Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fall 2012 Albany Auto Show

Yesterday, I hit up the Fall 2012 Albany Auto Show at the Empire State Plaza.  My observations:

 Am I getting taller, or are more and more mid-size and full-size family sedans losing rear headroom?  I could not comfortably fit in the back of the Hyundai Sonata or the Nissan Altima, and could only barely fit in the back of the new Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry.  Even the Honda Accord seems to have lost some headroom in its latest redesign, though it was at least passable.  As for the center-rear seat on any of these vehicles, forget about it!  Not a chance!  Do these manufacturers seem to think that six-footers don’t exist anymore?  It’s a shame, because the seats themselves were pretty good in all of these sedans, and legroom wasn’t an issue in any of them.  The fact that I felt like I had more headroom in the back of a Scion TC than most of the aforementioned sedans just doesn’t make sense.  

 Nissan’s display was pretty impressive.  The new Altima is pretty decent, while the redesigned Sentra has shot up enormously in interior packaging and quality.  The back seat in that car is HUGE and was perhaps more comfortable than that in its big brother Altima.  The interior was also significantly more upscale than that of the Sentra I rented this summer while in Indiana.  It had probably the cushiest door armrests I’ve ever experienced.  They also had a Frontier pickup with a six-speed stick.  Surprisingly nice truck!  I’d probably buy one if I was in the market for a pickup.  

 The Dodge Dart, while quite a nice car overall, had ABYSMAL rear seat headroom. 
The Honda Insight absolutely stunk.  Sure, it gets good gas mileage and has a low sticker price for a hybrid, but it’s otherwise pretty terrible.  It just felt cheap in so many ways; it’s like Honda took a page from the American penalty boxes of the mid 90s.  

 The Honda Crosstour’s cloth front seats were awesome (better even than the ones in my Accord, which is odd given that they’re virtually the same car).  However, why would the wagon version of a car have less rear headroom than the sedan version?!

 The Toyota Avalon and Cadillac XTS were both very nice, but not quite as opulent as I’d expect given their missions as the figurative AARP modes of transport.  That, and I unintentionally locked myself in the back seat of the Avalon (the childproof door locks were engaged).  

 The Toyota Camry was pretty unimpressive.  

 The new Ford Fusion was pretty decent, but several of the controls seemed overly complex and the interior space could’ve been managed more efficiently given the car’s humungous exterior size.  

 The Honda CR-V was quite a bit more pleasant to sit in than either the Toyota RAV-4 or the Subaru Forester (both of them felt somewhat cheap).  

 The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport was OK, but its front headrests protruded far too much in front of the seatback itself for a human-shaped driver to be reasonably comfortable.  

 BMW X1 was mighty impressive!

 The Mazda Miata never gets old!

 It’s hard to believe that the Chevy Cruze comes from the same company that made the Cavalier way back when.  I’d go so far as to say that the Cruze has a nicer interior than the new Honda Civic.  That definitely wasn’t the case ten years ago.  

 The Porsches were actually unlocked!  While they were incredible to sit in, I’m not convinced that they were worth four times the asking price of a new Honda Accord LX.  

 The Cadillac ATS was decent but didn’t blow me away.  I also didn’t realize that the base model used a geriatric foot-pedal parking brake as opposed to the electronic one found on the uplevel trims.  

And now onto the vehicles I would seriously consider if I was in the market for a new vehicle.  Before I list the contenders, I would hope that my next car would have as many of the following as possible:  manual transmission, kickin’ stereo, extendable sun visors (one of the best features of my current car), iPhone integration (Bluetooth and USB hookups), good leather seats front and back, lots of cargo flexibility (preferably a wagon or hatchback), and good power and fuel economy.  

 Acura TSX Wagon.  No surprise here.  Fantastic car.  But why won’t they offer it with the TSX sedan’s excellent six-speed manual?  And why doesn’t it have extendable sun visors when the (cheaper) Accord on which it’s based has them?

 Acura ILX.  Surprisingly nice interior given its Civic roots, but backseat headroom stinks, the sun visors don’t extend, and you can get a stick shift and surround sound, but not on the same ILX.  The final nails in the coffin for this one are the one-piece folding rear seat (as opposed to split) and the fact that it’s not that much cheaper than the larger and better TSX.  

 Ford Focus hatchback.  This one was impressive.  They had a Titanium edition 5 speed model at the show, though I would also seriously consider the new ST edition (you’d sacrifice some luxury for a huge boost in power and handling).    It ticked most of the boxes on my list, but at nearly $30K as equipped, it’s dangerously close to entry-level luxury car territory and it’s a FOCUS.  That, and one of the power window switches was catching on the surrounding trim; seems like a pretty bad build quality gaffe on a pricey new car.  

 Mazda CX-5.  You can get one for just over $20K with a six-speed and a decent list of standard equipment.  And it gets 35 MPG on the highway, which is exceptional for a small crossover.  It REALLY impressed me!  But why, why, WHY can’t I get decent options (and colors) without being required to buy an automatic transmission?  They might not even include Bluetooth on the stick-shift model and they definitely don’t offer the upgraded stereo on the base model.  That said, the base six-speed model is still an enormous value with awesome MPG!

 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI, Golf TDI, GTI, and Passat TDI (all with six-speed stick).  These were fantastic cars!  All had split-folding rear seats, three out of the four were hatchbacks or wagons, they all had good extendable sun visors, the interiors were well-made, the seats were outstanding up front and at least decent in the back, and they just felt inexplicably premium.  The wild cards here would be the quality of the sound systems, the availability of iPhone integration, and the long-term reliability.  

 2013 Honda Accord.  It’s a fantastic car.  It has a TON of standard equipment (rear camera, Bluetooth, dual-zone auto climate control, etc.), it’s great on gas, it’s well-built, and it just feels “right”.  But Honda in its infinite wisdom only allows stick-shift sedan buyers the choice of two exterior colors per trim, requires that you get a black cloth interior (gray cloth, ivory cloth, and leather of any color are reserved for automatic buyers), and limits them to the base sound system.  And why can’t they use a split-folding rear seat instead of a one-piece design?  Still a fantastic car, though.  

 Subaru Outback.  Wow!  Just wow!  Truly a comfortable, roomy car in every seat.  Great cargo versatility.  Has all the right connectivity features.  Can’t get a decent stereo with the stick-shift model though.  

 I never thought I’d say this, but, all things considered, my favorite car at the entire show was a Buick.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A Buick Verano.  It had the best front seats of anything I sat in, a good enough back seat for me to ride comfortably for a couple hours (though without as much stretch-out room as the Accord and a few others), a split-folding back seat with a big pass-through (almost makes up for it not being a wagon), extendable visors, good electronics, etc. etc. etc.  And they’re introducing a turbo six-speed edition in 2013 that still gets 30 MPG on the highway while making 250 horsepower.  It’ll include leather, Bose sound system, heated seats and steering wheel, and the list goes on and on.  And virtually every critical review that’s been published about the Verano Turbo has been glowing!  

Am I suddenly 85 years old?  Or has the GM bankruptcy of 2008-2009 been among the best things to ever happen to the auto industry?