Every year in early March, auto journalists from all over the world flock to one location to cover the industry’s latest, nakiri-edge concepts, emerging technology, and enthralling,
interactive displays. It’s a magical place of wonder and merriment, where you can float around on the scents of fresh-stitched leather and the sounds of new rubber squeaking on polished cement floors. That place is called Geneva, and I didn’t go.
Instead, I took a couple of hours and skipped a few blocks east of the Streetside HQ to check out something a little less…involved: the Kansas City International Auto Show. I wasn’t expecting much, and that expectation was not disappointed. It might be best
to say that when I left, I was glad it was a Friday.
But while perusing the displays at the gargantuan Bartle Hall, I did get some experience with quite a few new models. Here’s my pass/fail rundown of the latest:
– I knew it was going to be there, and made a beeline for the booth as soon as I arrived. It glistened dully in its “obsidian black pearl” paint- behind one of those seatbelt cordons. I’d already seen the thing. I wanted to feel it, to find out if it would accommodate a 6’3” potato eater like myself, but the cheerfully inscrutable Subaru hand wavers weren’t likely to appreciate that. Visually, then, the BRZ was refreshingly small for today’s standards, and that’s a great thing. Pass.
AMG SLS Roadster
– Like the BRZ, the SLS was predictably seatbelted off, as well, so I found a frighteningly orange13 Mercedes representative to open the hood for us. She chattered about the distance between the end of that cosmic V8 and the actual front of the car, and seemed to be under the impression that it was designed like that for pedestrian safety. Okay, orange one. We won’t tell the designers that the helipad hood wasn’t actually an homage to the original SL 300. Certainly Pass.
Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
– I’ve loved this CTS-V since it showed up a couple of years ago, but this was my first time seeing one in the angular flesh. It’s very tall, built like a rugbyist. Climbing on the trunk would have required a ladder. My favorite feature, other than the essential manual transmission, was the seat fabric. It was leather around the bolsters, to serve the pinky-pointers who would have nothing less, but the back and seat, the bits that generally love to soak you with your own vile sweat, were a lovely perforated cloth. Pass.
– Sadly, it sat on one of those rotating plinths, meaning we would be sniped from the rafters if we got too close, but at least the attractive GM rep in formalwear who treadmilled above us seemed to know her stuff about it. The ATS looks even better in person, though I was disappointed to find out that the manual will only be available with the 2 liter turbo.
Are we promoting better driving, here, GM, or just catering to fanboys? Still, Pass.
Chevy Camaro, Bumblebee Edition
– It’s true what they say about these new Camaros: they’re very dark inside. Between the
towering sills and the overweight C-pillars, visibility is a challenge. I loved the gauge set on the center stack, but the Autobot memorabilia was a little over the top (and overpriced). The “carbon fiber” racing stripes were as juvenile as a crush on Megan Fox, and GM didn’t even bring a stick model (as with all of the Camaros there). And the steering wheel was clad in cut-rate plastic that literally creaked under my grip. I hate to imagine how that will behave in ten years. Fail.
Buick Regal GS
– It’s a midsize, gold-card luxury sedan with a turbo and a six-speed. There’s no arguing with how awesome that is. The Buick rep even confessed her frustration that the suits hadn’t sent a manual model for a test drive. I agreed. Still, aside from the cheap plastic steering wheel accents it must have taken from the Camaro, I dug it. Pass.
Ford Mustang GT
– The pony car still looks great, and should hold its market until the promised 2015 redesign. The dashboard is high enough to make you feel like a kid peering over the counter at the drug store…until you feel instead like you’re in a ’32 Ford hot rod, and then you’re fine. The manual had a pleasantly short throw, too. Pass.
Fiat 500 Abarth
– It was grey, which was odd. It seems this car should be black, white, or red, but this is America, after all, and I’m just happy it wasn’t beige. It keeps the 500’s cool center speedo/tach combo, but the throw on the five-speed was disappointingly long. I did crawl into the back and almost sat in comfort, but long trips might have given me some trouble. The fabric seat release straps were a nice accent, though I’m not sure anyone will mistake them for the door pulls in a Porsche GT3. Pass.
