We’re not Detroit and we’re not Los Angeles, but Denver has a pretty vibrant car community and accounts for quite a bit of national vehicle sales. We skew towards all-wheel drive 4x4s, trucks and SUVs, but those are national trends too, as people want to feel safer in their vehicles. According to the Wall Street Journal, three of the top five selling vehicles are pickup trucks, actually: The Ford F-Series, Dodge RAM and Chevrolet Silverado, with the Nissan Rogue and Toyota Camry capturing the #4 and #5 slots, respectively.
While there are a lot of people who just enjoy cars and like to dream about their next automotive purchase, the main purpose of any car show is to get potential customers excited about what’s next. To turn lookers into buyers. According to the Denver Auto Show management team, 56% of attendees are thinking about buying a new car in the next 12 months, 49% self-identify as “car fanatics”, 48% are married, 61% own the house they’re in and it’s a completely unsurprising 66% male audience.
The kind of people who would appreciate this slick, Transformers-like hard top closing on the brand new 2017 Mazda MX-5:
I’m in a fairly unique niche as a car writer: I actually get to drive lots of these cars and then write about them. In fact, I’m averaging about 15-20 cars/year at this point, which is quite an experience. You can read all my car reviews by bookmarking my Cars & Car Reviews category or simply subscribing to my email notifications [at the end of this article].
Car writers and press get to attend Media Day before the Denver Auto Show formally opens, and that’s quite an interesting experience. On the one hand, no visitors, no kids, no people getting in your way for photographs. On the other hand, lots of empty space and a bit of a ghost town feeling. Many car companies have formal presentations that they schedule for us where they highlight a particular new vehicle and share why it’s interesting or worthy of our attention.
To start the ball rolling this year, we had Jordan Phillips from Mazda USA talk to us about the brand new, redesigned 2017 Mazda CX-5:
Fair disclosure: that’s the exact car I want to purchase next: The 2017 Mazda CX-5 AWD with the Touring trim. Very nice to finally see one in person: they only just showed up at the Mazda dealers in the United States late last week. It’s very nice, and in a hot category, the compact SUV segment. Not only that, Jordan told us that the CX-5 accounted for 25% of all Mazda sales in 2016. Impressive.
We also had presentations – and a delicious lunch at Pizza Republica – from Fiat Chrysler Automotive (known in the biz as “FCA”). Starting with the top-selling RAM Truck line, they also talked about the sleek new Jeep Compass and the Chrysler Pacifica mini-van. Yes, a mini-van. but this one had some cool tricks up its sleeve:
It’s a plug-in hybrid. If you look carefully just above the front left wheel you can see the charging plug cover. This is going to be a category killer for a lot of soccer parents because stats show that the average driver has a daily range of about 30 miles, which is about the range of a full charge on the Pacifica. Down side: with a 110-volt standard power plug, it’s a 14 hour zero to full charge cycle. Bump that to 220-volts, however, and you can completely charge the vehicle in 2 hours. Chrysler partner Mopar is even going to sell a 220-volt kit for Pacifica buyers so they can enjoy this huge benefit.
The cost of the batteries, however, is that the middle seats don’t fold into the bed of the vehicle like in the non-electric version. A bit of a drag but for many owners, they never fold down those seats anyway, so probably won’t be too onerous. When we had a Chrysler Town & Country years ago (the predecessor to the Pacifica) we did pull the middle seat out and store it in the garage. Was terrific for our dogs, no question!
Next up were Volkswagen showing off the new 7-passenger Atlas SUV (very nice!) and Nissan talking about the new 2017 Titan Pro XD truck, a vehicle that they’ve spent a lot of time designing and tweaking. It won the Best Pickup Truck Of the Year award from the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press, of which I’m a voting member!
By that point in the afternoon, however, I was ready to walk around rather than listen to more presentations. So here’s what caught my eye:
The 2017 Aston Martin DB11. Sleek, dangerous looking and with a whopping pricetag that explains why it’s the car line that James Bond 007 prefers. In his latest cinematic outings, however, he’s driven a custom-made DB10. Still, I wouldn’t mind a change to test drive this beauty.
With a slightly less astronomical pricetag, the 2017 Audi R8 shows that the company can produce a sleek car with gorgeous lines as needed. Way more fun than the Audio compact SUVs I see on the road here in Colorado.
The Nissan GT-R in “give me a ticket” red. Very nice, and clearly influenced by Nissan racing engineers, but I wonder how many people look at cars in the $100,000-$125,000 range and pick a Nissan? As configured, this one’s $110,000.
When you think of hybrid vehicles, you probably think of a tiny smartcar or a Toyota Prius. Turns out that the hybrid engine technology makes for a lot more fun and performance than you may realize. That’s why Lexus was showing off the sexy white Lexus LC 500h. Hybrid. Yes, that’s a hybrid. Sweet, eh?
The 2017 Alfa Romeo Guilia. At least, I think that’s what this is. There was no insignia, no nameplate, nothing on the back and just the classic Alfa Romeo logo on the distinctive front grill. Whatever this is, whoooo, she’s a nice looking vehicle!
Stepping briefly away from the sleek sportscars, this was darn interesting:
It’s a concept car from Kia Motors. Yes, Kia. It started out life as a Kia Sorento but it’s been tricked out and is now known as the “PacWest Adventure Concept”. Not sure how functional any of the off-road bling is, and wasn’t thrilled with the green base color, but still, that’d turn heads when you drove into the Whole Foods or REI parking lot, wouldn’t it?
And back to sport cars. More specifically, back to really expensive sports cars: That’s a bright yellow 2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT-S. 0-60 in 3.7 seconds. Because driving in the ‘burbs, right? Beautiful, even in yellow.
Going to the other end of the vehicular pricing spectrum, check out the new 2017 Hyundai Ioniq:
Maybe not quite as much of a “chick magnet”, but with a base price of $22,000 this 50mpg hybrid is worth checking out. Better yet: Hyundai will have a plug-in hybrid version coming out in the fall of this year. Great to see hybrid technologies becoming more affordable. [disclosure: I drive a 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid and paid quite a premium for the hybrid option at the time]
There were so many more vehicles that I can’t even guess the total vehicle count on the show floor at this year’s Denver Auto Show. Maybe 100 vehicles? Maybe more? In any case if you’re a car person or just curious about how much modern safety and performance technology is migrating into even entry level vehicles, the 2017 Denver Auto Show is a fun visit for you and definitely your kids too!
Learn more: The 2017 Denver Auto Show, April 5-9, 2017.