It’s easy to become distracted while car shopping – whether at a small used-car dealership or a major event like the Connecticut International Auto Show, held Nov. 18-20 in Hartford. Years ago, having pretty much settled on a choice between two station wagons at a dealership, we veered to a sedan that looked interesting. The saleswoman gently steered us back to the wagons, and we picked the right one – a used battleship-gray Volvo 740 that gave us 200,000 miles over the next decade-plus.
What makes the auto show fun is the absence of a salesperson to impose discipline on the guests. So we wandered the big room, admiring the gleaming examples of the latest automotive technology from Japan, Korea, the United States and Europe. And as always, a bewildering variety of vehicles grabbed our attention.
Last week, we focused on the high-tech models that use hybrid gasoline-and-electric systems, banks of batteries, and even hydrogen. This week … well, check out the following:
- Fiat 124 Spider. This two-seat roadster brings to mind the Fiat Spiders that were popular during the 1960s and ’70s. It certainly has the Italian style and grace that raised its low-priced predecessors to iconic status. Hopefully, it does not have quirks and poor reliability that dogged the Spiders of old. It probably doesn’t, because it’s built in Japan and its underpinnings are pure Mazda – based on the popular MX-5 Miata. The turbocharged 124, a little longer than the MX-5, packs 160 horsepower, passable legroom for tall drivers, 5 cubic feet of trunk space, a 6-speed stick shift and beautiful, flowing lines, all for a base price of $24,995. (The base MX-5, which has beaten back competitors from Honda, Toyota and General Motors over the years, costs exactly $80 less than the base Spider.)
- Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. A stunningly beautiful car, this Italian import has a base price of $65,900, well outside the market occupied by Fiat and Mazda. Thanks to its strong, lightweight carbon-fiber structure and its turbocharged, 4-cylinder, 237-horsepower engine, it can go from a dead stop to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds, and its top speed is 160. The mid-engine design and Italian racing heritage add up to predictable excitement, though U.S. sales have been painfully slow – just 309 in the first six months of 2016, according to Autoline Daily. The “look-but-don’t-touch” ropes around the 4C on display at the Connecticut Convention Center kept show-goers from getting too close and, possibly, falling in love.
While we’re on the subject … Toyota, creator of the interesting but ultimately unsuccessful mid-engine MR-2 Spyder that was discontinued a decade ago, is back with the oddly named Toyota 86. The shapely 86, derived from Toyota’s discontinued Scion brand’s FR-S, is priced a little higher than the MX-5 and the 124 Spider, at $26,255 for the base model. It’s also more muscular; the base engine packs 200 horsepower. For Subaru aficionados, the BRZ, which we test-drove in 2014, is similar to the 86. Both models have one important functional advantage over the Miata and Fiat Spider: They can seat four in a pinch (and we do mean pinch).
- The Lincoln Continental, an iconic nameplate, is back in the full-sized luxury-sedan game. While we haven’t driven one yet, the big Connie sure looked like a winner on the auto show floor. The lightest pressure on the “e-touch door handle” releases the latch in near silence, and the interior is plush and roomy. The Continental also has alluring lines, extreme technology and a powerful, 400-horsepower engine. It brought back some nice memories of riding to the lake on a summer morning in a neighbor’s 1963 Continental, many years ago.
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.