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5 New Cars From the New York Auto Show That You Can Actually Afford

Dated-April 2015

1. Nissan Maxima

Nissan kicked off the morning by introducing its all-new Maxima, and it is a stunner, inside and out. Starting at only $32,410 and available this June, the Maxima features an all-new exterior design language that resembles the recently launched Nissan Murano SUV.

In a remarkable coincidence, Lexus launched a car the day before with a very similar look to the Murano -- the RX SUV. Obviously, these designs were settled upon years ago, so they were not copying each other. 

In any case, the Nissan Murano has the latest version of Nissan's ubiquitous 3.5 liter V6 engine, yielding 30 miles-per-gallon on the highway (which is no longer as impressive as it used to sound). What is decidedly more impressive is the interior comfort. Take time adjusting everything to your liking, and the seat, steering wheel, seating position, and all the controls are nothing short of first class. This is BMW and Volvo grade, or even better.

2. Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen AllTrack

Volkswagen should have done this car already when it launched the 2009 Jetta Sportwagen in 2008. It is an obvious model for two reasons. First, it requires almost no incremental engineering given that all the parts are available in Volkswagen's vast modular bin.

Second, Subaru has been one of the two fastest-growing brands in the U.S. in the last handful of years. The Outback, Forester and most recently the CrossTrek are all in this genre -- half-way between traditional station wagon and SUV. It's a perfect fit for many buyers.

The AllTrack takes the recently launched Golf Sportwagen, raises it an inch, adds four-by-four capability, and offers a software-controlled off-road mode. It looks extremely attractive, and one wonders if Volkswagen dealers are asking "Why didn't you give this to us already several years ago?"

Volkswagen has not yet released information on pricing or which engines will be available in the new release. Given the standard Golf Sportwagen comes with a 170-horsepower four-cylinder turbo engine or a 150-horsepower diesel engine, consumers can expect those in the new model.

3. Chevrolet Spark

This four-seat mini-car starts under $13,000, is built in Korea, and became a surprising success for GM (GM - Get Report) in recent years. The outgoing Spark had terrible seats and even worse seating positions, but the all-new Spark seems to have improved in both areas.

For those of you who are wondering, the new Spark will not have an electric version. This one will be replaced by the separate, larger and EV-optimized Bolt, which could enter production as early as November 2016, if reports are accurate.

Chevrolet could win the New York Auto Show's prize for the car shown in the ugliest color (if such a prize existed), some horrific poison-neon-lime green that looks like car-buyer-repellent. Fortunately, consumers likely won't be forced to buy it in that color. 

The new Spark will be available to consumers in the fourth quarter of 2015 with a 1.4-liter, 98 horsepower "Ecotec" engine that should get 40 miles-per-gallon on the highway, the company estimates.

4. Mitsubishi Outlander

Mitsubishi (MSBHY) showed off the refreshed Outlander SUV, which goes into production later this quarter. However, all eyes are on the PHEV (plug in hybrid) version that arrives one year from now, April 2016. It's been a huge success in Europe, leading the plug-in sales charts in many countries for almost two years.

The U.S. was initially going to get the Outlander PHEV in late 2013, but after multiple delays it will no longer be the first PHEV SUV. Perhaps it will be the least expensive one, although expect Volkswagen to make it a close content. In any case, for the more expensive SUV PHEV segment, Volvo, Mercedes and BMW will be in the market in 2015, and Audi some time later in 2016.

The model available this year comes with one of three engines that offer between 166 and 224 horsepower and gets between 23 and 27 miles-per-gallon, combined highway and city. Pricing is not yet available.

5. Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Speaking of obvious cars that should have been launched many years ago, the Toyota (TM - Get Report) RAV4 Hybrid has to be high on the list. This drivetrain is basically the Camry Hybrid, but with the 4x4 system from the Toyota Highlander and Lexus NX/RX SUVs.

In other words, alternatively you could describe it as the Toyota Highlander or Lexus NX/RX but with a four cylinder engine instead of a V6. It could get fuel economy somewhere right around the 40 miles-per-gallon mark, but no official figure is yet available.

In conjunction with the hybrid version, the RAV4 also gets a mild exterior and interior refresh. The simplest way to describe it is that the car's nose now looks a lot better. This one will be a hot seller.