Twin Cities 2012: The Celebration Comes Home

2012 Fisker Karma 1
All photos by Randy Stern

The hometown auto show can still be welcoming…sometimes.

This year's Twin Cities Auto Show packed the Minneapolis Convention Center with plenty of eye candy for everyone. Though devoid of the concepts seen at the major shows, there were plenty of surprises to be had on the show floor. Overall, one goal was accomplished – it brought every brand sold in the state of Minnesota (and Western Wisconsin) under one roof.

I was there on the first day, Saturday March 10th, as well as Media event on Monday March 12th. Both days were needed to take in photography and catch up on vehicles I saw in Chicago. It was also a chance to interface with local friends, industry folks and to see who in the local media would cover this event.

The event also engaged my links back to my core readership through a preview in Lavender magazine and promos through two local community organizations – the North Country Bears and the Minneapolis Movie Bears. Tickets were given away to a lucky few readers and supporters in drawings held at two events. In all, this Auto Show was to increase engagement with the readership.

The show offered more for the attendee. It ranged from Ride & Drive experiences, a Green Room to learn about alternative fuels and propulsion, a Luxury room for the indulgence of the most discriminating consumer, and a huge show floor with plenty to see.

2013 Lexus RX

It took a trained eye to see what surprises lurked at the show. BMW showed off its Active Hybrid 5er in the Green Room. Lexus showed off the 2013 RX just days after its global reveal in Geneva. Dodge showed their Dart, Cadillac had both the ATS and the XTS Platinum on display, Buick had an Encore along with GMC's 2013 Acadia – fresh from the Chicago Auto Show. Ford showed off the 2013 Escape and Fusion, while Toyota had a Prius C open for consumers to check it out further. Even Fisker showed up with the Karma – sold in Golden Valley!

Porsche did something interesting this year – they had their Panamera four-door planted practically everywhere. In the Luxury room, there was one; the show floor, too. However, Porsche planted a Panamera S Hybrid in the Green Room – the most expensive vehicle in that space.

Every year, a specific brand becomes the featured vehicle of the show. Last year, it was Cadillac with the SRX. This year, the featured marquee was Volvo – a favorite amongst Twin Cities' enthusiasts. Their big vehicle for the show was the XC60 – the crossover with loads of safety features that is designed to keep you alive anywhere.

Since the Twin Cities Auto Show is primarily a consumer-focused event, I figured I have a little fun. This year featured two manufacturers held Ride & Drives at the show: Chrysler/Fiat and Subaru. This was a way to engage people attending the show alongside me to experience what I enjoy the most – getting behind the wheel.

In a couple of turns, I turned the driver's seat to another person. In this case, local photographer, Kevin Jack, got to experience a couple of Jeeps – a Wrangler Unlimited Sahara and a Compass Latitude. I must say he enjoyed himself thoroughly behind the wheel of two different Jeeps – an honest SUV and a crossover. Sitting the back seat, I enjoying having someone else drive for a change. It certainly helps to let someone experience what I do for my art.

2012 Ram 1500 Big Horn Crew Cab 2

When it was my turn, it was time to catch up on my vehicles. The first was the Ram 1500 crew cab in the Big Horn trim. Last year, I had my turn in two General Motors trucks – the Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and the GMC Sierra 1500. I love GM trucks, but the Ram matches the kind of truck experience I prefer to enjoy. You can feel the 5.7litre HEMI V8 and it simply rides worlds better than the GMs. Where the Ram comes to life is the interior – the absolute best in the full-sized truck business. Jack rode along in the back seat and reported to have better legroom than his parent's Ford F-150. I enjoyed a very comfortable place behind the wheel and enjoyed a greater feeling of control in the Ram than in either the heavy duty Chevy and the GMC.

Next on the docket was the Chrysler 200. Years of driving Sebrings brought me to the brink of wondering if the new 200 could deliver. In Chicago, I was taken on a ride through the indoor test track in a 200 Limited with the 3.6litre Pentastar V6 and found it come alive on the short drag strip. The driver stomped on the accelerator and it simply flew. It was my turn in another Pentastar V6-equipped 200 Limited with two accomplices aboard, my friends Greg and Bill. It drove much better than any Sebring before. The driving dynamics were simply dialed up to more of a luxury level of refinement – with better road manners. One complaint: The seat rest on my upper back protruded more than I would have liked. That was it. The 200 certainly filled the role intended by Chrysler as based on the sales figures of late.

