Ah, the auto show. The best chance to sit in cars the manufacturers won't let us test drive. What was at show? Well, we found a lot of excitement but, unfortunately, none of it was domestic. We've gone on and on about GM's problems but based on what we've seen and read, we're not all that confident about Ford and Chrysler, either. But GM is on Crap Island all alone.
Here's our report of what's going down, by manufacturer (at least the booths we spent any time in):
New: RL, $50k sedan.
We think Acura is the least valued Japanese high-end name plate (okay, there aren't that many but someone has to be third) and that's a shame. Their cars are great if a little bland. Honda refuses to make a huge car and for that we applaud them. We expect the TL to continue to have good sales but it remains to be seen if we can say the same about the new RL (but everyone is raving about it). The RL won't take sales away from the big Lexus or Infiniti but it will take sales away from the smaller of those two brands. Our guess is a hybrid TL in '06. And even though it's long, long in the tooth now, we still think the NSX is pretty cool.
New: A6, sedan.
Like Acura, Audi is the most undervalued German brand and that, too, is a shame. We love Audi. Some of our colleagues think all Audis look alike but we don't agree. And, even if they did, we don't think that's such a horrible trait. Audi interiors are top-notch, exteriors are sculpted and engines strong. Audi's A6 makes a bold statement with a grill that would make George Forman envious. But to focus on the grill is to ignore the beautiful shape of the entire car and its very smart interior. Audi doesn't let their cars get stale like M-B has recently. In fact, there is simply no reason to leave Audi off your short list of luxury cars to try out. Audi has not only arrived but brought great design and terrific engineering along for the ride.
New: LaCrosse, $28k sedan
What can we say? We don't hate Buick but it's an old, tired brand with lousy sales -- why keep it? There's a big fountain in the Buick booth that forces you look away from the cars and that sorta says something to us. The new LaCrosse is a competent car but so is the Honda Accord and we'd be willing to bet that for the same amount of money, a person would be more satisfied in the Accord. Next up for Buick is supposed to be the Lucerne which is very clearly related to the now departed Oldsmobile Aurora. Lucerne will have an optional V-8. We bet no new Buicks at the '06 auto show and the brand will be totally closed by 2008.
New: 3-series: coupe, convertible, sedan, $30k - $50k
We were initially enthusiastic with the new BMW designs: 7-series and 5-series. But now they are wearing on us some. The 7-series is starting to look dated to us already when compared to, say, Audi. We can say that the 6-series is near-perfect, however. BMW's new deal for now is the 3-series due this summer as an '06 model. Again, it's fantastic. BMW knows better than to mess with their best-selling line (~44% of sales) and they didn't. It's refined and worth a look if you want a fantastic-handlling, lots of fun coupe/sedan. If you like driving and have the bucks, get an '06 3-series.
New: DTS, $50k sedan
See Buick but with no fountain. We just aren't impressed by Cadillac any longer. It's such a shame, too, because the brand hasn't been tarnished by GM crapping all over it. While the competition often costs more (Lexus, Infiniti, BMW) they produce such better car it's no wonder we see so few Cadillacs any more. The only thing Cadillac has over some competition is size but that's rapidly eroding thanks to the Lexus LS 430 and Audis. We're not fans of the CTS, either. It makes no sense to us to make a less-expensive luxury car, especially with the Cadillac name on it. Now, we don't want to spend all our time picking on Cadillac because they do deserve a round of applause. They decided to take Cadillac in a new direction with the styling and they almost completed the transition from obviously old man car to only when you sit in it do you realize it's an old man car. So regardless if you like the styling, you have to give credit for Cadillac for honestly trying. Oh, sorry the XLR sales are in the toilet... guess folks don't want to pay $25k more for a tarted up Corvette.
New: Cobalt, coupe/sedan, $14-22k
Okay, the Cobalt is decent but that's not enough anymore. Here's our problem with Chevy: V8s and goofy styling (let's assume build quality and reliability are on par with Japanese manufacturers... because it should be noted that reliability is getting a lot better with GM). What specifically do we mean? The weird HHR and the fact that Chevy is adding V8s to mediocre cars. The HHR, in case you are not familiar, is a slightly bigger PT Cruiser. We don't think it'll sell well long-term. Retro can be cool (Mustang) but the HHR isn't cool. And with gas prices only going up we're confused (not unusual) as to why Chevy thinks now is the time to add V-8s to the Impala and the horribly, horribly ugly Monte Carlo. Who is buying these MCs? Anyway, we're not bullish on Chevy.
New: Charger, sedan, $25k+
Dodge needs to update its entire line to be of the Magnum-class. Big, beefy cars with optional muscle. We're surprised the lame Stratus is still for sale -- it seems to have nothing to do with the Magnum and upcoming Charger (which we dig). Even the Neon (old and tired as it is) looks better than the Stratus.
