The best, worst, and weirdest cars at the 2018 New York Auto Show

The New York International Auto Show opens to the public this weekend, and upon entering the Javits Center attendees will be bombarded with new cars, SUVs, trucks and even a handful of supercars that will most likely be out their price range. Here’s our primer for anyone who wants to cut through the noise and see the stuff that really matters.

Most Futurama-ready car: Genesis Essentia

Anyone who grew up on dog-eared copies of Popular Science probably assumed we’d be riding around in self-driving cars while viewing the passing scenery through glass or plastic bubble roofs. The self-driving car part is playing out right now, but the glass or plastic bubble part seems to have been left in the recycling bin. Now, here’s the Genesis Essentia, an all-electric performance concept with a transparent hood and a fully retro-futuristic bubble roof. The Hyundai-owned luxury brand is certainly making a statement with its first EV.

Best curveball: Waymo and Jaguar

The news that Waymo would be adding up to 20,000 electric Jaguar I-Pace SUVs to its fleet of self-driving taxis threw a lot of people for a loop. I think The Verge’s enterprise editor Michael Zelenko summed it up best when he DM’d me, “jaguar?… it’s weird!” On the surface, yes kind of weird. Of all the cars Waymo could have chosen to operate alongside its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, why the I-Pace? Since its debut in Geneva, car writers have sprained their wrists trying to find new and different ways to compare the I-Pace to Tesla’s Model X (see below). But before it could even hit the dealer lots, Jaguar has already made a multi-million-dollar deal with Waymo. The Alphabet company clearly is drawn to automakers with no autonomous vehicle program of their own, as we saw previously with Fiat Chrysler. We’ll know more in 2020, when these cars are expected to start racking up up to a million trips a day for Waymo’s soon-to-be-launched ride-hailing service.

Weirdest tech feature: Subaru Forester’s DriverFocus

I think it’s safe to say that the Subaru Forester is probably the last car I would have expected to have something cutting edge like facial recognition technology. The Japanese automaker is known for its dependability and resale value, but hardly its embrace of buzzworthy tech. Which made it kind of surprising to hear that the new Forester would have a brand new feature for the brand called DriverFocus. Subaru describes it as a “driver monitoring system that uses facial recognition software to identify signs of driver fatigue or driver distraction.” The feature, which the automaker claims is the first in the segment, can recognize up to five drivers and can remember their pre-set preferences for seat position, climate, and infotainment. No details on which company is supplying Subaru with the biometric technology, but expect to see more automakers installing these kind of gizmos in their effort to reduce traffic accidents.

Most likely to be included in a selfie with actors hired to play millennials: VW’s Tanoak truck concept

It’s the unfortunate staple of auto shows that car companies feel compelled to produce live-action versions of their commercials when revealing their new models. Take Volkswagen: the German auto giant had four actors dressed as outdoorsy millennials drive its new Atlas Tanoak truck on stage and then take a selfie in front of it. One was wearing a fishing vest covered in hooks and lures. Another had a bike helmet, but no bike. I can’t say for sure, but they may have been the same actors who presented the Toyota FT-4X at the auto show last year. VW hasn’t said whether it plans on actually producing the Tanoak, so this bit of Kabuki theater may be the closest the truck gets to any millennials, real or fake.

Most generous with its semi-autonomous technology: Nissan

The Nissan Altima’s latest redesign includes an unexpected and welcome treat: ProPilot Assist, the automaker’s semi-autonomous driver assist system. Nissan hasn’t announced the Altima’s pricing yet, but it’s likely to start in the low-$20,000 range. Compare that to the Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise (around $71,300) or a Tesla Model S with Autopilot (around $77,500), and you can see why Nissan deserves your attention. It’s a separate question about whether ProPilot Assist can measure up to Super Cruise or Autopilot, both of which set the bar fairly high for driver assist systems. But Nissan’s commitment to making its technology available at a fraction of the price of those luxury automakers is a really big deal.

Most stingy with semi-autonomous technology: Cadillac

Cadillac’s new XT4 SUV has a lot going for it, but unfortunately its biggest drawback stems from something that’s missing: the automaker’s truly excellent Super Cruise advanced driver assist system. Cadillac doesn’t even offer the system on the CT6 V-Sport, also shown at this year’s show. While the V-Sport is more about power and a more aggressive personality, it’s also likely to be the most expensive version of the CT6. Shouldn’t that mean it gets all the options available on that car? A spokesperson said it was because of “packaging” issues that Super Cruise wasn’t available in either model, but that’s an unsatisfying answer. For a company that wants to be on the forefront of autonomy, GM is certainly being Scrooge-ish with its tech.

Most likely to keep Elon Musk awake at night: Jaguar I-Pace

Let’s be honest: there’s no sign that any other car company that’s making an EV right now has the same kind of cultural cache as Tesla. But this is the year where Tesla is going to start facing real, comparable competition in the space, and that all starts with the I-Pace. It’s fast, it’s got range, and it’s cheaper than anything Tesla sells. In Geneva, amongst a show full of wild concepts, the I-Pace almost felt intangible. But the electric SUV’s North American debut made the threat feel all the more real — especially because Jaguar also announced a team-up with Waymo to compete with companies like Tesla on reaching full autonomy.

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