Gotta go to the auto show

I have been going to the annual Denver International Auto Show since the 1980s, and I am quite happy to report that the 2012 edition is a symbol of the resurgent automobile industry. For anyone who loves cars or is thinking about buying a new one, this is the showcase to visit.

Three things stand out for me this year: luxury, performance and fuel economy. It is almost oxymoronic that economy and performance can reside side by side, but they do at this show. 

Here are the 2012 award winners – all on display at the show – from the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP) group, a collection of automotive journalists:

• Rocky Mountain New Vehicle of the Year:  2012 Range Rover Evoque, for its blend of show-car styling and traditional Range Rover toughness.
• Rocky Mountain SUV of the Year: 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee, for unstoppable off-road ability and impressive on-road performance.
• Rocky Mountain Pickup Truck of the Year: 2012 Ford F-150, a do-everything pickup featuring Ford’s ground-breaking EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6.
• Rocky Mountain High-Mileage Vehicle of the Year: 2012 Nissan Leaf, the first modern mass-produced pure-electric vehicle.
• Rocky Mountain Car of the Year: Audi A6 3.0 TFSI, for supercharged performance, all-wheel-drive grip and sophisticated design.

I didn’t take part in the RMAP vote, but it’s hard to argue with the choices. Here are some of my own favorites:

Best Display: Jeep. They had this whole driving course, inside, where you can take one of the many Jeep models up over a very steep ramp, over some logs laid down and some other logs sticking up like tree stumps, along with other cool obstacles. 

Coolest Car (Unreachable Category): Lamborghini Aventador. Done in a matte black finish, this car has cut lines that makes it look like a way-cooler Batmobile. The model I looked at went for more than $400,000. (By the way, the Lamborghini people refer to the other hot Italian car – Ferrari – as “The F word.”)

Second Coolest Car (Unreachable Category): Bentley Mulsanne. This is a full-sized sedan with a Flying Wing hood ornament that stands up like that on an older Rolls Royce. I have driven just one Bentley over the years and all I can say is “Wow.” 

Coolest Car (Reachable Category): Audi A7 3.0 T Premium Sedan quattro. One of the most handsome, sleek vehicles I have seen in a long time, this car is simply beautiful. I was walking by and it called me over. It carries a $59,250 MSRP. The model I looked at has many extras, including a Bang & Olufsen sound system, that ratcheted the rice up to $80,130.

Coolest Car (Somewhat Exotic Category): Mercedes SLS AMG Coupe. With its gull-wing doors and long hood, this two-seater is a stunner. Base price is $189,600 and the one on display was going for $199,075; the difference must be the floor mats, I’m guessing.

Most Awesome Street Car: BMW M5 Sedan. Done here in a beautiful bright blue, this four-door looks fast and must be: it features a 4.4-liter, 560 hp V8 that will do 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and tops out at 155 mph. I hope it comes with radar and an extended driver’s-license point system.

Best Fun Car: Mini John Cooper Works Roadster. Very cool, this two-seat convertible Mini has those roll-bar arches behind each of the seats that makes it look like the Audi TT. It features a 1.6-liter four-banger with 208 hp and carries a $35,200 MSRP

Best New SUV: 2013 Infiniti JX. When I first heard the name, I thought it was a remake of the early 1990’s Infiniti J30, my favorite in the luxury lines of the time. This one, however, is a brand-new, three-row seven-passenger SUV.  I looked it over with Mike Ward of Mike Ward Infiniti of Denver who said he has pre-sold 70 percent of his first month’s allotment sight-unseen.

Best-looking New Car (Very Reachable Division): Hyundai Veloster. This car is more of a mix of a sedan and an SUV than I have ever seen. The entire roof is black glass. MSRP: $17,300.

Coolest Mini-SUV: Nissan Juke SL AWD. Nissan is nothing if not a pioneer in design, and the Juke is one of its edgier models. They like to do great things with the lighting trims, and they have added AWD. MSRP: $27,800.

Best Mid-Sized SUV: Land Rover Evoque. It’s immediately recognizable as a Land Rover in spite of more rounded contours than its brethren. Plenty of room both front and back for a vehicle of this size. MSRP: $41,995.

Oddest Car. Scion iQ. Scion is the Toyota line launched a few years ago through an online marketing campaign targeting young people. This one is shockingly small, much like a Smart Car (which it was parked next to at the show; not the best placement). It has a back seat of sorts that a representative said will hold two adults. I have my doubts. MSRP: $15,995.

Coolest Upgrade Car: Fiat 500 Abarth. I really like the new Fiat 500 that has been in the states for a little over a year, but this one takes the model to a new level. It’s tricked out with turbo and specially badged with the Abarth logo. MSRP: $22,000.

I was impressed with a lot more at the show from a performance, economy and styling point of view, and I was especially taken with many of the American offerings: an as-yet-unreleased Dodge Dart, impressive smaller sedans from Ford and Chevrolet, and Buicks with younger-generation appeal.

That’s my take, but I’m sure every visitor will find something to love in any price range.

The Denver Auto Show runs today through Sunday at the Colorado Convention Center, open until 10 p.m. today and tomorrow and 6 p.m. Sunday.