New From New York

From the tenor of proceedings in New York, America has seemed to have talked itself into a recession. At the very least, car manufacturers are bracing for a sales year that will be down significantly from last year's record levels. Particularly wary are the domestic manufacturers, who have suffered double-digit sales declines, and DaimlerChrysler is reeling from huge losses in the last two quarters. But that doesn't mean that the New York International Auto Show, which drew to a close on April 22, wasn't filled with bright, shiny new bodywork. Sport utility vehicles and station wagons captured many of the headlines, but a wide variety of vehicle types received attention during the week. The following are thumbnail sketches of some of the most important unveilings at the show.

Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible

align=left> In a press conference much more austere than in previous years, Chrysler presented another version of its popular PT Cruiser, this time sans top. Chrysler designers lowered the header and roof and resculpted the rear wheel flares, giving this latest PT Cruiser styling exercise a new personality. Unlike the stock PT Cruiser, which, of course, began as a styling study itself, the PT Cruiser Convertible is a two-door. It features a new rear quarter panel to accommodate the newly designed longer doors. To further enhance the exterior, body-colored bumpers and a chromed-accented grille were included to reinforce its customized look. In addition, the vehicle was lowered by 1.5 inches (which is 38 mm, for your information). The soft-top is power-operated and creates a "fastback" appearance when the top is up. No powertrain changes were made on styling study, but the vehicle is fitted with New York-themed "Empire" 19-inch cast aluminum wheels and custom-made B. F. Goodrich 225/35 ZR19 tires.

Land Rover Discovery Series II Kalahari

align=left> In contention for longest name at the show, the Land Rover Discovery Series II Kalahari made its debut in New York. To go on sale in October, it is the first in a series of special Kalahari Land Rovers that will feature heavy-duty, off-road components and a rugged, extreme look. The production-ready Discovery Kalahari features a dramatic Borrego Yellow paint scheme and an array of specialized off-road equipment including a Saudi/Gulf states front bumper and grille; black seating surfaces with Tetra technical fabric center panels; a black steel wraparound brush bar and lamp guards; a black steel rear ladder; and a matching roof rack finished in black steel and equipped with a steel mesh floor. It is equipped with a 188-horsepower, 4.0-liter aluminum V8 engine, a four-speed automatic transmission, permanent four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case, Hill Descent Control, four-wheel electronic traction control and a four-channel, all-terrain anti-lock braking system. Land Rover's Active Cornering Enhancement and Self- Leveling Suspension systems are optional. Only 150 Discovery Series II Kalahari vehicles will be produced for the 2002 model year with an estimated base MSRP of approximately $40,000.

Kia Sedona

Kia says the Sedona, its first entry into the minivan segment, will be filled with exclusive, class-leading features. Its debut marks the fourth new model introduced by Kia in the last two years, and it is scheduled to appear in showrooms this summer. The front-wheel-drive Sedona includes many features that equal or surpass the class leaders, among them the standard engine. The 3.5-liter dual overhead cam V6 is the largest displacement engine available in an import minivan, and it produces 195 horsepower, among the best in class. The engine is backed up by a sophisticated five-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission. Inside the Sedona offers seating for seven with front bucket seats, a middle row of two captain's chair and a third row that accommodates three in a split, removable bench seat. The minivan features 10 cup holders and four electrical access points.

Nissan Altima

align=left> In a bid to woo mid-size car buyers who are currently opting for Toyota Camrys or Honda Accords, Nissan displayed its 2002 model year Altima. Scheduled to go on sale in September 2001, the all-new, third generation Altima sedan is a radical departure from the previous model with a much larger, avant-garde styled exterior; a choice of powerful four- and six-cylinder engines; completely new, cockpit-style interior and a new, performance-tuned suspension with available 16- or 17-inch wheels and tires. Interior space is said to be larger than its up-level sister vehicle, the Maxima, a significant change from the previous Altima, which was perceived by many consumers to be too small in comparison to the Toyota and Honda competitors.

Honda Civic Hatchback

align=left> An all-new Hatchback version of the Honda Civic carrying the Honda signature "Si" badge will go on sale in early 2002. The Civic Si prototype displayed in New York was based on the three-door hatchback recently introduced in Europe. Under the hood is a high-output DOHC 2.0-liter i-VTEC engine that produces 160-horsepower and 130-lbs/ft of torque, while attaining Low Emission Vehicle status. The i-VTEC engine is the next generation of cleaner and more powerful engines that feature Honda's patented VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Engine Control) technology. A unique, performance-oriented close-ratio five-speed manual transmission is mounted, rally-style, on the center dashboard. The close proximity to the steering wheel allows for quick shifts and a sporty feel, says Honda.

Tom Ripley, whose most recent piece appeared in AIADA Showroom, observes the international automotive scene from his home in Villeperce, France.