New York 2012: The Whirling Dervish That Was

2013 SRT Viper GTS
Ralph Gilles kissing another "baby." Photo courtesy of Chrysler Group LLC

Watching Twitter during an auto show is like a whirling dervish. As intoxicating the tweets, impressions and links of posting and photos, it is all dizzying.

That was my feeling after reviewing a day's tweets and Facebook updates from the New York International Auto Show. Trusted colleagues and allies opening up the floodgates to a new wave of large sedans, luxury crossovers and SUVs and everything else that was saved up for this culmination of the North American auto show circuit.

Maybe I was starting to feel under the weather. Maybe I was too pooped to even read another piece of bandwidth. Or, perhaps the New York Auto Show rolled out the big guns for the end.

After some needed rest and contemplation, I took the time to sort out which of the plethora of introductions was worth recapping on here. Some were easier than others. It would come as no surprise to see which one trumped them all…

2013 SRT VIPER: Again, Ralph Gilles sealed this one with a kiss. Rightfully so! It was Gilles' promise back in 2009 as he doled out Dodge's plans for the next five years under Fiat's guidance. Since then, Ralph moved from the Dodge seat into the SRT one and took his promise many steps further. It becomes the first vehicle with the SRT badge – by itself.

Moreover, the Viper represents a mixture of civilization and its trademark venomous ferocity. There is a traction control that can be fully deactivated so the 8.4litre, 640 horsepower V10 can be driven hard on any piece of tarmac. It weights just 3,300 pounds – these days, that’s considered "light." You can get a Viper with cruise control – something you rarely get in a supercar.

Aside from the adjoining announcement of the Viper's return to the American Le Mans Series in the GT class, the snake's biggest surprise was its presence. For those of us who know what a Viper looks like, it appears that there’s something quite special about its wide mouth and Pininfarina-esque curvatures. It has trumped its competition in the way it looks. The Viper wants to rule the road – and that is the image you get by simply looking at it.

Presence dictates performance. Once it hits the track in the ALMS series, we will see what the Viper is capable of. It handles as well as it looks, then Gilles has exceeded all promises made back in 2009.

2014 CHEVROLET IMPALA: I once called its soon-to-be-replaced "comfort food." It was simply too comfortable for its own good. Yet, I got to the point where it was too dull. Obviously a lot of my fellow scribes agreed.

To match the excitement of the old African Antelope, General Motors decided to take it upscale. It grew into the extended Epsilon II – sharing it with the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS. By sporting a three-engine lineup, the inclusion of the eAssist system and the new ECOTEC 2.5litre may seem out of place – but it shows how flexibile and conscious the new Impala is being designed for. But, a modern Impala is nothing without a V6 – 3.6litres, direct injected and over 300 horsepower.

The curve ball thrown by Chevrolet was a new grille design. Normally, we'd expect certain things from a brand and usually a universal front end is a calling card. I figured Chevy would like to shake things up. The horizontal center divide is set aside for a very upscale and tasteful design. It is almost as the 1973 Impalas were back, but more angular, aerodynamic and pronounced. As someone pointed out – it has a Camaro edge to it.

The Impala had been in a coma. It appears to be woken up and ready for its new assignment – it's rightful place at the top of the sedan heap for the first time since the 1964 model year. I'm glad to see my old friend get some needed help. Now, let’s see how it does in its new class.

Rumor has it that the old Impala will continue to be built for fleets only. Anyone got bets it would be called "Bel Air" or "Biscayne?"

2013 NISSAN ALTIMA: The 2008 Vehicle of the Year proved many things about Nissan's top seller – it is a capable sedan with ample room and plenty of cruising ability. It gobbled up miles without complaint. The last Altima felt like it took quite a licking, but kept on ticking where it needed to be.

This 2013 model moved the bar in class styling. While it evolved with being the aero bullet of the class (before the Hyundai Sonata and its fluidic sculpture arrived), the new Altima arrived with an upscale shape worthy of the Infiniti badge. The details are intense, but lovable. Inside is not your typical Nissan – it’s better than that!

I could go on and gush about the new shape of the Altima, but there's more. While most family sedans have ditched the V6 for turbos and hybrids, Nissan wasn't willing to part with the VQ from the Altima. There's nothing like a mid-sized family sedan with six cylinders motivating you and three others across miles of Interstate. If you like the 2.5litre instead – Nissan will still offer that in the '13.

Considering recent events in the monthly sales race (The Altima placing third behind the Ford F-Series and Toyota Camry in March deliveries), the challenge is to convert this new Altima into a big seller as it is now. I have a feeling that when people start feeling the new Altima, this could make things more interesting in the segment – even more than it is now.

2013 TOYOTA AVALON: I once called an older version of this "Toyota's Buick." Back in 2009, it was considered both apt and derogatory. Now that Buick moved the bar towards a younger audience, Toyota decided to follow along. The result is the first fully American developed Toyota.

There were a few twists. The Camry may appear to be just a block of metal bent in a few places – lacking design imagination. The Avalon proves that Toyota can be creative and induce delight in some people's retinas. The design is sharper with intriguing details. Some may derive some areas as being borrowed from somewhere, but give Toyota credit for testing its own design mettle on the Avalon.

Inside, Toyota took a better approach than Buick did on the LaCrosse (though that won the 2009 VOTY, those seats and the crammed cockpit were on the down side). It seems airier with more access to both primary and secondary functions. If there was one major complaint about the 2009 Avalons were the dullness of the instrumentation and the seating. It appears Toyota addressed both issues directly.

No word on how much more power Toyota's 3.5litre V6 will have in the new Avalon. One thing is for sure – I have a feeling this is going to be a winner for the brand and the segment.

Three out of these four were vehicles that I had experience with. The measuring stick is the way the newer versions have evolved from their predecessors. It holds true for the star of the New York show – the Viper. Evolution is one thing, for continuity’s sake. Yet, change has to take shape in balancing the familiar with the new. What these four vehicles have accomplished is exactly that – creating change for the good of the manufacturer, the segment and, ultimately, the consumer. The dervish was worth whirling along…

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