Saturday, March 06, 2010

Auto Show Pt II

As Greg and I wandered back to the south end of the vast Bartle Hall Exhibition Center, we again mused on the state of the auto market. A couple of years ago, we both remarked at what a winning line up Saturn had, the Aura on the top of my list for a new car. But 2 short years later, Saturn is gone and dead after only 20 years.

Thus I looked with a jaundiced eye towards the Lincoln and Mercury part of the Ford Motor Company empire. Lincoln has almost always been a distant second to Cadillac in the luxo wars. A big boost in sales in the 80's when Cadillac produced junk after junk (V8-6-4, diesels, Allante, Cimmaron, etc.) kept Lincoln alive. But the 90s and aughts have been less kind. Staying with the regal and fabulous Town Car too long, Lincoln's image suffered. I kind of wonder how long they will be around; Mercury especially as the rumors of its demise have bee around for several years now.

The new MKS and MKZ sedans and MKT (don't they know that was a railroad, better known as the Katy??) and MKX crossover/SUVs are worlds away from the Town Car (still available at a wow! 46K, every penny must be profit) but somehow just seem to miss the mark. Many auto wags felt that the better buy was the new Taurus for 10K less. The MKS, with its new, more aggressive grille, was better inside than the Taurus and felt less claustrophobic, but looked a bit cheap compared to the (gasp) Hyundai Genesis.

The Mercury line up was nothing more than regrilled Fords. I can only imagine how long they will be around. Mercury does not get a version of the Taurus so it makes do with Milan (Fusion), Marriner (Escape), Mountaineer (Explorer) and the long-in-the-tooth Grand Marquis.

GM had the whole southeast side, with Chevrolet and Buick taking up the lion's share. Cadillac was in the middle with GMC trucks; missing of course was Pontiac after 84 years.

GM frankly had little new and terribly exciting this year. Lots of Camaro models in every conceivable bright color, sleek Corvettes and big, brawny trucks were the highlights. The well received Malibu was totally unchanged but is selling well, it is still quite new and competitive. They need to keep watch of the Ford Fusion and the Kia and Hyundai onslaught, in my opinion, or they will be caught napping. Absent from this show were two cars that could reinvent Chevrolet as a marque, the new Cruise and the electric Volt. The Cruise with an emission friendly and powerful 1.4 litre 4 is a big bold step above the Cobalt which in itself was a big step above the Cavalier. Looking like a bold, mini-Malibu, it should do well against the more swoopy and funky Ford Fiesta in the small car field. The Volt is a game changer, pure and simple. Finally, just maybe, we will see a viable, practical and conventional electric car.

GM's surprise is a resurgent Buick, for which my 1990 Buick, the faithful Dunbar, rejoices. The snazzy Lacrosse, more elegant (side portholes even) Lucerne and SUV Enclave have garnered rave reviews. Soon to be joined by the new, entry level (26K) Regal, Buick's line up looked strong. The luxo Lucerne had better looking, more luxurious fittings inside than the more expensive Lincoln MKS, in my opinion. The bold, slightly retro grill (recalling the big, toothy 1950's) looked fun and bold without being grotesque like the Lincoln. The Lucerne Super ( I love that Buick is keeping a modicum of its historic names like Super and Regal) with a Cadillac Northstar V8 is to die for, portholes and all. Buick is going to be successful in the upper ranks, making well equipped luxo cars at a reasonable price.

Greg and I ignored the trucks. Despite being a farm boy, Greg is not a truck fan and of course neither am I. It does bear a mention that trucks are today more "Cowboy Cadillacs" than ever before.

Speaking of Caddies, the 2011 Cadillac line up features a newly redesigned and less angular CRX crossover that is an improvement on the trucky former model. The front is bigger and bolder (as is the trend) but more powerful and refined in every way. Should be a leader in the crowded luxo-crossoever field. The full line up of Caddies is minus the Corvette based XLR sport coupe but included a new CRX sport wagon, one of the few station wagons available nowadays. Tiger Woods can replace his broken Escalade with a greener Escalade hybrid at a cool 73K. The CTS family, starting at 35K and going up to 62 with the powerful, 556 hp CTS-V is making Cadillac a viable Standard of the World again.

One of the sadder moments of the show was the once wonderful Chrysler-Dodge display. Nothing new, just warmed over almost pathetic, cheap looking sedans. The once mighty Chrysler 300C is looking dated and unchanged (as it is), but still the leader in the new high-pockets, small green house look. Greg looked over a new PT Cruiser, little changed from his 2001 model. Chrysler needs something new.. now. Jeep too. Only the Camaro baiting, niche market Challenger had any interest going. We'll see if the crazy alliance with Fiat is any more successful than the American Motors dalliance with Renault.

We glanced at the Subarus, mostly funky off road type cars. At least the ugly Tribeca has been redesigned. The sedans look competent and are nicely redesigned. Maybe there is hope after all for this funky, outsider's brand.

Kia has come on strong lately and was a big surprise for me. I had a Kia rental car that was a tin can on wheels, an early model Rio. A Kia Rio will set you back little, clicking every option on an automatic transmission LX Rio (power windows and locks, cruise, heated mirrors, upgraded audio, spoiler, bluetooth and more for under 17K. Makes a Smart car look silly frankly.

Kia's motto is the power to surprise and certainly I was by the well done and stylish Kia Forte "Koup" and sedan. A top of the line, red, 2.4L auto transmission Forte Koup with leather, heated seats, and sunroof was a blip over 21K. My surprise was the stylish EX Forte sedan in a fabulous Dark Cherry exterior and leather trimmed "coffee" interior with sunroof and auto trans for less than 20K. Again a Smart looks dumb in my opinion.

With thoughts of margaritas and wonderful Mexican treats at Teocali, we ended our review of the new cars of 2010.

My summary:

Car I'd want if money was no object: Maserati Quattroporte. Runner up Jaguar XJ
Sport Car: Maserati Coupe
Sport Car I could afford: Kia Forte Koup
Luxo Cruiser: Hyundai Genesis or Buick Lucerne (a toss up here)
Mid Priced Car: Chevy Malibu
Car I could actually, maybe afford if I tried: Kia Forte

1 comment:

Cami said...

My husband and I went to the autoshow this evening at Bartle Hall, and I was not impressed. Usually it takes us at least 3 hours to walk through, however tonight, it took us a measley hour and a half. And that was with us lugging our 3 month old son.