The three best, worst cars at the LA Auto Show – USA TODAY
The USA TODAY team covering the Los Angeles Auto Show share their thoughts on the good and the bad after two days of press previews. Video by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — A big auto show is like a candy store — goodies everywhere.
But even candy stores sell “ugh” flavors, at least to those who balk at black licorice, for instance. And so, too, the glittering parade of new vehicles at the annual new-vehicle show here contains some stinkers.
Understand, every model that’s rolled out with fanfare, each “game-changing” feature, is important to at least the automaker. And it usually represents the best the maker could do with the resources at hand.
But sometimes the new models, or the thinking that spawned them, just seem a mystery.
Which isn’t to say they won’t sell. Car companies have big promotional budgets as well as cash at the ready if dealers or shoppers need sweetening to take a big bite. And sometimes there is just no accounting for taste — or lack thereof.
The USA TODAY auto team, plus a partner from the Detroit Free Press, having been sufficiently caffeinated, pooled their reactions and came up with their picks for three best — and three worst — vehicles at this year’s L.A. show.
A big caveat: We’ve driven none of them. Some aren’t even built yet, and others are so new they haven’t circulated outside the company. So, when we’ve had time in the sea, we might regret some choices.
But our experience has been that we can expect hindsight to find — as football coach Dennis Green famously said: They are what we thought they were.
There was a flood of new small city utes — cars for people with bigger budgets than parking spaces — and this was by far the best design of the bunch. It has no bad angle, outside or inside, and looks even better in person.
It also got the latest version of Mazda’s Skyactiv technology, meaning you can expect a rigid and lightweight body and better power and mileage than you might think. The 2-liter Skyactiv that seemed a tad underpowered in its bigger sibling, the CX-5, should be just right in this smaller, lighter package.
It was a tough call, with some others showing well in debuts here in this emerging — exploding, actually — small-SUV genre.
That includes the cute and very Italian-flavored Fiat 500X, which shares underpinnings with the Jeep Renegade due on sale in the U.S. in late January, starting “well below” $20,000, Jeep told us here.
And Honda’s HR-V (a name hatched in an intense human resources department?) that is, nonetheless, loaded with practical features such as the configurable fold-up or fold-down rear seat, thanks to its roots in Honda’s new Fit subcompact.
A four-passenger convertible concept that has eye-candy looks, a bit of back-seat practicality and distant production possibilities.
OK, not a big-family-size back seat. It’s called a 2+2, which means room for two up front and for two in back now and then. For short distances. In extreme circumstances.
But it is gorgeous with its special shimmering gold paint and a hopeful sign for a more interesting future for the brand.
“The LF-C2 concept shows what’s in store for our brand’s future design direction,” said Jeff Bracken, Lexus group vice president and general manager. “This concept shows consumers around the world Lexus’ devotion to emotional designs.”
Lexus has been working overtime for several years to jazz up the looks and performance of its cars to dump the buzzkill image as the automotive equivalent of assisted living.
Though it has the presence of a bigger car, the LF-C2’s dimensions are about midsize. The show car has no engine, transmission or even a top of any kind — so don’t expect anything like it soon, if ever, at a dealer.
Volvo’s newest vehicle, the XC90, is its attempt to move closer to a vehcile that prevents all deaths from auto accidents. USA TODAY’s Chris Woodyard interviews Volvo’s CEO, Håkan Samuelsson.
This redo of the core SUV is a key product for the revival of the Swedish brand under its Chinese owners. And it makes the future look bright.
It brings handsome, conservative styling to the SUV, updated and true luxury materials inside and a heavy emphasis on advanced technology, including the largest touch-screen this side of a Tesla.
And the tech seems genuinely cutting edge in safety, driver assistance and self-driving capabilities — not just the now common loading up that lets the automaker simply check the boxes under “required stuff nowadays so the other guy can’t out-brag you.”
Vovlo’s among automakers leading the charge toward no-collision, no-death vehicles in the next decade or two. Warnings and self-correcting vehicles are the means to that end. And on the Eco side, a plug-in hybrid version is promised down the road.
The new XC90 on display here has the feel of a vehicle that could perform heavy resuscitation on the brand. It’ll be along anytime now — Volvo’s a bit vague but once said early 2015 — and it will start at around $50,000.
•Mini Cooper Hardtop 4-Door
Yet another derivative model from Mini, just when you thought they couldn’t slice their niches any thinner. The brand has been losing ground in the sales charts, possibly for already offering too many, too similar models.
And it already has a four-door version — the Countryman.
The Hardtop 4-Door is basically the redone Hardtop (now Hardtop 2-Door) model on sale earlier this year with a wheelbase stretched about 3 inches. That allows for two more (smallish) doors, but seems too small a stretch to really accommodate back-seat riders.
Think of the extra doors as an easier access to toss your gear in behind the front seats. But at exactly $1,000 more when it goes on sale in January, those doors are $500 apiece.
Despite the excellent underpinnings from the new, redesigned coupe, this seems a model too far, and a marketing and packaging miscue.
•Porsche Panamera Turbo S Executive Exclusive Series
This overdone Panamera for the oligarch market is as over the top as its name and price — about $260,000 and up. Even at that, the car finished barely worse in the race to cloak an excellent car in terrible taste behind the Mercedes-Benz Maybach, which is an overwrought and button-tufted S-600.
Both go to extremes where such treatment isn’t needed.
We grant that the auto industry is discovering at the moment more and more buyers worldwide in the market for wretched excess. But much of Porsche’s, and Mercedes-Benz’s appeal is built on their classiness combined with performance.
Now even closer to a joke than its name, with a revised front, rear, colors — and a higher sticker price?
Some people love ’em, but Jukes continue to seem perilously close to an attempt to mate a small SUV with a small sports hatchback for a does-everything-OK-but-none-of-it-outstanding vehicle.
Juke lacks the true versatility of an SUV. And its high-riding stance robs it of the nimbleness a lower-slung sports sedan or hatchback would deliver.
It does look, er, distinctive, and new feature: Nissan says you now can get almost any paint scheme you want. It showed a Juke painted in University of Southern California colors to demonstrate. The 2015 updated Juke went on sale this week, priced about $21,000 to start.
Who to blame if you disagree with these choices: USA TODAY’s Fred Meier, James R. Healey and Chris Woodyard; and Alisa Priddle of the
Detroit Free Press