Last year was the first year since 2009 that I didn’t attend the Washington Auto Show; ironic because I skipped it to go out and actually buy a new car (the most valid reason you could give, if you ask me). Needless to say, even though I was content to fall absent last year given my reason, I was excited to explore the show this year, since it’s now been two years since my last visit.
Before going further, I should note that my focus this year was exploring the state of the 2016 car market’s product offerings rather than collecting photographic documentation.
Over the years I’ve seen the cars evolve, the focus of the show change, and manufacturers rise and fall. This year many manufacturers are going to shake up US roads; many things are coming to our automotive market that European countries have enjoyed or been influenced by for a very long time. In the last two years, Fiat’s acquisition of Chrysler has brought about a lot of changes within Chrysler’s marquees, some good and some bad. 2015 was the first year since 1995 that the US market was blessed by Alfa Romeo’s presence as a retailer. 2016 is the year Alfa will begin to expand on our roads.
Last December I saw my first 4C on public roads - a red example waiting at a stoplight in Reston; I grinned from ear to ear the rest of the day - I’ve always had a soft spot for the beautiful Italian designed cars of all vintages. At the Washington Auto Show, a yellow Spider 4C was breaking necks (as much as the lovely woman presenting Alfa’s two-seater offering to North American roads).
Another great move on Fiat’s part is the revival of the Chrysler Pacifica. I know this van has gotten a lot of heat since its announcement, but I’m a fan; it’s a very exciting entry for the minivan market, and as a friend put it upon seeing the interior, “you could baby so hard in that thing.” This van is meant for some serious modern family-ing (including the annoying TV show if you want - look at that awesome rear-seat TV screen setup!).
Unfortunately 2016 will also mark the last year for the Dodge Dart; a mistake if you ask me. The Dart is a car that I favorably reviewed previously; I know not everyone has had as many nice things to say, some of which I agree and mirrored in my evaluation. I never said it was perfect; though it isn’t the most valuable car in its class, it is the most exciting (which always comes at some price), and it isn’t perfect, but the major problems I found were ones which currently plague most other vehicles in the Chrysler / Dodge / “SRT” (lol) lineup. In other words, the designers are still finding their groove. I WILL touch your Dart, thank you very much.
Also on hand was an example police-spec Charger. To Punish and Enslave...
Something I found disconcerting was Ford’s trucks’ frame examples - the “new and improved” frame was bent out of shape and easily bendable in my fingers; if it can’t stand up to an auto-show, how would it stand up to daily driving, let alone abuse and accidents? I must be missing something, because I know and like Ford trucks - I’ve driven them more than any other brand. If you know what’s up with this, tell me in the comments, because I honestly didn’t read the placard on the display - it just stuck out to me while taking a quick break.
A segment of the Washington Auto Show that is painfully missing is vehicles and technology aimed at helping those with disabilities. I’m glad there is a renewable energy section, but Washington Auto Show organizers, I challenge you to create a Disabled Access section; incentivize auto makers, retrofitters, and accessory vendors specializing in motoring access for those with disabilities to display vehicles and booths in their own section at the 2017 Auto Show.
The only example I saw this year was Toyota Mobility’s Sienna with Auto Access Seat. Amazing how it works, however the people I saw around it seemed to think it was a sports tailgating feature - that’s not really the image this kind of innovative product deserves.
Toyota is wonderful for letting its designers explore the outer-reaches of conceptual design; the Tron-inspired FV2 was on display last year as well, and is a good example of a modern proving-test-bed for future ideas and technology. For this, I give Toyota a great deal of praise. Toyota makes great cars - the 2016 Corolla, Camry, Highlander, and their trucks are good, solid vehicles. The Toyobaru is great. It’s when it comes to production time for vehicles like the Prius and Mirai that Toyota falls flat. The Prius is the car that car guys love to hate, partially because of its looks and specs, and partially because of its typical owners. Oh, and then there was that awful song too. I’m all for what the car stands for - energy savings, renewable energy, saving the environment... but it’s such a damn committee car! Just about every car maker out there has now proven that you can make a hybrid / electric car that’s *exciting*. The Prius has a massive following, which is great - the car is here to stay, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s good that a hybrid is so popular. The problem is that it’s such a boring, ugly car. It seems that Toyota has tried to make the Prius (alongside the Mirai concept) more exciting by making it more distinctive... the problem is that “distinctive” isn’t always good. In this case, the committee made it derpy. Actually, the only auto maker with more committee / group-think ruined cars is Toyota’s direct competitor, Honda, whose cost-saving but not cost-reducing shortcuts are evident the second you sit down; I want to like their cars, but they’re overpriced for what you’re getting. So, I don’t know what the Prius team was thinking, but this is the ugliest iterations of the car I’ve seen yet.
