A car playground for grown-ups at the L.A. Auto Show

Southern California's love affair with the automobile continues unabated — at least at the Los Angeles Auto Show, where thousands of car fanatics, shoppers and families are descending on the downtown L.A. Convention Center.

After days of media previews, dozens of photo ops and scores of curious critics, the public has been getting its chance to kick the tires, assess the added comforts, and check out the fuel economy claims. The show runs through Sunday.

Now in its 106th year, the show is an auto playground for grown-ups. By this weekend, about 900,000 people are expected to have attended, said Brendan Flynn, senior director of marketing and communications for the event.

Repeat visitors such as David and Maryellen Curry said they were leaning toward a Ford Flex, a car they had already rented for a road trip to Santa Barbara. The couple often go on camping trips to spots such as Big Sur and desire more space than afforded by their Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible. They came to see whether anything could beat the Flex in comfort and safety.

"We've been coming to the auto show for 10 or 15 years," David Curry said. "This is the best one we've seen."

Open to the public since Friday, visitors have encountered more than just cars on display. Almost all automobile companies showing vehicles have been offering engaging activities as well.

General Motors Co. on Monday had a photo booth where families could sit inside a 1963 Corvair Greenbrier Sport Wagon and take pictures with props.

Kia had a DJ blasting music from inside one of its cars on display. Toyota brought Lakers point guard Steve Blake to sign autographs; and several companies such as Kia Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Mercedes-Benz had car simulators

Although no cars are on sale at the show itself, about half the visitors are looking to buy a car soon, Flynn said. Hundreds of cars from 42 brands are on display. Tickets for ages 13 and up are $10 through Thursday. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they are $12 each.

Sandy and Mark Gravitt of Santa Clarita, frustrated by what they described as their cramped 2011 Mazda3 and its tiny and limited navigation system, were there Saturday on the hunt for something new. Anticipating the expiration of their car lease, they were determined to find a new fit.

Many attendees come each year with husbands, wives, friends or children just to look at edgy designs, feel the luxurious interiors and be astonished by powerful engines.

Nathan White, a 16-year-old from Livermore, Calif., came to the auto show with nine other members of his Boy Scout troop.

The self-described "car aficionado" said although not all his fellow troop members are as interested in cars as he is, the overall experience is entertaining for everyone.

"Considering the amount of things offered here, it's a different experience from what we usually get camping in the woods," Nathan said. "It's a good thing for us to all go to."

This year, 23 cars are making their global debut at the L.A. show. Some of the most popular have included Honda Motor Co.'s fuel cell vehicle, Porsche's Macan, Nissan's GT-R and Mercedes-Benz's SLS.

The debut on Ryan Park's mind was the 2015 Subaru WRX. Park, looking to replace a leased Volkswagen Jetta, is searching for something fast but still safe enough to hold a likely forthcoming baby.

"It has to fit a car seat, but I don't want to have a car that handles like a boat," said Park, 28, of Diamond Bar. "I should be able to pass people on the freeway and not stress about having to downshift all the time."

The business software developer also wanted a car without an "outrageously difficult" information and entertainment system.

"Every time something lags or doesn't work right, it's irritating," Park said.

Pitches by automakers about all new in-car technology on display have been common at the show. Still, many people searching for a new car are focusing on the basics: price, fuel efficiency and reliability.