Why Big Car Intros Are Still Needed To Get People To See Changes

Part of the reason the New York Auto Show was a snooze this year was because very little was actually new. Yet it was far from insignificant. In fact, a lot of people will be buying the stuff that debuted last week in New York. But how much of it is actually new?

Some of the new stuff hidden under new LEDs and new paint colors and new wheels is actually pretty old. That's because the practice of constantly refining cars every year with new pieces, instead of waiting for a major external redesign, has been coming back.

The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta is the New York debut that sums up the issue the best. Compare the 2015 Jetta to the 2014. Really, there are new options, new trim inside and out and a new diesel engine. But compare it to the car that was launched back in 2011 and there's quite a lot new. That's because the 2014 Jetta underwent a raft of under-the-skin improvements – turbo four, 4-wheel disc brakes and multi-link rear suspension on all cars and squishy dash tops on most models.

Since 2012, there have been incremental improvements to shed the de-contented image the Jetta has battled with the press and loyal customers. But the 2015, which is hardly a facelift, is the chance to actually get peoples' attention again.

Compare that strategy to something like the 2015 Hyundai Sonata. It isn't a clean-sheet redo and even the powertrains are very similar. However, it has a significantly different outside and inside. There's a noticeable increase in space on the inside, and Hyundai's touting improved steering and handling. Basically, they've fixed what people complained about the most on the old Sonata.

The thing is, that previous Sonata changed very little over its lifespan. Over four model years, there were new touchscreens, button changes and restyled wheels, but nothing that constituted a serious facelift or major engineering changes – unlike the 2015 Toyota Camry. Good thing it was a steady seller all its life, because Hyundai had very little Sonata news to talk about for a long time.

The idea of these major changes comes from the current Honda Civic. The 2014 Honda Civic represented the third time in three years there was a "new" Civic at an auto show. In 2012, "new" meant "restyled to look a lot like the old one, only worse." Since then, new means better. Honda has to make big noise about the changes to the Civic, otherwise it would be overlooked like the Jetta's changes.

Like many people, I hate being told about a "new" car that isn't really new. But if you're going to take out all of the awful bits of a car and replace them with good, new ones, it might pay to put on a show with lights and music and dancing to tell everyone about how you've made it better.

Not all of us are going to look under the car to observe a new suspension, just saying.

Photo: Getty Images