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New models get auto show shine

Event displays will group vehicles by price, gas mileage
by: JAIME VALDEZ Displays allowing side-by-side comparisons of similar new cars will be featured at the 2012 Portland International Auto Show, along with the traditional manufacturer exhibits.

For the first time, visitors to the annual Portland International Auto Show will be able to inspect comparable models of popular cars side by side.

Cars from various manufacturers priced for less than $21,000 will be displayed in the Under 21 Club. A number of cars that get more than 35 miles per gallon will be displayed in the Over 35 Club.

These displays will be different from anything the longtime presenters - the Metro Portland New Car Dealers Association - have done. They are among the changes the association has made since taking over the organization of the show two years ago.

'These rooms will make it easier for buyers to compare models,' says Greg Remensperger, association executive vice president, whose organization began presenting the show in 1914.

The 2012 show is Thursday, Jan. 26 through Sunday, Jan. 29, at the Oregon Convention Center. It is cosponsored by the Pamplin Media Group, which publishes the Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers.

Much of the show remains traditional. More than 35 manufacturers will display vehicles throughout the center.

But several features, such as the side-by-side displays, are different. They include the ECO Center, a display of new electric vehicles and charging stations that first debuted at the 2011 show.

Some displays are not even about cars.

Remensperger knows that some visitors are not looking for a new vehicle - or are even particularly interested in automobiles. Among these people are relatives and friends of car shoppers. For them, the show offers alternatives such as the Great Outdoors, which features recreation equipment and information on vacation destinations.

Another option is the Healthy Life Garage, which is sponsored by PacificSource Health Plans and includes free health checks and advice, samples of healthy foods, full-body aqua massages and a selection of Northwest wines.

Also new this year, Northwest Honda Dealers will have a $50,000 putting contest next to its main exhibit. Visitors can qualify to win a free iPad by sinking a 25-foot putt, and one contestant can win $50,000 by sinking a 50-foot putt on Sunday.

In a show tradition, one visitor will drive home a new car, this time a 2012 Honda Accord, courtesy of the Portland Metro New Car Dealers Association and the Pamplin Media Group.

A drawing for the car will take place on the last day of the show. Entries can be submitted at portlandtribune.com or on the website of any Community Newspapers publication. Entries also may be submitted at the Pamplin Media Group booth.

'We want everyone who comes to the show to have a good time,' says Remensperger.

First Responder tribute

For auto enthusiasts, the annual show offers an opportunity to see, feel, sit in and drive the newest cars, trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles.

About 500 vehicles will be on display, including many that are just now arriving in area showrooms. The list includes the Chevy Sonic, the first subcompact made in America in decades. Other first-timers include the SUV-like Toyota Prius V hybrid and the all-electric version of the Ford Focus.

Some of the vehicles aren't even on sale yet. Several manufacturers have promised to bring examples of 2013 models that won't be available for months. These include the American debut of the Subaru BRZ sports car, the substantially remodeled midsize Chevy Malibu, the Fiat-based Dodge Dart compact, new versions of the Ford Escape and Taurus and the Mazda CX-5 compact crossover with the company's high-mileage Skyactiv technology.

For people interested in hands-on tests, more manufacturers will offer free rides and drives. They include Jeep, which is bringing its Camp Jeep to the show for the first time.

The 30,000-square-foot indoor test track for Jeep vehicles features an 18-foot high, 35-degree hill climb, a 12-by-25-foot section simulating fallen logs measuring 18 inches in diameter, and a 30-degree wedge to demonstrate off-road capabilities.

In addition, General Motors, Kia, Scion, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen will offer free test drives outside the center.

Other special exhibits include a tribute to first responders to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, known as the First Responder Silverado. It was commissioned and financed by Chevy as part of its series of vehicles commemorating American heroes.

Airbrushed on the 2012 Silverado are images of firefighters wading through rubble, K9 search teams, police officers and a list of the 411 active-duty New York City first responders who lost their lives in the aftermath of the attacks. A hood ornament is made from glass that was part of the World Trade Center.