Future Classics: 2019 Denver Auto Show – Sightings And Musings And Tidbits, Oh My!

While Edward Snitkoff did a wonderful job of covering most of the vehicles at the Hudson Valley Auto Show recently, I got invited to the Media Day at the Denver Auto Show last week and then stayed on afterward to wander around when everything opened to the public at 5pm.  While it made for a long day, at least the pressure was off to cover and show everything that I saw, instead I can pick and choose…

Let’s start, as my day did, with Toyota.  The big news is that they are doubling down on their TRD-Pro submodels, with this Tacoma, the Tundra, as well as the Sequoia getting one for the 2020 model year which is just around the corner, the 4Runner already is available that way.  All of them are more capable than the run of the mill regular 4WD versions with upgraded suspensions and some other toys included.  As a percentage of sales, the TRD-Pro models are miniscule, but apparently extremely desirable and supply-limited.  The Sequoia will be available in Army Green, which will be interesting to see in the elementary school pickup line!

Around here (Denver area), the Tacoma has 61% of the mid-size market.  They are feeling the heat though, as for 2020 the Tacoma will get some new features, among them power seats, new grilles, surround cameras as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; those features will be available across the truck lines actually.  Tacoma isn’t due for a full redesign for at least three more years, but I have a feeling it will do just fine, the rep confirmed that between Tacoma and Tundra they are building all they can at the San Antonio factory.

That’s the Adventure trim of the new RAV4 above, but even it will spawn a TRD Off-Road (as opposed to Pro, no Pro for the unibodies) version for 2020.  The new RAV4, by the way, as Edward mentioned in his post, is a significant improvement over the outgoing model. It has significantly more “presence” and just feels richer.  Available in multiple versions, including once again a Hybrid, there is a version for pretty much everyone (well, except those that require a sedan).

The RAV4 sold 427,000 units in the US last year, and is the #2 seller for Toyota in our market (after the Tacoma, I believe) and #1 for Toyota in the US.  I see no reason why this should change and would not be surprised to see sales increase even more.

It’s comfortable, the materials feel good, the stitching on the dash looks way better than before, and the feature content seems improved. I had the opportunity to take one for a spin around the convention center after the show and was impressed, it feels much more solid than previously and while not huge, no longer feels at all small.  It’s a completely grown up vehicle now.

The only slightly discordant note was this – when I got out of the back seat after sampling it I felt something on my leg.  No, it wasn’t Spuds Mackenzie after a frat party, it was the rear tire rubbing up against my calf!  The RAV4’s doors (along with several other vehicles at the show in a new trend) are cut under the sills like an old Saab 900.  This is nice as it helps keep your pant leg clean, but the way it’s cut in the RAV leaves the tire exposed when you get out and in at least my case, my leg wanted to be where the tire tread was.

Here’s the new Corolla in Hybrid guise.  It’s only available (this year) in LE trim for some reason but looks pretty good to me.  Priced somewhere in the very low $20’s, an LE model is generally well equipped with everything you need and little you don’t.

I didn’t mind the old Corolla and in fact got fairly intimate with one this summer, but this new version certainly didn’t take a turn for the worse visually and this particular color is quite fetching.  The wheel covers aren’t really to my taste but that’s very subjective.

The interior is styled instead of just being, and overall it works.  As with most new cars there is a giant screen on the dashboard, and sales don’t seem to be slowing due to that so the market clearly accepts it.

The most recent generations of hybrids seem to be engineered with little to no obvious loss of space due to the battery as this trunk looks a lot bigger from the inside than it does from the outside.

Wow, no engine cover over the oily bits here, that’s a rarity these days.  I guess they figured that’s one place they could save money as the average Corolla Hybrid owner likely will never raise the hood anyway.

Fiat was next – I quite liked this little Abarth Fiat 124, much more so than the Miata it’s based on. The design looks sufficiently different enough to make it look like a whole new car.

The inside looks good too.  I dunno, a Japanese car with Italian trimmings sounds pretty good.  Then again I thought the Sterling 825 was a great idea as well, so… Anyway, I did drive one last year and it was a riot.  Lots of goodness here and I fear that one day they will be gone and it will be very difficult to get one used.

