2010 Montreal Auto Show - Reflections on Automotive Accosting

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While toiling away at my soul-crushing day job, the one at a large, faceless software megacorp that puts as much value on my personal happiness and job fulfillment as Dracula puts on garlic baths and wooden stakes, I was left to my own devices. An iPod, my laptop and time to reflect at great length on my recent visit to the Montreal International Auto Show, Version 2010.

Right in the heart of downtown Montreal, this bustling, multicultural bastion of semi-decent public transportation, excellent food and potholed pathways they dare to call streets, there was an exhibition of some of the latest and greatest automotive hardware from all over the world. Sure, we had only a few European brands, and no mass produced Italian or (thank heavens) French or Czech brands, so it didn't really capture all the world had to offer. But it did have lots of really nice cars, way too many SUVs and crossovers, and a nearly incalculable number of instances of being accosted by automotive flunkies, junkies and guys in suits thrusting their business card at you in a way that made you want to parry their 3.5 x 2 inch thrust with an elbow and repel them with a violently spinning, rolled up glossy brochure from the last manufacturer's exhibit.

So, any surprises? Not really, but all the same ti was quite pleasurable to see such a vast sea of cars and all the folks interested in them. In this case I was with my phenomenal wife, my sister and brother-in-law. They are looking for a new vehicle, seats 7, the word "minivan" being "verboten" in my sister's presence.

So which cars, kicked butt? Quite a few, actually. And here are my fave's and a few hideous hogs in no particular order.

Audi - pretty much all of them. I think the A4, A5, A6, A8 and the TT are all superb designs, inside and out. I know they are overpriced and overweight, but they are nice cars to behold and sit in. We all know Audi makes some of the finest interiors known to man, but it's the harmony and the tactile quality that blow me away. One big downside - they were all white cars. Look, I know white is the in color now with German vehicles, and has some racing history to it, but Audi, you are not hip like Apple so don't try white unless it's an iPod or a MacBook. Please, give us back color.

BMW 5 Series GT - Bad, New Z4 - Very good
The hideous 5-series GT isn't worth a comment. Sure, people will buy it like they buy the X6, but they will be snickered at for being so obviously crippled with the bad taste gene. I know there are people out there who say "Hey! it's a subjective matter of taste." Those people are wrong and blind too.

However, the new Z4, well, that is a sweet looking car. They finally fixed the last generation. Both inside and out. It may be seen as a poseur car, but with 330 hp in the top-spec version, it flies, it has awesome looking wheels, it's passable in terms of interior space, and it's just flat out sweet looking.

Acura ZDX
This one wins the award for Most interesting and most stupid vehicle at the show. Those who know me, know I am short. I should be able to get in to most cars unimpeded. The front seats were no problem. The rear seats were the definition of form over function. I smashed my head getting in and out and that was with some serious bending. This car is for middle-aged dudes and older who need an admittedly interesting looking car but know ZILCH about practicality. Small trunk too. No foot space in the crushingly small rear seats. Excellent fit and finish made up for a number of flaws. But not completely.

Ford Fiesta
It was nicer than I thought. Small, tight, but comfy. Great city car, tight rear quarters if you have adults or teens, but really well thought out. A true driver's car in that the pedals steering wheel and shifter were all nicely grouped. The radio controls, that will take some getting used to, but the car does work. Oh, cheap material on the seats.

Honda Fit (and NOT the Crosstour)
It is a brilliant car no matter how you slice it. Superb shifter, good ergonomics, the smartest use of interior space this side of a minivan, and just plain neat looking. If you need a city car, and one that can schlep a ton and be fun, this is it. The interior design does indeed takes getting used to in the sense that the Japanese may have smoking some bad seaweed, but somehow, it works.

Unlike the Crosstour. Oh, sure, Honda will sell them. But man, saying this car was beaten with an ugly stick is insulting to all sticks, whether they are used for uglification or not. This car is overweight, over-ugly, and you can't see out the back. I just don't get where Honda is going with this. I guess their product guys in japan must have little brain readers, otherwise, there is no good reason to get this car.

