Denver Auto Show Felix Wong

Walking around the second floor of the Denver Convention Center, the Denver International Auto Show just felt different than it did in years past. Then it hit me—it was because GM’s floorspace was so small as a direct result of The General shuttering Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer during the last year. While I certainly shed no tears over the loss of the Humvee, I did feel a tinge of sadness that two of my perennial sports car favorites—the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky—were nowhere to be found.

That said, there were several bright spots among the American Manufacturers’ displays.

For me, Buick was the biggest surprise. The Buick Enclave, Lacrosse and Regal are now all world class and very elegantly styled, appearing like they were sculpted from solid blocks of steel. On their insides, their style and extensive use of chrome and high quality materials make the interiors of Lexuses look absolutely staid and unimaginative. The interiors of the new Buicks, in my opinion, are nicer than those of Cadillacs. Buick is back!

Ford also is producing very competitive cars with high-quality materials and class-leading fuel economy. The new Ford Taurus is elegantly designed both inside and out, and the Ford Fusion has been getting awards like Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. The 2011 Ford Mustang V6—in response to the Chevy Camaro V6 with an already amazing 300+ horsepower and 29 mpg highway—is the first car ever produced with 300+ horsepower (more than the 5.0 GT from a decade ago!) and 31 mpg highway with the automatic.

On the foreign front, I was especially impressed by Mazda. The new Mazda 3, 6, CX-7 and CX-9 look fantastic with plenty of the company’s “zoom zoom” philosophy infused in the vehicles’ styling. Interior materials, fit and design are top notch for their price range. Now if only Mazda would give the MX-5 Miata’s interior—which looks rather dated compared to, say, the 3—a makeover.

Audi is famous for having the best interiors, but compared to the designs coming out of Detroit (like Buick’s) or even my first generation TT, Audi’s interiors are starting to look rather conservative and uninspired. The same goes for its parent company, Volkswagen.

One of the biggest design trends are fancy exhaust tips. High end vehicles always had dual chrome exhaust tips as large as beer cans protruding out of cutouts in the rear bumpers, but today even low- to mid-range vehicles like Suzukis, Mazdas, and Buicks have exhaust ports shaped like trapezoids.

Unfortunately there were virtually no concept cars or vehicles I hadn’t seen in person before except for the Corvette Stingray concept, which looked awesome. I hope GM builds it. It even makes the new Camaro look pale. The existing Corvette is getting a bit long on tooth (especially its cheap-looking interior) so the next generation can’t come too soon.

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The 2010 Ford Fiesta.  I like the "kinetic design" styling and its anticipated 40mpg highway.The 2011 Mustang, with base V6, will get 31 mpg highway (automatic) despite having 305 horsepower!The Dodge Challenger, with worse handling, interior and gas mileage, is no longer a worthy challenger to the Mustang.Hmmm, I wonder what's under here?A Yamaha race bike -- probably an R1.An Austin Healy 100!A Ford hot rod from the Depression era.Half motorcycle, half 50s Cadillac (Chevy?)A BMW S1000 motorcycle.RUINED: a Corvette with a custom paint job.A monkey in a pimped out Volkswagen Beetle.A classic Corvette Stingray.A Lancia Scropion and Pantera.A couple classic motorcycles (including an MV Agusta) and Fiat 500.A Bentley Continental GT with 2+2 seating.A Lotus Elise and Lotus Evora.A demo of Perma-Seal, "The Lazy Man's Wax."  I actually bought some.A Ferrari California convertible.A Nissan 370Z.  I like its styling the best of all the Zs.An Audi R8 convertible, the younger sister of my TT Roadster.The second generation Audi TT.  I actually thought the interior of mine (a first-gen) was far more inspired than this one's.An Aston Martin Rapide.A BMW Z4.  I like this much more than the first-generation Z4.The Buick Lacrosse was really impressive.A Corvette Stingray concept.  I hope the next 'Vette looks a lot like this.Compared to the Stingray concept, the Camaro looks quite bland even in this odd shade of green.RUINED: This BASF Lexus SC convertible had matte paint that I mistook for primer.

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