Report: 2013 Arizona International Auto Show

For me, Thanksgiving is about more than just turkey: it’s also about cars. Every year the Arizona International Auto Show comes to town on Thanksgiving weekend. This show features the newest vehicles from dozens of manufacturers. You can sit in them, play with the knobs, and there are no sales people anywhere. My favorite part is going on test drives!

Last year, I drove four different turbocharged cars as well as a Chevrolet Volt and a Camaro SS convertible. This year, I broke my old record and went on seven test drives in one day! The cars I drove are as follows:

  • 2013 Ford Mustang GT 5.0
  • 2013 Lincoln MK-S
  • 2013 Chevrolet Volt
  • 2013 Kia Optima SX Limited
  • 2013 Subaru Legacy CVT
  • 2013 Dodge Challenger V6
  • 2013 Dodge Charger Super Bee
  • 2013 Hyundai Equus Signature

I’d like to take a moment to talk about each one, but first I want to go over some thoughts from the Auto Show itself. Attendance seemed down this year, it didn’t seem to be as busy as last year.

Ford definitely had the biggest presence at the show with a large exhibit and three different test drive booths. They had a whole section set up where you could drive a Fusion or Escape hybrid and the C-Max Energi electric vehicle.

Of all the different cars I drove, Lincoln had the classiest experience. The people were polite, the car was great, and they had the best gift: an 8GB custom flash drive!

Subaru was the biggest letdown. The other car companies took down your information via an iPad or computer, Subaru had pens and notepads. We waited in the sun for a test drive as there was no shade tent. Worst of all, Subaru forgot to bring any of their performance models, opting for yawn-inducing 4-cylinder cars with CVTs.

So let’s go over the cars I test drove:

2013 Ford Mustang GT 5.0
Ford knows that everyone wants to drive the Mustang, and yet they had only one at the show this year! The drive was definitely worth the wait. The 2013 Mustang GT features the superb Coyote V8 engine which packs loads of power and produces a spine-tingling rumble when you tap the throttle.

The Mustang looks great, it sounds great, and it’s very reasonably priced. Of all the cars I drove, this is the one I would most want to have parked in my driveway. Ford gave me a choice of a free baseball hat or travel mug for going on a drive (I took the hat).

2013 Lincoln MK-S
Ford is making some big moves to revive Lincoln as its luxury brand. I saw the new MK-Z on display with its trick glass roof, but I opted to drive the MK-S instead of the MK-Z or the Hybrid.

The MK-S features the same twin-turbo V6 engine from the Taurus SHO, and boy was it a blast! You can really hear the turbos spool up when you get on it, and the boost was very addictive. Inside, the car was classy and well built without being too flashy. It looked, felt, and drove like a luxury car. I got an 8GB flash drive as a parting gift.

2013 Chevrolet Volt
At the 2012 Auto Show, Chevrolet had a fleet of 3 Volts at the test drive booth and a long line of drivers waiting to experience this highly-publicized car. This year, there was just a single Volt and no line at all.

I took the Volt for a spin and was once again impressed with how hard it pulls. It still feels like a heavy car though, especially when braking. Save for some small cosmetic changes, not much was new with the Volt for this year. It’s a technological wonder and it’s the right car for someone, but not for me. I was given a plastic Chevy travel mug for my test drive.

2013 Kia Optima SX Limited
Ten years ago, uttering the words “I drive a Kia” would elicit sympathy from friends and family. Today, “I drive a Kia” has an entirely different meaning. It means you are a savvy car buyer who has done their research and found a good car at a reasonable price.

The Optima SX Limited features the same 2.0L turbo I4 engine from the Hyundai Sonata but in a much more normal looking body. Every surface in the car was soft to the touch and there was an abundance of high-quality NAPA leather in the interior. Kia is trying hard to ditch their econobox image, and it really shows. This car felt like a sensible, great value. I was given a free universal cell phone charger for my test drive.

2013 Subaru Legacy CVT
Subaru has an intensely loyal fanbase due to the fact that most of their cars have turbochargers and manual gearboxes. So what did they have available to test drive at the Auto Show? A four-cylinder Impreza and Legacy sedan, each with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). These cars are the antithesis of excitement, but having never driven a Subaru, I was determined to give it a try.

They had few cars and even fewer test drivers. There was no tent, so I waited in the sun for my turn. I took the Legacy around the block and found it to be quite boring. Yes it worked fine and in all seriousness, is a faster and nicer car than what I drive everyday. But it was just so average, there was nothing that made it any more exciting or cool than a Camry. I did not receive any free gifts from the Subaru people.

2013 Dodge Challenger V6
Dodge’s confusing setup resulted in me getting in the wrong line for the Charger, so I ended up driving a V6 Challenger first. Of all the different retro-inspired muscle cars, the Challenger definitely has the best look.

The best word to describe the car is “masculine.” From its beefy tires to its chunky steering wheel, it’s a car for Alpha Males. The V6 engine was surprisingly powerful and it got up and moved very well. I got a free tote bag from Dodge.

2013 Dodge Charger SRT8 Super Bee
The Dodge Charger Super Bee was not only the most powerful car you could test drive at the auto show, it was also the most powerful car I’ve driven up to this point in my life. With 470 ponies emanating from its massive 6.4L engine, the Charger is built to haul ass in a straight line.

My favorite feature about the car was the vertical color screen in the center of the gauges. It displays acceleration and G-force information as well as lap times and other neat tricks. This car was clearly designed for “car guys” by “car guys.”

2013 Hyundai Equus Signature
In 2003, Volkswagen launched the Phaeton as a high-end luxury car to compete with BMW, Mercedes, and Audi. It was a fantastically well engineered car which ultimately failed because buyers did not like the idea of a $60,000 car from Volkswagen, a brand which is known for making practical and affordable cars.

Having learned nothing from this, Hyundai – another “value” automaker, is also taking a crack at the luxury car market. The Equus is the flagship of the Hyundai fleet, powered by Hyundai’s own 5.0L V8 engine. It’s also the most expensive car I’ve ever driven, with a $68,000 as-tested price.

Hyundai has several tricks up its sleeve to lure buyers away from German cars. For starters, it’s about $20 grand cheaper than a comparable German estate car. The Equus has built-in seat massagers for the driver and passenger rear seat. It also has a 17-speaker Lexicon stereo system and yes, they still have the owner’s manual available as an iPad app. Throttle response felt delayed, but once it kicked in the big 429HP V8 felt like it wanted to keep on pulling. I got a $5 Starbucks gift card for driving the Hyundai.

I had a great time at the Arizona International Auto Show, and I will be sure to report back with my findings again next year!