NEW YORK—It seems like barely any time has passed since our last major auto show, but the world’s auto makers are back in Manhattan this week for the 2017 New York International Auto Show. You’ll be able to read (and watch) our take on many of the new vehicles on display in the coming days, but what follows are our picks for the best new models you’ll be able to see at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, starting today when the auto show opens to the public.
Outstanding in the Automotive Technology field: Cadillac Supercruise
Since this is a technology site, we’ll kick things off with the best new automotive technology of this year’s NYIAS. That honor belongs to Cadillac, which is joining the semi-autonomous driving fray with its new “level 2” system, called Supercruise. We have driven some pretty good semi-autonomous systems recently: Audi, Volvo, and Tesla all spring immediately to mind. These use a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assists to keep your car on track on the highway, backing up the human driver to counteract fatigue and provide a little digital helping hand on long drives. Supercruise combines those two driver assists with a few extra neat features that mark the next step on the road to fully self-driving vehicles.
In addition to adaptive cruise control (which uses radar sensors to match your speed to the cars in front) and lane keeping (which uses optical sensors to read the lane markings and keep you centered between them), Cadillac added another pair of features that allow the driver to go hands-free for much longer than the industry standard 15 second time interval. The first is a system that measures driver attentiveness. This works via an optical sensor in the cabin that tracks head movement, keeping note of where the person behind the wheel is looking. If the driver spends too long looking away from the road, the car alerts them that it’s time to pay attention to the task at hand through a succession of increasingly demonstrative alerts, including an LED bar in the steering wheel rim that pulses and changes color. (Haptic and audio alerts are also configurable in the system).
The second big advance of Supercruise is how the system is geofenced, such that it will only work on divided, limited-access highways. That’s important. As we found out in the aftermath of last year’s high-profile Tesla crash, the machine vision algorithms that enable such systems work very well under some conditions (i.e. a car in the lane in front that suddenly slows) but not others (such as a vehicle making a turn across one’s path). So Supercruise is limited to situations where a car shouldn’t encounter the kinds of situations outside of its programming.
Cadillac has been hard at work, driving up and down the nation’s highway system with Lidar mapping vehicles to put together the kind of high-resolution machine-readable map that we wrote about recently. The map allows a Supercruise-equipped Cadillac to know where it is in the world with an accuracy of about two inches. Cadillac says that its customers spend far more time driving on suburban and urban highways than they do rural roads, so geofencing Supercruise makes good sense. The system will first appear on the 2018 Cadillac CT6, which hits the showrooms later this year, but we’d be extremely surprised if the system didn’t eventually make its way into much of General Motors’ offerings.
Best new small car: BMW i3
To our eyes, the best small car at NYIAS honor goes to a refreshed version of one of our favorite electric vehicles, the BMW i3. I mean, what other city car can you buy with a carbon fiber passenger cell? It has a very fashion-forward interior that makes fantastic use of recycled materials, and it boasts rather cool “suicide doors” that open up access to the rear seats. Plus, it’s a featherweight at 2,961lbs (1,343kg) and with 170hp (126kW) driving the rear wheels. Perhaps most important of all, it’s plenty of fun to drive.
But the original i3 had a bit of a problem; its 22kWh battery meant range was always an issue, even with the optional two-cylinder range-extender engine in the back. Now BMW has bumped the battery pack by 50 percent, so you get 33kWh under the floor and a handy bump in range (BMW quotes 114 miles). The range-extended version also gets a 25 percent larger gas tank, so (slightly) longer road trips should be less of a hassle.
Best new luxury car: Alfa Romeo Giulia
The return of Alfa Romeo has surely warmed the hearts of petrolheads everywhere. The company first showed us the Giulia sedan a while ago, but these cars are finally reaching these shores. The range starts with the base model Giulia, powered by a 2.0L direct injection turbocharged engine, but the one that really lights our fire is the 505hp (377kW) Quadrifoglio. That vehicle gets all-wheel drive, flared fenders and wheel arches, and the all-important bragging rights that come with a Nürburgring lap time of just 7 minutes and 32 seconds.
The Quadrifoglio manages that thanks to a twin-turbo V6 that’s closely related to the V8 under the hood of Ferrari’s California T. Additional contributions come from torque vectoring, adaptive suspension, and active front aerodynamics. It’s fair to say we’re looking forward to driving one of these beasts more than most other cars this coming year.
What’s more, it’s quite competitively priced. The base Giulia starts at just under $38,000, and even the Quadrifoglio undercuts rivals from BMW and Mercedes at $72,000.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin