Every year, the Geneva auto show places an unabashed focus on high-end cars.
The Detroit show is normally where trucks and muscle cars take the stage. The annual New York show, however, has no label attached to it. What companies unveil there depends largely on product cycles and market trends.
In the past, we’ve seen 22nd century-esque concept cars, rugged off-roaders that couldn’t fit in a Manhattan parking garage, jetsetter-approved luxury coupes and down-to-earth economy cars. Here are some of the best cars introduced at the Javits Center in recent years:
Mazda Miata M Coupe concept (1996)
Mazda envisioned turning the original MX-5 Miata into a full family of models that should have included a coupe. The hardtop model never received the green light for production, but the firm explored what it could look like with the M Coupe concept displayed at the 1996 New York show. The design study received a gorgeous, fastback-like roof line with a wrap-around rear window and a much nicer interior accented by a wood-rimmed steering wheel and suede upholstery.
Mazda considered adding the coupe to its line-up because the public and the press both loved it but it ultimately decided buyers who wanted a fixed-roof Miata were better off buying a plastic hard top.
Lincoln MK9 concept (2001)
The MK9 concept illustrated how Lincoln could fill the void left by the Mark VIII while renewing ties with its upmarket heritage. Styled by Gerry McGovern, who runs Land Rover’s design department today, it took the form of a low-slung coupe with a long front end that pushed the company’s design language in a noticeably bolder direction. Its interior was cutting-edge, upmarket and spacious like a Lincoln should be.
In other words, the MK9 was precisely the kind of car Ford needed to approve to kick-start its Lincoln division. Both companies began working on a rear-wheel drive platform that could have underpinned a coupe like the MK9 but development stopped abruptly in the late 2000s.
Honda Element (2002)
Honda turned the CR-V into a toaster-shaped, plastic-wearing concept named Model X (sorry, Tesla) in time for the 2001 Detroit show. While the CR-V was developed for families, designers envisioned the Model X as an adventure-ready machine with a modular interior that could comfortably accomodate a pair of mountain bikes. Motorists didn’t need to worry about getting dirt in the cabin because the floors were washable.
The Model X sounded like another wild, post-2000 concept car, but it spawned a production model named Element that made its debut at the 2002 New York show. It was manufactured in Ohio alongside the CR-V it was based on and Honda never exported the model to Europe.
Nissan Xterra (second-generation, 2004)
Released in 1999, the original Xterra strengthened Nissan’s reputation as a manufacturer of off-roaders that could follow a Jeep Wrangler down the Rubicon Trail. The second-generation model unveiled at the 2004 New York auto show had a lot to live up to. It was still recognizable as an Xterra, stylists chose not to push the design envelope too far, but it was bigger than its predecessor and more powerful thanks to a 4.0-liter V6 rated at 261hp.
While the Toyota 4Runner, the Xterra’s closest rival, remains on sale in 2019, Nissan left the segment after the 2015 model year and hasn’t returned.
Cadillac XLR-V (2005)
Cadillac gave Americans an early look at the high-performance XLR-V in a television commercial it paid millions of dollars to air during the 2005 Super Bowl. It’s a strategy that made unveiling the car at that year’s New York show look affordable but the firm justified the investment by pointing out it had a lot riding on the model.
In the mid-2000s, executives wanted to mask Cadillac’s American roots, mute memories of finned land yachts, and follow the path blazed by BMW. The XLR-V – a 443hp roadster based on the Chevrolet Corvette – was its flagship model in the US and in Europe, a market it was desperately trying to break into. The roadster tried luring Mercedes-Benz SL buyers into Cadillac showrooms with a 4.6sec 0-60mph time and Bulgari-designed gauges.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (2006)
The long-awaited four-door Jeep Wrangler went from a rumor to a reality at the 2006 New York show. Jeep created the Unlimited model by making the wheelbase of the standard, two-door Wrangler 20.5in longer. Adding an extra set of doors moved the off-roader away from tradition, critics argued, but it undeniably made it considerably more user-friendly without sacrificing its above-par off-road capacity.
Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Series (2007)
More of a tourer than an all-out sports car, the CLK was never among the most exciting members of the Mercedes-Benz line-up. The Stuttgart-based firm tried changing the model’s image when it unveiled the CLK63 AMG Black Series during the 2007 New York show.
Carbon fiber fender flares made the Black Series look like a street-legal DTM race car while a 500hp V8 engine made it bark like one. Mercedes-Benz quoted a 0-60mph time of 4.1sec. AMG made 500 examples of the car and sent 350 of those to the US.
Pontiac G8 ST Pre-Production (2008)
Horsepower and truck enthusiasts mutually cheered when Pontiac introduced the G8 ST as a pre-production model during the 2008 New York show. Made in Australia by Holden, the G8 ST was about to become the first car-based pickup sold in America by a General Motors division since the demise of the Chevrolet El Camino in 1987.
Pontiac didn’t skimp on power, either. It fitted the trucklet with a 6.0-liter, 361hp V8 engine that spun the rear wheels. The company aimed to release the G8 ST in late 2009 as a 2010 model. Instead, General Motors announced plans to deep-six Pontiac by the end of 2010.
Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon show car (2010)
The “show car” label fooled no one; everyone who attended the 2010 New York auto show knew the Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon was ready for production. It arrived as a unique blend of European design and American engineering. On one hand, Cadillac had historically left the station wagon segment to its European rivals but it hopped in because the body style's popularity on the US market briefly surged in the early 2010s.
On the other hand, Cadillac gave downsizing the middle finger and stuffed a supercharged, 6.2-liter V8 derived from the unit that powered the Chevrolet Corvette in the CTS-V's engine bay. The production version (pictured) of Cadillac’s long-roof CTS-V arrived in showrooms for the 2011 model year.
Scion tC (second-generation, 2010)
Toyota’s short-lived Scion division introduced the second-generation tC at the 2010 New York show. The original tC released in 2004 was one of the few bright spots in the company’s plodding history. It was an affordable, front-wheel drive coupe many called a born-again Toyota Celica. Scion built on the original model’s strengths by giving its replacement a sharper design and a 180hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.
In 2010, few realized the tC’s best days were behind it. It competed in a segment of America’s new car market that was shrinking annually and the Scion brand’s sales had already started to fall. Toyota ended production of the tC when it pulled the plug on Scion after the 2016 model year.
Honda Civic (ninth-generation, 2011)
While the Honda Civic traces its roots to the Japanese market, it has been among the best-selling cars in America for decades. That’s why Honda chose to unveil the ninth-generation model in New York rather than at an Asian or a European show. In hindsight, the ninth Civic wasn’t the best. Critics complained about its cheap interior materials and its overly vague handling.
Even the hot-rodded, 201hp Si (pictured) underwhelmed. The Civic's importance to Honda can't be understated so executives ordered an emergency redesign and introduced the updated car for the 2013 model year.
SRT Viper (2012)
Chrysler’s horsepower-chasing SRT division lived long enough to unveil the fifth and final generation of the Viper at the 2012 New York show. It was less daunting to drive than its predecessors thanks in part to the inclusion of more electronic driving aids but it wasn’t watered-down, either.
SRT took the costly route of making the Viper on its own platform rather than using existing components and the model carried on with a naturally-aspirated, 8.4-liter V10 engine tuned to deliver 640hp. It became a Dodge again in 2014 but it never lived up to expectations sales-wise and retired without a successor in 2017.
Chevrolet SS (2013)
When Chevrolet stopped making the fourth-generation Caprice in 1996, many assumed we wouldn’t get another rear-wheel drive sedan from the brand ever again. It was an easy assumption to make; nearly all of Chevrolet’s main rivals had made the transition to front-wheel drive. The sixth-generation Caprice didn't count because it was only sold to fleets.
The company finally proved the naysayers wrong when it put its bowtie-shaped emblem on a Holden Commodore and released it as the SS. The V8-only sedan made its American auto show debut in New York in 2013.
