Auto Show preview: Now may be the time for a new car
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For as long as I can remember, I've listened to people wax nostalgic about old cars.
"They don't make them like the used to" is the common refrain, and almost a daily email in my inbox. To which I reply: "Good. They make them way better now."
When the 2013 Pittsburgh International Auto Show opens Friday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, more than eight acres of brand-spanking-new automotive technology will be on display for all to see and touch. For those who have stayed away from new car shopping, I can report that the advances in technology and driveability -- not to mention safety and reliability -- make new vehicles almost a bargain.
As a father of four, I have seen my budget keep me out of the new-car market for a long time -- a condition common not just to Western Pennsylvanians but throughout the country these days, as the economy went south and the average vehicle age has climbed well north of the decade mark. When I first started reviewing cars for The Philadelphia Inquirer at the start of 2011, our newest Sturgis family vehicle was 7 years old.
After I sat behind the wheel of the first tester, the comparison was stark. Here was a 2011 Ford Fiesta, the bottom of the company's lineup, and Mr. Driver's Seat was amazed at how far cars had come. The lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat and Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0 agreed, and the Fiesta still rides high as one of our family (if not family-size) favorites.
So, know that while I will nitpick endlessly at almost each car I review for the Post-Gazette throughout this auto show guide and over the next many (I hope) Wednesdays, I secretly stand in awe of each one for having transported us so far.
Where we're going
Auto shows over the last few years have come with a lot of themes. As gas prices and corporate fuel economy requirements shot up, we've had an abundance of smaller cars, hybrids and electrics stealing the shows. As electronics matured, the latest gadgetry became the order of the model year. Back when times were great, Hummers and Suburbans convinced us bigger was better, while BMWs and Acuras made us try keeping up with the Joneses.
This year's theme at shows around the country has been: Sales are up -- after an industry high of 16.1 million in 2007, and a floor of 10.4 million in 2009, we're back to about 14.4 million across the country for 2012, according to numbers from the National Automobile Dealers Association. So the industry theme seems to be: Let's keep doing what we're doing and build on that.
• Efficiency remains big. Toyota unveiled a whole Prius family of hybrid cars in the past year with a downright frightening ad campaign putting people together to make a larger-than-life person. But just like that unorthodox advertisement gave way to a more everyday approach, so did manufacturers' quest for sippiness. Now the focus has become making the most out of the good, old four-cylinder internal-combustion engine.
So over at Subaru you'll see their most-efficient all-wheel drives in years. Mazda's SkyActiv has sacrificed just a touch of zoom-zoom for a whole lot less refuel-refuel. And Ford and Hyundai advertise heavily on vehicles that hit 40 mpg on the highway, though my real-world tests have never quite reached those heights.
• Luxury is also a focus. Ford has unveiled something called the Lincoln Motor Co. in an attempt to resuscitate that brand and compete with the likes of Acura, Infiniti and Lexus, which almost 25 years ago took on Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Cadillac has debuted the top-of-the-line XTS, which features a new level of smart electronic gadgetry the makes the driving experience so much more pleasurable, and the ATS, which gives a boost to entry-level luxury. Along that same level, Acura offers the new ILX, which raises the bar on performance in an under-$30,000 luxury car (Watch for a full review next Wednesday.).
And Audi is combining the two ideas in an expanded line of TDI turbodiesel models. Though Pittsburghers will get to see a wide variety of Audis, the Q7 will be the only TDI at the show.
2013 Pittsburgh International Auto Show
David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Friday, Feb. 15, to Monday, Feb. 18.
Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
General admission -- $10 (except Monday, when general admission is half-price).
Seniors 60 or older/Military with I.D. -- $8.
Children 12 and younger -- Free.
his year's Pittsburgh International Auto Show will feature cars, trucks and SUVs from more than 35 manufacturers and exhibitors, including some new models not available at dealerships yet. In addition, there will be a classic car display, a NASCAR simulator, a Vintage Grand Prix exhibit and military combat vehicles.
Organizers have plans to keep the kids entertained, too, with everything from visits from the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates team mascots to face painting and a balloon artist.
