Curbside Classic Visits The 2007 Empire State Plaza Auto Show, Part 1


Time travel is frequently used in the Star Trek franchise to throw the cast into the era in which the episode or movie was created. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home involved Kirk and crew taking a Klingon Bird-Of-Prey around the sun at faster than light speed in order to travel to Earth’s past and obtain some whales. Since starships and time travel have yet to be invented, no one can experience 1986 San Francisco in the flesh, the only option being photos or videos. My personal journey to the past occurred when I clicked a folder unhelpfully named “0005” and discovered photos I assumed were lost.

Today’s post will take us back to November 2007, more specifically New York’s capital, where a massive complex encompasses the vast majority of the state government and annually hosts an auto show made possible by the local auto dealers.


The collapse of Bear Stearns in March 2008 marked the beginning of the global financial crisis, an event that directly or indirectly impacted every contributor and reader of Curbside Classic. The American automotive landscape permanently changed, although at this point its safe to say the industry fared the crisis reasonably well. That doesn’t mean we can’t mourn our dearly departed companies and brands.


As is typical with General Motors, the products offered by Saturn only became competitive after it was too late to save the brand. The Astra is a prime example. A huge upgrade from the Ion it was meant to replace, the hatchback boasted a fresh exterior design and inspired driving dynamics straight from Europe. The Astra came standard with side curtain airbags and a 140 hp 1.8 liter inline 4, definitely above average equipment for the era.


Since Saturn’s Astra was basically just a rebadged Opel, its interior reflected a certain Germanic sensibility, with a dash and center stack setup that isn’t too far apart from a modern Volkswagen.


I had completely forgotten about the Sky’s reverse-hinged hood, but here it is in all its glory. That engine is a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder boasting 260 horsepower and 260 pounds of torque, numbers competitive with today’s mainstream turbo 4’s.


Of course today’s four cylinder turbos are built to last, unlike many of the parts on the Sky/Solstice. I remember reading an article about GM’s roadster duo being 300 percent less reliable than the average car.


That being said, both cars featured very attractive interior and exterior designs that have aged extremely well.


Might as well jump right in and talk about the Solstice, right? Pontiac didn’t have much for customers by the end of 2007, except maybe the G8, but that was still months away. Those two products were the last gasp of excitement from a division starved of unique product for decades.


General Motors did make attempts to differentiate its brands, but the results were often meager, as was the case with the Pontiac G6 GXP.


The G6 GXP featured a 3.5 liter V6 with an output of 252 horsepower. Two other V6 engines saw action under the hood of the G6 over its six year run, as well as one four cylinder, and combined those engines were revised seven times. A number of four speed automatics were paired to those engines as well, and for the 2007 model year one trim level of the G6, the GTP, featured a six speed automatic. This six speed was carried over to the 2008 G6 when Pontiac decided to change the meaningless nomenclature to GXP.


The interior of the G6 seems fine until you notice the emergency brake hanging out on the passenger side of the center console.


When the G6 and Altima coupes were new I was constantly confusing one for the other. These days its uncommon to see either one,  and with the G6 bowing out for the 2010 model year and the Altima surviving until 2012, the few that were sold will become so scarce they might even wind up as collectors items.


Infiniti’s G series wasn’t very attractive until the 2002 model year. That pivotal redesign set the tone for future generations and continues on in the Q series of vehicles. This coupe represents the first year of the fourth generation, a change which saw the model gain a 3.7 liter V6, hence the name change from G35. Today these cars are likely owned by twenty-something dudes waiting for MTV to revive the Jersey Shore reality show so they can get their 15 minutes of fame.


At 330 horsepower, its not hard to understand why young men would flock to such a vehicle.


If you can get past the weird chrome strip on the trunklid the G series variants look very attractive. This particular model is the all-wheel drive version.


Since its debut in 1998, the TT coupe has been one of the most attractive vehicles on the road. While not the most practical vehicle out there, its standard front-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive are make it a wise choice for someone living in the snow belt.


A lot of critics refused to accept the TT as a “real” sports car due to its front-wheel drive configuration. Audi forced them to change their minds with the MK2, and many of them did.


We’ve seen a number of new luxury automakers pop up within the last decade, but for the most part the main players have been around for quite some time, with Audi being one of the more established brands. With history comes heritage, with older brands now being more conservative in terms of design than the younger upstarts. The obvious benefit of a consistent visual motif is a strong brand identity, something even mainstream automakers have learned recently, for better or worse.


This A5 is a perfect example of the pros and cons of conservative automotive design. You could slap a Monroney sticker on one of these, call it a 2017 model, and get away with it. The  luxury brands’ adherence to limited exterior changes ultimately benefit older models to the detriment of the newer ones.


My argument is immediately weakened by this W211 E-Class, which is easily identifiable as a vintage Mercedes. Some brands tweak their designs sufficiently enough to avoid being criticized for not doing enough to distinguish different generations of their products, and Mercedes is one of them.



This M-Class has aged better than the E-Class above, even if its successor, the GLE, has surpassed it in style.


As much as I detest the glued on iPad look featured in many contemporary Mercedes those designs are infinitely superior to what is going on inside this M-Class. Completely contrasting colors, a sea of plastic looking wood, and a center stack that looks more aftermarket than OEM really dates this cabin.


