It’s auto-show season in the Pacific Northwest, which means rounding up the family for a trip to the CLink. Hey, a new ride might seem downright affordable these days given the left kidney it takes to break into Seattle’s real-estate market. Auto shows are also a low-pressure way to shop the field, not to mention escape the November rain — although, now that you survived Smogust, precipitation doesn’t seem so bad. Now that’s seeing the latte half full.
Related: Video: How to Shop at an Auto Show
Running Nov. 9-12 at CenturyLink Field’s Event Center, the 2018 Seattle International Auto Show promises more than 500 vehicles on display, with more than 75 cars from 13 brands available for test drives. Children age 12 and under get in free, while adult tickets are $16 ($15 online) with available military and senior discounts — in any case, far less than carting the family to the Science Center or MoPOP. Speaking of which: Rest in peace, Paul Allen.
We combed the list of vehicle debuts and show attractions to find the top five things you can’t miss. One caveat: Auto shows are quite the logistical undertaking, and planned attractions (and cars) can change “within three or four days before the show,” auto-show spokesman Tom Voelk warned. “They’re always very volatile.”
That said, here are five things you can’t miss:
1. 2019 Ford Ranger
Auto-show officials confirmed that Ford’s latest pickup truck will be on display and available for test drives before it goes on sale in early 2019, not to mention a few weeks before even we get to drive it. Resurrected after missing seven model years and one full generation, the global Ranger is here after a few years of overseas production and contrary signals from Ford. The Seattle International Auto Show is among the first stops on a 20-city consumer drive tour for the pickup truck, with a drawing at the end for one consumer to win their very own.
You have to register beforehand to drive the Ranger at the Seattle auto show. Test drives for the Ranger and other non-Ford cars occur at the CenturyLink garage, Voelk said. That’s distinct from Ford’s other test-drivable vehicles, which the automaker will again host at a round-the-bases drive at Safeco Field next door. At least someone will round those bases this year — it’s not like the Mariners were doing much of it.
2. 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature
Voelk said Mazda will debut a new variant of the CX-5 SUV, the Signature, so keep an eye out for it during public days. It marks the third Mazda to offer the automaker’s new range-topping trim level; the other two are the CX-9 SUV and Mazda6 sedan. Signature variants on both cars elevate cabin materials to impressive levels, with a welcome bump in power for the Mazda6.
The CX-5’s top current trim, the Grand Touring, already packs exemplary quality for its class. A Signature version could elevate the nameplate with more power or nicer confines, or both. We’d expect the CX-5 Signature to debut at the show’s press preview the morning of Nov. 9, so stay tuned for our report — and check it out it in person at the show.
3. Lots of New SUVs
Expect to see redesigns of the Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Santa Fe, plus the all-new Chevrolet Blazer. We saw promise in the Blazer when we checked it out at October’s Orange County Auto Show, but don’t expect the truck-based off-roader the nameplate used to be.
Like the Blazer, the redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe puts slitlike daytime running lamps up high, while the conventional headlights sit lower in the bumper where you might expect foglights; see if you like it in person. The good news either way? The rest of the car ain’t so bad.
Toyota will have two examples of the new RAV4, the Adventure and Hybrid, available for test drives a few weeks before the redesigned SUV hits dealers. Kick the tires on the 2019 model-year overhaul of Toyota’s most popular model, and take it for a spin if the lines aren’t too long.
4. Land Rover Off-Road Course
Land Rover runs a lot of off-road experiences, including a fair share at media drives we’ve attended. It’s little surprise that the luxury SUV brand is building an acre-sized off-road course at the CLink’s north parking lot, courtesy of enough sand, crushed concrete and other building materials to recreate Denny Hill. (OK, maybe not that much.)
Voelk said he expects 50 to 70 dump-truck loads needed to build the space, which will have articulation holes, side tilts and a hill-climb some dozen feet high. Attendees can drive select Land Rover SUVs around the course with a Land Rover instructor riding shotgun.
5. Simulators and Kid-Sized Wheels
Like high-tech stuff? The auto show will have Oculus virtual-reality demonstrations over the weekend, plus racing simulators from Ford, Hyundai and Dodge — the Dodge experience in the cockpit of the new Challenger Hellcat Redeye. Ford will also have an animatronic robot named Hank.
Like before, families can look for junior-sized rides, with both kid-sized electric cars (think Power Wheels) and radio-controlled cars. The area is supervised, Voelk said, though one parent should stick around. But if the other one wants to duck out to look at more cars, it’s a good way to keep the kids from forcing an early trip home. Other family activities include face painting, a caricature artist, wooden-car painting and a scavenger hunt.
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