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Tampa International Auto Show Pt.1

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On: Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 10:45AM | By: John Welch

Tampa International Auto Show Pt.1

The Tampa Convention Center hosted Motor Trend's "International Auto Show" over the weekend. It isn't Detroit or Geneva or Tokyo or any city demanding a multi-billion dollar auto extravaganza featuring concepts and glitzy umbrella girls and gorillas on jet skis. Thankfully.

Because it is so exempt from auto manufacturer excess, there is little to get in the way of an overly anal, under-funded auto reviewer such as myself from actually comparing the construction and execution of new cars with each other. Still haven't found the magic wand that allows me to actually take home and drive press-beaters, but the Tampa Auto Show afforded me the opportunity to get an accurate picture of what car companies are up to, and how they directly compare with each other.

What I found was equal parts disappointment and joy...

The Tampa Convention Center is akin to the Key Arena in Seattle, built with the intention of staying modern for forty years, but coming up fifteen years short. The main hall is cramped and not well lit, probably to the chagrin of the Lamborghini contingent. Stuffed directly underneath the escalators, these fantastic Germanic-Italians were the first cars to be seen on the show floor, in the worst space possible. They garnered so much attention (and were roped off with incredible zealotry; there was eight feet between the cars and their red velvet protectors) that I found myself riding the escalator over and over, just so I could drool over the impossibly beautiful interior of the Gallardo Spyder. The dash and seats alive with white stitching, the buttons and switches bespoke enough to belie their humble VW roots, the intricate dance performed by the robotic soft top. Also, if I die rich, I think a Murceilago Super Veloce would make a fine casket. That's going in the will; the SV is to die for!

After presenting your ticket and filling out the card for your free MT subscription, you are funneled into the lower level's main hall: BMW, Audi, Acura, Volvo, Lexus, and assorted custom jobs and race cars. This was my first opportunity to see a COT in person; Roush had one of Carl Edward's stock cars on display. Though much larger then the, uhm, Car of Yesterday(?) I am still amazed at just how small NASCAR stock cars really are. Appearing massive on television, the COT really is the right size, and the safety benefits out-weight the car's bus-like handling tendencies.

Acura: still hate them. Period.

The BMW and Audi displays both featured cars I have yet to poke around in. The 1 Series being high on that list. (We are real good at playing fake journalists, still real bad at convincing dealers to lend us cars, especially BMWs. . . ) fellow blogger Drew Christy made an interesting observation about the 1 Series: "For thirty grand I expect a little more rear legroom. The driver's seat is in its forward-most position and I can't fit my hand sideways between the backseat cushion and the front seat." I agree, the 1 Series is either too large on the outside, or poorly designed on the inside; whichever. I wouldn't mind the cramped conditions if the car was four or five hundred pounds lighter and five grand cheaper. For the money and weight, you should be able to cram two adult males in the back of this 1 Series.

Audi had all of its newest machinery on display. The problem with Audi is that they hit exactly the demographic they're going for every time. You get exactly what you pay for with an Audi, the interiors and bodywork all Teuton-perfect and shiny. There is no mystery, no intrigue. Audi isn't trying to get you into a nicer car for a better price; either you can afford this fine auto or you can't. And if you can't please move on to the Hondas and Volvos, nothing for you to see here. The Q7 diesel is interesting, but there is nothing to be gleaned from the Audi booth without driving any of the cars. They're all nice, they're all expensive, they all use the same drive-train, end of story. I believe rear wheel drive is what sets BMW and Mercedes apart in the "gotta-have-it" category . . . now where are those Mercedes? . . . oh, Mercedes skipped the Tampa show. Tampa not as promising a market as, say, Grand Rapids? Sure. Pound sand, Mercedes.

Besides Volvo, (man, I'd do awful things to get my hands on a V50 Turbo) there were no other "manufacturers" on the ground floor. There were however several tuners and custom cars, the most spectacular of which was the Spyker C8 Laviolette. This car is pure, unadulterated lust in sheet metal. Every inch of this car is achingly rendered, putting most custom jobs to shame. The pedals are gigantic works of art, the transmission controls wrought of pure genius. And this is the old Spyker. Though none were available at the Tampa show, the C8 Aileron should be even more astounding.

There was a smattering of Aston Martins and custom late-sixties muscle, but by then my car-critique juices were flowing, and I was anxious to check out the reason I was there: The American Auto Industry. Here was my chance to observe and compare all the newest, "world-class" American machinery—and see how they stack up against their closest competitors, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Hyundai, and Kia.

How did they do? You'll have to wait for Pt.2: "American Companies Still Need to Execute Bean Counters"

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