While New Yorkers typically favor just about any form of transportation aside from a personal vehicle, that doesn’t prevent the city’s annual auto show from serving as one of the major American expositions of its kind. After all, Manhattan’s surrounding area is populated by one of the largest consumer audiences in the world, making the New York Auto Show an important venue for car companies showcasing their latest and greatest models.
This year’s lengthy list of debuts was no different, and included serious automotive firepower in the forms of the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, the Lexus LS 500 F Sport, and the Mercedes-AMG GLC63. But those all cost big bucks, and if you’re on a family budget, you’re seeking a cheaper thrill.
We’ve just returned from several days of press conferences in the Big Apple, and when it comes to fun family vehicles priced below $60,000, these six new models, listed in alphabetical order, are of the most interest.
2018 Acura TLX A-Spec
Acura is in serious need of street credibility. Though the company’s 6-vehicle lineup includes the impressive NSX sports car, and while the sedans and SUVs it sells might be engaging to drive, as little more than luxed-up Hondas they’re not particularly compelling. With the debut of the new 2018 Acura TLX A-Spec, perhaps this situation will start to change.
To create the TLX A-Spec, Acura takes a TLX V6 and adds styling modifications and unique interior details in order to convey its more sporting intentions. The result is a version of the TLX that clearly looks more performance oriented than tamer variants of the car.
Mechanically, the A-Spec’s 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 and 9-speed automatic are lifted straight out of the TLX V6, and they power the front wheels. Acura’s torque-vectoring, Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system is an option for the A-Spec, which comes standard with front-wheel drive.
Modifications are made to improve the A-Spec’s handling. The steering and suspension are tuned for greater thrills, and the car sits on unique 19-inch aluminum wheels. Unfortunately, bigger brakes are not a part of the package, and in my experience this was the component set most desperately in need of an upgrade.
Will the A-Spec, along with design changes aligned with the company’s new “diamond pentagon” grille design, be enough to bring driving enthusiasts back to Acura showrooms? Seems like a thin argument to me.
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Alfa Romeo fleshed out the Stelvio lineup in New York, adding standard and Ti model series beneath the high-performance Quadrifoglio version of the SUV. Though tamer than the powerful Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the standard and Stelvio Ti models will undoubtedly be fun to drive.
Equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine good for 280 horsepower and 306 lb.-ft. of torque, the Stelvio and Stelvio Ti will need a little more time to sprint to 60 mph than the lighter Alfa Romeo Giulia with which it shares a platform and powertrains, but it will still be a quick luxury performance SUV.
An 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, Natural and Dynamic driving modes, and a standard Q4 all-wheel-drive system work in concert with Chassis Domain Control (CDC) to ensure the Stelvio handles well enough to credibly tackle the pass over the Italian Alps for which it is named. A Sport Package installs larger 19-inch wheels and a stiffer suspension.
As compelling as the hardware sounds, it is styling that will sell the Stelvio. It looks sensational, and thanks to the bold grille, flowing bodywork, attractive wheel choices, and oversized dual exhaust outlets perforating the rear valence panel, this SUV visually distances itself from its competition.
The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio is expected to start in the low-$40,000 range when it goes on sale later this year.
2017 Audi RS 3
Audi Sport made a big splash in New York, debuting three new RS-badged models: the TT RS, the RS 3, and the redesigned RS 5. Of this trio, only the RS 3 has a set of rear doors to make it easier for your family to join you for what should prove quite the thrill ride.
Audi will build a handful of 2017 model-year RS 3 sedans before ramping up a bit for the 2018 model year. Based on the A3, the RS 3 receives a heart transplant in the form of a turbocharged 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine. It makes 400 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque, which Audi claims is good for a run to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds.
Naturally, the company’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system is standard, and sends up to 70 percent of engine’s power to the rear wheels through a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox. A magnetic ride control suspension is also standard, along with upgraded steering and braking components. The car sits on 19-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in performance tires.