For perspective, here is the interior of a 2008 Touareg that was also at the show. The Volkswagen, simply by virtue of not having an interior swathed in cheap looking wood, appears more premium than the Mercedes. Another observation: even before touch screens we were dealing with a lot of buttons.


Every time a performance oriented automaker announces they’re developing a crossover for the first time you hear complaints that doing so will dilute the brand in question. Vehicles like the Cayenne and F-Pace proved the crossover haters wrong. While the Touareg isn’t part of that elite tier of ultra luxurious yet sporty crossovers, it did and still does enhance the Volkswagen lineup, rather than hurt it.


The upcoming Atlas, even if it is laughably late to the three row crossover party, has to thank the Touareg for its design.


Volkswagen pretty much invented the hot hatch and the ultra-hot hatch. Nowadays, the R32 actually has some competition in the form of the Focus RS and Civic Type R, in what can be considered a sort of renaissance period for cheap, high performance vehicles.


Remember when compact cars had V6 engines? Remember when 250 horsepower was only reserved for top tier sporty cars? The 247 horsepower 3.2 liter V6 is still competitive with current hot hatches but is now outclassed by its successor, which is itself outclassed by the Focus RS, which puts out 350 horsepower.


The Mk5 didn’t look as iconic as its predecessor, but those were tough shoes to fill, as the MK4 really set the standard for the compact segment when it debuted in 1999.


Today’s Passat is the poster child for conservative design. This is partially due to Volkswagen producing a Passat specifically for the American market this generation, as previous iterations more closely resembled its European counterpart.


There is an alternative to the staid styling of the Passat in the form of the CC. At $34,000 it competes with pretty much all the top tier mid-size sedans out there and represents a viable choice if you want to stand out from the herd. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one. The CC wouldn’t be revealed until 2008 which is why I decided to include another shot of the regular ol’ Passat.


One of my neighbors purchased an Eos about a year after its debut. He’s since moved, so I have no idea if he still owns the car, but I always thought it was a good buy. If you want to own a convertible, the Eos offers few drawbacks, especially for someone living in the Northeast.


Nissan was pilloried by the automotive press when the Murano debuted for the 2003 model year. Four years later its styling was effectively normalized with the debut of the Rogue, which no one criticized for being ugly.


My limited time behind the wheel of a first generation Rogue left me unimpressed. Aside from the loud CVT I felt the Nissan let far too much wind noise into the cabin.


Nissan does a good job packing a lot of space into its entry level vehicles. That statement applies to its 2007 lineup and its current offerings, although I’m not sure the current Versa was a step forward for the brand, with the sedan being especially repulsive. I wouldn’t lob such bombastic language at a car if I didn’t experience it first hand, so I’ll just make a long story short by telling you about one of my neighbors, who traded in a 2005 Altima for a completely base Versa, a decision she regrets nearly a year after the purchase.


For a subcompact developed ten years ago I’d say the interior holds up pretty well.


When did Hyundai first produce a truly competitive vehicle for the American market? Prior to this piece I would have told you that Hyundai’s Sonata was that model. After writing the story of the Ford Escape a little while ago I’m now convinced it was the 2001 Sante Fe. That doesn’t mean Hyundai’s Sonata was mediocre, and this sedan deserves credit for giving the Korean automaker some street cred in the midsize segment. This generation was Hyundai’s first American built product, and the Montgomery, Alabama plant still assembles the sedan today.


While the 2006 Sonata wasn’t the trailblazer I initially thought it was, it did show that Hyundai could design an attractive car, a feat it hadn’t really accomplished up to that point. The interior is a different story. The center stack, bisected by the line that runs throughout the dash, highlights the major aesthetic difference between the HVAC controls and the audio system, which look so unlike each other you’d think Hyundai just took two different interior sections from two different cars and stitched them together.


If you can get past that cabin you’ve got a very nice quasi-Accord exterior to work with.


Like the Sonata, the Elantra didn’t become truly competitive until the mid-2000’s. I knew a girl in college who had one of these and it wasn’t bad! Her ownership experience was only hampered by her complete inability to parallel park the thing.


You’d think Hyundai would have been able to design a better looking interior for the Sonata since they didn’t do a bad job with its compact stablemate. Two different teams, perhaps?


I always thought the Accent of this era looked pretty good, and that color makes it look a bit more premium than its price point would suggest.


The Dodge Nitro was quite butch, which is exactly what the executives wanted, as their desired customer base consisted of the type of dudes who use Axe body spray and live at the gym. Judging by its sales I’d day even those fellas didn’t dig the it. When the Nitro was discontinued in 2012 nothing of value was lost.


Its pretty surprising FCA completely threw in the towel and quit not one, but two segments. Then again all sedans in every segment are posting year-over-year declines, with quite a few nameplates even sinking by double digits.


The Sebring stands out for its hideously cheap interior. I distinctly remember how awful the cabin looked and felt, and the steering wheel deserves and honorable mention for its terribleness. Is there such a thing as a button less steering wheel anymore?

That concludes our first time travel trip to 2007. Please be seated while I engage the warp drive to take us back to 2016. Going around the sun at faster than light speed gets a little bumpy you know…