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The 10 best finds at the Tampa auto show

A McLaren MP4-12C is among the hottest cars awaiting visitors at the Tampa Bay International Auto Show at the Tampa Convention Center.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

A McLaren MP4-12C is among the hottest cars awaiting visitors at the Tampa Bay International Auto Show at the Tampa Convention Center.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a gas gift card and a Lamborghini . . .

• • •

From super-priced, super-fast sports cars to vehicles with next-generation dashboard technology to new "mini" cars big on mileage, the Tampa Bay International Auto Show opens today with something for everyone.

I'm no "car" guy. I drive a vehicle so old it predates air bags and possibly dinosaurs. But spending some time at the Tampa auto show, which I have previewed for many years, is a great way to be dazzled by changing automobile designs and concept vehicles, and to gawk at elegant sports cars approaching half a million bucks.

But the show is best as an all-in-one place to see what's new from major carmakers and glimpse some 2013 and 2014 models that have yet to land in dealer showrooms. Here are my top 10 favorite finds at the show, which runs through the weekend at the downtown Tampa Convention Center:

10. Let's get the hottest car finds out of the way first. Want to see the Aston Martins, Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and two McLarens so upscale that getting a scratch in their paint fixed can run you $5,000? Head upstairs to the right, behind the GMC and Cadillac spaces. The Lamborghini's downstairs in the main hallway.

9. GM's Chevrolet enjoys some primo space upstairs and is hyping a chance to see its 2014 (that's right) revamped, 10th generation Impala. This is not your father's (or grandfather's) automobile.

8. Before leaving Chevrolet turf, take a look at GM's first-ever "mini" (or sub-compact) car: the Chevy Spark. It's 2 inches shorter than a Mini Cooper (which is downstairs), gets 28 miles per gallon city or 37 mpg highway and is generally priced well under $15,000. Chevy also has the Chevy Spark "ev" electric vehicle that can range about 80 miles per charge. GM showed it off at the Los Angeles Auto Show, but it is not on display here. The bad news? The electric version costs about twice as much (before a federal $7,500 rebate) as the gas powered one.

7. Need another sports car fix? Downstairs at Lexus, check out the $375,000 LFA, one sleek beauty with 553 horsepower and the promise (Do we care? Of course we do.) of hitting 200-plus mph.

6. Nearby, take a gander at the brand new Infiniti JX35, a three-row, seven-passenger crossover with cool dashboard technology the carmaker calls its "around view" monitor. Four cameras — back, front and tucked under the side mirrors on each side — send exterior images that get stitched together on a dashboard screen to give the driver a 360-degree real-time look at who or what is out there. Great safety (and parking) feature.

5. Before leaving Infiniti, ask about the company "personal assistant" that comes with the purchase of certain models and is available — according to Infiniti reps — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for the first four years of a vehicle purchase. Is this just a glorified OnStar safety service? Oh no, says Infiniti. Use your personal assistant to do everything from scheduling your next service appointment (yawn) to sending flowers to a loved one (that's better) to making dinner reservations. But can they help Johnny do his homework?

4. Upstairs, wander deeper into the showroom to find Chrysler (now owned by Fiat). Check out the compact Fiat 500 "rollback" convertible just for the fun of the look. It yells fun in the Florida sun.

3. Hyundai has some whopper-sized showroom space, reflecting big gains in market share. The Korean carmaker sure isn't slowed by its recent embarrassment. After an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency, both Hyundai and Kia admitted last month that self-calculated estimates for gas mileage were too high by an overall average of 3 percent. Restating the mileage estimates took some vehicles below the magical 40 mpg benchmark. Still, check out the snappy looking (and reasonably priced) Hyundai Veloster Turbo while you're at their space.

2. Taking a tour of the Toyota space really is a salute to a company that may not offer the sexiest vehicles but otherwise seems to have something for every basic need. I eyeballed at least 14 different models, from a 10-airbag Camry and sharper-designed Corollas, to the comfortable Avalon sedan and several gas-muzzling Prius electric-gas hybrids. One Prius promises to save $6,350 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle.

1. Finally, this year's Tampa auto event is more than a look-and-drool show. More than 40 models from a dozen manufacturers are standing by outside the convention center awaiting test drives. (Sign up inside near the entrance.) Someone let me know how that Chevy Volt handles.

It's a long shot, but I'm making my holiday gift list. . . .

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

.IF YOU GO

Tampa Bay International Auto Show

Hours: noon to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

Cost: adults $9, seniors (62+) $5, military with ID $5 (free today, Pearl Harbor Day), kids 7-12 $5 and 6 and under free.

Where: Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St.

The 10 best finds at the Tampa auto show 12/06/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 10:05pm]

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