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Orange County Auto Show Report

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September 27, 2011 – Comments (0)

Board: Cars and Drivers

Author: ptheland

Yesterday afternoon I ditched work early and went to that famous auto show in Southern California. No, not the LA Auto Show - that's coming in a few weeks. This was the Orange County Auto Show. What? You haven't heard of it? Neither have I until I saw an ad for it on Thursday. A bit of googling turned up a free ticket for Thursday or Friday, so I got one and headed to the Anaheim Convention Center. As usual, free isn't exactly free. My car had to pay almost minimum wage to the parking spot it sat in while I wandered around the show.

Honda had the spot in front of the entrance, so I started there. I discovered -- nothing really that new. I didn't notice a Clarity there, so no comments on that. I sat in a Fit (a Jazz for those outside of North America). It's much like I thought it would be. Reasonably comfortable, decent space in the back for 2 adults. Adequate day-to-day trunk space, which becomes quite large when you fold up the back seats. Quite versatile.

Moving on, Kia was next. I was curious about the Soul. Like many of the cars there, it's got looks to die for. Well, by that I mean after looking at it you want to either die or to kill the designers, it's so bad. So I closed my eyes and hopped in. From that vantage point, you can't see the outside, so it's not as bad. Interior was typical Kia - not bad, not great, just very adequate. It was getting out that I noticed something. It was really easy to get out of. So I got in and out a couple more times. It really is very easy.

Remember when Scion introduced the xB? As a brand, they're going for the young market, first time new car buyers. Lots of "hip" stuff. And they were surprised when oldsters started buying the xB because it was easy to get in and out of, as well as being a decent value. Well, Kia has beaten them with the Soul. In spite of the rap-playing rodents in their commercials, this is a car that anyone with a hip replacement or a bad knee will want to check out.

On to Scion. I sat in the new xB a couple of times - mostly for comparison to the Soul. But the iQ caught my eye. I heard from another attendee that they sell the iQ under the Toyota brand outside the North American market. It's one of several cars encroaching on the Smart car in the micro car arena. Man, is it small on the outside. Still, it wasn't horrible to get into, and once in I had no trouble finding a comfortable driving position. I think the designers included back seats as a joke. Yes, there's two of them back there. But it's a place I wouldn't wish on my enemies, let alone my family. There's just an inch or so between the rear glass and the rear headrest. I'm not sure how much crumple zone that provides. The only upside is that when you get rear-ended by some monster SUV, the end would be quick.

Next up was the first display of exotics. Rolls Royce, Lotus, Lamborghini, Porsche, Bentley. All behind barriers to keep us riff raff out. Being a compliant riff raff, and not seeing any sales critters there, I just moved on.

BMW was across the aisle. Two neat rows of white BMW's in perfect German alignment. They also had a couple of Mini's there. Behind ropes with "do not touch" signs. Since that was the main thing I wanted to look at from BMW, I didn't spend any more time there.

Infiniti, Land Rover, Volvo. Nothing eye catching there. Jaguar. Aha! An XKR-S on display. And you can actually sit in it! Yep - it's as pretty in person as it looks in pictures. Nice, modern interior. But alas, all the cars on display have their batteries disconnected, so there's no listening to it. (Several manufacturers powered up parts of their cars with inverters plugged into 110 AC, but motors had to be disabled.)

Ferrari and Maserati were the next stop. Once again, more oogling but no touching.

Audi had several cars on display. As Jeremy Clarkson said, more cars for German cement salesmen. Well, except for the R8. No barriers around this one. Instead, it's on a huge pedestal festooned with "keep off the pedestal" signs. I suppose it would have been fine to get in the R8 if you could levitate your way to it. More exotica dreams smashed.

VW. Lots of cars to make the Audi's look interesting. I had to sit in the Routan just to see for myself that it's really a Chrysler in disguise. It is.

GM had the second biggest display area in the show. All the trucks and SUVs we're familiar with. Buicks still filling the gap between Chevy and Cadillac. Speaking of which, they had several copies of the CTS-V there - all open and available to sit in and touch. I spent several minutes talking with another attendee about the CTS-V wagon, much of it almost laughing at the crazy fun of a 550+ HP station wagon.

In contrast, Chevy had two Corvettes there - a ZR-1 and a run-of-the-mill convertible. The ZR was not roped off, just locked. The convertible was filled with kids dreaming of a Corvette as their first car. But they did have several Camaros there to try on for size. The Volt was crowded with people trying to get a look or sit in it. I didn't want to wait, so I just moved on.

