Curbside Classic Visits The 2019 New York International Auto Show, Part 3: General Motors And Nissan

Are General Motors and Nissan currently struggling to build momentum? For General Motors, Cadillac remains stagnant, with their sedan lineup constantly changing in ways that don’t seem beneficial. Chevrolet has dropped several models from its lineup and will likely kill off the Malibu and Sonic too. And the Silverado now trails the Ram in sales. Nissan has a different issue: their undisciplined use of incentives has severely eaten into their profitability in the United States. The whole Carlos Ghosn debacle hasn’t helped things either. The future is looking less than optimal for either automaker, but things could be worse.

GM cancelled a substantial number of its passenger cars last year, but one notable omission from that list was the Sonic. Chevy managed to move just over 20,000 units in 2018, a far cry from the 93,000 examples sold in 2014. The Wall Street Journal wrote about the impending demise of the Sonic back in April 2018, in an article that also stated Ford’s intention to kill the Fiesta and Taurus, three weeks before Ford officially announced their decision. It’s probably happening at some point in the near future. And it’s a bit of a shame too, as the car is a pretty uniquely styled subcompact that boasts a powertrain that propels it into “warm” hatch territory. But times change, and the car just isn’t popular anymore. Absolutely no one was interested in the Sonic at the show, which is something I observed last year too.

The Cruze was similarly shunned. I imagine this is the last year that either car will make an appearance at the Javits Center.

One car that will most certainly remain a fixture in Chevrolet dealerships is itself under a bit of scrutiny. The 2019 Camaro lineup received a refresh that immediately became controversial because…well just look at it. They really botched the SS.

I could spill a whole bunch of digital ink explaining why the 2019 front end was a misfire, but fortunately Chevy recently introduced the 2020 model, which will be equipped with a new grille that fixes the flaws of the old design. If the 2019 SS suits you though, you can probably do pretty well in negotiations with your local dealer, as I’m sure they’ll be looking to offload those models as quickly as possible.

Chevy also had another vehicle with a maligned grille at its display. The 2020 Silverado HD follows its smaller brethren by being a little too garish in the front end department. Hell, even the mirrors look weird.

And it’s a shame really, as everything from behind the windshield looks pretty good. Will GM rush a nose job for the Silverado lineup too? They probably should.

You know what doesn’t need any type of cosmetic refresh? This full scale Lego Silverado.

Lego is experiencing a renaissance period that has seen the company branch out into new areas like movies, among other things. It’s not hard to see Lego’s presence at the show as an effort to reach out to kids in a new way.

And what a thing to build with a bunch of tiny plastic bricks! It’s incredibly close to the actual Silverado. Kudos to the people who built it.

Buick didn’t have anything new for 2019, but they brought their Avenir trimmed models with them to New York. The Avenir trim is Buick at its most luxurious. If buyers exclusively cross shopped products from General Motors, they would no doubt feel confident that the trim represents the best possible interior money can buy. In reality, Avenir models are the automotive equivalent to having a really good dressing on a mediocre salad. Sure, the product is improved, but overall it’s still far from excellent.

That’s not to say that these interiors aren’t nice. In fact they’re a pretty decent place to spend time. But the problem is twofold: There is still far too much gray on the lower portions of the dash and center console. And while this cabin is unquestionably a step up from a non-Avenir model, the price premium is steep. Then again, it seems like GM has figured out how to price the Enclave, as sales are up significantly in Q1 2019. How did they accomplish that? By offering hefty discounts.

The modern Buick aesthetic is sufficiently classy; enough to turn heads at the little league field. And that is probably worth something to a decent number of American families.

Can the same be said for the Cadillac XT6? Like the Avenir, the XT6 is essentially a higher tier Enclave. If you’re wondering if that was an intentional dig at the Cadillac, you’re right. It’s also not entirely accurate, as the XT6 actually shares more in common with the GMC Acadia than the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse. Still, 198 inches in total length certainly isn’t short, and it exceeds the length of a lot of the other mainstream three row crossovers.

Nearly everything about the XT6 is subpar. The sole powertrain is GM’s 3.6 liter V6, which boasts a power output of 310 horsepower and 271 Ib-ft of torque, mated to the corporate nine speed automatic transmission. They’re competitive figures when compared to some entries in the segment, but not the Lincoln Aviator, which is arguably its biggest competitor. There really isn’t a contest between the two. The Lincoln wins by a substantial margin. The Aviator is better looking, less expensive, equipped with a much more powerful engine, and it has a better interior to boot.

