american autos - more to love

I love cars. I grew up in Los Angeles, home of the ultimate car culture and was weaned on American autos. Grandpa worked for Henry Ford, literally. Mom won a gig for a Buick Skylark commercial when she told the interviewing advertising agency that my brother stuck his head out of the "first ever" sunroof to take photographs. Grandma had an Oldsmobile that was almost as much of a hot rod as Grandma.

 

When I grew up, I got a taste for exotic European luxury. Jaguar, Mercedes, BMW. I left cars "Made in America" behind and have been away ever since.

 

But after a recent visit to the Chicago Auto Show, I'm rethinking my options. I had the good fortune to attend the show on Social Media Day courtesy of General Motors prior to the general public opening. Representatives from GM, Consumer Guide Automotive and Motor Trend guided our group around the show pointing out the latest trends in the auto industry. Not only has my interest in purchasing U.S. cars grown out of a sort of nationalistic ideal, but I'm actually finding some quality luxury vehicles and good values too. 

  
Acadia Denali Photo courtesy GM.  

 

 
Acadia Denali interior Photo courtesy of GM. 

For example, the new 2013 GMC Acadia Denali CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) was unveiled at the show. I've looked at the light SUV vehicles from BMW and Mercedes. I wouldn't buy one. Same for Infinity, Lexus or Honda. They're not attractive to me in the least. But I couldn't pull myself away from this new, thoughtful, and dare I say it, posh vehicle. It boasts a ton of features, including soft, smooth exterior styling, three-dimensional polished grille, delicious leather upholstery with heated and cooled front seats, Color Touch navigation, dual sunroof system and all-wheel drive. But aside from being a pretty piece of machinery, it also has some state-of-the-art tech, including the IntelliLink that allows you to integrate your smartphone to call through the audio system and Bluetooth streaming of internet radio Pandora and Stitcher. You have voice control of your iPod connected by USB, HD radio if you want it, and a rear-vision camera to help you not back up into things. Another very cool safety feature and industry first - the front center air bag that protects the driver and front passenger from slamming into each other in the event of a collision on one side. Obviously, I'm yammering on, so clearly I was impressed.

Cadillac ATS Poshports 
Cadillac ATS 

Another luxe auto I saw at the show that made me think again is Cadillac's new ATS. I was never much interested in Cadillac's styling, but this is much more on par with its competition - squarely the BMW 3 Series. And, from the looks of it, the ATS may just give BMW a race on this one. Motor Trend Magazine did a head to head comparison. If you want all the gory details look HERE. For this quick review, though I'll just say there are a lot more features that sparked my interest than I expected and it looked a lot more like a sporty sedan than I remember associating with Cadillac. There's a great "infotainment" system, strong engine, good specs and all you would expect from a top-of-the-line small luxury vehicle. Pretty cool and worth checking out.

 
Buick Verano 

 

 
Buick Verano Interior 

Finally, I had the opportunity to test drive a Buick Verano, the latest Buick luxury sedan. Thanks to Connie Burke, Communications Manager at GM who gave me the opportunity. And, believe it or not, I had fun with it. This is a small, premium Buick that reminded me of my mom's beloved Skylark, which is no longer available. It may not be as sexy as the Acadia Denali CUV or the Cadillac ATS sporty ultra-premium, but it sure is comfortable. It's kind of like a car whisperer in a showroom full of screamers. There's something appealing about that. But beyond the obvious, the Verano has two tiny little features that show the Buick folks understand those of us who live in a place like Chicago, where it gets cold, cold, nasty cold. The first is something I never want to be without again - a heated steering wheel. Yes, I know, heated seats are great. Frost-free windows and mirrors, awesome. But now that I've experienced a warm steering wheel when it's frost-bite cold outside, I want one. I want one now. Also, when you hit the remote for the trunk, it doesn't just unlock it, it actually lifts open. Again, in a cold Chicago winter, with an armful of groceries, you appreciate the thought that went into this little engineering treat. The car performs like a car in its class should, but people won't look at the Verano for torque or horsepower or engine revs at a red light. They'll look at these comfy little well thought out details in a car they use every day, no matter the weather and think, wow, I really like my car. In all my years of driving, that's the one thought that will keep me happy in my four-wheeled friend. When the promise exceeds the price, then you've really got something.

 

I guess my point is that not only has the American auto market changed because of necessity - getting out of bankruptcy, dealing with insane global competition, changing tastes and disruptive technologies - but it has also started to think like an industry that wants to please and excite its customers again. I'm intrigued by the cars I've tested and viewed. The thought and engineering that has gone into them makes this self-professed car snob realize that there really are cars on the market labeled "Made in the USA" that are going to get my consideration. Something I'm happy about after being away for quite some time.