The 2014 North Carolina International Auto Expo Review

So, I’ve been reading about the big auto shows in Geneva, Chicago, and Detroit. Made me a little jealous, since I live in Raleigh, NC. I mean, why can’t we in the South get our own auto show, where we we can steal shift knobs, post it on Twitter, and get hopelessly blackballed and embarrassed by the Internet?

But I digress. As many car blogs as I read, I was surprised to hear about a car show on the radio happening in Raleigh this weekend. So, I went to check it out. I thought – it might be fun. I might get to see a Kia concept car, or some Auto Show swag, like hatchback-shaped stress balls, or a NASCAR Calendar.

It took me 10 minutes to find a parking spot, for there was an auto show of its own in the parking lot. I finally created an illegal spot in the grass, and walked up the front gate, “WHOAH!!!?  I jumped out of the way, and almost got run over by a 2014 Dodge Minivan. WTF? I turned to shout and shake my fist, but first noticed a giant magnet on the door that said, “YOU can test drive this car today!! Wow. You can test-drive a minivan on a Monday afternoon when there’s tumbleweeds blowing through the showroom, but instead, let’s do it in conditions simulating the Whole Foods parking lot.

First thing I noticed when I stepped inside the building was that everyone and their half-sister was standing at their own booth raffling off something – a car, a pony ride, an exhaust system, etc. Since I already get enough junk mail and unsolicited phone calls from Cruise Lines as it is, I declined to try my luck.

The entire auto show was essentially a giant carpet with a steel roof, filled with dozens of new cars, signs that stand up by themselves with a giant car logos on top, and free pens.

The first clump of cars on the carpet was Cadillac. No attendants in Cadillac uniforms. No supervision. Who thought this through? Say I fell in love with the Escalade, and brought the content of my Trust Fund? Who there would take my money?

Anyways, I noticed a white, 4-door CTS. I wanted to sit inside it, but there was a large dude, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a baseball cap (is it me, or is this redundant?) So, I waited patiently outside the driver door waiting for him to get out. He didn’t. I walked around 4 other vehicles in the Cadillac booth, and looked over, and he was still in there. Probably trying to figure out CUE touch-screen infotainment system, which has received the same reception by automotive journalists as the motorized seatbelt shoulder harnesses / manual lap belt combo of the early 90s.

Next, I wandered over to the Chevy booth. Two things struck me. One, there was about 20 people staring with much concern at a pile of, doors, and trunklids sticking out of the ground. When I got closer, I realised this was in fact a vehicle with all the doors, hood and, trunks open. Hmmm. I walked around the vehicle a couple times, then realized I had no idea what it was – it could have been a 2008 Corvette – it’s just hard to tell with all its appendages splayed out like a frog on an 8th grade dissection table. Wouldn’t hurt to have a second vehicle on display, so we can see what they actually look like.

The 2014 Corvette at the 2014 International Expo in Raleigh, NC

One thing about auto shows, each car on the carpet has all its doors open, so if you get in the driver side, someone might get in on the passenger side. This can lead to awkward moments, as it did for me, when a middle-aged woman got in on the passenger side of a Ford Fiesta ST the moment I sat in. I looked over at her, and said, “I think we should get it. Did you bring the checkbook?” She looked at me, and promptly got out of the car.

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Test Drives: Fiesta ST vs Focus ST

These are two of the most talked-about sports cars around. Mainly because they’re so improbable – both have 4 doors, a trunk, get over 30 MPG, and are an absolutely blast to drive. Not to mention it’s nice to be able to spend around $25,000 for a brand-new car that’s throws you back in your seat when you step on it.

I found out my local Ford dealer had a Fiesta ST in stock, so I decided I’d take it for a spin. Here’s a couple of my impressions:

Interior:
The both the Focus ST and Fiesta ST’s Recaro seats hugs your rear end like an all-body version of those plastic child booster seats at Pizza Hut. Once you’re in,  forget about checking for your wallet – you’re clamped in. You’ll figure out when you arrive whether you remembered it or not, unless you want to do a quick rear-end patdown dance at a stoplight. That being said, the Recaros are pretty comfortable. I did sit in another Fiesta ST at a car show, and the seats were too tight, and rather uncomfortable. Not that I’m too round for this car – for reference, I’m 6’ tall, and weigh 175 lbs.

Ergonomics:
The shifter in the Fiesta ST felt absolutely perfect – right where I expected it to be. On the Focus ST, however, it felt a little too high and forward, though I’m sure I could get used to it. The info screen on the Fiesta ST looked a little too small, compound by the fact it was a little too far away for my tastes.

Handling:
Both cars have an extremely sharp turn-in, yet they’re pretty relaxed on the highway. I didn’t get a chance to do any sliding, or tail-out maneuvers, considering the salesman was in the passenger seat, unfortunately. Both these vehicles handle exactly the same on the street, and I’m sure on a track, differences could be found that favors the Fiesta ST, with its lighter weight.

Power:
Here’s where there’s a substantial difference. Notice there’s about a second difference in their 0-60 times, with the Focus ST being faster at 5.7 seconds. This is noticeable in everyday driving. Stomp the accelerator on the Focus St, and the vehicle lurches forward, for the torque surge begins around 2500 rpms. If you really push hard, the Focus ST will chirp its tires in the first 3 gears (with the torque steer to match.) However, the Fiesta St does not have torque steer problems. Mainly because it isn’t torquey enough. It never quite manages to match the Focus ST in acceleration. Matter of fact, hopping into a Fiesta ST after driving a Focus ST, the Fiesta ST feels almost lethargic.

Conclusion:
I’d pick the Focus ST all the way, for its better practicality, stronger engine, and better looks. The Fiesta ST may handle better, but you probably won’t notice it on the street, unless you’re driving fast enough to break the tires loose. And with a skidpad of .96g, you’d have to be driving like you’re on the run.