Payne’s 10 best from the LA Auto Show
Drive to the Detroit auto show, and the General’s Renaissance Center reminds this is Detroit 3 territory. Take Interstate 105 to the Los Angeles Auto Show, and you know this is Elon Musk’s town.
Space X headquarters — with a tall rocket marking the spot — anchors Hawthorne Airport where Tesla recently debuted its semi-truck and lightning-quick Roadster supercar. Model S sedans are as common as Cadillacs in Motown. Californians embrace Musk’s electric vision as surely as Michigan loves V-8s.
LA is very green and very rich, and its auto show generally echoes that demographic with world premieres of battery-powered cars and luxury chariots. Enter the show floor and Tesla’s booth of premium Model S, Model X and Model 3 sets the tone. Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes and BMW follow with their own green machines.
But new SUV debuts from Subaru and Jeep and Corvette remind that Californians are hardly monolithic in their vehicle choices. They have big families, love the rugged outdoors and crave power. At this show they’ll find a diverse lineup of vehicles to scratch every itch.
Here are the 10 best new vehicles on the floor:
Jeep Wrangler: The original World War II Willys Jeep would be jealous. The Wrangler gets a modern makeover including the latest UConnect infotainment system, smartphone app connectivity, rear heat and air conditioning, and sippy hybrid turbo-4. Nice. But this rugged, adult-size Lego toy is still about escaping to the Outback. The roof, doors — even the front windshield — are easier to snap off so you can lock the differentials, climb mountains and ogle nature.
Audi A8: The Audi packs a different kind of versatility. The all-new flagship sedan packs more toys into its long wheelbase than Santa’s bag: rear-seat foot massage, touchscreen display (goodbye rotary dial), 360-camera views and electronic body control which smooths every road wrinkle. Wrapped in an elegant design, it’ll even drive itself when Traffic Jam assist comes online. A 48-volt battery supplies the juice for all the new gizmos.
Mercedes Project One: Talk about applying racing technology to the street. Ripping the driveline right out of F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton’s Malaren, the 1,000-horsepower, 1.6-liter, V-6 Merc hybrid is a 217 mph, all-wheel drive weapon. From its F1-style steering wheel to its carbon chassis, this is a grand prix car with fenders. If you have to ask how much it costs you can’t afford it.
Corvette ZR1: Corvette wants some of that high-tech performance for itself, which is why its building a mid-engine sports car of its own. Watch for it at January’s Detroit show. In the meantime we have the throwback ZR1 which pushes the very limit of what a front-engine sports car can do. With 755 ponies, 13 heat exchangers and a supercharger poking through the hood, this Hulk is busting out of its shirt. Without 1,000-pounds of downforce, this rocket would fly.
Nissan Kicks: Nissan kicks its funky Juke to the curb. The frog-eyed Juke is no more as the Nissan’s subcompact design pendulum swings wildly to the conservative side. The Kicks joins the Chevy Trax and Honda HR-V as conventional utes in the segment, downgrading the Juke’s 188-horse fun-factor to a 125-horse, CVT-driven four-banger. Want a quirkmobile? Try a Toyota C-HR.
Subaru Ascent: A year after dropping the extra-extra-large Viziv-7 concept on the LA show, Subaru is back with the real thing. The eight-passenger Ascent is the all-wheel drive second shot at the three-row market (after the late, failed Tribeca), and this one should stick. That’s assuming Subie buyers can stomach an un-PC supersized ute. They’ll feel better about its sippy, CVT-driven turbo-4 — though I hope it’s not too underpowered for the big fella.
BMW i8 Roadster: BMW dropped a stunning eight new models on the LA show, but the topless, gull-winged i8 was the showstopper. The plug-in hybrid Roadster ditches the coupe’s small backseats and the top goes down in just 16 seconds up to 31 mph. Battery-only range grows from 15 to 18 miles, but like its supercar peers the BMW puts the battery to best use in acceleration. Zero-60 in just 4.4 ticks.
Porsche Cayenne: This is the SUV that started it all. Today, every premium performance automaker has translated their sports car DNA to a Frankenstein SUV: Maserati Levante, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Jaguar F-Pace — even Ferrari has committed to a crossover. The Cayenne, now in its third generation, mints money that Stuttgart plows back into sports cars. The new ute sheds 143 pounds with 550 horses available from a twin-turbo V-8.
Mazda Vision/Mazda6: I don’t normally honor design concepts with a top 10, but if the Vision’s vision eventually translates to the already pretty, production Mazda6 sedan, it’ll be the best-looking sedan made. Period. The simple, sleek Vision is so luscious you want to lick it. The story of the production Mazda6 that debuted this week is under the skin, where Mazda introduces the nimble mid-sizer’s first turbo-4 – a 310 pound-feet of torque stump-puller.
Tesla Model 3: Making its debut on the auto show circuit, the Model 3 deserves its hype. Though not as lovely as big-brother Model S, it is no less stunning for its simple, iPhone-like interior and electrifying performance. Motor Trend’s LA-based team were the first journalists to test the low-center-of-gravity Model 3 and confirm it’s as nimble as it is quick out of a light.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.