Curbside Classic Visits The 2019 New York International Auto Show, Part 6: Jeep, Subaru, And Volkswagen

It’s the end of an era. After this post, I’ll have covered all the new and notable vehicles from the 2019 New York auto show. Next year’s show will take place in the next decade. It’s possible I’m overstating the significance of this moment, but consider this: since my April visit to the Javits Center, FCA almost merged with Renault, Toyota, Mazda, and Subaru laid out their future EV plans, and the Ford/VW alliance solidified into near certainty. Life is moving pretty fast for automakers these days, and the products and strategies they enact now will greatly impact the industry in the years to come.

Mid size trucks are pretty hot right now. Toyota’s Tacoma is still relevant and the GM siblings are also solid performers. Jeep is looking to make inroads in this segment with the Jeep Gladiator, a truck that is very exciting but also extremely predictable. It’s basically a Wrangler with a bed attached to it.

And that’s exactly what a number of people want, isn’t it? The Wrangler is a go-anywhere vehicle with limited cargo space; the Gladiator is a go-anywhere truck with a whole bunch of utility. You’ll pay for that of course: the base, manual Gladiator starts at about $35,000. That’s a full $2,000 more than the base four door Wrangler. Compared to its fellow mid size rivals, it’s way more expensive, to the tune of about $10,000 to $15,000 if you consider something like a base Nissan Frontier as one of its competitors. And that’s not even taking into account the substantial markups that greedy dealers are tacking onto the MSRP.

Buyers that can set aside their lust will probably be able to get a Gladiator for a more reasonable price, at least in the context of a Wrangler-based product. And it’s not like they’re getting a dud of a truck. The Gladiator retains the Wrangler’s 3.6 liter Pentastar V6, which in this application makes 285 horsepower and 260 Ib-ft of torque, mated to a six speed manual or ZF’s ubiquitous eight speed automatic transmission. All Gladiator models come standard with four wheel drive and a 7,000 Ib towing capacity. Payload is 1,600 Ib. Those figures put it at the top of the segment, but not by a substantial amount, as the diesel powertrain in the GM siblings is within spitting distance of the Jeep, and the Ranger’s 2.3 EcoBoost performs similarly for a lot less coin.

All that on and off road capability comes with one important caveat: the Jeep is significantly longer than most of its rivals. With the exception of the 6.2 ft extended cab GM siblings, the Gladiator is about six to eight inches longer than everyone else. That’s a potential sore point for a lot of buyers looking for a “small” truck.

The peculiarities of the Jeep’s roof also limits head room. Tall people probably won’t find the cabin too accessible for them.

Is that a small price to pay for owning what is essentially a four door convertible truck? I’d say so.

A cloth top is standard on the Gladiator, and buyers have the option of upgrading to a premium soft top, black hard top, or body colored “Freedom Top” configuration.

And just like the Wrangler, the Gladiator’s doors can be fully removed.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Wrangler and Gladiator duo are their interiors, which are rugged to the point of being weatherproof. They hardly give up much interior quality to earn that distinction.

Overall, I’d say the Gladiator is a successful extension of the Wrangler. Authentic and frequent off-roaders will no doubt make good use of the truck. For everyone else, the value equation is far less clear. That’s why FCA is likely going to introduce a new Dakota under the Ram brand some time in the near future. According to Car And Driver, the Dakota will utilize the Gladiator’s platform. They’ll probably size the new model closer to trucks like the Tacoma and Ranger in order to lure buyers who are otherwise put off with the size of the Gladiator.

You gotta give credit to Subaru: they know their audience. This year they went above and beyond to deliver a truly standout auto show experience. Their entire display on the main floor mimicked several national parks: Yosemite, Denali, Arches, and Yellowstone. It felt completely disconnected from the rest of the show and I mean that in the best way possible. Others automakers worked to differentiate their sections but no one came close to matching what Subaru accomplished. I suspect the company unintentionally initiated an auto show display arms race that will see every automaker attempt to outdo each other with increasingly elaborate props and set pieces. I look forward to it.

Yes, they even had some type of geyser eruption. I took this shot around 12 or so and didn’t feel like sticking around, so I have no idea what the eruption looked like, but I bet it was neat.

But where are the cars?

Not here.

Found one! It’s the 2020 Subaru Outback.

Approximately 99 percent of future Outback models will experience nothing like what this Outback is doing. But that’s not really the point is it? The Outback vanquished all other mainstream mid size wagons, and it currently has no real competitor, with the possible exception of the Buick Regal TourX. Ford is apparently reviving the Fusion as an Outback rival, but for now the Subaru is the alpha wagon and the one to beat.

