So Many Shiny Toys: My Day at the Orange County Auto Show

The OC Auto Show was the happiest place on earth for a car geek like me.

(All photos are courtesy of catmomma/Flickr)

Located within walking distance from the Disneyland resort, the Orange County Auto Show at the Anaheim Convention Center was a delight from start to finish. I sure as hell can’t afford Disney, so I opted for the automotive Fantasyland of the Orange County International Auto Show.

Although it doesn’t have the cachet of the Los Angeles International Auto Show, the OC show offered acres of shiny toys, interactive displays and activities (including test drives) and a variety of cars to suit nearly every need, budget, and taste.It was a stellar show in its own right.

Of course, I couldn’t just go by myself, so I asked a friend and fellow car geek Cheri to come with and to make a day of it. After a quick ride on Amtrak and an even quicker Uber ride, we were at the show hall when the doors opened.

The first time stepping into the show hall is magic for me. Between the lights and the new car smell, it’s car geek heaven. It never gets old. The day it gets old is the day I need to find a new hobby.

We agreed to walk the show from one end to the other so as to not miss anything. Our first stop with the Chrysler-Fiat stand, featuring the much-anticipated Fiat Sypder 124. It didn’t disappoint. In one word: Whoa.

We also came up close with the Fiat 500e, which is a favorite here in CA. I test-drove one and it’s a peppy, eager to please treat. For those of you like me who weren’t feeling the orange paint, the 500e has additional colors to choose from.

Psst! Wanna ride?

Typically, one can’t test drive a new car unless they’re willing to put up with a dealer sales pitch, or if they’re a journalist with access to a press car. Fortunately, several of the automakers offered test-drives to car geeks like myself.

After a quickie survey, a breathalyzer test, and a scan of my driver’s license, I was in the driver seat of a Fiat 500e, accompanied by Chrysler-Fiat rep Mya riding shotgun. The 500e fun to drive and I was surprised by its liveliness.

Cheri road-tested a  Fiat Spyder and I don’t think she’s stopped smiling since. At about $27,000, the Spyder is a roadster within reach for most car buyers.

While other automakers such as Kia, Nissan, Mazda, Honda, VW, and Toyota also had test-drive kiosks, we decided to keep moving in order to beat the crowds since the hall was quickly filling up.

Tonka Toys come to life at Camp Jeep

My partner in crime headed for Camp Jeep, an interactive display in which show-goers were treated to hills, stairs, bumps, and a variety of other obstacles while riding in one of Jeep’s models. I’m a huge chicken, so I opted for terra firma. Still, it was a blast to watch as Jeeps full of people tackled the course. Beats the hell out of sales pitch.

Honestly, it was hard to contain ourselves as we moved from one stand to another, ogling cars and/or sitting in them. Seriously, when else am I going to have the chance to sit in a $53,000 Kia K900 or a Volvo S60? Not unless I’m at a car show.

We both enjoyed the well-laid out show floor, clear directional signs, clean cars, attentive staff, and of course, the cars themselves.  I’ll admit I’ve thought of the Orange County Auto Show as the L.A. International Auto Show’s poorer cousin, but no longer.

This one is a sure bet to be on my calendar for next year. My only complaint? The show website had out of date public transit links from last year. Aside from that, this show was top notch and a definite keeper.