Subaru WRX concept (2013)
Subaru stands out as one of the New York show’s most regular attendees. Every year, it’s safe to bet the Japanese firm will unveil a new model, an update of one of its current cars or a concept. The WRX concept shown at the 2013 edition of the event signaled how the model could evolve over the course of the 2010s and hinted it would lose the Impreza designation in a bid to become a standalone nameplate.
Subaru did turn the WRX into its own model line rather than a steroid-injected off-shoot of the Impreza. However, the new model released in 2014 looked much tamer than the concept from the previous year.
Land Rover Discovery Vision concept (2014)
Today, Land Rover rarely previews its new models with concept cars because it’s afraid Chinese companies will copy its designs and bring them to the market quicker than it can. It made a rare exception in 2014 when it brought the Discovery Vision concept to the New York show.
As its name implied, it previewed the drastic changes designers had in store for the Discovery, a model whose basic shape had gone through only evolutionary changes since its debut in 1989. Few were surprised when the fifth-generation Discovery arrived in 2017 looking almost exactly like the Discovery Vision concept – minus the suicide doors, of course.
Porsche Boxster Spyder (2015)
While Porsche often sits out the Detroit show, it normally travels to New York with something new in its luggage. In 2015, it introduced the second generation of the purist-approved Boxster Spyder with more power (385hp, to be precise), less weight, a quicker steering rack and a head-turning look to match the mechanical upgrades.
Porsche sent 850 examples of the 2400 Spyders it built to the US. The model was the 981-generation Boxster’s swan song. Its successor, the 982-generation 718 Boxster, made its debut at the 2016 Geneva show, which is the venue Porsche usually chooses to unveil its more important models.
Dodge Challenger SRT Demon (2017)
Dodge mercifully put an end to one of the longest teaser campaigns in recent memory when it introduced the Challenger SRT Demon during the 2017 New York show. Enduring the cryptic videos released by the brand was worth it; the Demon arrived as an 840hp, limited-edition dragster made barely street legal enough to comply with American regulations. It was unlike anything else shown in New York that year.
While rivals were busy developing 48-volt mild hybrid systems and level three autonomy, Dodge was figuring out how to convince American regulators to let it sell a muscle car capable of popping a 3ft wheelie to the general public. Production ended in 2018 after Dodge built – and quickly sold – 3300 examples of the Demon.
Nissan Rogue Trail Warrior (2017)
Nissan’s Rogue Trail Warrior concept shows that anything goes in New York. It’s a run-of-the-mill Rogue with a camouflage wrap and a set of 30in high snow tracks instead of wheels. It’s fully functional but Nissan never planned on making the Trail Warrior, not even as a limited-edition model. It built this one-of-a-kind SUV only to give show-goers something to look at.
Audi RS5 Sportback (2018)
Seeing the Audi RS5 Sportback for the first time in New York was a surprise. It’s the kind of car we would have expected the company to unveil in Frankfurt or in Geneva. Audi explained it chose New York because it believed America would become one of the main markets for its 444hp fastback.
The RS4 isn't sold in the US so enthusiasts who want a four-door Audi Sport model priced in the same bracket as the BMW M3 and the Mercedes-AMG C63 have waited a long time for a car like the RS5 Sportback. In 2018, Autocar reported Audi delayed the RS5 Sportback’s European launch to ensure it could meet demand from the US.
Genesis Essentia (2018)
With the Essentia concept, Hyundai’s Genesis division set out to prove it’s not just a generic, South Korean alternative to BMW. The design study explored what a grand tourer might look like in the 2020s. Its long hood, short decklid proportions are familiar but it wears a futuristic design highlighted by thin LED lights on both ends and a roof panel made of glass.
The body hides a high-tech interior and a battery-electric powertrain. Genesis is not planning on making the Essentia – at least not officially.
The New York auto show 2019 kicks off with press days on April 17 and 18, and opens to the public on Friday April 19, until Sunday April 28. Further information