My wife and I attended the 2005 Portland Auto Show in late January. I hadn't been to this annual event since 1992 but we're looking for a new car and it seemed reasonable to examine all candidates at one time/one place.
The Portland show is definitely a second or third tier show on the circuit. Few concept cars are shown and most are last year's leftovers. Only a selected group of exotic machines are exhibited. You won't see Rolls Royce, Bentley or Aston Martin - there are no dealers for these marques in the Portland area. The following is a stream-of-consciousness ramble of impressions:
The Mini is still great. The interior has been subtly revised and the whole thing is a fantastic package. My wife had spotted several on the road but had never looked at a Mini up close. She sat in one and was impressed with the cleverness of the interior. Since my son recently purchased a Hyundai Elantra, we wandered over to the Hyundai booth to check things out. The new Sonata was on a turntable - couldn't get inside but the exterior styling is very nice. And the car is a decent size; visually, it seemed as roomy as an Accord or Camry. We also inspected and sat in a Hyundai XG350. It has a Lincolnesque aura and was better-looking than anything displayed over at the Lincoln space. The XG350 had a leather interior (from what animal, I'm not sure) and seemed to be well-built.
Lincoln showed their new Mark LT pickup truck. It is sad that the 'Mark' designation which used to mean top-of-the-heap at Lincoln is now gracing the flanks of a truck. And five-years after introduction, the Lincoln LS still has one of the cheesiest grilles ever made. My wife observed that all the Lincolns now looked like Mercurys and vice-versa.
On a brighter note, Ford showed the awesome-looking Mustang convertible. The Mustang is a real winner; even the coupe models were surrounded by gawkers. There was a silver mid-engined Ford GT on display and it looked handsome in that color. The lines are very sharp but entry and egress is for the young, trim and athletic. The 2006 Ford Fusion was on display. The chrome trim on and around the grille looked cheap - it had the appearance of the vacuum metallized chrome on a low-buck model kit. Same for the taillight trim. I met up with one of my car buddies at the show; he had the same impression. As a former Saab owner, he was most dismayed by the presence of the 'Saabaru' - the made-in-Japan, badge-engineered Subaru being touted as a Saab. While it's a nice enough car, it's not a Saab - more like spherical sushi bits touted as Swedish meatballs. We both agreed that the Saab brand is on the ropes.
The Scion tC coupe is a cute little car - with very attractive lines. The Scion xA is no beauty but it looks waaaay better than it's box-ugly sibling, the xB. But the xB outsells the xA by several fold. Go figure. Painted brown, the xB could be used by UPS for deliveries in very small countries! (Liechtenstein, Andorra, San Marino, Luxembourg, Maldives, Bahrain, etc.)
The Volkswagen booth was sparsely populated and the VW Beetles were being ignored by all. The fad is over.
I had high hopes for the much-hyped new Acura RL. But it disappointed in person. I didn't care for the front end. And the interior didn't seem fancy enough for a $50,000 car.
My wife looked at the new Jaguar XJ and remarked that the new design "looked like a Lincoln Town Car." Thanks, Ford, for dumbing-down the Jag. The previous edition (1995-2003) is much better-looking and has a nicer interior. I was surprised at the crudeness of the exterior design details on the XJ and X-Type. Some of the trim looked like it came from Kia.
DaimlerChrysler showed the PT California Cruiser concept car. It looks stunning in person. This vehicle should go into production Right Now to revive flagging PT sales. It would surely be a winner.
The new Corvette looks very nice although the area around the windshield base near the side mirrors is thick and awkwardly-styled. Some clever pinstripes, badges and/or chrome in the area would help.
We looked at the Buick LaCrosse and sat in one. My wife and I agreed that it wasn't a bad-looking car but she said she'd never buy one because "it's a Buick." It is going to take a long time for this brand to redeem itself. Later we saw a Maserati Quattroporte sedan. I remarked to my car buddy that it could pass for a Buick, especially with the chrome-ringed portholes on the sides. I offered to buy my wife a LaCrosse and put replace all the Buick badges with Maserati emblems but she'd have none of it. So ... it's definite then. No Buick for us.
We both liked the new Toyota Avalon. It is very roomy inside and the reclining rear seats are a hoot. The interior is nicely styled and looks very upscale.
We went right from there to check out a Lexus 330ES. What a disappointment by comparison. The exterior wasn't as good-looking to me. And the interior was more cramped and dark. Both cars are similarly priced, too. The Nissan Maxima had a cheesy-looking center stack inside.
The exotic cars were displayed in a room just off the lobby. The first car we encountered was the Lotus Elise. What a tiny car. 90% of Americans wouldn't fit in it - they're too tall and/or too wide. It looked like a kiddie car and was, appropriately, located near a booth hawking diecast car models.
Several Ferraris were on display and, unfortunately, I didn't really care for any of them. I remember when Ferraris looked like nothing else on earth - I'm thinking of the 1957 Testarosa, the early 1960s California or the 250 LM. Compared with the American sedans and coupes of the period, these cars were spectacular. Maybe its because most of today's sedans are sleek and wind-tunnel tested, but the contemporary Ferraris just look low slung and odd to these old eyes. But there were several 12 year-olds eagerly snapping photos of these exotics, proving that there is hope for the future of the car enthusiast hobby.
The upper level of the show was the realm of Mercedes, Porsche, Audi and BMW. The 10-cylinder, $440,000 Porsche Carrera GT was on display. My car buddy and I were unimpressed with the styling. And the VW Touareg is better-looking and seemingly more upscale than the Porsche Cayenne.
I'm not generally an Audi fan but I thought the A-8 on display was a very handsome machine.
Mercedes had their new semi-fastback Mercedes CLS500 sedan on display. I don't like it - from some angles, the car looks disturbingly like a hunched-over, 1948 stepdown Hudson. But it presented a better appearance better than any of the cars displayed over at BMW. Curse you, Chris Bangle. Someone will buy these cars. As well as all the other cars I didn't like. The human race is full of diverse viewpoints. And the carmakers offer something for everybody. Or as an auto executive once said, "There's an ass for every seat."
We exited the show to pouring rain. While the cars all looked good inside, in the Northwest, we judge our cars by their windshield wipers.
For my observations on auto shows in general, go here.