NYIAS: Highs, hybrids and concepts

Attendance by autojournalists may have been down this year at the New York International Auto Show, what with travel cutbacks and layoffs, but the mood of the automakers here was decidedly more hopeful than it was in Detroit.

Despite an industry-wide average sales dropoff of 15%, some automakers posted record sales last year. Subaru Canada was one of those lucky few. The automaker recorded its best sales ever in 2008, with a total of 19,892 units sold, and it set a new record this March. Total vehicle sales were up 14.6% over the 1,639 vehicles sold during March of last year.

As reported last week, Subaru unveiled its all-new 2010 Legacy sedan here. The automaker also took the wraps off its new 2010 Outback, which is available with two engines, several trims — PZEV, 2.5i Sport and  3.6R — and a variety of packages.

The PZEV and 2.5i models are powered by a revised 2.5-litre, four-cylinder Subaru boxer engine and are mated to a new six-speed manual transmission or the optional new Lineartronic CVT. The CVT is also equipped with a six-speed manual mode and steering wheel paddle shifters.

The 2.5L engine delivers 170 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 170 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm.

The new 3.6L boxer six engine produces 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of peak torque, and it uses regular rather than premium fuel.

The 2010 Outback provides quicker acceleration and lower fuel consumption than its predecessor, despite being larger and roomier, says Subaru. It has a wider track, ground clearance has been increased to 220 millimetres and interior volume is up by almost 8%, even though the vehicle is shorter than its predecessor.

Mercedes-Benz Canada also had a record sales year in 2008, with sales surpassing the 20,000-unit mark in Canada for the first time in the automaker’s history. A record-breaking total of 2,393 Mercedes-Benz and Smart vehicles were sold in March, which represents the best ever combined March sales for Mercedes-Benz and Smart and a 16.4% improvement over March of 2008.

Mercedes unveiled its sexy new E-Class Coupe, its new E63 AMG performance sedan and its new ML450 Hybrid.

The E350 Coupe comes with a 3.5L V6 with 268 hp and the E550 features Mercedes’ 382-hp V8.

The E63 AMG gets 518 hp and 456 lb-ft of torque from its 6.3L V8.

The ML450 Hybrid features a two-mode hybrid system that Mercedes says offers fuel savings of up to 60%. It has a  288-volt battery and an Atkinson-cycle V6 gasoline engine with 275 hp.

Mercedes says the ML450 can travel on purely electric, purely gasoline or a combination of both powertrains. The ML450 Hybrid has a fuel economy of 11.2 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 9.8 L/100 km on the highway.

General Motors unveiled its 2010 GMC Terrain, a crossover SUV that replaces the Pontiac Torrent and GMC Envoy. It will be available with two engines, a new 2.4L direct-injected four-cylinder and a 3.0L DOHC direct-injected V6. Each engine is teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission.

The new Terrain will go on sale this summer.

The cutest vehicle here is Scion’s iQ micro-subcompact concept. While comparisons of the less-than-10-foot-long iQ can be made with the tiny Smart fortwo (another favourite of mine), the iQ is meaner-looking and has a little more attitude. The fortwo is fine for Canada where other motorists smile and wave at you when you’re behind the wheel. But if I had to drive in the crazy New York gridlock, it would be in a Scion iQ.