The Mini
I have been in love with this car since Day 1, and my love for this vehicle remains unabashedly unabated. It was my wife who drew me to my favorite detail on the car -- the big shifter ball and the exquisite feel of the shit action. Throws were longer than I had hoped, but you felt the mechanical attachment to the car. So elemental, so right. And the miserable ergonomics? It's worth the high price of admission.And high price of upkeep should this thing break on you, as an acquaintance told me. But so desirable. Small is good.

Nissan 370Z
Face it, it's a hot car. The interior has it's faults, like the cheap plastic behind the leather covered bin door in the middle of the console, or a few other cheap touches. But the steering wheel, the shifter, the placement of the controls, all top notch. Lovely shape, and we know what a hot engine this thing has. Sure, car insurance quotes may be high for this car and it screams "I'm swimming in testosterone" but if I had the means, or a life insurance policy on a relative I severely disliked, I would seriously think about getting this car.

VW Golf and Passat
I was so impressed with the rock solid interiors and the quiet yet competent exteriors, that I would almost part with my money for these cars. I say "almost" because they had to get out the defibrillator paddles when I saw the price of these things. Call 911, call my banker! Come on, VW. Great technology, sure! Spectacular interiors, they're a given. But 30K for a Golf? It was almost as outrageous as the Passat. 41K for the tricked out leather 4-cylinder wagon. I got cramps, and they rolled over the defibrillator a second time. It appears the marketing Volk at VW are smoking some kind of beer-soaked crack and inhaling through 100 Euro bills. 

Volvo C30
I always liked the look of this car. Inside and out. Just a cohesive piece of good Scandinavian design. Feels like it's built to last. My wife, it turned out, loved the look and feel of this car even more than I did. I swear I could heard her thinking "Hmmm... his life insurance policy would cover the cost of this car with the high-end leather package..." It impressed us with soul-softening seats, lovely leather a la 2-tone, nice controls and those deep blue dials. Sure, it's all about style, but this one has substance too. 

Kia Soul
OK, this one is for my wife. She liked this car above every other car, including the nuclear yellow Bentley GTC that caught her eye. And trust me, she liked that car. But the Soul has design soul. It has mojo, it has presence. How did it feel? Well, for a 20K car, slightly cheap in some respects and you get what you pay for. But it is practical enough, sits high, is wide and accommodating to get in and out of. And the up-level interior does look quite nice, even if some switchgear is cheap.

Jaguar XJ
This was perhaps my favorite car of the show. It's big, as in S-Class big, but it is utterly stunning to behold. Both inside and out. Jaguar hit a design home run with this vehicle. The interior is a work of art. Sweeping lines, stunning metal and wood and leather and chrome. I would have to wear a diaper if I wore this car, for fear of wetting myself each and every drive due to its intense inner beauty. It looks like a million bucks, even if it only costs 100K+. I have heard some people say the back has a hint of Audi A6 from a decade ago, but they are wrong. It's soft, but it's more dynamic, less Germanic. And the hood - it's a designer's wet dream. BMW 7 Series? Forget it. S-Class or A8? Boring bohunks of Germanic metal by comparison.

Mercedes GLK 
This car suprised me in many ways. First of all, this was the last time I was accosted by some kind of sales person (who it turns out I actually know), it was the last car I saw in white (which didn't look awful, actually), and it had decent space. I thought the inside would be tighter all around. I was wrong. Great back seat, great driver's seat, superb visibility. And the rectilinear design of the dash does take some getting used to. But it grew on me in no time. I actually wound up not hating this car at all. And it felt built like the proverbial German panzer it is. Meant for picking up the kids at private school or blasting off to the club for a round of golf or even just getting your facial done at the spa. It can handle it all. Oh, but you'd be wise to shell out for the power closing rear hatch (probably for some bank account-decimating sum of moolah). It raises quite high and you have to stretch if you're vertically challenged like me.

So those are the highlights from my perspective. See if I am wrong by going to the next auto show in your area. Be prepared for salesmen, brochures galore and lots of walking. And tons of cool, rolling 4-wheeled metal.

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