Fiat’s big news was a new engine for the whole lineup, if you thought the old 1.4 wasn’t small enough, now it’s a 1.3.  Every model is turbocharged, this here is the 500X.  A 1.3l sounds not great at first but it puts out a very respectable 177hp and 210lb-ft of torque while returning 24/30mpg in the 500x, starting at around $26,000.  While the same basic car as the Jeep Renegade underneath, this looks better to me.  Fiat didn’t bring an example of the oddly shaped but very practical 500L, but they did have the regular 500 as well along with an actual cappuccino stand and little tables and umbrellas for us.  The only thing (thankfully) missing from the experience to make it more authentic was diesel fumes.

That’s the interior of the previously pictured 500X.  The backseat had decent room as well.

After that it was time for RAM.  I don’t know why I couldn’t wait to take this picture until the guy exited the stage but I was all excited after meeting “Mr. Truck” (not this guy) a minute earlier.  Those of you who watch YouTube videos of truck reviews may know who I speak of, but he was as genuinely friendly as he comes across on screen. Anyway, RAM.  This is their new 2500 series, in this case the PowerWagon variant.  RAM sold over 600,000 trucks last year, and RAM HD is #2 in the segment.  I forgot to ask if they count Chevy and GMC separately or not.  In any case the RAM 3500 series has the best resale value of ANY vehicle segment (cars and trucks) which is impressive.  The next time you wonder why that guy really needs the dualie RAM 3500, it’s because he gets a greater percentage of his money back than with a Corolla or Wrangler or 4Runner.

The biggest news is that they finally broke the 4-digit torque barrier in the 3500 with the 6.7l Cummins TurboDiesel which was bound to happen sooner or…sooner, right?  Yep, an even 1000 lb-ft.  What I really liked though was that the truck can not only monitor the tire pressure in the truck’s tires, but also can be programmed to recognize and monitor the tire pressures in four different trailers in one’s fleet.  Did you know a RAM HD truck has a drag coefficient of .409?  Not bad for such a huge thing.  And 70% of all RAM HD trucks sold at retail (not fleet) are diesel.

Here is the inside of that same red HD PowerWagon, complete with 12″ screen but no console, so one can seat six in comfort.

Here is the inside of the volume Ram model, a 1500 Big Horn.  Smaller screen, this time with the console. The seat cloth is remarkably nice, in fact it’s one of the better cloths I’ve seen in years in any vehicle without that nylon “sheen” that is so common now.

And this one is from a 1500 Limited model.  The wood is extremely nice, as is the leather and the stitched dash.  With that 12″ screen again, this is what is making RAM increase their sales.  It’s so far beyond the somewhat aged F-150 and the brand new GMs that it’s almost laughable if it wasn’t so sad for the others.

This is the outside of the that same Limited model that we were just inside.  Chrome still sells in America, and this version has it.

I’m sure most of you have seen the new Jeep Gladiator pickup at least in pictures by now, as have I but I never realized just how long it is.  Compared to the 4door Wrangler, this is 31″ longer, with a 19″ increase in wheelbase.  A lot of that room went into the cab, the rear seat is mounted further back for increased legroom.  Overall length is 218″.  Oh, one nifty feature was the front mounted camera – it actually has a squirter on it it so you can clean it after going through a mud puddle before cresting the next peak.  Someone wondered if it could be reoriented to squirt forward instead, I guess they wanted their own Manikin Pis.

While the Wrangler offers a 2.0l turbo engine (with a 1/3rd take rate here in the Rockies), the pickup will only be available with the 3.6l V6 as well as (next year) the 3.0l EcoDiesel.  With the V6 it can tow up to 7650lbs, to help accomplish that the grille is different with wider slots to feed more air to the engine.  There are several top options available and the doors still come off.  I expect that I will be seeing an enormous number of these on the roads soon as we are already one of Jeep’s most important markets, with a 5-foot bed it’s basically as capable as all the other trucks that commute to the office and even more so on the trails.

Here’s something completely different, a three-wheeler by Vanderhall, a Provo, Utah based manufacturer of reverse trikes.  They’ve been around for a while and the Denver Auto Show was kind of big time for them I think, but the vehicles seem pretty well developed.  They actually have several “models” with a couple of engine choices and now even a full electric.

The engines are both current design GM engines, one is a 1.4l turbo, and the other is a 1.5l turbo, they weren’t allowed to directly say which cars they were from but I think you can figure it out…  Front wheel drive for all of them, Brembo brakes, they weigh under 1400lbs, and should go and stop quite well.

