Friday, April 25, 2014

New York International Auto Show 2014

Sometimes I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm a car guy. My current circle of technorati friends (being mostly transplanted Manhattanites, though I AM A NATIVE, dammit) frowns upon such traditionally male-dominated and perceived sexist pursuits. But my wife likes cars almost as much as I do, and we go to the NY Auto Show every couple of years. The last time I seem to have written about it was in 2007 - and it's really interesting to re-read that post now! This year, after one of our current cars nearly burned down with me in it last week, we're actually in the market for something new. I was eager to check out all the models I'd been thinking about.

Under serious consideration were the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Mini Cooper, and Mazda 3. Dark horses included the Chevy Camaro, Hyundai Veloster, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Subaru WRX, and Honda CRZ,

Yes, I realize that not all of those cars are even in the same class. What I'm looking for is just cheap fun, with maybe a little practicality thrown in. I don't really care how I get it.

The reason that 2007 post is interesting is the parallels to the 2014 show. For example, I wrote in 2007 that I was excited about the then-new Dodge Challenger. Well, here I am 7 years later:

I love the Challenger. Despite the photo at the top, it's my favorite of all the retro muscle cars, and I have always wanted one, since they were introduced. It's just the right size for me, it has just the right mix of new and old, it has good visibility, and it feels like a real car, not like a series of compromises. I mean you can get actual people in the back seat if you want. You can see out the windows. You can fit luggage or big boxes in the trunk.

This is how muscle cars really used to be in the 60's and 70's. They weren't just fast, wildly impractical cars that people used to take down to the track on weekends. I mean people really drove these things - they were actual cars, not just things to argue about 0-60 times over.

The big problem with the Challenger is the price. I can't really afford one with the options I'd want, and the base models look like rental cars. My second choice is the Mustang, which are cheaper to begin with and really not bad looking in their base config, but I'm not sure how I feel about buying a car right before a new model is introduced. Those 2015's do look nice, though...

I did try a 2014 Camaro - I've owned two Camaros in the past, after all - but goddammit it I cannot for the life of me figure out how anyone manages to drive one of these new ones. First of all, they are tremendously uncomfortable. Really small interior. Second, the windows feel like looking through a keyhole. They're tiny. I would actually be scared for my life driving one of these things on a New York highway.

I liked the interior of the Mazda 3, even if it was a little generic, but I've always been bothered by the new exterior and I think I finally figured out why:

(Not my photo.)

From the front, it looks like a big, serious car. But move just a few feet back, and it's a tiny little hatchback. It's like a mullet - all business in front, party in the back. From certain angles it's cute, from other angles it's badass, from still others it's a conservative little econobox. Nothing's consistent about the look. The front end is just cartoonishly oversized, like a caricature - now that I see it, I can't unsee it. I do like the car overall and it'd be in my top two if my wife had signed on. But she's not a fan, and given how I feel about the sheetmetal, she didn't have to try that hard to convince me to move on.

I also wrote in 2007 about how much I loved the 2008 Mini Cooper S. Well, guess what? I love the 2014 too.

The Mini is amazingly comfortable for a big guy like me. I mentioned this in 2007 as well. And its interior is unique - you either love it or hate it, but I love it. I like things that are functional but a little different, and the Mini's dash layout proves that there's plenty of room for personality without sacrificing form. It's not just different for the sake of it; it actually works, and looks neat. And it's aged really well - the all-new 2014 Mini interior doesn't look a whole lot different from what I remember from 2003 or 2007 (the speedo is centered behind the wheel now, obviously).

(Not my photo.)

The Mini's also better suited to my commute to Manhattan than a car like the Challenger or Mustang. Much as I love big American muscle cars, practicality matters too. The Mini would be easier to parallel park and I probably wouldn't feel too bad about leaving it out in the open where it's subject to bird poop. My town is just overrun with bird poop!

My dark horses were all quickly ruled out, mostly because I literally could not fit into any of them. This amazes me - it's 2014, why are mainstream cars that are all much bigger than the Mini too small for a 6'4" guy to fit in? I hit my head on the roof of both Hyundais, for example, and there was no way to lower the seat. I could barely even get into the Camaro. The WRX I didn't really even try once I realized it's a $40,000 car. Who pays that?? I'd much rather have a Challenger SRT/8 if I had that kind of money.

One thing I'll say about auto shows in general is that the older I get, the less I understand all this crowding around expensive cars you will never, ever afford, and that often won't ever even be produced. People go batshit crazy over the latest concept car that they'll never see again, or some Italian sports car that's completely unattainable. Why? There are people that go to auto shows only for this. Then there are people like me, who use the auto show like a big giant car dealer - a shopping tool. You can easily spot us - we're the ones sitting in the Scion XB's and Mazda 3's and Ford Fusions. You know, practical stuff that we might actually buy. We sort of smile and nod as we hold the doors open for each other, knowing we're kind of an odd breed at auto shows like this, where most people automatically make a beeline for the most expensive car at the show, even if it costs more than they'll make in their lifetime.

We're off to the Mini dealer this weekend.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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