Vail autos: Denver Auto Show has some light in the tunnel |

Vail autos: Denver Auto Show has some light in the tunnel

Andy Stonehouse
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyBuick's new Regal combines a familiar nameplate with high-tech clothing. The Regal is aimed squarely at European imports and the Lexus ES and GL lines.

While the past few years of Denver Auto Shows have been increasingly grim affairs, this year’s event might demonstrate a slightly more upbeat mood in the car business.

Last year’s unpleasant economy helped bring some long overdue changes to both the domestic and import auto world. And nowhere are those changes more evident than at the General Motors displays. As company officials noted during Wednesday’s press preview, the disappearance of Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn has resulted in a more concentrated effort on the part of GM’s remaining lines.

But those who guessed high gas prices and recessionary austerity might mean a crop of gas-miserly machines will have to wait. GM’s coming eco-mobiles, including the Chevy Cruze and the super-tiny Spark, as well as the largely electric Volt, are still on the horizon.

This year’s auto show was a showcase for big and brawny: An all-new GMC Sierra three-quarter-ton pickup was on display, packing an optional 6.6-liter Duramax diesel putting out a whopping 397-horsepower and 765 lb. ft. of torque.

Riding on an all-new chassis and frame, the Sierra’s diesel mill has been crafted with both an 11 percent increase in fuel efficiency (19 miles per gallon on the highway) and an eye to high country needs (a snowplowing package is compatible with every one of the heavy-duty trucks).

With an eye toward affluent contractors and company bosses, the Sierra is also available in a Denali package, featuring near-Cadillac levels of interior finish and comfort.

Over at the Buick display were signs of its attempts to move that brand from a geriatric-friendly backwater to a progressive, performance-oriented business. The 2011 Buick Regal is a stylish, midsize sports sedan, crafted to aggressively take on both European imports and Lexus.

The Regal – essentially a retooled Opel Insignia, 2009’s European Car of the Year – looks a lot like a Lexus, with overstated, swoopy curves on the body line, a tall, flat decklid and shape and size somewhere between a Lexus ES and a GS. Initial versions of the Regal will be manufactured in Germany, until domestic production begins.

And the interior, resplendent with cashmere-colored leather and loads of technological niceties is, of course, highly soundproofed. It’s crafted as an enthusiast’s vehicle, however.

At the Ford display, the proudly profitable team at the Blue Oval had a few goodies of their own to show, including the most fantastically ominous and hulking Super Duty truck ever crafted (its front grill now looks like a chrome-plated bank vault). Not to be outdone by the GM folks, Ford’s mammoth truck is available with a 390-horsepower, 6.7-liter diesel, the cumulative effect being a vehicle that looks like it could easily tow the Pepsi Center off its foundation.

The Lincoln MKX and the Ford Edge both get major makeovers. In the Edge, the “My Ford Touch” system features an impressive array of user-adjustable information screens, TV remote control-styled buttons on the steering wheel and even an all-black, touch-sensitive set of climate controls built into a Sony-branded console that looks like high-end stereo equipment.

Properly equipped, the system can turn your entire car into a wi-fi hotspot; there’s rumors of a future update which will allow you to do Twitter updates using the touchscreen, which may be one of the clearest signs of the coming apocalypse.

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