Monday, March 1, 2010

2010 Auto Show

Hopefully, this weekend featured the last winter storm of the season. But I’m not counting on it. Danny and I had to clean the driveway twice. But Mason enjoyed the snow. Sunday afternoon, we played fetch using snowballs. I remained astonished at Mason’s keen senses, as he was able to locate the snowballs I threw using his sense of smell.

Saturday, Danny and I braved the weather to head to the 2010 Auto show at the IX center, picking up Gerson on the way. With my Civic nearly paid off and with years of life left in it, I’m not in the market for a new car. But I do like to see what’s out there.

I was disappointed that the Honda display did not have the new CR-Z. I doubt a 2-seater would be practical for me, but the idea of a hybrid sports car is intriguing and I wanted to see it. I did check out the Crosstour, which is basically an Accord with a hatchback, and the Insight, which is disappointingly skimpy. I also looked over the Element. This is a practical possibility for my next vehicle. Ideally, I’d get a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle (the Civic GX was also there). But with a dog to transport and high lip in my driveway (the front apron of my Civic scrapes against it), a smaller car is not so practical anymore.

I've wanted a hybrid, but Insight is a non-starter.

Just for fun, I checked out the Acura TL. A very sweet machine, but I would never own a car that needs premium gas.

Honda’s most direct competitor is Toyota. And here I have a confession: I have never liked Toyotas, and I’ve driven several models including the Matrix, the Prius, the Camry, and of course Danny's Yaris. Toyota is in love with its technology (which recently seems not to have been adequately tested), but I can never get comfortable in their cars. The ergonomics are “bass-akwards”, and I demonstrated to Danny and Gerson how the door handle and controls are in counter-intuitive positions. The same is true for Toyota’s Lexus brand, which continues to leave me cold.

GM had a large display, despite the absence of the late Saturn and Pontiac brands. I did not have the chance to check out the new Chevrolet Cruze, which will be built in Ohio. But the vehicles I saw were the same old, same old – with some moderately new packaging. Only the Buick LaCrosse impressed, and it did so in a big way. This is a true luxury vehicle, reigniting memories of the Buicks of old, and the LaCrosse recently beat out the Lexus ES350 in Motor Trend magazine, and was a Consumer’s Digest 2010 buy of the year. But it’s going to take more than one impressive model to save GM.

I can see myself driving about 20 years.

Even more disappointing than GM was Chrysler. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to buy any Chrysler model, with the possible exception of the Town & Country for families. I’ve only driven one Chrysler in my life, a PT Cruiser which was an underpowered, clumsy bore. (On a side note, I asked a salesperson what was the music on the new Town & Country commercials, and he had no idea.)

As I noticed in 2009, Ford is making a real comeback. There was a time when I swore to never buy a Ford, but now I’m reconsidering. A few years ago, Ford could be counted on to build reliable trucks and nothing more – but now they have a full lineup which impresses at every turn. The entry-level Fiesta is being reintroduced, and it will likely be a strong competitor for the Chevrolet Aveo and the Toyota Yaris. Likewise, the Focus has been spiffed up enough to take on the Civic, and can easily beat the Corolla. The Fusion is easily the best hybrid on the market, far more comfortable than the Prius or Camry, not to mention the Insight. The new Taurus has nothing in common with the old version – it’s now a luxury car that lives up to its bull-like name. If there’s one brand that may steal me from Honda, it’s Ford.

In fact, Ford’s auto lineup (I did not check out the SUVs or trucks) has now become so comprehensive that the Mercury brand, which has only four models, seems to have no purpose. The Milan is merely a rebadged Fusion and the Mariner is a fancy Escape. But if Ford customers want to go more upscale, they are more likely to head to Lincoln.

Danny and Gerson checked out the Smart Fortwo. There is a certain gee-whiz appeal to this vehicle. But it is simply not practical in Cleveland’s climate, and would be impractical for Danny & me in any climate. It is, and will remain, a small niche vehicle: for the single person who never drives more than one friend, doesn’t have to haul more than a few groceries, and never brings a pet (not the mention an infant) for a ride. In a head-to-head collision with a larger vehicle (which means any vehicle on four wheels) it would be clobbered.

Would you trust your loved one's safety to this car?

While at the IX center, we stopped off and had some overpriced food ($9 for a slice of pizza and a soda), had a pushy salesman try to sell us a hot tub, and looked at come classic cars. Disappointingly, the motorcycle display we’d perused at previous shows was nowhere to be seen.

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