Reflections On A Non-Major Auto Show
By Kevin Miller
Every November, the Puget Sound Auto Dealers Association puts on the Seattle Auto Show. The show is largely a retail event, with mostly dealer-showroom vehicles on display, mostly dealer sales staff on hand to answer questions, and very little that a high-falootin’ auto writer like me hasn’t already seen. All the same, that many cars in one place is certain to draw me in. So I found myself driving through heavy Seattle rain on a Thursday afternoon to get to the show.
Happily the Volvo stand was just inside the front door. And among the handful of Volvo vehicles on display was an XC60 T6. The XC60 won’t hit showrooms until sometime in late winter or early spring of 2009, but when it does it should be a serious contender in its class of mid-sized, 5-seat crossovers. The XC60 on display had very soft two-tone leather upholstery, class-leading interior plastics, and a real oak “floating console” which was incredibly artful. The 281 HP T6 should move the XC60 nicely. It was a pleasant surprise to see that vehicle on Volvo’s stand in Seattle, but Volvo needs to drum up customer excitement however they can. The XC60 is a good way to do that.
Just across the way was a “prototype” Toyota Venza. Venza is taller and more vertical at the front than suggested by photos I’ve seen. Its doors were locked, and the Toyota folks had put large stickers on the windows reading “PROTOTYPE- Doors Are Locked”. The Venza looked spacious inside, a larger vehicle than the XC60 I’d just been looking at. Even through the closed window, I was able to see the same sub-par, hard dash-top material that was in the Highlander I reviewed earlier this year. I’m sure Toyota will sell plenty of these Camry-based vehicles, but they won’t be selling one to me. It is interesting that advertisements for the Seattle Auto Show touted that Venza would “debut” at the show, yet the only Venza there was locked up tight.
Another interesting vehicle labeled “prototype” was the Hyundai Elantra Touring, essentially a wagon version of the Elantra. The Elantra Touring looked very sporty in a metallic blue color, and it was unlocked so I was able to check out its spacious boot and back seat. I was pretty impressed by the unexpected Elantra Touring.
Wandering down to the BMW stand, I was surprised to see how much of the X5 interior is used in the X6. The dash, center console, and gauges are all identical. Standing next to the X6 for the first time, I was pretty unimpressed, as the X6 exemplifies the idea of form totally triumphing over functionality. And while photos of the X6 show an interesting shape, it is decidedly odd-looking up close.
At the show I had the chance to check out two different versions of the Ford Flex, one fully loaded with very nice looking leather seats (in the signature burgundy color with white roof shown in so many media photos), the other an entry level model all in metallic light blue. The car looks much better in the dark red with the white roof, but the interior materials, especially the cloth seat upholstery, still looked impressively rich.
Because this auto show features cars from dealer inventory, the selection can be diverse. Mercedes-Benz was highlighting its Certified Pre-Owned program, and a pre-owned E55 AMG wagon was on display for that purpose. I was able to sit inside of this ultimate family hauler and daydream, though spending $49,995 for that particular car doesn’t seem like the best investment.
The show also featured the Nissan GT-R, and a few models of Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and even two Rolls-Royce (a sedan and a coupe). Of course, all of these vehicles were behind barriers where access was forbidden, so I could only see them from the outside of the barriers. There was no point in lingering.
As I’m helping a family member shop for a new small 5-door to replace the Mazda Protege she has worn out, I paid special attention to the Suzuki SX4 hatch, Nissan Versa hatch, Scion xD, and Honda Fit. I’ll be featuring the shopping experience in upcoming posts, as it’s truly a buyer’s market for vehicles right now.
Among the vehicles at the Seattle Auto Show that didn’t impress me were the Volkswagen Routan minivan, whose interior materials let it down, and the Chevrolet Aveo5, whose recent exterior nose job did nothing to address the low-rent interior materials. Conversely, the Ford Focus and Chevrolet HHR had interiors that looked much better than I had expected.
Overall, the Seattle Auto Show was pretty much just as expected. Very little unexpected, but plenty of great cars to look over. For any of our readers in the Seattle area who are interested in going, the show runs through Sunday at the Qwest Field Events Center. Personally, this has gotten me excited for NAIAS in Detroit this January.
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