1996 Jaguar XK8

NEW YORK CITY: This may seem like a weird city to hold a car show.

After all, to the typical Manhattanite, all cars are yellow, have lights on the roof and you can never find one when it rains.

And no civilian in his or her right mind would actually drive in this town.

Still, America's oldest auto show has traditionally been an important launching pad for new models. Even if this isn't as car-crazy a market as southern California, there are still a lot of people and a lot of money around here.

It is, after all, the Big Apple.

From an historical perspective, the most significant world premiere at this year's New York show is the Jaguar XK8 convertible. Jaguar says it is the spiritual successor to the legendary E-Type.

In exact parallel to the latter's launch in 1961, the XK8 coupe debuted at the Geneva Auto Show last month, with the ragtop seeing first light here.

New York's Museum of Modern Art even honored the E-Type by making it only the third automobile it has ever added to its permanent collection (the others are a 1948 Cisitalia and a 1990 Ferrari Formula One race car). MOMA's E-Type display was officially opened during the press preview for the New York Auto Show.

But the XK8 is no E-Type. Like its immediate predecessor, the XJS, the 8 is a luxurious grand tourer, rather than a race-bred sports car. It's even based on the XJS platform, with an identical wheelbase measurement and similar suspension components.

The interior is as you'd expect from Jaguar – all leather and wood. This thing is gorgeous, inside and out.

My only (slight) concern is that this shape doesn't advance the art, certainly not like the E-Type's did. It looks back at Jaguar's past more than it looks forward to the future.

And if you think you've seen the shape before, you have. It is very similar to the Aston Martin DB7, although that car was done by freelancer Ian Callum, while the 8 was an in-house effort, headed by Jag's chief ink thrower, Geoff Lawson.

But both are based on the XJS, and both designers were aiming at the same thing – a modern execution of traditional British sports car lines – so the similarity shouldn't be a great surprise.

The engine is an all-new 4 litre, four-cam-shaft, 32-valve V8, and no, it's not based on anything Jaguar's parent company Ford makes. Jaguar isn't releasing much data on this motor, but it is expected to generate about 285 horsepower.

Only a five-speed automatic transmission will be offered; no E-Type manual gearbox here.

Prices have barely been hinted at yet – for either coupe or convertible versions of the XK8. Jaguar North America president Mike Dale did say it won't be a "bargain basement" car. I don't expect you'll get much change from a hundred-thousand dollar bill (Canadian) for the coupe, with the ragtop perhaps 25 per cent more expensive again.

From a commercial perspective, the most important launch at this year's New York show is the General Motors family of minivans, which will replace the Chevrolet Lumina van and the Pontiac Trans Sport this fall (see accompanying story).

World premiere No. 3 at New York is the Hyundai Tiburon. (El tiburon is Spanish for shark; Hyundai has elected not to use the accent.)

This Elantra-based, two-door sports coupe offers swoopy styling derived from Hyundai's HCDII concept car of three years ago. HCD stands for Hyundai California Design (Studio).

The South Korean automaker says the New York vehicle is a "show car". But you can bet your bulgabi (a Korean food) that this is pretty much what the production version will look like when it hits the streets this fall. Except for the retina-wrenching purple paint.

The Tiburon is powered by Hyundai's homebrew 2 litre, 16-valve engine with double overhead camshafts.

Although the sporty coupe market is in the dumper right now, Hyundai of America's executive vice-president Doug Mazza believes that's due to the lack of new, exciting yet affordable product.

The Tiburon, he says, will offer style, room, handling and performance in the Ford Probe/Toyota Celica league, at a much more attractive price.

Adds Mazza: "Tiburon is a Hyundai people will want to own, as opposed to one they buy because it's all they can afford."

No price has been announced, but expect the base model to come in just under CDN$17,000, while the up-level FX, with bigger wheels and tires and additional luxury features but essentially the same mechanical package, will be maybe $1,500 more.

Saab is showing a concept convertible based on the popular 900 drop-top. With Saab-traditional three-spoke alloy wheels, aero kit and stiffer suspension, this thing looks like it will reach production.

It should fly, look great doing it and probably redefine the term torque steer.

And with the Tiburon, it also proved that PPG must have had a fire sale on purple paint.