Pricing isn’t final, but the 2017 Audi RS 3 is expected to come in at about $55,000. That’s a big chunk of change to pay for such a small car, but accessing such exclusivity and brilliant all-weather performance at this comparatively affordable price is a rarity.
2018 Buick Regal
Before you scratch your head in puzzlement as to how a Buick wound up on this list, please recall that for several years now the Regal has been a rebadged German car known in Europe as the Opel Insignia. For 2018, that remains true, but there is a new twist: the Regal is no longer a sedan.
In the U.S., where consumers are expressing a clear preference for more practical vehicles, Buick will offer the 2018 Regal as a 5-door hatchback called the Sportback and as a station wagon wearing an SUV costume called the TourX. Think Subaru Outback, but good looking.
Both are equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, and all-wheel drive is optional for the Sportback and standard for the TourX. Designed, engineered, and built in Germany, the 2018 Regal holds promise as far as expected driving dynamics are concerned.
It will not, however, come cheaply. Because it is offered in unique body styles, Buick won’t feel pressured to bring the new Regal in beneath the larger LaCrosse sedan, so pricing is likely to start in the low $30,000 range, right where the LaCrosse and the Europe-sourced Cascada convertible are priced.
And if that holds true, the only Buick available below that price point will be the stubby little Encore crossover.
2017 Honda Civic Si
Until this year, in the U.S. market, the hottest version of the Honda Civic was known as the Si. Soon, with the arrival of the Civic Type R hatchback, that changes, which might explain why the new Civic Si rolled into New York with a whisper instead of a scream.
The first turbocharged Civic Si in history, the redesigned 2017 model bears all of the hallmarks of the marque. In addition to sportier styling cues and a set of aluminum wheels virtually indistinguishable from what’s offered on other Civics, the new Si Coupe and Si Sedan are equipped with a turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 205 horsepower and 192 lb.-ft. of torque.
For comparison, the previous normally aspirated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine produced 205 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft., but drivers needed to wring that motor out in order to access maximum motive force. In the new Civic Si, horsepower peaks at 5,700 rpm and torque is on tap starting at 2,100 rpm. Furthermore, Honda says the torque is sustained over 70 percent of the engine’s rev range.
Translated: the new Civic Si ought to be far more satisfying to drive.
As is customary, the hotter engine is paired only with a short-throw 6-speed manual gearbox. Honda also installs a helical limited slip front differential, and tunes the steering, suspension, brakes, and chassis to deliver better handling. A Sport driving mode further sharpens the car’s responses, and it wears 235/40 all-season performance tires. Summer tires are an option.
Honda bases the Si models on the EX-T trim level, and pricing is expected to start at about $25,000.
2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
If you whipped out a list of requirements for a family sedan, the Hyundai Sonata would successfully check every single box. It even comes in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and turbocharged performance variants. But somehow this excellent car has trouble attracting attention, and in the past I’ve blamed its wallflower styling.
That changes next year, when the 2018 Sonata gets bolder front and rear design cues that should give the car a more expressive personality. Additionally, Hyundai says it has refined the interior, revised the steering and suspension tuning, and has upgraded its safety, infotainment, and connectivity technologies. In fact, every 2018 Sonata will now include a blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert system as standard equipment.
The version you want if you enjoy the journey as much as the destination is the Sonata 2.0T. It’s got a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 245 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. A new 8-speed automatic transmission debuts with this engine, and the Sonata 2.0T includes a sport-tuned suspension, rack-mounted instead of column-mounted electric steering, and larger 18-inch aluminum wheels.
Hyundai offers the Sonata 2.0T in Sport and Limited trim levels. Given the energetic drivetrain, the upgrades for 2018, top-rated crash-test scores, and the fact that the Sonata supplies one of the largest interiors and biggest trunks in the midsize sedan segment, it is a more compelling choice among family sedans than ever.
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