If you'd taken the pulse of the average hack with media credentials at this year's New York Auto Show, you'd probably have found signs somewhere between comatose and ambivalent. Sure, early reveals and drip-fed teasers spoiled some of the surprise, but it's the cars themselves that we get excited about. After all, that's what we're in it for. Not some great moment of industrial theater.
For those with the eyes to see, there were some genuinely exciting and stunning performance and luxury cars revealed, and we've outlined our top three below, ranked from bottom to top.
Honorable Mention: 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI four-door
With the addition of the four-door big-wing sedan to the 2011 WRX STI lineup, Subaru is offering two bodystyles for their hottest model for the first time ever. That in itself is worth noticing, and the sedan offers a look and feel that's likely to resonate more with fans of the company's past World Rally Championship efforts. Toss in the Special Edition's retuned, sharper suspension and you have a great car that's made even better--what's not to love?
The five-door is still the more practical choice, and it'll likely perform as well as the sedan, too, but there's nothing wrong with choice, even if the four-door format does scream for some gold BBS wheels.
Runner-up: 2011 Mercedes-Benz E 350 4Matic Sportwagon
Overheard at the New York Auto Show from burly native type: "Wagons?! I thought they gave those up years ago?" Well, the industry did back away from them when the SUV craze took the average buyer by the throat, but drivers and carmakers alike have been backing away from the Freeway Frigate for years now, finally coming full circle to the form factor that justifies itself: the wagon. Sleek, elegant, spacious and every bit as useful for the tasks 99 percent of crossovers actually perform, while at the same time more efficient and less bulky, the wagon is regaining its primacy, and cars like the E 350 Sportwagon are just the cars to do it.
Mercedes nailed the styling, with the extended greenhouse making the otherwise busy rear fender treatment into a sculptural accent, and maintaining the rest of the highs of the new E-Class's design. Full-time all-wheel drive and a fantastic interior treatment just make it that much better.
Best In Show: Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon Show Car
Yes, it's not a final production car--but that's only due to the forward-looking, premium aesthetics. The car underneath the yards of Alcantara, liquid paint and piano black trim is a winner. Available with both a six-speed manual and the same near-telepathic six-speed auto found in the sedan, it promises the same crushing performance plus the ability to haul the kids, the bikes, the groceries or the race tires.
Side note: we spent some time talking to John Heinricy during the show and asked him how much time he thought he'd have gained around the Nurburgring with the six-speed manual (instead of the six-speed auto he used), and even given enough practice, he said there were at most one to two seconds on the table--over an eight-minute lap. The auto is that good.
But the point is: the CTS-V wagon offers possibilities that boggle the mind given the expected slightly-higher-than-the-sedan price point. And you can argue fuel efficiency until you're blue in the face, but the 6.2-liter supercharged 556-horsepower trump card will win every time.