NAIAS Day One — The Cars

DETROIT — Here’s a geek’s-eye view of the North American International Auto Show, which kicked off Monday with its Press Preview days.

* The media is really coddled at this shindig compared to the International CES in Las Vegas. Especially now that Cobo’s new Riverfront Ballroom — the magnificent room created out of the old Cobo Arena — is now the Michelin Media Center. Snacks, beverages, plenty of elbow room, blazing fast connectivity (13 millisecond ping, 79.29 megabits per second download, 52.78 mbps upload), and a really yummy lunch Monday — puff pastry chicken pot pies. These are good times in the car business and it shows.

* There’s something about Audi. They just make flat-out beautiful cars, but with that Teutonic understated luxury. The TT is gorgeous. Even their new SUV looks remarkably un-Mom-mobile.

* I still remember the time I drove a Smart car at the Woodward Dream Cruise for a former employer. I thought people would be throwing things at me, but everybody just sort of went, awwwww. That car was terrifying to drive at freeway speeds, though.

* The new Ford GT supercar was beautiful almost beyond description. It looks like it’s going 150 when it’s standing still. I think I might be able to own it for a whole weekend before I got thrown in jail.

* The only foreign car I ever bought new was a small Toyota pickup back in the late ’80s. I would love to see small pickups make a comeback. Good to see both GM and Toyota rolling out new ones. Not everybody wants to drive a friggin’ school bus.

* GM’s new Bolt electric car concept is super cute, and if they can really make a 200-mile EV for less than $30,000, it should sell.

* I’ve spent a couple of very happy Tech Tour weeks over the years with a Chevy Volt, and the new version looks even better than the old. Two major improvements — five seat belts, finally, and a 50-mile range before the gasoline engine kicks in — that should handle most commutes.

* The new small Jeep Renegade looks really sweet. It sure would be fun to have a little truck that was actually off-road capable and still got 30 mpg on the highway.

* I found the Volkswagen Golf, officially the North American Car of the Year, kind of awkward to get in and out o, and kind of uncomfortable to sit in. And you’re talking to a big guy who happily folds himself into a Ford Fiesta every day for the drive to work. But what do I know? I’m not an auto writer.

* And the Dodge Dart? A really pretty looking little car, but headroom was insufficient for this six-footer, at least with the sunroof installed.

* And the car that I want? OK, let’s make it official — it’s the BMW i3. This super high tech electric car has a super-strong carbon fiber body, an 80 to 120 mile range between charges, two-hour DC recharging, and starts just north of $40,000. Even better, you can have a tiny gasoline engine installed as a “range extender.” And did I mention it scoots from 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds? Car enthusiasts call it dorky-looking. I think it’s completely cool.

* Overall, here’s the takeaway — cars are better than ever. In every way. Faster, more fun to drive, safer, more efficient. And I think many of today’s cars are also drop dead gorgeous. Sure, so were the storied muscle cars of the ’60s and the classic designs of the ’40s and ’50s. But if you ran into anything in those cars at any speed faster than a brisk trot, you were going to be seriously injured, if not killed. And today’s family cars can be tossed around curvy roads at speeds far exceeding the sporty cars of yesteryear. I don’t want to hear any more about the good old days. THESE are the good old days.

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