If I got my notes correct, the Venice model starts at $29,995 and the Carmel starts at $39,995.  The Venice has the 1.4l and no doors, the Carmel has the 1.5l with doors.  The Electric Edison model is $34,995.  Depending on the state they are either classified as cars or motorcycles, they referred to them as “autocycles”.  Here in Colorado, just a regular driver’s license is all one needs to drive one.

This here is the new Blazer.  Check out the guy in the driver’s seat, you may recognize him if you read the buff books in years past.  Anyway, the presenter for this one kept playing up that this is the “Camaro for those who need a CUV” and kept talking about Camaro inspired this and that (HVAC vents and lights mostly).  I didn’t think the Camaro was that great an inspiration point but I guess I’m not the target market.  With this particular version stickering at almost $50k, I’m not sure who exactly the target market is, but at least it starts closer to $30k which makes it compete with the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano etc.

Here’s the sticker.  This RS version starts at $43k and ends up over $50k.  That’s a lot of shekels any way you slice it.  I didn’t hang out at Chevy too long, they did introduce their new HD trucks with a power liftgate.  Hit a button or nudge it and it goes down AND up automatically.  I asked what if a kid stuck his hand in the gap while it was closing.  I didn’t get much of a response and didn’t want to try it myself.  And didn’t have a kid handy anyway so you all just be careful out there, you hear?

Yes, I will burn in a special kind of hell for taking pictures of the Alfa Romeo SUV, the Stelvio, instead of the Giulia or the 4C, but I’m in Colorado and this is what sells and what my wife says she wants.

The starter button actually affixed to the wheel (lower left side) is a new one for me, but the Stelvio’s cabin looks great (love those hooded gauges!) and is very comfortable.

That’s sort of a mid-range model, the range starts at less than that (and can go higher).  The pricing on this one compares well to the Blazer.  This has to be quicker than the Blazer.  And look, lots of colors available.  Yeah, I know, I know. But ask yourself, of the two which would you really want?

Yes, the Nissan Altima now has an AWD version.  Actually it’s available all up and down the line-up here in the US, but only mated to the 2.4liter 4-cylinder engine, not the turbo.  Still, at $1500 or so additional it’s a good option.  Altima is apparently up 50% over the last three months and of those, 80% of sales are AWD (all in the Denver market region).  I would not be surprised if the Camry at least added motors to the rear wheels in its Hybrid version as an option that I think would help sales.  Otherwise it’s the Subaru Legacy and I guess the Fusion but in a much more performance oriented package if you want AWD in a mainstream midsize sedan.

I found the inside to be at least as good as the Camry and Accord which is what it needs to be.  The Altima looks like a solid value with good styling and plenty of space.  With the new AWD option the future looks as bright as it can for a conventional sedan.

If an AWD Altima doesn’t stir you, perhaps Godzilla will.  Yes, Nissan’s GT-R made an appearance.  I don’t know, I do like it for some reason.  Even if you don’t like the looks, it’s still impressive to look at, if that makes any sense.

It’s gonna getcha.

I wonder if the dealer will leave the sticker on if you ask nicely.  I think I’d want it.


119,935 smackeroos.  565hp.  18mpg combined is actually not bad.

I like the GTI but I don’t really like the “Rabbit Edition” which this is.  It is available in other colors beside this one.

But my GTI would have to have the plaid seats.  So. Much. Goodness.

I think among our contributors the most common vehicle is the Passat, no?  (Jason, Edward, Jim G, who am I forgetting?).  Here’s the 2019 Wolfsburg Edition which around here is being discounted to close to $22k which seems like a hell of a deal.  But wait!

Presumably this is why – the 2020 Passat.  It wasn’t open to the public but you could look at them more or less side by side.  Same size, same color, a little tauter, a little lither.  My Mom wouldn’t be able to tell them apart but I’m sure we would.  I didn’t realize the Passat would (ever) change, but here it is, get ready for it.  Maybe those 2019’s will go under $22k as we get closer to the summer, who knows.

Edward opened with the Telluride and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it in the flesh, so here is a more basic version, an LX in fact with the small wheels etc. as compared to his full-zoot version.  It still looks good, the only aspect I find a little jarring is that little chrome hillock on the base of the B-pillar.  Why?

This thing is going to sell, sell, sell.  It’s bigger than the Highlander, but smaller than a Tahoe.  I think a VW Atlas is about the same size overall.

