Friday, March 05, 2010

Auto Show

Greg and I always try to attend the Greater Kansas City Auto show each March and this year was no exception. Both of us are pretty committed car nuts, so this is 2 hours of pure pleasure for us. Looking forward to the treat of some fine Mexican food and margaritas afterward was an added incentive.

Unless you have been in the bush or hiding under the proverbial rock, everyone is aware that this has been a rocky year for auto makers. GM and Chrysler Bankruptcy and reorganization, brand names and models disappearing and then Toyota's recent downfall from grace.

Entering the vast Bartle Hall exhibition center, Ford greeted us as usual. They must have paid someone off to always be at the very entrance of the place for all the shows I remember. Ford has been the only US Big 3 not to take bankruptcy or bailouts and frankly they seem to be the strongest right now. The Fusion is the North American Car of the Year and a worthy competitor. I have driven one and found it competent and peppy, even in a basic 4 cyl form as a rental car. The Focus emerged as one of the top buys in the crazy "Cash for Clunkers" scheme and the Ford trucks rein supreme in their class. The Edge seemed to be a very attractive cross over, and the Flex a funky alternative to the really big SUVs. The 2011 Edge, however, looked clunky with the big honking nose, a step back to me.

The new Taurus has been getting a lot of press and was one of my fantasy buys if money suddenly rained upon me. But sitting in it and seeing it up close, I felt the high green house with massive doors and a chopped bustle made the car look stubby and blocky. The interior felt claustrophobic with the small windows. Visibility was nil. So the Taurus is off my list. The upcoming Fiesta will be a winner.

I am not a big Toyota fan, even though I had a Rav4 10 years ago as the last brand new car I ever bought. Their troubles were evident as the display area was not humming with lookers. As we walked by commenting on how the Rav4 has gotten so big and expensive a fellow yelled "bonsai!!", referring to the kamikaze-like acceleration problems of late. Well built, popular as hell, they will survive for sure, but like vanilla ice cream, they do not inspire much excitement.

Similarly we brushed pass the Hondas, noting the new Accord Crosstour was kind of ugly as was the redesigned, fussy CR-V. The Fit is popular and has tons of room for a small SUV or whatever it is.

We spent a lot of time in the Hyundai display. Greg is the proud owner of a new 2010 Tucson, which he has barely driven as he does not want to get it all dirty! Hyundai used to make tin can cars that were laughed at. Not any more. The Sonata sedan is slick, comfortable, very well equipped and a fabulous value. The big Genesis is even slicker and more stylish, especially in coupe form. With a 4.6 V8 under 40K, it is a steal. The small Accent and Elantra are quite well equipped for under 20K. But frankly, the Genesis would be my new fantasy luxo car, replacing the Taurus.

On down were the big boys, the high priced makes from Aristocrat Motors. These are the ones people drool over but of course can not buy. Most are roped off to keep us mere mortals away. The Mercedes Benzes were out in force. The line up is being redesigned and frankly they look more like Hyundai models each time. With maintenance costs high, I would not have one of the damn things. The slick supercar SL and SLRs were fabulous to look at and fabulous in cost at 100K and up. They were certainly the most photographed.

Maserati had its coupe and Quattroporte at a cool 150K. They look aggressive and slick, with interiors of fine leather, wood and polished metal. I wouldn't turn one down if given to me!

Smart cars have made quite a splash in the US market in the last few years. Small, tiny actually, 2 seaters with very advanced construction, these 4 wheel carts have become quite a status symbol with the upper income brackets looking for something to stand out in the crowd. I certainly see more of them in the high rent areas than I do anywhere else. Frankly you can get a more substantial and better equipped Kia, Hyundai, Focus or Cobalt for the same money. But then you would not stand out in the crowd.

The newly revitalized Jaguars are certainly better built, more powerful and oh so sleek. But higher in price than ever before, thus they have cast off that poor man's supercar reputation and gone right into the heart of BMW, Benz and Porsche. I'd take an XJ in red with those creamy dove gray seats, thank you.

Little time was spent among the Land Rover and Porsche lines, only to gawk at the new 4 door Panamerica, Porsche's first 4-door offering. I'd still take the XJ. Volkswagen had their whole line up, but we just talked about the problems two of our Volkswagen owner friends are having, the poorly designed rear door of the new big CC sedan that catches your shirt or coat and all the silly names of the cars like Routan, Tiguan, Passat and Touareg.

We reached the half way point by now, turning around and heading south. Ahead of us were GM, Kia, Chrysler-Dodge, Subaru, Mazda, Suzuki and Lincoln-Mercury. We suddenly noted the show was a bit smaller this year, and for good reason. Rest in Peace Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and SAAB, all of which were either missing or discontinued. BMW and Nissan, still very much alive, did not send cars to the show for some reason.

Tomorrow: A Kia surprise and a Buick renaissance.

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