|February 5, 2008
Philadelphia International Auto Show Coverage
After a very long week in the office, I was looking forward to a relaxing Friday night with my girlfriend. I had been talking to a few of my co-workers and one of them mentioned they were going to the Philadelphia Auto Show's Black Tie Gala event that evening. Having lived in the area for the last couple of years, it was something I always wanted to do. The reason I hadn't gone in the past is because the price tag for the event was rather steep - $200 for the evening. Seemingly every year the price had gone up, and for whatever reason I just dealt with general admission to the venue. Over the past few years I'd grown weary of car shows being mobbed by people to the point where you really couldn't get a good look at anything for more than a few seconds, as people would shuffle you out of the way for their 10 second chance to glimpse an exotic auto. Taking a picture was impossible as well, because even if you had enough space to take one someone would walk into your path. This brings me to another point: anything really worth looking at is completely roped off from the general public.
I left the office that day and I told my co-worker to let me know how the event west, as I had explained to him (and now to you) my gripes with past auto shows. On the way home I was enjoying the fact that the week was over and looking forward to my vacation the following week. I then received a text message from my girlfriend and based on an unforeseen family obligation my Friday night suddenly freed up completely.
As luck would have it I was still able to get my hands on a last minute ticket, so I drove home to get suited up for a fun night ahead.
Not wanting to leave my S4 at the mercy of the local parking lot attendants I wisely took the train to the Philadelphia convention center. I also didn't realize the event would also include an open bar for the night. In retrospect it was quite fortunate that I took the train.
I arrived at the event and I was one of the first few people in the door at 7pm on the dot. I figured that the allotted four hours would provide plenty of opportunity to see everything.
The B8 Audi A4
Knowing full well that Audi and the exotics were off on their own floor at the Philadelphia Convention Center, I figured I would head there first. To give you an idea how empty the place was, I'll say that there were more people ready to dust off cars then were people to look at them.
Audi's roped off area included the 2009 A4. At last year's event this same spot was occupied by the R8, but this year the R8 was out on floor duty. Since we were at a true Black Tie Gala they had setup a little step that one could use to walk up onto the display to check out the car. I actually got the only true preview of this car, as some of the Audi show people freaked out and promptly locked up the car while I was standing there. However, before that happened I managed about two minutes on the inside to check out all the new controls and gadgets. I also popped the hood and the trunk to check out the improvements over the outgoing B7 model.
To be brief, if you want to see what the new A4 cockpit is like then check out the Audi A5 / S5 at your local dealer. From the cockpit perspective the cars are nearly identical. The steering wheel is lifted from the B7 and includes paddle shifters mounted to the back of the wheel (later in the evening it was humorous to hear a Nissan GTR onlooker gripe about Nissan column mounted paddles on its new halo car).
The new LCD screen in the center of the gauge cluster is very easy on the eyes. The MMI and other items were not powered up in the car so I missed the full experience. If it's anything like the MMI setup in the S5 it should be fine. The new speedometer was fun to look at and has a very optimistic 180 printed at the other end of the dial. Regrettably most of us will never legally see the dial rise past a third of the way up. It's a very good thing Audi has added an electronic speed readout to the center display since it would be very hard to keep an eye on the speedometer on secondary roads.
I remember first seeing the electronic speed paired with analog dial speed on the 996 Porsches which included analog speedometers in 25mph increments. What I would like to see integrated into the center display is oil temperature, boost levels and other vital information that true car junkies could utilize. Being able to scroll through your MP3 list would be nice too. Maybe even steal a page from Buggati and give us an electronic horsepower usage meter. The car tracks all the data, so it only becomes a matter of outpoint at some point.
The back seats do appear to have more space then the outgoing B7. I wouldn't call it a night and day difference, but rear passengers will appreciate the extra space. The seats are also very comfortable. While they're not as good as the Recaros found in the current S4, they appear to be a significant improvement over the B7 A4 seating.