At the Lexus display, I took a quick look at the LFA on the display pedestal - repeating a theme it was off limits. I've seen a couple of CT 200h examples in the wild recently and took a closer look. Like many of the smaller cars, there was actually decent room for my 6 foot, 200 lb frame. The electric seat didn't work (likely disabled for the show) and felt like it was left in the highest position. That made the headroom under the sunroof a bit tight. I think it would have been fine if I could have adjusted the seat. I don't think Lexus would appreciate me calling it a station wagon, but that's what it is. The back storage area was smaller than I expected. It also had a remote control for the nav system located at the base of the center console. I didn't notice it at first, and never got a good chance to try it out. It looks like a cross between a touchpad and a trackball for your computer. It might be an interesting way to distract you from the task of driving.

Acura is standardizing on a new corporate look for their front ends. It's a bit reminiscent of the angular Cadillac look. Like the Caddy's, perhaps it will grow on my after a while. Until then, they are the ugliest line up of the bunch. And I'd have to vote the ZDX as the worst offender. The nose is too high. The back is sloped all wrong and it's too high. Really, the whole car is too high. It looks like a smaller version of BMWs X6. I even noted that to the sales lady and got the stupidest answer of the show. "We had that look first, before BMW." Well, maybe you introduced in in Japan before BMW, but the X6 has been on sale here in the US for several years now and the ZDX is new for 2011 or 2012 (I can't remember which). It doesn't really matter, as both cars are hopeless. The front seats of the ZDX aren't bad, but getting into the back is a head-banging proposition. I hit my head, and proceeded to watch several other people do the same. The rear door is too small for anyone over the age of 4. It seems the best way to get into the back is to do what the sales lady suggested - it's a coupe, so you get in head first. That generally means you literally have to crawl to get in. Once in, it's not bad to sit in. I've been in much worse. But then you've got to get out. The first step is apparently to remove your legs, because there's no room for them to get out the door.

Toyota, Hyundai, and Mazda all seem to blur together at this point. I don't recall any standouts - good or bad. Ditto for Ford. I did get in a Flex, as I haven't done that before. And I got a close look at the Transit. Please don't confuse this Transit with the European version. It's a minivan with a high roof. I was surprised at how high the floor was. It's actually stepped up 3 or 4 inches from the driver's floor. It might make things easier for loading and unloading. But it really kills off the possibilities of passenger use. It's way too high a step for that. Doesn't seem like a brilliant move to me.

Chrysler had the largest display, mainly due to the space devoted to Jeep. It was also the most interesting. Most of the other cars are there too look at. The Jeeps could give you a brief performance demonstration. They had several off-road type obstacles set up in a little oval track. There were telephone poles, a place that balanced some models on two wheels, and a huge slope - something around 30 or 40 degrees up to the ceiling of the room and back down. Every model Jeep had could get over all of these obstacles. Naturally, you couldn't do the driving. But you did get to ride along. There was quite a line for the rides, so I skipped that. But it was fun to watch, particularly when the drivers figured out they had a "screamer" in the back seat. They'd do their best to bounce around as much as possible.

Two things struck me while watching the driving demos. These same 4 or 5 cars were doing this all day with no complaints at all. And while it technically wasn't understeer, you could watch the front tires slip along the smooth concrete floor of the hall as they made their U turns at each end.

Out in the parking lot, several makers had cars available for test drives. But the drives were limited to a coned course around the parking lot, there were long lines, and I was on a bit of a time schedule. So I took a pass on those.

Noticeable by their absence - Mercedes Benz. I wanted to take a closer look at the newest Sprinter, as well as see what some of their exotics look like in person. Oh well.

A couple of overall observations.

The fuel mileage of the typical mid size sedan is surprisingly good. Many are in the mid to high 20's in the city and over 30 on the highway. The smaller cars aren't that much better, with many not getting to 40 on the highway. I didn't get into a detailed comparison, so that might be the most underpowered versions of mid size sedans compared to compacts and sub-compacts with a significantly better power to weight ratio.

I was surprised at the lack of technology in most of the displays. Much of the information about the cars on display was on a simple static panel near the car. Honda was the notable exception. They used iPads to display car information. That made the info much more interactive and allowed for a more varied and personalized experience. It also gave Honda the ability to display more information about available options.

After spending just a couple of hours, all of the models start to run together. There were very few standouts on display. Test drives might change that impression, but the static displays started to look like carbon copies after a while.

--Peter

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