The 2020 model doesn’t look very different from the current model, but dive a little deeper and you’ll discover that the wagon made the transition to Subaru’s new modular platform that now underpins all their vehicles with the exception of the BRZ, WRX, and outgoing Legacy and Outback models. Overall dimensions are about the same and the 2020 retains the 8.7 inch ground clearance of its predecessor. It also makes do with the same base powertrain as the 2019, which is a 2.5 liter naturally aspirated four cylinder making 182 horsepower and 176 Ib-ft of torque. The Outback will also receive the Ascent’s 2.4 liter turbo four, which boasts an output of 260 horsepower and 277 Ib-ft of torque. Both engines will be mated to Subaru’s CVT. The base four cylinder is estimated to get 33 miles per gallon on the highway.

Until recently, buying a Subaru meant sacrificing some interior quality. That is no longer the case. The new Legacy and Outback are receiving substantial upgrades to their interiors. They’re extremely nice. Every Subaru Outback will be capable of supporting Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. This particular Outback has the optional 11.3 inch multimedia system.

With a base price of roughly $27,000, the Outback isn’t as value oriented as it used to be. But it’s still a compelling vehicle that looks and feels like something I’d drive when it becomes more affordable as a used car.

Apply everything I said about the Outback to the Legacy. The 2020 model was revealed several months before the New York show, so there are absolutely no surprises here. Like the Outback, the Legacy sits on Subaru’s new global platform and boasts a more refined and less generic exterior than the current model.

I’m 99 percent positive that their interiors are identical, which is a good thing.

Yes, I could see myself in one of these too, which is absolutely not the case for the 2019 Legacy. It’s amazing what a little nip/tuck can do.

“Where’s the 2020 Passat?” This is the question my friend and I were asking each other as we walked through the Volkswagen section. Anyone who’s gone to a big time car show will know that these displays aren’t terribly expansive, which means that we passed this red one several times. We thought it was a Jetta.

Yup, the Passat looks more like a Jetta than ever before. But unlike the European model, the American Passat is still using the same platform as the previous generation, which debuted about eight years ago. There’s no mystery as to why Volkswagen lightly refreshed the Passat instead of giving it a full redesign: sales are down by about fifty percent for the first half of 2019. It’s possible that less than 40,000 buyers will choose the Passat this year. Those are not encouraging numbers.

This is probably the last American Passat. Fortunately it will go out with its dignity intact. Although the new model uses a substantial amount of interior components from the previous generation, it’s still a nice interior.

I certainly couldn’t fault anyone for buying a new Passat. It looks good. It’s got a nice interior. And the powertrain is a good fit for the car. But a CPO or used Passat is basically the same car and you’ll probably be able to get an excellent deal on one like my dad did in late 2017.

Perhaps the Tarok makes a better case for itself than the Passat? This theoretical car based compact pickup is about 193 inches long and 72 inches wide, which are dimensions that nearly match a whole bunch of mid size sedans. There is probably a market for something the Tarok. Will this actually see the light of day?

I think it’s more likely now that Ford and VW have all but officially cemented their partnership. That agreement will have Ford building the next generation Amarok pickup for VW using the next gen Ranger platform, while VW will build a next gen Transit Connect for Ford, presumably using the MQB platform. Ford will also use the full size Transit to build a commercial truck for VW. In return, VW is investing heavily into Argo, Ford’s autonomous vehicle company, and they’re even willing to share their MEB electric vehicle platform with the Blue Oval.

What does this have to do with the Tarok? In January Ford confirmed their intention to introduce a compact pickup into the American market by 2022. It will arrive in Brazil some time before that. You know what VW promised for the Brazilian market? A production version of the Tarok pickup. I don’t think VW’s moves are entirely coincidental. And they’re definitely going to want a piece of the American truck market for themselves. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. But you probably heard it here first.

Our final product is another concept, although with the economies of scale that VW will achieve by sharing the MEB platform with Ford, it is also likely to become a production model. Motor Trend interviewed several Volkswagen executives, all of whom were pretty bullish on the likelihood of the ID Buggy being built.

If that’s the case, we may see it in a couple of years. But what is the ID Buggy exactly? It’s a 160 inch two door off road vehicle with a 104.3 inch wheelbase and 9.4 inches of ground clearance. It packs a 201 horsepower electric motor with a 62 kWh battery. VW says the range is 155 miles as measured by the WTLP test cycle.

The concept is currently rear wheel drive but VW says it can be fitted with an electric motor up front in order to enable four wheel traction. The platform can also accommodate two more seats if necessary.

The ID Buggy is very cool and I’m rooting for its official reveal. Think about this: in five years it’s entirely possible that one of these will be tackling an off road trail in Moab alongside a Jeep Gladiator.

And that does it for all the new and notable vehicles of the 2019 New York International Auto Show. Stay tuned for part 7!

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic Visits The 2019 New York International Auto Show, Part 5: Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis

Part 4: Honda, Acura, Toyota, Mazda

Part 3: General Motors and Nissan

Part 2: Luxury Automaker and Supercar Manufacturers

Part 1: Ford, Lincoln, and Rivian