We are well into auto show season now, as I’m sure you’ve seen, what with all the Chirons and Regeras. But we are not in Geneva. That’s for a few different reasons. Reason one: my passport is expired. Reason two: the Swiss are too polite to be trusted. Reason C: RFD does not have the budget to send me to Switzerland. Or to send me to Burger King.
Instead, I’m in Kansas City. Now, I love my hometown, but we aren’t quite Detroit or New York City. So what does an auto show in the Midwest consist of? That’s what I wanted to find out. In the interest of full disclosure, Ford invited me to come out on media day, before the official opening. So the coverage is a bit Ford heavy. If you have an issue with that, well, you can get me access to another event. For me, a huge percentage of a car’s character is determined by the sensations and sounds, so analyzing parked cars that are turned off is a bit of a difficult prospect. So I’m going to try and discuss things like ergonomics, materials, and the like, instead of steering feel and exhaust note. I almost feel like a real press reporter, critiquing seat design.
So due to the nature of my access, I was there before the official opening. Actually, I was there before they even had finished setting up. Hence the carpet coverings, and swarms of cleaners. The first thing I noticed, after the inauspicious entry through a loading dock, and the incomplete setup, was the variety of cars on display. I don’t mean that in term of breadth of selection, but more that the featured vehicles are not what you might expect.
Instead of featuring multi million dollar hypercars, the main thoroughfare of the Kansas City Auto Show features things like Impalas, and Fusions, and Corollas. Now I know that doesn’t sound thrilling, but the simple fact is that the sales of these cars are the only thing that allows the Z06, GT, and LFA to exist. That’s the reason that Porsche’s best selling vehicle is the V6 Cayenne. Wade Jackson, Fusion Brand Manager at Ford, told me that the Fusion is the core of Ford’s sales strategy. The mid- sized sedan submarket is a much bigger cash cow than the two seat sports car segment. Shocking, I know. More hard-hitting journalism courtesy of RFD!
So while family sedans may not be sexy, they make up the majority of the vehicles on the road, at least in the Midwest. The only thing that outnumbers them around here is pickup trucks. Missouri loves trucks. A lot. Like, to a degree I don’t entirely understand. However, there is one exception I’m willing to make: the Ford Raptor. I’ve written a bit before about the Raptor, but this was my first time being around one in person. First impressions: that thing’s got some goddamn presence.
Even as high as it sits, it doesn’t look as ungainly as some of the bro-dozers do. Less mall crawler, more prerunner. The beefy skidplate up front certainly helps with that image. As for the inside, I think my last apartment was less well equipped, and smaller. There’s the standard stuff like power outlets, heated and cooled seats, foyer, servant’s quarters, and “trailer backup”. That last one I had to have explained to me by Brandt Coultas, F-150 Brand Manager at Ford. Now, apparently that means that if you input some measurements of your trailer, you can use that dial like a tiny elfin steering wheel to steer the whole ensemble, truck, trailer, and all, with the various computers figuring out which way things need to turn to turn the trailer the correct way. Normally, backing up with a trailer gets a bit confusing. This aims to solve that problem through the use of things like “steer by wire” and “math”. They say math, I say faerie magic. Tomato, potato.
But Ford did have a few things other than trucks and sedans. There were some weird things in the corner with horses on the front, but who cares about that, right? (Careful Fails, I do. – Ed.) Forget that, there’s hatchbacks here. I have a pathological response to all things hatch or wagon shaped. I make no apologies for that. So I, of course, made a beeline for the Focus ST. Yes, I know it’s not a new car, and literally every journalist has driven one, but I’ve never been in one, and I’m the one typing, so too bad.
First impressions: everything just feels right. The Recaro seats grip you tightly and firmly, like that Puerto Rican from your one vacation that you never mention. I’m not sure if I’ve ever sat in a stock car with such aggressive bolstering on the seats. Sure, most of the interior is made of cheap, hard plastics. But that doesn’t matter. Similar to a WRX, you’re not paying for an interior. The money has gone to the hardware, not the decoration. While the dash and doors are straight from the base model, the contact points are perfect. The positioning of all the controls just feels perfect, and the shifter is one of the smoothest I have ever used. Not notchy, not clunky, just slick and smooth. Also like that Puerto Rican.
Next to the ST was that darling of the internet, the Focus RS. This specific one was locked, with a sign explaining that since it was a prototype, it would stay closed. That’s just disappointing. So I used the dark art of “asking politely”, and had my hosts open it for me. I do this for you guys. It’s not for me at all. Inside, it is more of the same. The ST badging is swapped for RS ones, and it had more carbon fiber and suede trim than the ST, but other than that was just a Focus. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. As I said, on hot hatches, you’re paying for the chassis and drivetrain, not the interior.
