OC Auto Show Impressions

And now, I will rattle on about cars for a while.  I stayed in San Diego this weekend to visit with friends, and having learned on the radio earlier in the week that the annual Orange County Auto show is underway, drove up to have a look around.  I’ve always loved car shows, even when I’m not in the market for a car; I look at it as an aspect of my basic love of gadgets, of which cars are simply one of the larger examples.

Of course, the one bad thing about car shows is you can usually judge the cars only on their physical appearance, not their performance or handling—obvious important factors in evaluating a car.  The Orange County show addresses that in part by hosting test drives outside the convention center, but they weren’t doing those yet on Friday night.  Still, it’s nice being able to see a lot of cars up close and compare their looks head to head.

Some impressions…

The show itself – I was surprised how many people there were there, considering this is a car show during a recession—and in the state most likely to take home the Economic Basket Case of the Year award for 2010.  On the other hand, admission to the show is only $10.  Maybe this is what qualifies as a cheap date night these days.

imageHyundai – I feel a certain (admittedly ridiculous) pride as I look at Hyundai these days.  The first car I bought with my own money was a Hyundai, a 1994 Excel that was the only thing I as a starving college student could afford when my previous car was stolen and stripped.  That model year was a noticeable step up from the first generation design that got Hyundai a foothold in North America, and, in my humble opinion, the first foreshadowing of their ascent in respectability.  The cars I saw at this show were nice—every bit as nice as, and generally around ten grand less expensive than the more prestigious brands for which Hyundai is gunning.  In terms of materials, design, sitting behind the wheel of the yellow Genesis Coupe at the show was barely distinguishable from sitting in my G35.  And that’s not a BMW 5-series in the picture to the right, that’s a Sonata.  Once just a click above the Excel in Hyundai’s product line, the Sonata has become an impressive car.

Mazda MX-5 hard top convertible – I drove a Miata in the early 00s, and loved it.  On a scenic, twisty road, you’ll drive anything as fun.  I sold it in 2006, on the other hand, because I was driving back and forth between Houston and Baton Rouge for work every week—on I-10, a road with no twists and pitifully little scenery.  The severely limited recline on the seat really took its toll. The appearance of the hard top model a few years ago caught my eye, and I finally had a chance to sit in one at the show.  I like the look.  I like the updates they’ve made to the cabin, reminiscent of the RX-8’s retro styling, yet still recognizably Miataesque.  I don’t like that there are so few options for cabin tech; yes, the simplicity is nice, but it’s not like a nav system adds a lot of weight.  And I still don’t like the lack of recline.

BMW 3-series convertible – the Cabrio is a very nice car, certainly… and I’m sure I’ve gone on here in the past about how much more I like the styling of the E90 over the E46 model.  The example at the show was a beautiful red 335 with beige leather.  The only problem… once I was sitting in the driver’s seat, I found it just didn’t inspire me that much.  Stylistically it felt a bit… pedestrian.  A shame, since this car is routinely heralded as the finest car in its class.  If I were to buy one, it had better be soon, because I don’t care for the redesigned look predicted to appear in 2012.

BMW Z4 convertible – Now you’re talking.  I liked the basic idea of the first generation Z4, but I didn’t care for its appearance.  The tail lights were particularly in deplorable.  With the arrival of the second generation in 2008, all of my complaints were addressed decisively.  Cabin feels decidedly more comfortable than that of the MX-5, though it’s still plenty small.  The driver’s eye line makes the hood looks like its long enough to land a plane on; reminds me of the Ford Mustang in that regard.  Highly gadgety cabin, at least at the trim level of the car at the show.  Overall: Definitely on my short “would buy” list.

Audi A5 convertible – seeing this car was one of the things that drew me up I-5 to the show; I’d read reviews and seen videos that made it seem very appealing.  And it is… it’s got good looks and a nice interior.  In the end, though, it, like the 3 series, left me a bit cool.  Am I getting jaded?

Audi TTS convertible – Nice looking car.  MX-5 sized cabin.  Sort of weird ergonomics where the driving position is concerned… the door sills are higher, but the top of the window is a lot lower—low enough that I could look over the top just by craning my neck.  The top was down at the show, but judging from where the window frame fell, I think I’d be worried about head room with it up.

Subaru WRX – A bit on the boy racer side for me, but an impressive little car nonetheless, built with a straightforward formula: take an econbox; add a turbo, watch it reach 60 in 4.7 seconds.  The interior was nicer than I expected, and the headroom was conspicuously generous—it felt like I was sitting in a London Cab.  Oh, and did I mention the part where it do zero to 60 in 4.7 seconds?  I though I should point that out again, just in case.

Porsche Boxster and Cayman – Snobs; Porsche had these cars were hidden away behind railings at the show.  Both are expensive, both are reportedly excellent.  I’d consider buying either, though I think paying that much for a car might make my eyes bleed.  I’m drawn to the idea of the convertible Boxster, but I much prefer the look of the Cayman, which I think is the best looking Porsche made today, and one of the most beautiful cars on the road.

G37 hard top convertible – the convertible descendant of my G35 coupe, and a car I dreamed of them building for years.  Easily the most beautiful of the convertibles I saw at the show; the interior is nice—still very reminiscent of the G35.  Nice high-tech cabin, though I think Infiniti makes things needlessly complicated.  Also, I did not appreciate the insult to my intelligence implicit in calling the space at the back of the car a “trunk”, as it all but vanishes with the top down.  Call it the “roof locker.”  Overall impression: curiously ambivalent.

Volkswagon Eos ConvertibleVW Eos – How did I not know this car existed?  I’ll admit I’ve tended to be largely blind to the VW product line until just recently, when I rented and was impressed by last year’s Jetta.  On the other hand, the Eos is at least arguably within the zone of the sort of car I would look for: a small, turbo-powered convertible. 

Nissan?  Toyota?  Lexus?  Mercedes?  Nothing that particularly caught my attention here.

Buick?  Cadillac?  GMC?  You are all dead to me.

And finally, the one car I will buy if price is suddenly no object: the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder. Because it’s good to have long term goals.  (Though I’m not sure how I feel about orange; they had a silver car there as well that I think I prefer.)

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