The “wood” is ok, not great, better to look at than to touch.  At least you won’t get a splinter. Other than that the cabin is perfectly acceptable and plenty roomy and pretty roomy in the third row.  Still not a minivan, but better than some others.

What do we think about the Kia Stinger?  Did it surprise us?  It sure surprised me, it was not what I was expecting to see from Kia last year.  If you can get beyond spending $50k for a Kia it seems the business.  The design is completely up to par or beyond with the other other money-mobiles, and frankly it looks more like a Jaguar than many Jaguars do (to me at least).

Inside isn’t exactly terrible either.  I don’t know how the Stinger will do, but it sure demonstrates that Kia can do things besides just good vehicles that are good value for the money and actually throw some emotion onto the table.  Good job, Kia!

Speaking of value, how’s this lease deal at $1,999 per month for the 2019 Bentley Bentayga strike you?  Why limit yourself to just one…

And if the Bentayga isn’t to Sir’s liking, perhaps he would consider this, the Lamborghini Urus?  I don’t know if the lease deal is more or less than the Bentley’s but since I’d have to ask, I clearly can’t afford it.  So I guess that’s that.  It’s alright, but it doesn’t look all that much different than the new RAV4 which I CAN afford since I don’t need to even ask Toyota how much it is. (this needs a happy face emoji right here).

But this, this I can get behind!  Holy crap, does that shape ever work for me.  This was one of the high points for me at this show and I don’t get overly excited about this class of cars anymore.  It was simply stunning and my picture does it no justice whatsoever, I am sorry.  It really is spectacular in the metal.  And so practical!

Sadly, the camera is completely accurate in this case, the Cyrano de Bergerac of BMWs.  The new X7 (basically the same thing as the Mercedes GLS), the only thing everyone was asking is what took them so long?

Big and brash and also coming to the elementary school pickup line soon near you.

More blue lights that my local Martini lounge, this was a lot more sumptuous.  Supremely comfortable, at one point I thought I was moving while sitting in the back seat.  It then turned out I actually was moving as some dude had the hatch open and found a switch that moved MY seat in order to put the row of seats behind mine down or up or whatever.  Jeez, when the second row has power seats that are controlled from the cargo area, you know not to keep this beyond the warranty period.

There you go.  BMW X7 xDrive50i.  Make every day legendary.  Or something like that.

Wow, a German car not in a shade of gray.  Maybe there is hope for the world after all.  Audi RS5 Sportback.


I didn’t think this was out yet but then I saw one today at lunch so I guess it is.  This is the new Audi Q8, which is more or less a Q7 with a more sloped hatch and slightly even more premium overall.  I really like what Audi’s doing with their rear lights now (many of their models had updated rears).  It’s got kind of a Porsche but different vibe to it in that way.

While not a fan of the “Coupe” SUV fad in general, this one is suddenly my favorite and I think the only one I would consider myself.  Apparently the Porsche Cayenne now has a similar version available but I haven’t seen it (they weren’t at the show) but this Q8 is way better looking than the Mercedes and BMW versions.

The inside is typical Audi, meaning it’s nicer than almost everyone else and when everyone catches up in a few years, Audi will have moved on again.  I tried to wait out the lady but she was settled in for the evening, so say cheese I guess.  She kept moving around but would not actually get out.  Eventually her husband got in and they closed the doors on everyone else.

Up on a platform was Audi’s electric SUV, the E-Tron. It was larger than I was expecting, at first I thought it was the Q8 in a different color.  I think it’s actually Q5 sized but didn’t appear tiny as I was expecting.  It’s pretty subtle as far as an EV goes.

And from the rear.  Maybe a little more generic than it needs to be.

The Jaguar i-Pace on the other hand is a very distinctive shape, there are a couple running around my town (one in a very orangey-red color) that really catch the eye.  It almost has a (and I really mean this in a very good way, really) Malibu Maxx shape thing going on.  You’ll see when you see one on the road, the center just looks kind of long but blocky (and again, that sounds horrible but it isn’t bad, really, it’s distinctive).

I never would have imagined that Jaguar of all people would come out with an electric SUV but here we are, they are the second ones out of the gate after Tesla…

It’s very touch-screeny in here with at least two large ones in the center console area, otherwise all the leather you expect but none of the Ye Olde World charm/grace that ended up pretty much bankrupting Jaguar so I guess that wasn’t the way to go…

This was one of the bigger surpises to me, the new Lexus LS500.  In the flesh it is FAR better looking than I thought it would be.