Honda announced here that the Civic-based CRV four wheel drive sport-utility will go on sale next December in the United States and the following month in Canada.

The production version will probably (let us pray) lose the garish chrome rocker panel and lower grille of the New York (and Tokyo) show-car variant – they were painted black in company-supplied photographs.

But otherwise, what you see is what we'll get.

Honda says the CRV has more room inside than other mini-sport-utes (read Toyota's RAV4), but will be priced well below the high-rent Jeep Grand Cherokee/Ford Explorer field.

They're hoping to keep the sticker under US$20,000, which means about CDN$27,500. Ouch.

That will be for a loaded vehicle, offering a 2 litre, twin-cam, four-cylinder engine. You also get a four-speed automatic, air and cruise, plus power locks, windows and mirrors.

There's even, can you believe it, a standalone picnic table. The floor of the CRV's cargo area lifts out and can be set up anywhere, using legs that come with it.

One denizen of the media who has a late'80s Civic 4WD wagon couldn't help think he'd seen – and driven (and owned) – all this before. He's probably right. Except for the picnic table.

Mazda announced that the RX7 sports car is officially dead in the U.S. and Canada, once existing stocks are sold. Too bad; it's a great car, but nobody bought it.

Mazda is displaying the RX 01, a show car that indicates how the company could make a rotary-powered sports coupe more affordable.

This one is less serious, more of a fun machine and a smaller step up from the Miata than the last RX7. It should be more marketable, and that's what Mazda needs.

The automaker also is showing a coupe concept version of said Miata. Not a removable hardtop – they already have that – but a proper tin-top notchback.

Given that open-air motoring is a huge part of what Miata is all about, you might wonder about the marketability of this one.

Mazda notes that such worthies as the Jaguar XK120 and Triumph Spitfire started as roadsters and evolved into coupes. I'm not sure they should be reminding people of the Spitfire/GT6.

Tom Matano, the ultra-hip executive vice-president of Mazda's North American operations and one of the industry's leading design experts, suggests the Miata M coupe would offer more practicality than the sports car.

If it's built, he hastens to add. He also notes that the coupe should be lighter and stiffer, and that wouldn't hurt for racing purposes. Hmmm – wonder what these guys have up their Nomex-lined sleeves?

Mazda has dumped the cute little MX3 (Precidia to you) coupe in the United States.

There still is an MX3 Precidia in the '96 Canadian lineup, but the writing is on the wall in big block letters: if you want one, don't hesitate.

Subaru has acquired the ability to ring endless changes off their excellent Legacy platform. The clever Outback sort-of-sport-ute now has a Limited edition.

That means chrome grille, leather innards, gold-accent alloy wheels (where are the Taste Police when you need them?). Prospects for this type of vehicle just can't seem to spend enough money.

The Outback treatment – raised suspension, bigger wheels and tires, cosmetic overhaul – has also been dished up on the smaller Impreza wagon, itself an offshoot of the Legacy, to create the Impreza Outback Sport.

Finally, the Legacy GT adds the 2.5 litre engine from Outback, plus the requisite aerodynamic add-ons and a hydraulically operated clutch. This one is the most driver-oriented of the Legacy family.

The station wagon version of Mercedes-Benz's handsome and capable E-class didn't get much coverage when it debuted in Geneva last month. It will be available later in the year.

BMW is showing its revised M3 coupe, whose 3.2 litre, inline-six engine yields about 7 per cent more torque for even faster acceleration.

This isn't the European M3, although that now also displaces 3.2 litres. Not that it matters much to Canadians – we don't get either of these modified 3-series cars.

Over at BMW's sport-ute division, Land Rover announced that the Defender, which hearkens back to the original late'40s Land Rover, will be offered with an automatic transmission for the first time.

Volkswagen got into a New York state of mind with a demonstration of the new Jetta Trek.

For those who don't know (I didn't), Trek is a maker of high-end mountain bikes.

If you buy a Jetta Trek, you get one of each, a car and a bike, complete with roof rack. That makes five on the floor and 21 on the roof. Gears, that is.

If you choose to lease a Jetta Trek, you keep the bike and roof rack when the lease is over.

For more information on the 10day New York International Auto Show, which closes tomorrow, dial on the Internet. You can also call 1800449 NYAS (6927).

Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie is Wheels' chief automotive reviewer.

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