacht; and Nissan fired a shot into the heart of the still-massive family sedan market with an all-new Altima offering all-wheel-drive, the same trick variable-compression engine tech found in the Infiniti QX50, and an interior that, in higher trims, looks like straight BMW-grade fire. 

Choosing a handful of new cars to highlight from the show, then, would be no easy task—but here at The Drive, it’s our job to make the tough calls. So after two days of walking around the 2018 New York Auto Show, we paired down all the big reveals to a half-dozen cars that made the biggest splashes when they debuted at NYIAS. (Except for Spinelli, who chose a car that debuted at the Tokyo Auto Salon last year.)

Mike Guy: Cadillac CT6 Vsport

We already love the sharp Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan. It is elegant, sleek and sporty—if a little underpowered—in the V6-equipped base trim. The new 2019 Cadillac CT6 VSport takes the power problem and pounds it into tiny pieces. Going up against the BMW M550i and Mercedes-AMG E43, the V-Sport carries an ace in the hole in the form of a white-sheet twin-turbo V8 that makes 550 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. Let me repeat that: 627 pound-feet of torque. Run for cover, BMW. This amount of power and twist means that Cadillac is producing a real driver’s car.

Will Sabel Courtney: Lincoln Aviator

Sadly, Lincoln did not choose to name its new SUV the “Nacho” as I’d hoped the company would. But other than that, there’s little to disappoint about FoMoCo’s new bougie high-rider—in fact, there’s a lot to like. Chief among the highlights: The Aviator is built on a new rear-wheel-drive-based platform (though obviously, AWD will be available), and come with an option plug-in hybrid powertrain that pairs the battery and electric motor with a twin-turbo gas engine that the carmaker claims will make this SUV “mightier than many supercars.” There’s also a Mercedes-like smart suspension that uses cameras to prep the suspension for oncoming bumps, and of course, the “Perfect Position” seats that let you adjust you adjust your thighs individually.

Kyle Cheromcha: VW Atlas Tanoak

Ford, General Motors, and Ram combined to sell more than four full-size trucks every minute last year—and now Volkswagen has decided it wants a piece of the action too, unveiling the Volkswagen Tanoak pickup concept to much oohing and ahhing in New York this week. It’s worth mentioning that VW already sells a proper pickup in overseas markets, a smaller body-on-frame ute called the Amarok. But the Tanoak takes a different tack, riding on a stretched version of the unibody VW Atlas platform—think Honda Ridgeline and Pilot. It’s technically classified as a midsize truck, but it’s just as wide as and only slightly shorter than a Chevrolet Silverado. Its short bed is also only a few inches off the full-size competition, but a nifty pass-through door in the back of the cab allows for easy storage of longer items. Of course, what pickup truck buyers care about are numbers, and VW is playing it close to the vest on that front. We know it’s basically got the running gear from the Atlas SUV underneath, including the 276-horsepower V6 engine, but you’ll have to wait for more detailed specs like payload and towing capacities. The company won’t confirm production plans, but the splashy reveal and polished interior hints that an Atlas-based pickup just might be in the works.

Josh Condon: Waymo’s Self-Driving Jaguar I-Pace

Self-driving technologies might be under increased scrutiny in the early part of 2018 (thanks, Uber), but the consensus seems to be that Waymo, née the Google Self-Driving Car Project, can’t be beat when it comes to know-how. So the brand’s surprise announcement that it was partnering with Jaguar Land Rover by putting the company’s state-of-the-art autonomous know-how into Jag’s sexy new I-Pace electric SUV suddenly made JLR a key player in the self-driving space. And it came with a big purchase order, to boot: Waymo has suggested it will buy 20,000 of the EVs by 2020. Before that, the autonomous I-Pace will be on the road in Phoenix, Arizona, as part of Waymo’s self-driving taxi program. Who would have thought “cutting edge technology” and “Jaguar Land Rover” made sense in the same sentence? 

Mike Spinelli: Mazda Kai Concept

While it’s true Mazda’s Kai concept is old news (it debuted last year in Tokyo), here in New York, where there were few surprises—and a tragic bounty of crossover SUVs—the sleek hatch made its impact tacitly. The prospect of Mazda firing up the inert hatchback field by imbuing its next Mazda3 with four-door coupe style cues and even sharper and more premium driving dynamics (watch out, GTI) is too tantalizing to leave to the back pages. With a taut metallic skin over a new chassis architecture, the Kai bodes well for the soon-to-be-updated Mazda3, which will be powered by Mazda’s new SkyActive-X compression-ignition engine. Sadly, the poor Kai twirled away on its Lazy Susan as the throngs swarmed elsewhere for Instagram bait. A quiet riot, indeed.

Lawrence Ulrich: Genesis Essentia Concept

My pick from the New York Auto Show: the Genesis Essentia. Why’s it the best car of the show? It’s not an SUV, not another boring crossover; it’s the kind of concept we haven’t been seeing at auto shows so much. It’s beautiful—designed by Luc Donckerwolke, the former Bentley chief designer—and it really draws on some of the classic GT forms of the past—long, elegant, but very, very powerful. Cool transparent hood, multi-motor design, and butterfly doors, of course. All this cool space inside the skin, it’s filled with carbon fiber composite—it’s a structural material as well; there may be the ability to rapid prototype some of the car’s parts, to cut down on tooling costs; and the zero-to-60 estimate is three seconds. Obviously, it’s a concept, but we’re going to see some kind of GT spin-off from this car, according to Donckerwolke, so expect this to be toned-down for production…and to see it in coming years.