Tuesday, February 12, 2019

And now, the cars of the 2019 Syracuse Auto Show

Now that I've written about my rental ride for the auto show, it's time to discuss the actual cars on display.  Mike and I will hopefully be doing a joint audio discussion on the cars sometime soon, but here's what jumped out to me:

1.  The Honda Civic Si is one HELL of a car.  It goes for just under $25K and not only is it loaded (dual-zone climate, 10-speaker premium audio, extremely comfortable heated sport seats, and one of the slickest six-speed manual shifters ever installed in a front-drive car), but it has the performance goods to back it up (strong 1.5-liter turbo motor, adjustable drive modes, the aforementioned six-speed stick, etc.).  Honestly, the only two things keeping me from buying one are (a) that the Si model can't be purchased in hatchback form (and the Type-R model, while insanely awesome, is just too track-focused to be used as a daily driver), and (b) that Honda's outstanding driver-assist suite known as Honda Sensing (adaptive cruise control, lane assist, etc.) is not offered on the Si model (inexplicable, because ALL of the "non-sporting" Civics include the suite as standard equipment, even on stick-shift models).

2.  The Honda Accord is the gold standard by which midsize family sedans should be judged.  More spacious than the Ford Fusion, better finished and better equipped than a comparable Toyota Camry, and STILL available with a manual transmission, it's what I'd buy if I were in the market for a family sedan.

3.  If you're in the market for a pickup truck, don't need more than five feet of bed length, and don't need to tow more than 5,000 pounds, you would be a raging idiot not to test drive a Honda Ridgeline.  You won't find a more comfortable or better designed mid-size pickup out there.

4.  The Nissan Kicks was surprisingly impressive, and included Bose headrest-mounted speakers.  Super cool!

5.  The new Toyota Corolla hatchback was surprisingly opulent, comfortable, and well-equipped.

6.  If you're in the market for a minivan and ever intend to carry people in the second row, don't buy a Chrysler Pacifica.  While the Stow-N-Go seats that fold flat into the floor are super convenient, they're far too thinly-padded (out of necessity to fit into the floor) to be comfortable.  The second-row seats in the Honda Odyssey, on the other hand, are as comfortable as most living room easy chairs.

7.  The vehicle with the most compelling "cool factor," in my opinion, was the Jeep Gladiator pickup truck.  Based on the new Wrangler, it truly looked like it could go anywhere, in any conditions.  That, and it was loaded with features, had comfortable seats, and just gave off this vibe of being outrageously "epic."  And you can get it with a manual transmission WITHOUT being forced to skip out on the luxury options.  I'd seriously consider buying one.

8.  The new Kia Forte looked like a great value and a very well-designed and equipped compact car, despite being on display in a relatively low trim level.

9.  The new Volkswagen Jetta, on the other hand, felt like a penalty box on the inside, despite being on display in nearly the top trim level.  Interior materials were atrocious and the amount of hard plastic was absurd.

10.  The updated Mazda6 was quite compelling.  I was hoping to see the redesigned Mazda3 at this show, but I guess I'll have to wait two months for the NY auto show to see that one.

11.  Both the Mazda Miata and its clone, the Fiat 124 Spider, reminded me of how badly I want to someday own a convertible.

12.  I'm not sure I've ever sat in an interior nicer than that of the Lexus LS sedan.  They hit a home run with this one, in design, features, and finish.

13.  That said, for approximately $40K to $50K less, the Acura RLX Hybrid's interior didn't suck.  It was also extremely comfortable and opulent, even if it lacked some of the technological whiz-bangery of the Lexus.

14.  While we're talking about Acuras, the new RDX crossover punches far above its price point in terms of interior design, fit, and finish.  The ILX sedan, on the other hand, does not.  It's a glorified version of the 2012 - 2015 Honda Civic, and far inferior to the new Civic.

15.  The Lincoln Navigator's interior was fantastic.  There's no arguing that point.

16.  I sat in a Porsche 911.  The rear seats are laughably small, but it's such a cool car.  I'd love to own one someday.

17.  While I'm sure some of them are brilliant to drive, I wasn't blown away with the interiors of any of the Buicks or Cadillacs on the show floor.

18.  If there's one segment where the domestic carmakers have the imports beaten, it's the full-size truck segment.  The Ford F150, Chevy Silverado, and (especially) the new Ram 1500 pickups are absolutely outstanding vehicles.  The Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan, to put it bluntly, are not.

