Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Static displays - NYIAS 2013

Photos by the author.
You should go to an auto show with the understanding that you'll have more questions than answers by the time you're done. Actually, I think that's the point.

You don't go to have your curiosities be really satisfied; you go to have them sharpened, to enhance your considerations and fill in some details without ever being able to arrive at a well-informed conclusion - unless it's something that strikes you wrong and prompts a dismissal of some sort.

A car show is about three things, two tangible and one intellectual. You go to see vehicles as physical three-dimensional objects, either up close or at a respectful distance. In certain cases you check out the interface, try it on for size as if it's a shoe, to see how it most immediately suits your body's dimensions. Then, in the background the whole time, you're wondering just what's going on and how these pieces go together and what can be deduced from what is in front of you.

Yes, there are hard, tactile - if superficial - conclusions. The new Golf looks excellent, feels comfortable and refined, and is a serious contender for Best Car In The World. The Corvette Stingray is flat glorious. The Jaguar F-Type is shorter and maybe bulkier than photos suggest. The Cadillac CTS may have a hard time against the 5-Series, but it looks the business and will be great to see on the street. Wonder how the Subaru WRX will turn out. The Mitsubishi Mirage is apparently aimed at people who don't think they deserve something as nice as a Fit or an Accent or a Yaris. Lincoln's MKZ deserves much more than merely being the underconsidered highlight of a struggling division.
A pretty, if slightly chubby, kitty.
And there are more personal ones: I bonked my head on the roofline of a CRZ as I was getting in. I finally sat in an FR-S, which fits my large frame and big feet perfectly. I can't understand why GM puts the brake pedal two inches higher than the accelerator on its pickups so that you have to move your entire leg up and onto the pedal to brake instead of just twisting your foot over to it. The front of the Cherokee isn't as jarring in real life as it is in pictures, but it is still a bit too avant-garde to make sense. Yes, the grille on the Aston Martin Rapide really is too big now, but is that enough to ruin it?

As much as you stare at and sit in and generally contemplate the wares on display, you only rarely are sucked in enough to get past that fact that this is a really big production inside a really big building, and you are more or less constantly surrounded by a really big bunch of people. And sometimes those realities are just as interesting - or unavoidable, in some cases - as the cars.

Consider the constant cliched babble of the booth professionals; the ones at the Honda and Acura displays were somehow more irritating than the rest. Louder? Worse scripts? Connection to often-bland products? Don't know, would prefer not to think about it.
Yes, we know.
Nissan actually had scent dispensers - little automated aerosol spritzers - built into its stand. The chosen fragrance was a mix of cleaning product essences that would not have been out of place in the men's room and which gave me a quick headache.

Sometimes the entertainment comes from overhearing the half-truths and knowingly pronounced misinformation of fellow showgoers. Take the guy at the McLaren display talking about the MP4-12C's Mercedes engine. Or the other gentleman over on the Mercedes stand itself, mentioning something about the CLA's V-4 engine and R-Class package.

Don't cover your ears, though, because you'll miss some genuinely intriguing things in passing. Consider the two middle-aged linebackers, easily 300 solidly built pounds apiece, the one straight telling his friend about how Kias are the best-looking cars on the road. (Think about it. This is not a ridiculous statement. Kias are getting serious street cred.)

Other elements of reality state their presence. In a few ways, attending a show at a barn like Javits is a bit like preparing to go on a day hike: choose comfortable footwear, drink plenty of fluids in preparation, wear layers because temperatures inside may have nothing to do with those outside. Understand that you probably won't see absolutely everything, especially given the crowds. Try to have a level head about things.

Given that level head, what can we understand about this year's NYIAS? There didn't seem to be any grand sweeping themes, except maybe the continuing development and proliferation of tech but that's hardly new. The lower end of the market may just be getting a bit more love lately. Wagons are coming back. (Yay!) Crossovers may have reached saturation; very pleasing to see the emphasis that GM in particular is putting on sedans.

And we get to call judgement on all of this without having driven anything.

I still feel a bit uneasy about the GT-R post from the other day because I was trying to call out something without specific firsthand experience. This is basically the approach that auto shows attempt to induce in every attendee - or at least enough of the same to set a hook and make a dealer visit a near-necessity.

You go to an auto show to see, to feel, to be dazzled to a degree, to think about a few things. You can develop some ideas. You don't really go to experience what a car is or can do. That can only come later.