We've all been glued to CNN, watching the Big Three Bosses being grilled after asking for $25 billion in bailouts. Their reactions are, in part, as painful as Governor Palin's Katie Couric interview. And let's face it-nobody knows the future of the automobile industry, so rather than pretend we do, let's talk about some cars for once. In case you hadn't noticed, the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show just happened.
If you have gear oil running through your veins, the LA Show is a pretty good place to go this year-the biggest debuts seem to be either sports cars or convertibles. The most dramatic of those debuts is the new Nissan 370Z. It's so much smaller and tighter-looking that it almost deserves a name far more different than that of the outgoing 350Z. Then again, its compact, racy dimensions actually put it closer to the Zs of yore-especially the oldest ones, which were lean, mean, and gorgeous. I haven't personally gotten behind the wheel of the new Z yet, but if it drives half as good as it looks (and I'm confident it will), Nissan will have a hit on its hands, economic crisis or not. And if the rumors I've heard are true that Nissan's GT-R won't be available with launch control for 2010, then the Z just might be the company's fastest stoplight dragster. ; Nissan's other sporty debut is the Infiniti G37 convertible, which isn't just drop-top, it's drop-dead gorgeous, too. It looks surprisingly similar to the Lexus IS Convertible (which is strange because the IS and G sedans don't resemble one another in the least) but it's more successful at hiding the mass of the folding hard top. In fact, of the trio of rear-wheel drive, four-seater hardtops (the two Japanese cars plus the BMW 3-series), Infiniti is the most successful at keeping the beltline and trunkline low. ; And speaking of hard-top convertibles, how about a convertible that's no longer a convertible-the $300,000 Mercedes SL 65 AMG Black Series. Mercedes showed the carbon-fiber beast wrapped in a big transparent Christmas present box, from which its bulging body looks like it's threatening to escape If you want a DTM car for the street, the SL certainly looks the part. And with 661 horsepower, it's faster in a straight line than the DTM cars are, too. Seriously. ; The Mercedes' top speed is limited to 199 mph, which means that the new Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder not only undercuts the SL's price by more than $80,000, it outruns it with a 201-mph top speed. And when you're not trying to break the sound barrier, the Lamborghini's top folds down for a nice sunburn thanks to the hole in the ozone layer it creates. Fabulous stuff indeed. ; And yet, despite all this hot new metal, the sports car I'd buy-convertible or not-is the plain, barely-different-looking Porsche Cayman or Boxster. Sure, they don't look new and totally different like the 370Z, they don't have 661 horsepower like the SL, and they don't seat four like the Lexus or Infiniti, but they've just received some updates that make them even better than their predecessors. And we always thought that couldn't be done. ; With direct-injection engines, they're both more efficient and more powerful than last year's models. With an available 7-speed PDK twin-clutch transmission, they finally appeal to buyers who live in places like Los Angeles where you're stuck in traffic all the time. And with the latest version of PCM (Porsche Communications Management), they finally have an easy-to-use touch-screen navigation and infotainment system. New wheels and lights round out the changes, but that's irrelevant-the entry-level Porsches have always been about how they make their driver feel, not the people they're passing by. ; Which leads me to the most frustrating part of auto shows. It's not the crowds; it's not the hot, dry halls. It's not the lack of decent food. It's that I can only look at these awesome cars and can't drive the damn things. Yet.