The automotive press placed the XT6 on a pretty low pedestal, mainly for its uninspiring cabin. I thought my expectations were properly adjusted before sitting in the crossover, but to my surprise, I should have adjusted them even lower. The interior is slightly better than the Avenir. And that is all you really need to know about the XT6. It’s a tad nicer (and smaller) than the Enclave, and that’s it. It’ll be a crime if the Cadillac outsells the Aviator.

I’ve savaged the XT6 enough, so let me switch gears and compliment the three row as an acceptable crossover in a market clamoring for them. The same cannot be said of the CT5. Americans have voted with their wallets and deemed the CTS and the ATS not suitable for their needs. Cadillac has chased the European luxury automakers for too long and they’ve suffered for it.

Enter the CT5. Cadillac’s latest sedan inherits all the baggage of its predecessor and a decent amount of its styling as well. It also utilizes the Alpha platform that currently underpins the ATS, CTS, and Chevrolet Camaro. The CT5 will dump the 3.6 liter V6, the twin turbocharged variant of that same engine, and the supercharged 6.2 liter V8 that’s found in the CTS-V. GM’s in-house eight speed automatic will be replaced by the ten speed automatic that the company inherited from Ford.

A 2.0 liter turbo four will be the base engine, with an output of 237 and 258 Ib-ft of torque. Buyers will be able to upgrade to a twin turbo 3.0 liter V6 that is rated at 335 horsepower and 400 Ib-ft of torque. Those engine options and output numbers are pretty much the same as the top dogs in the segment.

Make/ModelLength (inches)Width (inches)Height (inches)Wheelbase (inches)
2020 BMW 3 Series185.771.957.0112.2
2019 Mercedes C Class184.579.556.8111.8
2019 Lincoln MKZ194.173.458.2112.2
2019 Cadillac CTS195.572.257.2114.6
2020 Cadillac CT5*
* = approximate

The CTS never fit neatly into a particular size category. Its modern iteration is quite a bit bigger than its German rivals too. The same will also be said of its successor, which will be considerably longer in total length and also its wheelbase. The question is, do the larger Cadillac sedans compete with the Germans or are they vehicles meant to satisfy GM loyalists looking for a decently sized luxury sedan? Based on its recent sales history, I’d say the CTS and the upcoming CT5 fall into the latter category. I also think it’s in a category occupied by the Lincoln MKZ, which is to say that it’s for people who want a larger American luxury sedan. Even by that metric the CTS has failed, as it only moved about 11,000 units last year. The MKZ found approximately 19,000 homes last year, a figure that almost eclipsed the combined sales of the ATS and CTS. But of course the two sedans are priced quite differently so my comparison probably isn’t terribly valid.

How is the car on the merits? Acceptable, I think. It’s not a drastic departure from the CTS. More of an evolution. This side profile shot shows off its most radical change: The fastback profile. It gives the car a more regal appearance and actively eschews the German chasing desperation that characterized the CTS. At least to a certain extent. No one would have cried blasphemy if Cadillac decided to keep the CTS name on the new car though.

The rear end arguably contains its weakest section, as least aesthetically. There is simply way too much going on underneath the rear bumper. And it doesn’t really match the overall style of the rest of the section.

Perhaps the best place to admire the CT5 is from the inside. This is the first Cadillac cabin I’ve liked in a long time. At least in terms of looks. I’m still skeptical that materials quality will be class competitive. The door inserts look exactly like the ones in the XT6, and if they are similar, expect to be profoundly disappointed by them.

Cadillac will reveal the CT5-V and CT4-V on May 30th. There is also a regular CT4 in the works, but at this time no one is entirely sure how it will be sized or priced.

My conclusion is that buyers looking for an alternative to the Audi A3, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class, and Tesla Model 3 would be better served by the Genesis G70.

Beyond the new models, Cadillac brought a nice Eldorado convertible with them to the show.

It was probably a mistake to bring such a bright, expressive vehicle to New York, as the Eldorado overshadowed the new cars, which looked incredibly boring in comparison, what with their gray exteriors and all.

Will Cadillac ever make a vehicle as visually stunning as the Eldorado? Probably not, but then again, they don’t have to. GM just needs to start making Cadillac mean something again.

This was my favorite part of Cadillac’s display this year.

Cadillac wasn’t the only brand playing up their heritage. Although in contrast to GM’s luxury brand, which does not currently sell anything close to an Eldorado, Nissan is still making performance coupes. Of course those sports cars are themselves practically vintage at this point, given that the 370Z and the GT-R are both a little over ten years old. But who wants to get bogged down with those gritty details when there is 240Z to gawk at!