So, instead of blowing a lot of hot air, I’ll make my suggestion of what I would see as an exciting, attractive Prius. First of all, lose the bubble shape - yes, I know it’s like that for aero; just hear me out. Lose the bubble shape and random body scoops and waves, and go toward a 5-door hatch / wagon design - those have hoods! Imagine if you made a Corolla into a slightly smaller Panamera or Mazda 3, with the styling of the FR-S, but the economical drivetrain, solar panels, and weight / energy saving goodies at the Prius’ core. You’ve pretty much got that with the CT200h; take that concept, and apply it to the Prius namesake, giving it the full suite of Toyota Prius tech and soul. THAT is what I think these cars should be.
That said, I’m just one person (Jalop) with an opinion, and the CT200h vs Prius sale numbers say that Toyota’s right and I am wrong. I’m also quite far from the Prius’ target demographic. I’ve always admired the CT200h though - I’m giddy every time I see one, or the even more rare Acura TL wagon... in metallic brown! :-D
Well, just two more negatives I noticed, and we’ll get through those quick. Firstly, the exhaust pipes on these GMCs (and presumably Chevys? I didn’t check). I love everything GMC makes, but the give-a-damns stopped on the exhaust tip - this looks like you guys used a fence post.
And finally, the one I’ve been waiting to mention. BMW. You guys. Ugh. You guys. You’ve officially lost it. You’ve been acting a little crazy for a few years now, but you guys have officially gone looney with your latest batch of naming convention. Infiniti went through a bit of a naming crisis in 2012 when it began giving all its models a Q designation, but that quickly worked itself out. BMW, however, you guys are going through a full-on identity crisis. Let me give you a hint - you don’t have to be good at EVERYTHING. You currently make multiple cars for everyone - it’s unnecessary and confusing, and surely can’t be financially sound!
Look at this!
You currently have 25 - 27 models for sale (depending on how you count them), and that doesn’t even count trim levels. And don’t get me stared on you calling a 4-door a coupé. I like the 6 Series Gran Coupe (I like fastbacks), but how about you tidy up your naming convention and bump that over to the 7 Series, along with the awesome Alpina B6? I also would like to see you and Mercedes go back to your roots of using engine displacement as model designators. It’s ok, if you want to differentiate trim levels, using x and s and i and ci are still great!
I can’t wait to see your next iteration of the Z4 (will it be a big enough change to christen it the Z5?). I love every bit of that car (except it deserves a 6 speed manual option, of course).
Speaking of little roadsters I love, by far the best new car on display at the show was the ND Miata. The Miata has always been a fun little car, but sitting in the ND is a whole new level. A whole new experience. Mazda has hit a home run with this car (with the exception of the derpy headlights and taillights - are derpy lights the new craze for Japanese cars for some reason? Is there something culturally spurring this in Toyota, Honda, and Mazda now?). The interior is perfection. It’s comfortable, and everything is easy. The clutch is light (my Infiniti’s is very heavy and long in comparison), and the shifts are extremely short - this is clearly a car meant to get into some (good / fun) trouble with.
I don’t have pictures because I was too busy drooling in the driver’s seat.
One I was excited to see was the Buick Cascada. It’s so pretty :-) And I’m very happy to see Buick going in this direction, because I so desperately want them to survive as a brand. I like what they’re putting out; they just need to step up their interior game one little notch. Hopefully they do so with the Cascada.
Here is the Cascada’s top going up in ~15 seconds.
The other car I was excited for at this year’s show was Lincoln’s new Continental. If this is the new Lincoln, it needs to trickle down to the rest of the product line - it’s *beautiful.* This is the flagship Lincoln so desperately needs. If they can up their interior quality in the lesser models from Ford level to Jaguar level, Lincoln stands a chance to be a luxury contender again. From the distance of its pedestal, the new Continental is doing all the right things inside and out. Please trickle down and make Lincoln great again! (Yeah, it’s an election year :-/)
The only car I desperately wanted to see was Infiniti’s new Q60 - it wasn’t on display.
Those are my big takeaway’s from this year’s show. I found out how much I like Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class while Jake found he just barely still fits in the rear-facing seat. We also got to sit in a Polaris Slingshot, which I can only describe as a Power Wheels for grown-ups - this was the second I’ve seen in person.
After this spending all day at the show and STILL not seeing everything, it was time to bail; we all went to this amazing sushi place called Momiji right off of H Street. I need more sushi in my life!
J. David Buerk is a Washington, DC area photographer with a passion for cars. This blog post has been republished by J. David Buerk. For the full set of photos, view the album at his Facebook Page. All photography is by J. David Buerk, and is copyrighted All Rights Reserved.