Of course, I had to swing by the Mini booth, as I’m a giant fan of my Cooper S, aside from the reliability issues. As always, the changes are very gradual. They’ve finally removed the giant speedometer from the center console. Yes, that was always a cute novelty, but it never felt natural to look over at it. On my own 2010 Cooper S, there is a digital speedometer on the analog tachometer, similar to a sportbike cluster. On this new one, they’ve added an analog speedo to sit alongside the analog tach. Small change, but it will probably aid everyday usability. The ergonomics are typical Mini, in that everything feels tight and compact. Some of the interior finishes are a bit questionable though, with some odd psuedo carbon fiber trim on the dash. But the Mini community loves kitschy add-ons, so that will go over fine.
As a fledgling auto journalist, I am contractually obligated to love wagons, as well as hatches. Luckily, Volvo had a V60 Polestar wagon on display. A subtle euro wagon, with 345 horsepower. God, I love the Swedes. As an added perk, this car was assembled in my brother-in-law’s hometown of Gothenburg. G-Town, holdin’ it down! Volvo has managed to accomplish something that basically every German manufacturer has forgotten: make a comfortable seat. Seriously, the front seats in the V70 are more comfortable than any piece of furniture that I own. I’m not sure what that says about my house, other than the fact that working for the internet doesn’t pay well. The rear seats are not nearly as soft, but are still more than serviceable. There’s plenty of alcantara and Polestar blue stitching everywhere, but on the whole, the interior is typical Swedish understatement. Clean lines, muted colors, and simple layouts.
To continue the utter cliché that is my automotive preferences, a Miata had to be found. I always forget just how small the diminutive Mazda is. I mean, I’m aware that it’s a tiny car, but you kind of forget how massive everything has gotten until you see the MX-5 with its top down, surrounded by crossovers and SUVs. From the driver seat, I can reach the passenger door with barely a stretch. The shifter feels short and notchy, almost like an aftermarket short shifter. Very precise, but not quite as slick as the Fords. This one got some assistance on the street cred with some upgrades from BBS and Brembo.
Now, as I said earlier, KC doesn’t really get the high-end Euro brands. I mean, sure, Porsche brought some Carreras, but we don’t really get things like the GT3. That’s why I was entirely caught off guard by the last two cars here. Right at the very head of the main aisle was a stylish stage with a few rare treats. Alfa Romeo brought a pair of cars out. Later in the week, these cars would be obscured by crowds of fans, and the traditional booth professionals. But at 9am on a Wednesday, I was the only one there, so I got to get a little intimate with them.
First up, the car that makes me go weak and sweaty: the 4C. It carries over enough design language from the 8C Competizione, but in a tighter, more aggressive package. It’s one of those vehicles where the actual performance figures are entirely irrelevant. With curves like that, I could not care less how fast it is. You could put it in your living room as an art installation, and be entirely justified. As for the interior, it was fucking locked. You hurt me, Alfa, you hurt me. I thought we had something special.
This last one is for our Editor-in-Chief, Will. When I came across an unlocked Alfa Romeo Giulia, I knew I had to document every inch of the interior, or I’d never be allowed to work again. So here you go, man. This is all for you. (Thanks Fails, that made up for the earlier Mustang crack – Ed.) I don’t even have many words for this. Every inch of the interior is covered in gorgeous carbon fiber and red leather. Nothing feels cheap or borrowed from someone’s parts bin. Aside from the shifter. I really didn’t like the manual transmission in the Giulia. Even in gear, there was a shocking amount of slop in it. I had to keep double checking that I actually had it in a gear. It had well over an inch of play from side to side when in gear. I’ve never driven a sports car with that degree of slop. Now, I’ve heard other people rave about it, so I’m willing to accept that this one may have had too many tweens wrenching on it, but it was still disappointing. But enough negativity. Just look at the details, and those carbon bucket seats.
The Kansas City Auto Show may not have the glitz and glamor of Geneva or New York, but it provides a more honest look at the motoring world. While I’d love to live in a world where we all drive surreal hypercars 3D printed out of carbotanium that shoot fire and sound like robot orgies, that’s probably not going to happen. For most of the world, sedans and trucks are a necessity of life. There was a time where that meant sacrificing all semblance of style or performance. So just shut up and appreciate the fact that you can buy a comfortable family car with over 300 horsepower, or the truck that hauls your family trailer can also haul ass over sand dunes and mud ruts.