Yes, it’s the 50th anniversary of the model. I think Nissan did a bit of disservice to the current model by putting this red and white one next to the classic Z, but the new Z is a special 50th anniversary edition, so it is at least appropriate. Personally, I think the current Z would have looked just fine clad in all white, as it’s a good design.

The GT-R got even more love than the Z. I suspect that has more to do with demographics than anything else. Notice all the dudes taking pictures? I highly doubt any of them are over 35. Yes, the GT-R is a young man’s vehicle. And Nissan wants those dudes to lust after their halo car while opting for something more realistic, like a Rogue or a Maxima.

I’m not going to go into detail about the older Skylines, but I will say that the current GT-R seems to have aged well, in terms of looks and its performance credentials. And the forbidden fruit that represents the previous models has become something of a hot item for enthusiasts. There were quite a few of them at Hunt Valley Horsepower, aka 2018’s CC meet up.

It was pretty cool for Nissan to bring their small army of Skylines to the show.

Admiring older cars isn’t exactly the idea behind these types of shows however, which is probably why Nissan also brought this GT-R50 by Italdesign to the show. This is a GT-R that has been almost completely transformed into a different beast altogether. Does it also preview the G-TR’s future? That remains to be seen. But on the surface, Nissan’s collaboration with Italdesign is meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the sports car and the design studio.

Yes, this is a real production car. Italdesign will make 50 examples, and no two will be alike. The company will take a regular Nismo model and alter the car from the inside out. In addition to a whole bunch of interior tweaks, Italdesign opted to give the GT-R50 a boost in horsepower, a figure that will clock in at 710, or about 110 more than the standard Nismo model. There are also a host of suspension upgrades as well. If you salivated at the thought of owning one, be prepared to shell out a cool $1.1 million. Exclusivity is rarely cheap when it comes to the auto industry!

Will future examples of the GT-R have some sort of alternative energy powertrain? Probably. Nissan previewed what that future will look like with the LEAF NISMO RC. I’m not yelling, that’s just how the company officially refers to this thing. Nissan hasn’t said if the Leaf Nismo RC is something beyond a mere concept. As for specs, the sports car boasts two electric motors for each axle, with a combined output of 322 horsepower and 472 Ib-ft of torque. That makes the system all wheel drive, which would be a first for Nissan, since none of their production models send power to all four wheels. Don’t be surprised if an all wheel drive electric Nissan surfaces in the next few years, because this concept sure seems like a preview for some new technology.

This Nissan Versa isn’t going to be praised for its wicked fast lap times or 0-60 numbers. But Nissan definitely deserves credit for making the sedan attractive, especially when compared to its predecessor.

The Versa has even more tricks up its sleeve too. Standard front and rear automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and auto high beams give the subcompact a value angle it’s never had before. Although whether or not that raises its base price remains to be seen. With the addition of those features, I highly doubt it will keep its $12,500 price tag when it hits dealers later this year.

Power will come from Nissan’s 1.6 liter four cylinder, which carries over from the current generation but gets some tweaks that increase output to 122 horsepower. The Nissan Kicks has the same powertrain. And if you’re wondering where the hatchback variant fits into the Nissan lineup, blame the aforementioned value crossover for its demise.

Perhaps the most surprising standard feature is this seven inch touch screen. Equipping every Versa with this display makes it look like a far more premium vehicle, and it seems more automakers are realizing that it’s simply better to offer one type of screen on their entry level cars nowadays. Although buyers will have to pay extra for the system to be Android Auto and Apply CarPlay compatible. Standard push button start, remote keyless entry, and power windows are pretty good consolation prizes for not having full smartphone integration though, right?

Overall, I’d say Nissan has a pretty stellar entry level car here. About 75,000 Versa models found homes last year, so Nissan is definitely justified in keeping the nameplate alive. Will the next generation Versa be able move as many units as its predecessor? Probably not, as the company has been fast and loose with its incentives, a tactic that has turned its North American operation into a barely profitable enterprise. In any event, this car represents a substantial improvement over the current model and I have no doubt that many Versa buyers will be happy with their choice.

I will conclude part 3 with this cool diorama Nissan brought to the show. It featured a whole bunch of little cars zipping around a nicely lit city.

Stay tuned for part 4!

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic Visits The 2019 Hudson Valley Auto Show, Part 1: GM, Nissan, Acura, And Mazda – head here if you want to read my thoughts on the Silverado 1500, Blazer, XT4, and Altima

Curbside Classic Visits The NY International Auto Show, Part 1: Ford, Lincoln, And Rivian

Part 2: Luxury Automakers And Supercar Manufacturers