The Los Angeles Auto Show marks the official start of the domestic auto show season. Taking place in the fall, just as next year’s models are hitting the showroom, the LA Show gives us a preview of the year after next—in other words, what’s coming in 2017. Here, in alphabetical order, are the ten (well, technically eleven) vehicles at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show that mattered most.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa Romeo’s agonizingly long return to the States has come in fits and starts, primarily in the guise of sports cars with limited production numbers and limited appeal. But here, finally, is the new Giulia sedan, an Alfa Romeo for the well-heeled masses. The 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio is the headline-maker, but it’s the 2.0-liter rear-drive version that bears watching—it seems perfectly positioned to challenge the BMW 328i. Think about it: Cadillac has been trying to take on BMW for years with limited success, and here comes Fiat-Chrysler with a turn-key (or should we say push-button) solution. If the public accepts it, the Giulia will give Alfa Romeo an opportunity to sink its teeth into the American market.
I hate to have a Buick so close to the top of the article—damn you, alphabet!—but even those who think the brand is a snoozer must see the significance of this car. Buick hasn’t had anything resembling a proper flagship for a while, but the new LaCrosse seems fit to take up the mantle, with a lovely interior, strong engine, and what I have no doubt will be the most serene ride this side of a Lincoln Town Car. (And is that such a bad thing? I like my luxury cars to be cushy; if I want a sport sedan, I’ll buy a sport sedan. Of course, I’m going to need a raise first.) And if you don’t have much interest in Buick or the LaCrosse, I doubt that’ll bother General Motors, because the chrome-laden brand is a moneymaker: 2014 was the best year in Buick’s 100-plus-year history with 1.7 million sales worldwide—nearly as many as BMW.
Fiat 124 Spyder
Fiata. There, we said it. Fiat’s new roadster is based on the bones of the Mazda MX-5 Miata; the sheet metal is unique, but the interior is nearly identical. What really sets it apart is the engine: Fiat’s own 1.4-liter turbocharged four, tuned for 160 horsepower. (So, for all of you who wish Mazda would turbocharge the MX-5, Fiat’s done it!) The suspension tuning is also unique to Fiat, but the 124 is built in Japan, which should do wonders for FCA’s quality stats. Chassis setup makes a big difference in this car (drive the MX-5 Club and the Sport/Touring models back-to-back and you’ll see), so I’ll hold my verdict until I get a chance to drive it, but I’d be really shocked if the 124 Spyder doesn’t turn out to be a gem.
Much as I adore Infiniti, the brand seems to be lost in time, with big(ish) cars that feature big power and a big appetite for unleaded gas. The QX30 is the vehicle the brand desperately needs: A small, svelte crossover with a high-tech four-cylinder turbocharged engine under the hood. The QX30 was designed in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz, and it’s closely related to the GLA. Several on our team think it’s a Mercedes clone, but I disagree; I see lots of Infiniti character in the styling, inside and out. Besides, I think the GLA is a great little SUV, delivering Mercedes cachet at a reasonable price. Assuming the QX30’s sticker is similarly affordable, the QX30 could be the best thing to happen to Infiniti since the G35.
We don’t hear much about the sibling rivalry that exists between Kia and Hyundai but we can sometimes guess what’s going on behind the scenes by the products they introduce. In the new Sportage, we see Kia acting out: While the new Sorento and Optima were relatively tame, the Sportage’s styling…well, it certainly stands out, doesn’t it? Kia may hope for comparisons to the Porsche Cayenne, but hacks like me are more likely to see the frog-like façade of the Nissan Juke. On the plus side, the Sportage benefits from Kia’s penchant for upscale, Audi-esque interiors (chief designer Peter Schreyer is an Audi alumnus), and cabin space seems just fine. But looks matter, and I think American buyers will prefer the Tucson’s suit and tie to the Sportage’s spiked leather jacket and Mohawk.
I’ve always thought the MKZ had a lot of potential; in my mind, it needs a better interior and a lower price (sometimes you just have to buy market share). Lincoln has addressed the former with the updated MKZ: Materials are better, and that god-awful capacitive-touch panel for the climate and infotainment systems is gone, replaced by proper buttons. (Are you listening, Cadillac?) Another big surprise: There’s a new EcoBoost engine on offer, a 3.0-liter twin-turbo that will produce 400 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. when paired with all-wheel drive (a new system with a torque-vectoring rear axle). That’ll make the MKZ the most powerful factory-produced Lincoln ever. But what’s up with that mesh grille? Not only is it a blatant Jaguar rip-off, its upright orientation spoils the MKZ’s lovely teardrop shape. The MKZ’s unique styling was one of its best features, and now it just looks like every other luxury car that is trying to look like every other luxury car.
Though I’m sure they’d never say it out loud, the old CX-9 must have been driving the Mazda folks batty—it was the last remnant of Ford ownership, riding a shared platform that was developed well over a decade ago. Now that I’ve seen the new version, I’m thinking that the delay may have been a good thing: Not only does the new CX-9 benefit from Mazda’s latest underpinnings and SkyActiv powertrains, it also showcases Mazda’s recent conversion to the Church of Nice Interiors. Black plastic be gone: The CX-9 will premiere Mazda’s new Signature trim, with Nappa leather and rosewood and aluminum trim. My fellow hacks and I love the way Mazda’s CX-5 drives, and I for one can’t wait to have that same experience in the seven-seat CX-9.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet
Of all the vehicles that made their debut at the LA show, is any one a better fit for Los Angeles than the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet? This is the ultimate Tinseltown tourer: Ridiculously big, outlandishly opulent, scandalously powerful, and with the top down, everyone will know exactly who can afford to drop a hundred and seventy large on a Benz convertible. The base-model S550 gets 449 horsepower and a 9-speed auto, while the AMG version highlighted at the show draws 577 horsepower from a biturbo V8. Say what you will about LA’s liberal leanings, Angelinos love to show off the fruits of their disposable incomes, and that’s what the S-Class Cabrio is all about. Every producer, plastic surgeon and pop idol from Agoura Hills to Aliso Viejo is going to want one.
Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport
I am including this car primarily for the benefit of my Porschephile boss (Aaron’s #1 Rule of Business Survival: Know what to kiss, and when) [Smart man. — Ed.], who is thrilled beyond belief with this new Cayman. Why? Because race car. The GT4 gets a 385-horsepower 3.6-liter flat six driving a six-speed twin-clutch (PDK) transmission (the best track choice, as we concluded in our Stick Shift vs. Automatic comparison), and the interior has been stripped to shave weight by nearly 100 lbs. But what really has Harley’s heart rate off the charts is the price: At an estimated $160k, it lowers the cost of a factory-built Porsche race car by about $100,000. Hopefully those privateer racers don’t plan on impressing the crowds at the next cruise-in with one of these, because the GT4 Clubsport is not street-legal.
Volkswagen Beetle Dune and Denim
Special editions are a great way to keep up interest in a novelty car once the novelty has faded. It’s taken VW a while, but here we have two new versions. The Beetle Dune is the Baja-inspired Bug, employing many of the same tricks automakers use to turn cars into crossovers: Fender cladding, higher ride height, and bull-bar-like bumper trim. The Beetle Denim features denim (duh) on the seats and roof, an idea that seems to get resurrected every few years (we had the AMC Gremlin Levi’s Edition in the ’70s; Europe got the Peugeot 106 Kid Denim in the mid ’90s). I like ‘em both: In its effort to shake the “chick car” image, VW has gotten too serious about the Beetle, and it’s nice to see a little whimsy return to this most whimsical of cars.
[Photography ©2015 AutoWeb / Rex Tokeshi-Torres]