19.  I didn't hate the Mitsubishi Mirage as much as I thought I would, but the Honda Fit is still better.

20.  Cars as a whole have gotten very good, but not all of them are created equal.  With that in mind, here are my picks (and non-picks) by category (keeping in mind that this is based on my auto show experience, and that driving the cars could change my thoughts:

-- Best compact car:  Honda Civic
-- Runner-Up:  Chevy Cruze and Kia Forte (tie)
-- Most disappointing compact car:  Volkswagen Jetta

-- Best family sedan:  Honda Accord
-- Runner-Up:  Mazda6

-- Best luxury sedan:  Lexus LS500
-- Runner-Up:  Acura RLX

-- Best midsize pickup:  Honda Ridgeline, Jeep Gladiator (tie)
-- Best full-size pickup:  Ram 1500
-- Runners-Up:  Ford F150, Chevy Silverado (tie)
-- Worst pickups (any size class):  Any Toyota or Nissan

-- Best Minivan for people-moving:  Honda Odyssey
-- Best Minivan for cargo-schlepping:  Chrysler Pacifica

-- Best Sports Car:  Chevy Corvette and Porsche 911 (tie)

-- Best two-row crossover:  Honda CR-V
-- Best two-row luxury crossover:  Acura RDX
-- Best three-row crossover:  Honda Pilot
-- Best three-row luxury crossover:  Mercedes-Benz GL-class

-- Best vehicles for their intended task:  Jeep Wrangler, Mazda Miata

-- Best infotainment system:  Fiat-Chrysler's uConnect system
-- Worst infotainment system:  Honda's touchscreen audio systems

-- Best Shifter:  Honda Civic Type-R
-- Worst Shifter:  Ford Fiesta SE

-- Best Rear Seat:  Lexus LS500
-- Worst Rear Seat:  Porsche 911

-- Best Fit and Finish:  Lexus LS500
-- Most Disappointing Fit and Finish:  Volkswagen Jetta SEL, Toyota Camry LE (tie)

-- Best fettuccine alfredo near the show:  Pastabilities in Downtown Syracuse

Now to find a second job driving and reviewing cars.....this is too much fun to only do on occasion!

Car Review -- 2018 Maserati Ghibli SQ4

Hey everyone!  It's been far too long since I've posted here.  I hope you're all doing well!

A couple days ago, I met my buddy Mike in Syracuse for their annual auto show at the OnCenter.  Before I even started the trip, however, things took an unexpected turn at the Enterprise rental car counter.

The previous evening, I decided to rent a car to (a) save mileage on mine and (b) drive something different for shits and giggles.  Enterprise had full-size cars available for $30 for the day, so I figured I'd get a Malibu, Fusion, Altima, or something of the like.  Little did I know that when I showed up to pick up the car, I would be convinced by the guy at the counter to upgrade, for an extra $125, to a Maserati Ghibli SQ4!  I debated in my head for about a minute before enthusiastically agreeing to the upgrade.

For the first hour of the trip, I really didn't like the Maserati, largely because it was not an ideal car for a long highway slog.  The ride was stiff, the seats were decent but not great, there wasn't adaptive cruise control (inexplicable, when a base Honda Civic includes it as standard equipment), the fuel economy wasn't great (between 20 and 25 mpg on the highway at a steady cruising speed, which admittedly is roughly what my 2012 Acura TL gets), the stereo was far inferior to the ELS system in my Acura, the sun visors were criminally small and didn't extend when moved to the side, and anything with a sticker well north of $70K should have a heated steering wheel included as standard equipment.   A new Malibu would've been a better highway ride, as would nearly any full-size car.

I did discover a couple interesting bits about the car, including the fact that parts-sharing is a mixed blessing.  It was disappointing to see power window switches, an engine-start button, a blinker stalk, and a headlight switch that could have come out of nearly any current Dodge, Jeep, or Chrysler vehicle.  However, Fiat-Chrysler makes infotainment systems better than virtually any other automaker, and the Maserati's system was the same ginormous uConnect touch-screen system found in a slew of other FCA products.  It worked brilliantly.  Response time was fast, the menu structure was logical, and it was extremely easy to pair my iPhone and toggle between Apple CarPlay (also brilliantly designed in itself) and the native uConnect screen.

It wasn't until after the show when I took Mike for a spin in the Maserati that it grew on me.  Driving on a mix of city streets, highways, and (most importantly) on-ramps allowed me to explore more of the car's capabilities.  The handling was outstanding; cornering was flat, grip was seemingly endless, and the steering and brakes were responsive and direct.  Hitting a "sport" button next to the infuriatingly complex electronic shift lever opened up the exhaust and allowed the Ferrari-sourced, 424-hp, 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 to sing its full tune.  And holy shit, this car had power.  I drove gingerly for the most part, but when I got it onto an on-ramp, I was able to briefly put the pedal to the metal.  The sheer force with which I was pinned back in my seat combined with the intoxicating Ferrari engine growl to remind me why people buy these cars.  I could now drive back to Albany knowing that I did not make a mistake in paying extra for this car over a standard full-size sedan for the trip.

To summarize, here are the high and low points of the 2018 Maserati Ghibli SQ4:

-- INSANE power and acceleration
-- Excellent steering, handling, and braking
-- Peerless uConnect infotainment system
-- Awesome at its intended function (sports car)

-- Shocking feature omissions for the price
-- Lackluster sound system
-- Infuriating e-shifter
-- Not a great highway cruiser

Would I buy one?  Absolutely not; there are too many better cars for the same price.

Would I drive one again if given the opportunity?  Abso-f***ing-lutely!