As one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S., Charlotte, N.C., has got a lot, all right — but come Thursday, that'll mean more than just an influx of millennials. The 2018 Charlotte Auto Show gets underway at noon in the Charlotte Convention Center in Uptown for a weekend that promises a decidedly different automotive experience from the nearby NASCAR Hall of Fame — namely, these are cars you can actually buy at a dealer (and no one at the show will make you change a tire for "fun").
Related: How to Car Shop at an Auto Show
If you've run your hand-me-down ride into the ground driving from Rock Hill, S.C., to Amity Hill, N.C., or you're a new resident realizing the Lynx Blue Line will get you about as far as the Hornets in a playoff series, shopping for a car might be top of mind.
The show is open to the public Thursday through Sunday; hours are noon to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $8 if you buy online here and $10 at the door; children 12 and younger are free, with additional discounts available for seniors 65 and older. For further details, check the show site.
In the meantime, here are five things you shouldn't miss if you're attending the Charlotte Auto Show's 26th anniversary:
1. 2019 Ford Ranger
In advance of going on sale in early 2019, Ford is taking its newly reintroduced Ranger mid-size pickup truck on a 20-city cross-country tour — and Charlotte is fifth on the list, with five examples on hand to test-drive. If you weren't able to make it up to Hendersonville, N.C., for its first consumer outing at the Overland East Expo, now is the ideal opportunity to sample the Ranger's 270-horsepower, turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder and interior decor as it will appear in Lariat FX4 SuperCrew 4x4 and XLT SuperCrew 4x4 trims. Bonus: With preregistration comes a chance to win one of your very own, so you can travel those fresh Interstate 77 toll lanes in style. The caveats? You have to be 18 or older to get behind the wheel. You also have to register beforehand.
2. Ride and Drive
On a related note, the Ranger won't be the only vehicle available for you to get some hands-on time with. In addition to Ford's fare, Chevrolet, Mazda and Toyota will all have multiple vehicles from their lineups available to drive. Chevrolet's vehicles will be available only Saturday and Sunday; the Mazda Drive Experience will be ready on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; and Toyota will showcase its latest all four days. Though the exact list of vehicles available for test drives is unconfirmed and typically fluctuates up until the last minute, a show spokesperson confirmed Mazda will have 2018 versions of the Mazda3, Mazda6, CX-5 as well as model-year 2019 versions of the CX-3 and MX-5 Miata RF on hand.
3. Luxury Lane
If Ballantyne is more your speed, Luxury Lane is likely where you'll want to spend most of your browsing time. The area features more than a dozen brands that include high-end nameplates from Bentley, Ferrari and Porsche as well as more affordable luxury offerings from Infiniti, Lexus and Lincoln. The price tags might be high, but in the convention center's friendly confines, the pressure to buy will be low. Get educated before you get the keys and some Bojangles' to-go.
4. A Considerable Car Count for the Queen City
It's not just expensive exotics on display, however. Shoppers across the spending spectrum will have the opportunity to poke around vehicles on a show floor a purported six football fields in size — space enough for the Panthers to have actually won against the Steelers. The buyer's guide offers consumers an opportunity to do some research before you make it to the show itself, and while not all cars in the guide will be appearing at the show, some 33 brands will nevertheless be on hand to showcase more than 300 vehicles.
5. Family Fun
Though families are welcome all four days, you'll want to attend Saturday and Sunday in particular if you've got kids in tow. The Family Zone will feature additional activities including a 28-foot gaming truck; an interactive area with first responders and emergency vehicles; Santa Claus urging on the holiday season from noon to 4 p.m.; and on Sunday, hourly giveaways and sports-team mascots including the Checkers' Chubby, the Panthers' Sir Purr and the Hornets' Hugo — at least one of whom will probably welcome some positive vibes for a change.
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