2012 LA Auto Show: The Top 10 Debuts
A traditional post-Thanksgiving rite here in Southern California (along with shopping on Black Friday, all the while hoping you aren’t trampled, stabbed, shot etc.) is the Los Angeles Auto Show. Granted, it’s not a very long-lived tradition, the show having moved from its previous January date opposite the Detroit Auto Show just a few years ago, but in car-dependent (if not car-loving) L.A., it has become a major happening.
Recent major international auto shows have had relatively even mixes of fire-breathing performance cars and squeaky clean and green electric and hybrid vehicles making their debuts, and the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show is no different. But which premieres happening next door to Staples Center are the most noteworthy. Here, in a semi-random, non-chronological, are our picks.
Ford Fiesta ST
It would have been easy for Ford to say, “Well, the Focus ST is the only hot hatch we’re selling in America.” Instead, Dearborn is throwing us yet another bone with the Fiesta ST. This mighty mite (which, like its big brother, will only be available in a five-door body style with a 6-speed manual transmission) is propelled by the same 1.6L EcoBoost turbo inline-four offered in the Escape and Fusion, but in this application it is tuned to crank out 197hp and 214 lb.-ft of torque. As you can imagine, we’re more excited about this little hellraiser than a ‘tween girl is at the prospect of inhaling one of Robert Pattinson’s farts.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series
We’ve already discussed the latest Mercedes-Benz to wear the AMG Black Series label, but it’s worth repeating: Bigger fenders. Big wing. Less weight. More power from the naturally-aspirated 6.2L V8 (622hp, but a bit less torque at 468 lb.-ft). Tweaked suspension. And yes, the serial-conversation-starter gullwing doors are still there. We’re still not smitten with Merc’s top performer aesthetically, but damn if we aren’t turned on by the driving experience its most extreme evolution intends to deliver.
No longer content to let BMW, Mercedes and *gasp* Cadillac beat up on it in the super sedan segment, Jaguar chose L.A. to premiere an even madder version of the XFR, the XFR-S. Like the XKR-S, the supercharged 5.0L V8 has been goosed up to 550hp, the suspension and brakes have been fortified, and there are additional scoops and aero appendages to help it stay cool and stuck to the blacktop. The big difference over its coupe and convertible stablemates is that your last name doesn’t have to be Baggins or Gamgee to stand a chance of fitting in the back seat.
Hyundai Veloster C3 Roll Top Concept
Ever wonder what would happen if a Citroen 2CV and Chevy El Camino had a night of kimchi-fueled passion at some pay-by-the-hour flophouse down by the freeway? Neither have we, but we’re thinking that something resembling the Hyundai Veloster C3 Roll Top Concept would show up nine months later. Starting with the company’s funky asymmetrical hatchback, Hyundai designers removed the metal roof and rear hatch, replacing them with a sliding fabric top and bottom-hinged tailgate, respectively. Slide the front of the roof back for a giant sunroof, or slide the rear forward to create an open air pickup. There’s even a notch on the inside of the tailgate to hold a bicycle in place standing up. The overall concept and execution is super neat, and we hope it sees production at some point.
Mercedes-Benz Ener-G-Force Concept
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class (aka Geländewagen) is an automotive icon, largely because its basic boxy shape hasn’t changed since its 1979 introduction. The Ener-G-Force Concept retains many of those classic styling cues, but offers a sleeker, smoother-edged overall shape. But that’s not the most newsworthy part of this SUV; no, that lies in its onboard technology. The four wheel-mounted electric motors are powered by easily interchangeable battery packs mounted in the rocker panels, which are charged by a hydrogen fuel cell. The twist to where the hydrogen comes from is that it comes from tanks that capture rainwater via drains leading from the roof rack. That water is then broken down into hydrogen and oxygen via electrolysis, with the hydrogen and oxygen subsequently being re-combined by the fuel cell as it generates electricity. Mercedes-Benz says this should give the Ener-G-Force a range of about 500 miles. We say that might be the best solution yet for fueling fuel cell vehicles.
Audi A8 TDI
To paraphrase a knight named Mix-a-Lot, we like big diesels and we cannot lie. And Audi is happy to indulge us with a TDI clean diesel version of its Wall Street fabulous A8. Yes, this show is also the North American debut for the A6, A7 and Q5 powered by the same 3.0L V6 turbodiesel (which is already available here in the Q7, Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne), but we’re all about the mostly-aluminum flagship. Not only is it opulent, its 240hp, 406 lb.-ft powerplant also makes it remarkably quick (0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds) and freakishly economical (Audi predicts 24 mpg city, 36 mpg highway.). Mmmm, mmmm gut!
Chevrolet Spark EV
Although the Volt has garnered a crapload of attention (both positive and negative) in its brief life, Chevrolet isn’t content to let it be the brand’s sole super-green machine. Hence, the creation of the Spark EV you see before you. As GM’s second all-electric production car (the EV1 of the late ‘90s being the first), the Spark EV features body mods aimed at reducing drag and a pair of reconfigurable 7” LCD screens to monitor things like expected range and state of charge of the 20 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack feeding electrons to the GM-designed 130hp, 400 lb.-ft(!) motor. And unlike the EV1, you’ll actually be able to lease or buy a Spark EV if you want (and you live in California, Oregon, or other tiny handful of markets where it will be available), and do the latter for less than $25,000 if you qualify for the maximum federal tax credit.
BMW i3 Coupe Concept
The i-Series of funky, eco-chic concepts from BMW certainly aren’t your father’s Bimmers (unless he has an Isetta that he converted to battery power, in which case they kinda are). But despite their dramatic departures from the Munich marque’s normal fare, they’re starting to grow on us, particularly this i3 Coupe Concept that made its world debut here. A 170hp, 184 lb.-ft electric motor (that’s energized by an underfloor battery pack) sends power to the rear wheels. Couple that with a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) chassis and a smart navigation system that calculates the most energy efficient route and where nearby public transit is and you have an appealing antidote to the typical front-drive golf cart with a thyroid problem.
On paper, the Porsche Cayman is a fixed-roof Boxster with slightly different front end styling. In practice, the Cayman is the purest driver’s car Porsche has made this century, despite being neutered in the powertrain department to keep it from stealing too many 911 sales. That formula is basically unchanged with this new-from-the-wheels-up Cayman (known internally as the 981C), but the styling is a whole lot more pleasing. Trust us when we say this thing is pure, hot SEX in the metal. And with essentially the same engine and trans options as the new Boxster (A 275hp 2.7L flat-six in the base Cayman, a 325hp 3.4L flat-six in the Cayman S, and a choice of 6-speed manual or 7-speed PDK twin-clutch for both.), the performance should be just as pants-tightening as the looks.
Yes, yes, we know, midsize, front-drive family sedans aren’t our stock-and-trade, but Mazda’s new 6 is different. The third generation 6, which made its first appearance in the U.S. ahead of American deliveries beginning in the spring, promises to deliver handling light years ahead of the competition, but that news is overshadowed by the optional engine: Mazda’s new Skyactiv-D 2.2L twin-turbo diesel inline-four. No power and performance figures have been released, but Mazda says the engine should make at least 300 lb.-ft of torque. Yowza. The low-for-a-diesel 14:1 compression ratio helps it meet 50-state emissions standards, and allows the block and rotating assembly to be made of lightweight materials like aluminum. Both the diesel and the standard 2.5L gas inline-four will be offered with Mazda-designed and manufactured efficiency-optimized 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmissions, and both engines feature the company’s i-ELOOP regenerative braking system. Oh yes, it’s our new dream daily driver.