The automotive world moves fast, and there’s no better place to see it all than Philly’s annual Auto Show, which opens its doors Saturday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
There are the trends: Chrome is out; carbon fiber is in. Whitewalls are out; black rims are in. Backup cameras are in; 360-degree cameras are even more in. High-performance engines are in; electric vehicles are even more in.
But there’s more here, too. You can see old cars, ride through an obstacle course, race along a simulated track, check out your dream car, try out something a little more everyday, or just entertain the kids for a few hours.
A few auto pro tips: For those trying to avoid the crowds, the slowest times to visit have historically been 1 to 4 p.m. on the Monday and Tuesday of the show. For those who enjoy some hustle and bustle, the final weekend has often been the busiest, according to show officials.
As The Inquirer’s auto columnist and a veteran of dozens of auto shows, here’s advice on how to make the most of your $14 ticket and break down the 18-acre show into manageable parts.
This is your chance to sit back and get a feel for a new car. Adjust as much as you are able — some cars have more functions operational at the show than others depending on what is battery operated. (Some have removable knobs removed because, well, people just can’t be trusted.)
What should you be looking for? Try to figure out if you can live with the car. Can you see out the windshield comfortably? How about behind and to the sides? Cars are being designed with smaller and smaller glass areas to the sides and rear, and while cameras make up for it, they don’t compensate in the dark and in bad weather. Will you be able to back up if the camera is obscured?
Unfortunately, the newer and more exciting cars sit behind ropes, so this event is limited to vehicles currently in production.
More hands-on but less attention-getting, Ride and Drives are available for two brands at this year’s show — Toyota and Volkswagen. As long as you have a license, you can get behind the wheel and test vehicles on a limited course on Philadelphia streets.
Toyota will offer the Camry TRD V6, Prius XLE AWD-e, RAV4 Hybrid XSE, and Tundra 1794 Edition every day, while Volkswagen offers the Arteon, Atlas, Passat, Jetta GLI, and Tiguan starting on Feb. 14.
As carmakers work harder to incorporate the latest features into vehicles, there’s more gadgetry to explore and learn about, like the Land Rover Defender’s new camera system (“You can effectively see through the hood,” said auto show chairperson Maria Pacifico.)
Some functions require the key fob in the car or the vehicle to be turned on, but ask one of the manufacturer representatives for assistance. Help at the auto show is easy to come by, and low pressure as well — at least compared to most dealerships.
And keep an eye out and ear open for demonstrations, which repeat frequently throughout the show.
Electrics and hybrids are still only a small chunk of sales, but the segment has steady growth. Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for the automotive website Edmunds, predicts the segment will reach 4.8% of vehicle sales in 2020, up from 4.3% in 2019.
So expect a wide variety of models: Many of the 36 different manufacturers will have electric vehicles on display — except Tesla.
The show has partnered with Peco with a large booth about charging stations and how recharging actually works.
One not to miss this year: Porsche is debuting its first fully electric sports sedan with the Taycan, with a 0-100 kph of 3.2 seconds. Besides going really fast, the Taycan also addresses one electric vehicle downside: recharging time. (By using an 800-volt electrical system instead of the usual 400, a five-minute high-power charge can add 100 kilometers; and a 23-minute charge can add 80% of the car’s 405-kilometer range.)
Other highlights: several models from McLaren (including a 570S Spyder, which makes a nice companion while traveling in the Cotswolds), and plenty of Rolls-Royces, Maseratis, and Aston Martins.
The old cars and classics date to as early as 1912.
Some of this year’s best: a 1970 Jaguar E-Type Roadster, 1953 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible, and a 1941 Lincoln Continental Coupe.
Ford v Ferrari #98 Ford GT40 Camera Car is part Ford sports car and part camera dolly. (It allowed the moviemakers to show realistic racing scenes.) The Wayne’s World Pacer and Back to the Future DeLorean are among the cars making a return appearance.
Some of the world-record fastest vehicles on display include Ferrari F40, Jaguar XJ220, Bugatti Veyron, SSC Ultimate Aero, Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, and Koenigsegg Agera RS.
Anyone who’s ever visited the show knows that little ones are scrambling in and out of the cars the entire time. It’s like the Please Touch Museum for gearheads, (and the kids can get hands on, too).
The popular interactive off-road experience will be at the show for the eighth year. NOTE: It’s not for younger kids: riders must be at least 44 inches tall.
The tracks take up about three-quarters of an acre inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and about 34,000 people took rides last year, said Jason Russ, FiatChrysler’s senior manager of experiential marketing.
Professional four-wheel drive drivers take riders through a course of obstacles which simulate the rigorous testing that Jeep vehicles endure.
Maybe you’re bringing along a youngster who’s getting bored, or a mate or a date who’s not that into cars. A growing corner of the show is devoted to the marketplace, where car-themed signs, T-shirts and model cars are among the items that might capture a non-motorhead’s attention, at least for a little while.
“For many that’s important place to go,” show executive director Kevin Mazzucola said. “When my son and daughter were young, they had cars they got every year at the auto show.”
There are plenty of nonautomotive businesses with stuff for sale, too.
FiatChrysler’s display features an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio racing simulator. Sit in an actual vehicle and race a simulation of the Nurburgring motorsports track in Germany. Ford and other manufacturers will also have simulators in their displays.
Kids can stretch out on the rock climbing wall; sit in Diggerland’s mini excavator, skid steer loader, fire truck, farm tractor and more; race on KO Racing tracks; and sit in a SHERP, a vehicle designed for both land and water.
Subaru will again showcase its Subaru Loves Pets display, where you can hang out with pets up for adoption through local shelters.