Under the hood it looks like a standard Audi layout. Battery and brake master cylinder are found behind the engine bay in the cowl, though it does appear as if they've moved the engine coolant bottle up closer to the front. I suppose the other big changes are that they ditched the dual strut hood supports in favor of one perhaps for weight reduction. In addition the washer fluid bottle has been relocated to the cowl from its current location closer to the ABS brick. After quickly looking over the new A5 I would have to say the cars are nearly identical up to the B pillar. Engine layout and the way the other components all come together appear nearly identical. From an engineering perspective as well as a financial perspective this is very wise of Audi. Essentially they're supporting two models with very similar identities.
I also had a chance to look at the trunk area, and those who loved the hinged design and the mini trunk struts will be disappointed with Audi's move back to a more reliable spring and arm system. The spring and arm system is tucked away on the sides, and Audi has done a remarkable job improving the design. Since the trunk arms are very narrow (think of what a banana would look like if you stepped on it), and buried behind the trunk carpets, you'll never have to worry about jamming up the system with an overloaded trunk. Also, since the system uses a plain spring, you'll never have to deal with trunk strut failure again. When one of those failed on my B6 S4, I realized how heavy the trunk really is. Trunk space appears to be similar to the current A4, but without a measuring tape I cannot really say if there is a gain or loss. The purpose of the switch to the strut and hinge design on the B5 A4 was to gain trunk space and it appears they finally have the best of both worlds.
The wheels and brake system also looks improved. I noticed some changes to the rotor shields, as they appear to be modified for better cooling. I will let someone more informed then myself weigh in on that topic.
Overall, the B8 is a great improvement on the B6/B7 chassis. It's not as drastic of a departure as the B6 was to the B5; rather, it is more of an evolution in the design. I like it a lot and look forward to the future S4 offering from Audi (I'm crossing my fingers for a twin turbo V6).
Audi also brought along an R8 in white with silver door blades. They also had an A3 in Sprint Blue. This shade of blue was attracting a lot of attention from a girl who also had a similarly colored blue dress who posed with her family for a photo. The usual Audi line up with the A8, A6, and Q7 were on site as well.
Those of you who know the Philadelphia Auto Show layout know that the upper floor is where Audi, Jaguar, Infinity, and the exotics are displayed (by exotics I mean Maserati, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Aston Martin). Since this is a smaller auto show the exotic manufacturers typically don't show up. Instead, a local dealer, FC Kerbeck, has stepped in to bring out the full offering. Normally, this area has a wall around it and no one can get in save reporters and people with whom the dealer is familiar. The night of Gala, however, it is open to everyone. After I finished looking at the Audi's I checked out the exotics. Even at that point no one was really in the area checking out the cars. As I was feverishly snapping away pictures of Bentleys and Lamborghinis I noticed a very attractive young lady with a crown on her head. My inner voice said, who the f@#$ does she thinks she is, Miss America?
I continued to take photos of the cars and moved closer to where this woman was standing with the people from FC Kerbeck. I struck up a conversation with them about Corvettes. For those of you who do not know, aside from an exotic cars dealership, FC Kerbeck owns a Corvette-only dealership in Atlantic City. After some car talk, I found out the young lady with the crown actually was the newly crowned Miss America, Kristen Haglund. I chatted with her for a bit. Kerbeck wanted some photos with her and the new Corvette ZR1 since she was from the Detroit area of Michigan. I think the Kerbeck folks' pitch was "two beauties from Detroit". The idea seemed appropriate.
Kristen was very nice and very approachable. I congratulated her on her win, and talked about watching the reality show where all the Miss America contestants competed against each other. Normally I would be tuned into BBC's Top Gear, but occasionally my girlfriend puts me in "Park" and changes the channel (hence why I knew anything about the show). It seems Kristen was only a week or so into her tour as Miss America, and I wished her all the best with her brutal travel and appearance schedule. The only thing I could equate to her job is perhaps what a professional athlete on the road endures. They are in the limelight, as they chose to be; only she does not need to throw a football or have a hundred-mile-an-hour slap shot. Instead, she has an image to live up to and must conduct herself as Miss America at all times. I would not want a job like that for more than a few weeks, let alone a year. According to Kristen, her travel schedule for appearances for the next year will average around 20,000 miles a month.
