I like attending the annual KC Auto Show mostly just for fun. It a good way to spend a cold weekend afternoon; crawling in and around new cars, doing some people watching, trying some racing sims, and enjoying some of downtown KC’s finest food truck offerings. This time was a bit different though, as I actually had a purpose behind my scrutiny of the cars on display.
Unfortunately for me, that newfound purpose was met with some significantly diminished manufacturer attendance. BMW, MINI, Volvo, and Genesis were entirely absent, and the number of manufacturers offering test drives dwindled from the usual 5-7 down to a measly two.
Still, it was a productive visit. I was able to check out the interior space of several candidates, actually drive one, and shorten my list a bit. I’d have taken pictures, but it was too much of a crowded nightmare so I’ll instead pepper in some various shots from other online sources so you can see what I’m talking about.
Honda Civic Si
- Unfortunately the Si wasn’t available, so I had to make do with a standard Civic EX sedan.
- I can’t comment on the seats since the Si sports a different pair, but the overall amount space and ergonomics up front felt pretty good.
- The gauge cluster design strikes me as a bit odd, but the rest of the interior was decent. I get a bit of a budget-y vibe overall, but it still comes across like some effort was made to make things look and feel good. I’m really glad they put physical radio controls back in.
- Unfortunately the rear seat headroom killed this one for me. I couldn’t even come close to sitting up straight. Leg room was surprisingly ample, but not anywhere near enough to enable a comfortable slouch.
- Verdict: Eliminated.
Civic Type R
- The in-person exterior looks are still just okay in my book. I think it presents itself a lot better at a distance than it does up close with all of the little overwrought details. In any case, it’s still all a bit aggro for my tastes.
- I loved the front seats. Plenty of bolstering, but not so much so that it got in the way of feeling comfortable. The shifter action felt great too.
- I was hoping the hatchback body design would help the rear seating space enough to save this one from the chopping block, but it was borderline at best. I could sit up straight, but my head would still be in firm contact with the liner. If they could have just extended the roof another 3-4 inches back or at least provided some adjustable headrests so I could comfortably tilt my head back, I’d have be able to give the rear seats a passing grade.
- I’m inclined to let this one go as well. It was a little iffy at the start with the looks, FWD, and price near my limit, but a somewhat uncomfortable back seat on top of all of that pushes it firmly towards the bottom of, if not off of my list.
- Verdict: Likely eliminated.
Hyundai Veloster N
- Both the body shape and trademark light blue color look great in person.
- The interior definitely feels more towards the cheap side. I’d put it roughly on par with NC Miatas (at least the earlier, lower trim ones like mine was), so I don’t think it’d bother me much.
- Seats and ergonomics in the front felt just about right. I could easily find a comfortable seating and wheel position, and the shifter throws felt pleasantly short and direct.
- As expected, the rear space was not good at all. It’s definitely step ahead of the Toyobarus and most other 2+2 rear “seats”, but not by much. I could sit behind myself, but it was pretty cramped and uncomfortable, requiring skewed knees and some slouching, leaning or twisting. I don’t think I or most of my other usual passengers want to put up with that for any more than 15-30 minutes, tops.
- Verdict: Eliminated.
- I actually had one of these as a dealership loaner not long before the auto show while I was getting my Outback’s clutch hardware replaced. It was a base model with the CVT rather than the Sport, but it still told most most of what I needed to know.
- As I had experienced previously, the interior space was remarkably generous with seats that were comfortable, if a little under-bolstered. Design and materials quality felt roughly on par with the Civics.
- The ride was decent, but more spirited handling maneuvers unearthed some odd mid-corner behavior. It’s kinda hard to describe, but it felt like some combo of suspension, CVT, AWD, and/or EPS tuning kept changing things just enough that it wouldn’t stay settled throughout some turns.
- The lack of power was a real downer. It didn’t fare very well at all on some of the shorter on-ramps I occasionally have to traverse, especially those going uphill.
- I think the manual transmission would help this vehicle a bit (even though it’s somehow still a 5-speed?), but I could still see myself quickly growing annoyed at the leisurely pace of acceleration here.
- Verdict: Eliminated.
Subaru WRX (or maybe STI)
- I loved the optional Recaro seats. They’ve nailed the balance between comfort and bolstering as far as I’m concerned.
- Interior look and feel was a little below average, but again, I’m not super picky about that.
- I can see why some reviewers complain about the WRX having some slop in the shifter. It’s definitely there, but doesn’t seem bad enough to be a deal-breaker. Supposedly the STI does it better as well.
- Rear seat space was just large enough for me to fit without issue. I wish it was just a little bit larger, but I don’t think I’d have any issues sitting back there for multiple hours.
- No hatchback is still a negative with these, but having all of my other needs potentially met for a reasonable price definitely keeps this in the running. A test drive will be the make or break here.
- Verdict: Still considering.
VW Golf GTI / Alltrack / R
- Thankfully, a GTI was among the sparsely populated test drive lineup. This particular car was an Autobahn w/ DCT and I had the privilege to drive it around a whopping two whole city blocks.
- Power was plentiful, though the car wasn’t entirely graceful at putting it down on the cold and bumpy downtown streets. I didn’t exactly have a chance to let it really stretch its legs though.
- This was my first encounter with variable rate electric steering and it felt a little weird, but not so much so that I couldn’t get used to it over time.
- I’d still want the manual. The DCT is undeniably swift when you’re clear and consistent about expressing your acceleration/braking intentions but hinted at some awkwardness under more dynamic situations.
- The ride was plenty comfortable, even in Sport mode.
- The interior space across these models were roughly equivalent. Front seats were very good, though they fall just short of the WRX’s Recaros and the Type R’s seats for me.
- With the exception of the Impreza, these cars had the most spacious and livable rear seats I’d encountered so far.
- Overall, these all appear to be very good options. I’d still like to try the GTI, Alltrack, and R on some slightly longer drives to better feel out things like the Alltrack’s power, the GTI’s behavior under more spirited driving conditions, whether or not the R is worth the price jump, and how VW’s latest manual transmissions feel.
- Verdict: Looks promising.
Others Not Present
- Genesis G70: I still have yet to encounter one of these in person. The reports of poor rear seat space does not bode well for it, however.
- CPO / lightly used BMW 335/340 xDrive or Audi A4 Quattro: Most prices for years/mileage I’d be comfortable with seem to be within spitting distance of the Golf R, so I’d need a test drive to figure out if giving up the hatch and warranty duration might be worth it.
- MINI Clubman JCW All4: The pricetag on these is still the largest hurdle, so I’d almost need to look towards the used/CPO market or downgrade to an S to justify one. Even then, that doesn’t change the fact that they don’t stand out a whole lot compared to most other options here to warrant the price and/or warranty length. I’ve also come to find out recently that they don’t offer Android Auto, which was one of my few strong desires when it came to interior features. This is a likely elimination but I’d still like to at least get out and drive one again.