US manufacturers pay lip-service to green values, but the New York Motor Show demonstrates that huge engines and conspicuous fuel consumption still rule in America. Alistair Weaver tells it like it is

The American car industry is not the force it once was, but it continues to do a good line in hubris. At the New York Motorshow, Bill Ford, the CEO of the Ford Motor Company, told a packed press conference that the company's goal is to build "great products, a strong business and a better world".

The American car industry is not the force it once was, but it continues to do a good line in hubris. At the New York Motorshow, Bill Ford, the CEO of the Ford Motor Company, told a packed press conference that the company's goal is to build "great products, a strong business and a better world".

This goal, he continued, was reflected in the development of Ford's first petrol/electric hybrid called, appropriately enough, the Escape Hybrid. A prototype had, he told a shocked audience, just driven 576 miles around Manhattan on a single tank of fuel, during which time it had averaged an "astonishing" 38mpg.

It was tempting to point out that this figure could have been bettered by any European supermini, but nobody wanted to listen. Attention had already switched to Ford's next revelation, a Mustang GT-R Concept car, built to celebrate the 40th birthday of the iconic American coupe. The concept boasted a Valencia Orange paint job and hid a 440bhp, 5.0-litre V8 under its aggressively styled "hood".

The Mustang and not the Hybrid remains at the core of the American car market. Our US cousins may moan about the spiralling cost of "gas", but even in downtown New York, petrol costs little more than $2 a gallon, or roughly a quarter of the UK price. There is little incentive for people to run ecologically friendly cars and for all the manufacturers' eco-posturing, the market continues to be dominated bu SUVs and gargantuan pick-up trucks.

Nowhere is this more evident than in New York. It's mighty difficult to park in the Big Apple and insurance costs are escalating, but it continues to be populated by machines that are larger than a two-bed flat. It is a city wallowing in its own wealth and so it should come as no surprise to discover that the most significant vehicle launches at the Auto Show pandered to the affluent.

But you might be more surprised to learn that one of the most important new vehicles at the show was British. Land Rover's managing director, Matthew Taylor, admitted that the company had considered launching the new Discovery at next month's Birmingham Motor Show, but had reasoned that a New York debut would generate greater media exposure. It also made sense to unveil the car in what will be its biggest market.

New Yorkers are an important target audience for a vehicle that will cost from £29,00 to 45,000 when it goes on sale in the UK this October. The Discovery will sit between the Freelander and the opulent Range Rover in the Land Rover line-up and is very much the companies "bread and butter" model.

It is all-new and promises to be a huge improvement on its predecessor, the origins of which could be traced back to 1970. Its British designer, Geoff Upex, reckons that it represents "a holistic piece of minimalist product design", and he's "comfortable with the fact that it polarises opinion". There is no doubt that the bold, utilitarian lines will not be to all tastes, but this is a genuinely original design and one that looks better in the metal than it does on celluloid.

The interior also represents a quantum leap when compared with its cramped, dated predecessor. The fascia design is simple, elegant and distinctive and the new "Disco" can seat seven adults in forward-facing seats. When they're not required, the sixth and seventh seats can be folded flat into the boot floor, in the manner of the brilliant Volvo XC90.

Two new engines will be on offer: a 4.4-litre petrol V8 sourced from Jaguar and a 2.7-litre turbodiesel. The latter boasts 187bhp and an impressive 325lb/ft of mid-range pull and is expected to be the biggest seller. Land Rover has given up pretending that its products spend their life in the mud and the chassis development work has focused on improving the Discovery's on-road dynamics.

But this has not been at the expense of the car's off-road prowess, which is of crucial importance to the Land Rover brand. The company's chairman, Joe Greenwell, believes that "customers enjoy the fact that they have a vehicle with extraordinary off-road ability, even though they're secure in the knowledge that they will never explore that capability".

Another manufacturer to place great emphasis on its vehicles' mud-plugging ability is Jeep, and the new Grand Cherokee will compete with the new Discovery. Jeep is one of the few US manufacturers to have gained a successful foothold in the UK market and the previous generation Grand Cherokee had a loyal fan base.

The styling of the new car is inoffensive and evolutionary. The trademark, seven-slot Jeep grille has been given pride of place and the headlamps have a more circuitous theme, but it lacks the dynamic, step-ahead appeal of the Discovery. The interior also seats five rather than seven, although the fascia design represents a vast improvement over the cheap-feeling old model.

In the US, the engine choice will consist of a 3.7-litre V6, a 4.7-litre V8 and a mighty 325bhp 5.7-litre V8. The latter debuts Jeep's Multi-Displacement System (MDS), which automatically deactivates four of the eight cylinders when the car is cruising. Jeep claims that MDS improves the combined mpg figure by 20 per cent, but eco-warriors will no doubt point out that 20 per cent of very little is still very little. A 2.7-litre turbodiesel engine will be added to the range when the new Grand Cherokee reaches the UK in late 2005.

Jaguar is another manufacturer that is desperately readying a range of new diesel engines, but in New York the spotlight was thrown on the long-wheelbase version of the XJ saloon. The wheelbase has been stretched by 125mm compared with the standard XJ and the rear roofline has been raised by 7mm to improve headroom. The rear quarters are now much more palatial and customers are able to choose between a bench seat or two individual armchairs. The long wheelbase version should carry around a £2,000 premium over the standard XJ when it goes on sale in September.

To highlight the benefits of the long wheelbase platform, Jaguar also unveiled the Concept Eight. Trimmed in nubuck leather and dressed with untreated American walnut and shagpile carpet, the Concept represents a modern interpretation of familiar Jaguar themes. The ambience of an old gentleman's club has been replaced with the aura of a modern, metropolitan bar. "We wanted to showcase a modern, contemporary lifestyle," explains its designer, Mark Phillips, who is particularly proud of the bespoke, Waterford-crystal champagne flutes.

Not to be outdone by their American or European rivals, the Japanese manufacturers also debuted a couple of luxury cars. The disappointingly conservative Infiniti M45 Concept could be seen in production form in the UK in around three years time. Infiniti is to Nissan what Lexus is to Toyota and the executive saloon would compete with the BMW 5-series and the Audi A6.

So too will the Acura RL, which will be sold as the Honda Legend when it arrives in the UK next year. Handsome but conventional, the Honda boasts a 300bhp, 3.5-litre V6 and a "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive System". It might sound like a children's toy, but SH-AWD automatically applies extra torque to the outside tyre during hard cornering.

Honda was in confident mood, but all the excitement seemed to go to the head of its US vice-president, Dick Colliver. According to Colliver, the RL not only "celebrates the straights", it also "satisfies the driver and the road". "The road," he concluded, "loves this car." Colliver vied for the title of "Silliest Speech" with the lady presenter on the Mercedes stand. "We don't build cars," she declared. "We define and redefine Mercedes-Benzes. We build relationships." It was extremely tear-jerking stuff, but at least the model Mercedes unveiled was as eccentric as the speech.

The SL 65 AMG boasts a 6.0-litre twin-turbo V12 that produces 604bhp and a sweat-inducing 738lb/ft of torque. It's as quick, if not quicker, than the Mercedes SLR McLaren supercar and will cost around £130,000 when it arrives in the UK this autumn. Dressed in silver and boasting massively outrageous alloy wheels, it really was the bling-blingest car of a bling-bling show.

Search for used cars

Comments