Desert Ram 1500
– Certainly one of the coolest trucks there, it was jacked up, skid-plated, and wore a spare tire bracket instead of a tailgate. It looked like a lot of fun for bombing around the Nevada sands, though you wouldn’t have known it from the luxo-cushy interior. Sadly, there was no posted info on the beast, not a placard or label, and it was tucked over in a dark corner like some castoff side-show. It was one of the many machines there for looking pretty in an attempt to convince enthusiasts that a brand is still cool. I’ll give the truck a pass and Chrysler’s neglect a Fail.
Jeep JK8 Independence
– Jeep’s truck-bed package for the Wrangler Unlimited was even cooler in person. The bed was long enough to be moderately useful, but short enough to have been designed for style. Pass.
Dodge Challenger R/T
– As usual, it looked menacing from the outside. But a trip to the cabin had me gagging on
oppressive, hard touch plastic, amazed at Chrysler’s insistence on awful interiors. Like GM with their Camaros, Dodge only brought autoboxes, and I almost didn’t mind, because the T-grip shifter looked so cool. Then I grabbed it, felt it flex in my grip, and realized it was mirror-painted plastic. It felt as if it would snap off at any moment, and that wasn’t very reassuring. Fail.
Dodge Dart R/T
– It was too new to bring down from its carousel, but the booth professional in the pleather dress did share some speculation with me when I asked about that red R/T badge: the R/T will probably capitalize on the 2.4 liter tigershark engine. Then she rattled off a list of interior dazzlers that I neither wrote down nor remembered. She did remark, however, that the Dart was designed to be widely customizable, and that Mopar were already announcing factory upgrade parts. Naturally, that’s awesome. Pass.
Bismoto Honda Civic
– It was an eye catcher, but as with the Desert Ram, no one seemed interested in telling me more. And despite the hilarious nutrition facts window decal, the setup seemed confusing. It wore a flush, aluminum spoiler and even a parachute for drag racing, but the rear wheels were mysteriously cambered to a ridiculous stance. Why would that
be? Are they testing the sidewall tolerance on the tires? Did the tires even have sidewalls? It was either very dangerous or pretty boring. Fail.
Honda Accord Coupe Concept
– Despite my love for the Accord coupe’s design, this wasn’t a concept. It was a current Accord coupe with some new paint. That paint was impressive, too, some sort of deep red flecked with black, but it wasn’t a big enough distraction from the fact that this “concept” looked almost identical to the Accords we see on the road every day. That’s Honda’s style these days. Fail.
The Warhol-style poster for the show featured a bird and a baseball, but no cars, which should have been warning enough. I left early, returning to the office to finish up some SEO content – that’s how bored I was. Yes, there were nice cars, there, but after
questioning the test drive pluggers at Kia, GM, and Chrysler, I found they hadn’t brought a single manual model, and I imagined that tooling around the crowded Kansas City downtown in an automatic Corvette wouldn’t be quite as entertaining as my drive back to the River Bottoms in my WRX.
And then I came over all reflective.
The Kansas City International Auto Show was symptomatic of the fact that the American car industry is swiftly abandoning their enthusiasts, touting the flashy trappings of performance but never really following through. The numbers are even there. But you and I both know this isn’t a numbers game. It’s not a world of comfort and convenience, either. It’s about the tactile, the way my soul sits in a car, how strongly it effervesces when I take a corner a little too fast.
Carmakers just don’t seem to factor us in anymore. They know we’re out there, but increasingly, were a footnote. How does this happen? How is a public put here? Why does Ford make a Fiesta 2-door, but not for the American market? Is it cyclical? Did we car customers start it, or was it the carmakers?
I’m not sure, but I know we can end it. Teach your kids how to drive a manual. Make them each get one as a first car. Read up on turbos and proper weight distribution. Find out which mods are actually functional, and which ones are merely style fads and would be laughed off of any serious race track. Demand not just a better car with higher numbers and a lower cost, but a more inspiring driving experience.
Photos courtesy Dreamy Eyed Photography.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.