There was one more Chrysler product to drive, but I must discuss the other manufacturer represented on the Ride & Drives.

A lineup of 2012 Subarus

The importance of Subaru as a brand to most of my readership is large. There is huge following amongst LGBT owners when it comes to the purveyors of all-wheel drive cars. Not to mention, Minnesota is a strong market for the brand. I drove two Subarus – the Impreza 2.0i 5-door hatchback and the Outback 3.6R. The Impreza surprised me – a lot. For one, I had never felt comfortable in the cabin of all previous iterations. This time, Subaru worked on the cabin and provided ample comfort for four adults – including this driver. Yet, the Impreza felt soft.

Being the standard bearer of transport for LGBT folks in the Upper Midwest, I expected the Subaru Outback to deliver with confidence and competence. Of course, it did. For one, the Outback is smooth with plenty of space for everyone – and everything. Being a wagon, the higher ground clearance was inviting to handle roads prior to the plow coming through the neighborhood. Though the 3.6litre boxer six-cylinder may be a bit much for everyday driving, it quietly provides the power one needs when tackling the streets of Minneapolis – plowed or unplowed. Most consumers would get the 2.5litre boxer four, which remains a strong and competent engine to drive the AWD system.

That last vehicle I eluded to a couple of paragraphs before? If you want to talk about my "dream car" – I drove it, finally.

2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

How does one justify the Chrysler 300 SRT8? The Cadillac CTS-V turns on the power fluidly with 556HP on tap, while a Chevrolet Camaro SS will make your heart stop. I prefer to have my high horsepower cars act civilized, but transmitting a huge pulse at the same time. That is exactly how the 300 SRT8 drives. With 470HP on tap, the SRT8 is a luxurious high velocity transport that needs to experienced. It does so exuberantly, but with ease of operation. It is roomier than the CTS-V with a larger chair to get comfortable and strapped onto. The 300 SRT8 ambled through the streets of Minneapolis absorbing its imperfections while motivating and dissecting along the way.

Yes, I love the CTS-V, but I'll take 86 less horses for a bit more comfort for my friends, Greg and Bill, and I in the 300 SRT8.

Minneapolis can be an unforgiving city during the late winter, but the Ride & Drives by Chrysler/Fiat and Subaru provide a real world experience for potential consumers and enthusiasts alike to truly experience these vehicles on the streets where we roam. That is one of the biggest wins for not only this Auto Show, but of every show that offers these experiences to its attendees.

Back on the show floor, attendees to the 39th Twin Cities Auto Show witnessed how much the automotive industry is being celebrated. It is rebounding after years of sales losses, bankruptcy proceedings, major recall and safety challenges, and the political backlash from all sides of divide. Though motorists are nervously watching pump prices at their local petrol stations, the attraction of a shiny new automobile still eases the pain, albeit temporarily, on the pocketbook.

To see the faces of my neighbors when they come in contact with some of the hottest and most discussed vehicles available in the Twin Cities is worth swinging through the Minneapolis Convention Center once again. Perhaps after covering other auto shows, including a major one during media days, help to understand how my hometown show works for those attending each day of it.

Through their eyes, they can join in the celebration that began at places, such as Pebble Beach, the Los Angeles Convention Center, Cobo Hall, McCormick Place and Palexpo, right in downtown Minneapolis.

A special thanks to GMADA and Nemer Fieger for their support through this year's Twin Cities Auto Show! There's still plenty of time to attend this year's show – it runs through Sunday, March 18! Oh, and Blood, Sweat & Tears will be playing live at the show on Saturday, March 17! Tickets still available at!

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  1. Very nice article Randy! So where the OEM drive events set up in indoor facilities? How large was the venue(s).

    I like the SRT300 myself for many of the reasons you mention; if it were only offered with a manual…

    T.Marc Jones

    1. T. Marc – Thanks! The Ride & Drives were done outside through the back of the Minneapolis Convention Center. Chrysler/Fiat's course used a small stretch of Interstate 94 and drove by Loring Park, while Subaru did simply a loop around the Convention Center. The exhibition space is over 250,000 sq. ft. with the four main halls open along with three smaller rooms nearby.

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