New: Five Hundred, sedan, $25k+
Ford has a lot of good products. Ford has a lot of bad products. Poor Ford. We like: Focus, Five Hundred (which is getting bad press but we like it) and Mustang. We don't like: Freestyle and Thunderbird (which only had a bad interior... but it's dead now so it doesn't much matter). We hate: Crown Victoria, Freestar (the turd of minivans) and Taurus. God we hate the Crown Vic (maybe it has something to do with spending a lot of time in the backseat -- we didn't do it, officer!). Ford, let the Five Hundred be your big car for a while... Dodge is gonna suck up a lot of cop sales with the Charger (if Dodge prices it correctly) and the Avalon is gonna take the other folks who want a bigger car. Ford is killing the Taurus and replacing it the Fusion so we have some more hope for Ford.
New: M-series, sedan, $35k-45k+
Sales are down at Infiniti and something's got to change. Let's start with the G35: we loved the G35 when it first came out but this year it looked quite dated. That hasn't started hurting sales yet but we think it might because when the M-series is next to it in the show room... it's hard to look at the ugly sister. We haven't tested the M-series yet but several folks have and it's gotten positive reviews... especially since the previous M-series was lame (it looked like it was a rush job... on a Friday). While we're on the topic of lame, what's up with the Q? Hey, Infiniti, it's the flagship! Oh, you're going to kill it? Good idea. (We just made that up, but since sales are so crappy, it would probably make sense.) And the FX is just goofy -- it looks like a caricature of a car/SUV (sales are down for this line, too).
New: XJ Super V8, too much
Let's take a brand that is known for prestige and make a cheap one. Hey! Sales are down (Jan + Feb compared to last year) and it's the X-Type that's hurting them. Of course it is... duh. "While we're messing up the brand, let's leave the interior design folks in their comas." Look, we don't mean to be crude but Jaguar interiors suck; they are old and lame. Anyway, at the show there was a fancy concept car but when we asked about it we were told, literally, "They didn't tell us anything about it." So we can't tell you anything, either. We suspect nothing like it will be made. We like the exterior of some of Jags but the X-type has to go (along with the wagon).
New: See Jaguar...
... except we don't like the exterior of the Lincolns, either. Sales are down for both Lincoln cars so far for '05. The only thing the Town Car has going for it is the L version because of the rear seat space it offers. But if we were a Town Car shopper, we'd buy an Avalon -- it's better looking and more reliable. And if we were a cab-for-hire dude, we'd buy an Avalon because, hell, Toyotas break less often than Fords.
New: GS series, sedan
The GS is a totally revamped line and appears to be terrific like all current Lexus models. In fact, Lexus is making the best high-end sedans. Period. They are superbly engineered, assembled and are very reliable. It's just they have no soul. It's up to you to decide if that matters or not.
New: CLS, sedan, too much $
New: R-class, big sedan/SUV/wagon thing, like the Pacifica
Lots has been talked about with the CLS... people we like hate it. What? We love it. It's meant to be all swoopy and stuff. You're not meant to really put anyone in the backseat. So, if you want an upright car, get an E-class. Meanwhile, the new R-class seems pretty sweet to us. If you got a lot of greenbacks and folks to move, the R-class is sweet. We even got our fat bellies in the third row and didn't need the jaws of life to get us out. We're not sure if the R-class is going to sell (an M-B people mover?) but it's a well-done attempt in this class (Sport Tourer class), especially compared to the incredibly mediocre Pacifica.
New: nothing but man... who wouldn't spend time with Porsche?
We weren't even going to stop in this booth since the legal order says we "can't touch, caress or rub" any Porsche until 2008 but the Boxter S was calling to us (so we'll plea entrapment if we're picked up). There's no reason to consider a Corvette with the Boxster S around. Oh, stop. Yes, the Corvette is faster. Yes, the Corvette has a more powerful engine. Yes, the... oh, that's it. Get the Boxster S. It's superb. Oh, the 911 is fast and the Cayenne is a truck.
New: 9-3 Wagon
Ah ha! Ah ha! We knew the utility thing was important! Ah ha! Everyone was so pissed that Saab (owned by the dark side) killed off the hatchback... only to bring it back in the oh so lame 9-2x (which is selling roughly 2100/year... it will be the slowest selling Saab being made... until the 9-7 Titanic comes along). Saabs have the best seats however and now that a wagon (should be a hatch but whatever) is available we can look lovingly at Saabs again. Sales are down for Saab and there's a lot of discussion going on at GM as to what to do. We don't know, but don't change the seats!
New: Avalon, sedan, $26-$33k
Avalon is a 10. It's near perfect. It is going to take sales away from every maker of large cars. If you like large cars, there is nothing else to look at. The dudes at Lexus gotta be saying, "What the...!?" But don't mind them, they have no soul. Watch Toyota go into double overtime trying to make enough of these Avalons.
New: Jetta, sedan, $18k-$25k
Man, this new Jetta is sweet. Sweet! But we can't ignore their reliability issues. Maybe it's the price of having soul? It shouldn't be tolerated, however, so the best we can say is we liked the new Jetta but we, too, have our doubts about it down the road. But... uhhhhhhh... we want one. Stupid VW. Oh, the Phaeton is the best car you'll never hear about, let alone drive. Or even see on the road. It's killer though.
We didn't comment on every manufacturer because we didn't study every car in every booth. We apologize for making it seem like some manufacturers weren't there. We think everyone showed up for class...