Friday, December 30, 2011

Report From the Indianapolis Auto Show

My buddy Bill and I made our (almost) annual outing to the Indianapolis Auto Show this week. The Indianapolis show isn't one of the big press events like the Detroit, New York or Los Angeles shows; rather, it's more representative of the rank and file shows that show up everywhere else.

I was impressed that all of the product representatives that we spoke to seemed to know their stuff. That was far from the case just a few years ago. I have some other "seat of the pants" impressions of cars that I had only read about in on the web and in magazines.

The cars that were better than expected:

The Chevrolet Sonic was only available in hands-on form in the sedan version. This is the lowest end Chevrolet that is sold here, but quite honestly, the majority of Americans could use this vehicle as their only car with very little inconvenience. It is decently roomy for four, front and rear. In fact of the A&B sized cars at the show, the Chevrolet seemed to be the most roomy overall, with the Toyota IQ matching it in front seat room. The Sonic also has a decent trunk and a very respectable 138 horsepower turbo 1.4 liter engine. Chevrolet is selling Sonics as fast as the plant can churn them out. The hatchback Sonic has been dubbed Chevy's "Tater Tot" by loving fans.

The Volkswagen Passat - From pictures, this car was purely unexciting, a generic box with a so-so engine and a downgraded interior. In person, what stands out is how roomy this car is. It has by far the best rear seat legroom in the midsized segment and a good trunk to boot. This is the car I would want to rent for my family and its luggage. This is what Chevrolet should be selling as the Impala.

The Chrysler 200 - I can't believe I'm saying this. The Sebring had one of the worst interiors in the car industry. The redesigned 200 has one of the best in its price range. It is better looking in person than in photos.

The cars that were the most disappointing:

The Toyota Prius V. They built a bigger Prius, but they forgot to give it a comfortable rear seat. The hard rear seat was fit for a penalty box.

The Fiat 500. They didn't build this for me. If you are little, you might give this a try. Just don't try to get anybody in the back while there is someone in the front.

The Lincoln Everythings - All of the Lincolns were vastly overpriced compared to more appealing competitors of many makes. This makes me sad because it wasn't too long ago that Lincolns were my aspirational vehicles.

The Buick Verano: This new compact from Buick is built on the same platform a the Chevrolet Cruze. I really like the Cruze, and I thought I'd like the Buick even more. The problem is that the Chevrolet Cruz has a rear seat that is just big enough. The Buick seems to have a lot less legroom in the back. I think this is because of a thicker front seat. The Buick Regal seems to have the same problem. The Lacrosse is great in the back. The trunk is pretty iffy in the 4-cylinder model with the eAssist helper motor though.

Most improved player: that would be Chrysler. With the 200, an updated (though pricey) 300, freshened Jeeps and the new 500, Chrysler rose from the near dead in the past year. I'm not into trucks, but I'd have to say that the Ram Sport on display for $26,xxx was head and shoulders better than the (now discontinued) Ford Ranger that was on display for $28,xxx. The Ranger had 4 wheel drive, but the Ram had a Hemi V-8, a full-sized body, but it still beat the Ranger in EPA economy ratings.

The brand with the most "incompletes": That would be Mazda. Mazda desperately needs to move its SkyActiv technology into its line if it wants to survive in the marketplace.

The two most important cars that I didn't get to try out: That honor would be shared between the 2013 Ford Escape and the 2012 Toyota Camry. There was a new Escape on a rotating display, but you couldn't get in it or even view it up close. I thought it looked pretty good, but I heard several people in attendance morning the passing of their old faithful boxy version. I was a little surprised at how commonly that feeling was expressed. Now, the Camry: I didn't check it out at all. I know it is usually the most popular car in the United States, but I didn't have enough interest in it to get around to looking at it, sorry. No, not really.

Now for a (more than) marginally related video. Indianapolis Reporter Kevin Rader interviewed the most important automotive analysts in the region for his report on the Indianapolis Auto Show. That guy interviewed at 1:25 in the video seems almost as handsome as he is astute.

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