Back to the Cars
Kerbeck brought out some wonderful exotics for the show. Among the more notable was the Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupé. I took a video of them dropping the top on the car. Simply put, it's gorgeous. Annoyingly, since BMW owns Rolls-Royce, it includes the same accessory start chimes as a 7-series. The rear deck on the trunk is made of teak, similar to the would-be owner's yacht. In addition, since it is equipped with suicide doors, you can flick a switch near the A-pillar and not be bothered with closing the door, as the car does it for you. The hood features a two-tone look, with the center of the hood finished in brushed aluminum. The glass on the car is also double paned, and I could see the panes of glass sandwiched together at the edges.
The Orange and Lime Lamborghini Gallardos were very nice as well. If you are going to go Lamborghini, loud is the only way to go. The cars also included the RNS-E navigation system that most of the B7 owners are familiar with, and a backup camera integrated into the spoiler. Very nice touch since backing into something with a Lamborghini would not only be embarrassing, but also expensive.
I wandered downstairs and checked out the Mercedes SLR convertible. I suppose some cars, no matter what, will be roped off. Either way, that thing looked nuts, and I liked it. I then wandered over to the Chevy area to check out Motown's newest creation, the ZR1. It looks like GM did their homework on this car. It has a lot of carbon fiber bits everywhere, and you can tell the design team spent a lot of time doing wind tunnel testing. In addition, it features pizza-pie-size carbon ceramic disc brakes. Supposedly, they are 15.5" (393mm) in the front and 15" (381mm) in the rear. GM is finally doing what folks at Lingenfelter Performance Engineering have been doing for years: bolting on superchargers for big power gains. GM ultimately took it to a level that only the creator could do, by making the roof and b-pillars out of carbon fiber. As often as people say a Corvette is too common, this supercar will be uncommon and will certainly live up to the ZR1 badge on the back.
I then moved on to the Nissan where there was a nice Japanese-spec GTR sitting on stage. I talked shop with the Nissan rep about the GTR, and later revisited it again with some of my friends. One thing I will say; those who believe that the GTR is ugly have never seen it in person. This is honestly one of the best things to come out of Japan since the original Sony Playstation. Forget the STI or the new Evo - this is the car to have if you are looking for an AWD monster from the Far East. Photos do not do this car justice. See it in person and your attitude will likely change. It is a shame their dealer network has treated potential customers in a negative way. I have heard all kinds of horror stories of dealers that are not even getting GTR's taking deposits and screwing with potential customers' heads. It is a great car, but it may not be worth the headache until they are actually here in full production (as opposed to their trickle-in start this summer). Also, be ready for markups over MSRP in percentages that will rival, if not surpass, what some are trying to do on the Audi R8. The GTR is a special car, but some parts of the dealer network are far from special.
Finally, I checked out Porsche and Lotus on the lower level. I still love the Elise and Exige. They are the perfect track weapon and a total hoot to drive, if you can fit into one. Two of the guys that were with me couldn't find a way in, and since I've driven one before I knew exactly how to fold myself up to get in the driver's seat. We also took a bunch of pictures with all of us at the wheel of a car with drinks in our hands.
The food served at the Gala was phenomenal. They had sea bass that was cooked to perfection and literally fell apart on your plate. Also, there were Kobe beef burger shooters, a must have for the non-vegetarians.
The mayor of Philadelphia was there too (I think he made a speech that I missed). If you think about it, a nice dinner with dessert at a Center City Philadelphia restaurant can easily cost around $60 per person. Drinks at the bar would have to set you back at least $40. Normal tickets for the auto show are $12 at the door. In addition, $98 of your $200 goes to CARing for Kids Foundation as a charitable donation (and tax write-off), a major selling point to your other half (if you happen to be a male trying to sell this expensive night out to your wife or girlfriend). Most women like to dress up to go out, and if you have to be forced into such an activity, this is a perfect excuse (not to mention that you will be looking at some of the coolest cars on the planet). To me it is a win, win situation and I look forward to going next year.
The only thing I would do different is I would stay in a hotel that night downtown. I had to pass on several invites to what were rumored to be some pretty crazy after parties thrown by dealership owners.
To summarize, if you live in the Philadelphia area and plan to visit the auto show this year, by all means go. Next year, pony up the cash for the Black Tie Gala. It is definitely worth the experience.