New York Auto Show: And the Winners Are...

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- My awards for the best upside surprises to the 2014 New York Auto Show are as follows:

Gold Medal: Kia Sedona minivan

When was the last time the best new car design was a minivan? Never. So this is a first. The Kia Sedona was the most beautiful new car introduced at the New York Auto Show, in my opinion. The lines and proportions are just perfect.

It is designed by Peter Schreyer, who was previously at Audi, and responsible for cars such as the iconic Audi TT. Therefore, it is little wonder that if Audi had made a minivan, this is what it would have looked like.

The Kia Sedona minivan will compete with minivans from primarily Chrysler/Dodge, Honda (HMC) and Toyota (TM). It goes on sale this Fall, and the prices will be set closer to that date.

The overall interior space is similar to the competition. There are two differences in the interior that sets the Kia Sedona apart:

1. Second row first-class seats.

Move over, BMW 7 series, Mercedes S class, Audi A8, Cadillac Escalade, Rolls Royce and Bentley: There is a new limo king in town and his name is Kia Sedona. Yes, this otherwise family-friendly minivan can be equipped with a set of second-row first-class seats that would look right at home in a private jet.

2. Instrument panel.

Unlike the competition, Kia Sedona does not have the "open air" feeling, where you can literally walk between the front seats. For example, the other minivans have their gear shifters located on the steering wheel or close thereby.

Not so the Kia Sedona. The driver's seat feels like sitting in any large car. The gear selector is where it is on most cars, and you can't walk between the front seats.

The controls are laid out in a horizontal theme and I find that it looks mostly like it does in a BMW 7 series, Audi A8, or to a lesser extent in some Mercedes models. The controls looked a lot easier to use than in any of those cars, however.

I don't know yet when Kia will make the all-new 2015 Sedona minivan available to the press in order to be driven. Let's hope it drives as well as it could be superficially experienced at the N.Y. Auto Show introduction.

I never thought it would come to this: Is the best-looking new car in the market a minivan? Looks like it.

Now, all we can hope for is that Kia will make a plug-in electric version of this car available. Actually, one could envision two separate plug-in electric models:

1. All-electric.

This version would have a 90 kWh battery baked into the floorpan, which could be thicker than in other electric cars because the car itself is, of course, much taller. Such a version could be sold for just under $70,000, and it might have a range of 250 miles.

2. Plug-in hybrid.

This version would have a smaller battery, 16 kWh, also baked into the floorpan. It would be supplemented by a four-cylinder gasoline engine under the hood, with a displacement of approximately two liters. The electric range would be just under 30 miles, but the total range of the car would obviously be dependent on the size of the gasoline tank. For example, a 12-gallon tank propelling the minivan to the tune of 30 miles per gallon would yield a 360-mile range after the first 30 electric miles. The price of this version would be around $55,000.

Let's hope Kia develops these two additional variants. If it does, it could come to dominate the new large car segment.

Silver Medal: Nissan's Free Electric Charging

So the second-best item at the N.Y. Auto Show wasn't even a car: It was a free electric car charging network to buyers of a new Nissan (NSANY) Leaf going forward.

Granted, much electric car charging today is already either free to the user, or otherwise not applicable. For example, many electric car buyers -- especially in an area such as Silicon Valley -- have access to free charging at work.

Let's say that you plug your Nissan Leaf into a 110 volt AC outlet at the office. You might get approximately four to five miles of range for every hour plugged in. That means that after eight hours, you have 32 to 40 miles of additional range in the battery. If your commute is only 32 to 40 miles, that means you don't even need any fancier 240 volt charging that might cost a lot more to install.

Of course, at home you pay what you typically pay for electricity at night: Probably a lot less than the nationwide 12 cents per kWh average. In any case, let's say you're plugged in from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.: 12 hours or charge on a 110 volt outlet means 48 to 60 miles of range gained. As you can see, this will work very well for many people who use the Leaf mostly for commuting.

Other than at work and at home, electric car charging is all over the map. Here are some examples of what you may find in parking garages:

1. Parking costs money, and so does the EV charge.

2. Parking is free, but you pay for EV charging.

3. Parking costs money, but EV charging is free.

4. Both parking and EV charging are free.

I have seen examples of all four. In any case, this new Nissan Leaf card will help in two out of those four types.

Bronze Medal: BMW X5 Plug-In Hybrid Concept Prototype

BMW showed a variant of this prototype before, but this was the first time it allowed journalists in the U.S. to drive the car around its U.S. headquarters in New Jersey. The car is intended to enter production in the second half of 2015.

This plug-in hybrid follows the same kind of architectural concept pursued my many other companies, including Mercedes, VW/Audi/Porsche, Ford (F) and Toyota. It pairs an electric motor with a gasoline engine, but the electric motor is so weak that it delivers only "half" (or less than half) the total system power.

Therefore, if you are extremely light-footed, you can drive on electric perhaps approximately 15 miles on what I expect to be the result from the U.S. EPA test cycle. After that, the BMW X5 will function like any other gasoline-electric hybrid. If you floor the accelerator, the gasoline engine kicks in, and with the usual internal combustion engine delay, you get a lot more power.

Two things stand apart with this car:

1. The 4x4 system is the same kind as on the regular X5. This means that the electric motor is not located in the back of the car, and the driveshaft connecting the front and back of the car is still in place.

2. The 8-speed automatic transmission remains in place from the regular gasoline/diesel versions of the X5. This is a bit unusual, given that most cars of this nature tend to shun that type of transmission in favor of a planetary, gear-reducer, or CVT.

The BMW X5 today starts at $53,975. One could envision that this plug-in hybrid would start closer to $60,000. Still, that would not be that bad for a premium SUV where you can drive a decent percentage of your local errands and commute on electric wall-power, but yet never having to worry about any form of range anxiety or charger congestion/malfunction.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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