Yeah, I can shoot a picture that makes the grille look absolutely enormous too, but in real life it is nowhere near as overpowering and, dare I say, actually blends in fairly well.

It has a grace that the LS has never really had before, almost feline-like.  For maybe the first time, the LS can invite a passionate response.

It’s not really translating well in the pictures but if you get the chance to get into one, do it, it is extremely nice in there. The wood, leather, stitching, it’s all interesting and a bit mesmerizing at first.  There’s a lot going on but it’s sort of like a cool lounge.

I don’t know if the LS will ever sell in large numbers again but it’s back, and I have to say it seems better than ever.

The nitty gritty.  Starts at $75k, about $93k as pictured.  Note the turbo V6 this time around, no more V8.  The times, they are a-changin’.

Here’s your new Explorer, in preview mode at the show.  It’s now on a RWD-based platform, which to Ma and Pa America mainly means that the front wheels look closer to the front bumper.

Compared to the current model, the windows look a little more squished.  Does anyone really care that it’s RWD-based now, why is that such a big thing for something like this that more often than not will be spec’d as AWD and for those that choose a 2WD one, do they really think it’s going to “perform”?  I don’t really get it, I guess, it’s a freaking Explorer.  This is the base for the new Lincoln Aviator as well which did look pretty good in person but since Lincoln was about the only brand at the show that their vehicles all locked up with no access I didn’t take any pictures either.  Jeez, Lincoln, its an auto show in Denver, you are not that exclusive, the Germans were pretty much all access, all the time.

Alright, sorry, I’ll simmer down, but here’s the interior of the Explorer.  Is that a rotary transmission control knob I see or?  It doesn’t look too special overall though.

I confess though, I must have walked by the new Ford Ranger a dozen times and didn’t take a single picture.  I did get in it though, and when the front seat was adjusted for me, the backseat has about exactly the same room as the Chevy/GMC Colorado/Canyon.  Which means both were WAY better than the Tacoma in both knee and headroom.  I totally forgot to get in the Nissan Frontier but the Jeep Gladiator likely has them all beat.  Of the “regular” mid-size trucks though, the Ranger has the nicest materials even though it’s an older design (just new to us).  Oh, and Mr. Shafer asked me to find out if a manual was available.  The answer is no, only a turbo-4 with automatic for everyone in the Ranger for now.


I think I’d buy this thing every day and twice on Sunday over the Chevy Blazer.  This is the new Honda Passport, basically a Pilot with a bobbed rear, i.e. no space for a third row, and, if I dare say, kind of the “right” size.

It’s sized well, the V6 is plenty powerful, it looks more manly (if that matters to anyone) than a Pilot and it’s cheaper by a couple of thousand dollars.  Yeah, this will sell too and is just one more reason that it doesn’t matter if the Ridgeline doesn’t sell that well as this is yet another product that is built on the same assembly line and juggled around depending on demand for it, the Pilot, Odyssey, and Ridgeline (and Acura MDX too I think but could be wrong). This is what makes a manufacturer successful, when half your product line can be built on the same assembly line; I don’t see Honda laying whole plants full of workers off.

Anyway, that’s the show in a nutshell.  Yeah I skipped over a bunch of stuff that we’ve already covered or didn’t really interest me (sorry), and I’ll point out that Porsche, Mercedes, and Tesla were no-shows – not sure why, all three do very well in this market.  Cadillac wasn’t here either, but Buick was, although they left the one car that might actually appeal to Coloradans behind (The Regal TourX wannabe Outback), but brought a lot of Regal Sportbacks instead, why, I don’t know.

Oh, and as I handed the valet my ticket for my car (Thanks to FCA for covering that!) I was able to ogle this, which was not at the show but sitting at the valet stand across the street:

Yes, that’s an Acura NSX, the Honda Civic of supercars.  It looks good, I’ve not seen one prior to this and am surprised that I haven’t as it is is quite attractive.

A special thanks to FCA for covering parking and taking us to an excellent (Italian) lunch, Nissan for a great cocktail hour at a nearby watering hole with delicious and fortifying appetizers, and Toyota for hooking me up with a swanky TRD Pro Yeti Tumbler.