• A new pickup from General Motors: GM features two new vehicles in Pittsburgh.
The 2014 GMC Sierra gets a whole redesign -- its first since the 2007 model year. The Sierra and corporate cousin Chevy Silverado are expected to be in dealer's showrooms in the second quarter.
"Bold, brawny, chiseled" were some of the adjectives Buick-GMC marketing director Roger McCormack used for the new Sierra, because no one wants a nerdy, 98-pound weakling pickup. But today's brawny trucks have to have at least a touch of the metrosexual, and provide all the creature comforts of the best sedans, with nice seat stitching, comfortable seats, real aluminum trim and more.
It will come with a choice of a 4.3-liter V6 or a 5.3-liter or 6.2-liter V8 engine, all with direct fuel injection, variable valve timing and active fuel management (or cylinder deactivation) to stretch each drop of gasoline as far as a full-size truck might let you. No EPA ratings are available on this model yet.
• A baby Buick crossover: I was able to take a quick preview drive in the 2013 Buick Encore in Philadelphia, and it definitely lands where General Motors aimed.
"It embodies the DNA of Buick perfectly, but in a package maybe you didn't expect from Buick," Mr. McCormack said.
The new-for-2013 subcompact crossover -- which arrived in dealerships last month -- features a 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbo engine that gets an EPA rating of 33 mpg on the highway.
It has chrome trim and an inviting interior a la Buick.
• Ford: The automaker is emphasizing fuel economy and value in its lineup.
David Principato, Ford's Philadelphia regional manager, said the company is "democratizing technology," trying to provide more features seen in luxury brands in its whole lineup.
The company plans to show off its 2014 Transit Connect Wagon, 2013 C-Max Hybrid, and 2013 Fusion Energi in Pittsburgh. That last model goes up to 85 mph without turning on the engine, and up to 21 miles on electricity as well.
The Transit Connect Wagon will come as a more economical five- or seven-passenger minivan.
In all cases, the company is looking to provide customers with more value for their dollar, as the U.S. economy continues its slow recovery.
"People are trading down," Mr. Principato said.
Something for everyone
Of course, beyond those highlights, Pittsburgh's show will have just about every model from every manufacturer, as it has since the show first began at the Motor Square Garden in 1927. But it has something that a lot of the big shows don't: plenty of activities to keep all kinds of people interested.
John Putzier, CEO of the show-sponsoring Greater Pittsburgh Auto Dealers Association, said his group works to make the event interesting for everyone.
"Everyone knows it's an auto show. We add so many other things to make it more appealing," Mr. Putzier said. Among those other activities are a children's museum exhibit, a NASCAR simulator, and visits from Pittsburgh team mascots.
Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0 would certainly be interested in the Ultimate Gaming Trailer, a 30-foot trailer of video games with coaching for players to advance to higher levels.
The lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat might best enjoy the spa treatments and chair massages.
But certainly, it all comes back to the cars. At a convention center-filling 330,000 square feet, there should also be something for everyone in that realm as well.
Editor's note: Scott Sturgis' reviews of the Cadillac XTS, Ford C-Max and Hyundai Elantra GT can be found in the Auto Show guide. He will have reviews of the Buick Encore and Cadillac ATS in the not-too-distant future in the Wednesday Post-Gazette Business section.
About Scott Sturgis' love for the automobile blossomed at an early age: His greatest joy was having his mother or father wheel his stroller to the main drag of his tiny northeastern Pennsylvania hometown to watch the cars and trucks pass by.
He began writing about cars for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer in 2001. Later he started writing articles for The New York Times and started Driver's Seat in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2011.
The goal of Driver's Seat? Car reviews for the rest of us. We drive mainly to work, the mall or the kid's recital, and we want vehicles that offer some comfort and a minimum of embarrassment. We spend more time stuck in traffic than cruising winding seaside lanes.
Performance usually means "Do the windows fog up excessively?" "Can I figure out the blasted stereo controls on the fly?" "Will it be worth anything when it's time to trade up?" or "Will the melted crayons come out of the seats?" (Alas, the answer to that last question is almost always: "Not entirely.")
First Published February 13, 2013 12:00 am