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Volume 71, Issue 80, Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Life & Arts

Auto show unveils slick, pricey new rides

Smooth-looking imports of 2006 will satisfy show-goers

The Daily Cougar

Houston is known in automotive circles for its iconic, sprawling freeways and trend-setting taste. At the Houston Auto Show, it quickly becomes apparent that the world's automakers pay special attention to this city of impassioned drivers.

Amid lagging sales and doomsday forecasts by financial analysts, U.S. carmakers have been infused with a new resolve that is readily evident in their newest offerings. The Dodge Caliber undercuts the outgoing Neon's base price by $410, yet sports interior trim on par with a car twice its price. Touches like a swing-down boom box nestled in the rear lift-gate serve as reminders that U.S. innovation is alive. 

The Chevrolet Camaro is just one of the cars at the 2006 Houston Auto Show that will grab your eye, twist your arm and bring you to your knees.
Photo courtesy of Houston Auto Show

However, the Chrysler Aspen is a sign that all is not yet well. Whoever thought a Durango with a 300C grille and some factory bling would pass as an upscale sport utility vehicle should be marketing toothpaste instead.

Though Toyota is set to become the world's largest automaker in 2006, its new Yaris is evidence that Asian automakers are hardly invincible. The Yaris is a fine car, but it competes against Toyota's own Scion xA -- and loses in the value department -- creating model redundancy that has proven problematic for U.S. manufacturers. That said, the worst thing about the all-new Camry is the awkward climate control switchgear. Its styling pays homage to the Japanese-market Chaser but borrows heavily from the Mazda6. A 268-horsepower V6 rounds out the package to transform bread and butter into brioche and brie.

This year, several exotic cars will ensure that show-goers seeking even more imported excitement will find it. Graduates of the Bauer College of Business should know that the Lamborghini Murcielago's ergonomics befit its $282,300 price tag. For a little less, the Lexus LS460's in-seat shiatsu massage will spoil you. Car-crazed UH students who can't yet afford real wheels will appreciate Subaru's adrenaline-inducing driving simulator based on the popular Gran Turismo video game.

For some manufacturers, 2006 is a make-or-break year. At the Houston Auto Show, you are the sole juror.

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