California is many things to many people. In the car world, strict state emissions make it the OEM’s test ground for alt-fuel vehicles. On the other hand, it’s the good weather, top-down “drive with passion” state. And it’s also the state that buys the most trucks.
So when the Los Angeles Auto Show rolls around each November, auto manufacturers cater to these buying intentions. This year, however, the media days dog and pony shows had less of an environmental bent and a lot more to do with driving excitement. Auto sales are up and fuel prices are down. The manufacturers seem to be screaming, “More cowbell!”
- Luxury Goes High Performance
Audi’s big news wasn’t a car, but its new “design language,” revealed in the Audi Prologue concept car. The new design cues will be found on its next-generation A6, A7 and A8 models. Audi calls the new look “more sporty and more progressive,” and it is that, though you could swap progressive with aggressive. The design follows the trend to larger, wider grilles and thin, hawk-like headlights. The sloping bowline from the B pillar says “fast.”
Cadillac introduced its performance V Series to the smaller ATS coupe and sedan. Cadillac’s Johan De Nysschen said the brand will carve out the V Series as its own sub-brand to go after a young, affluent audience. With 455 horsepower and 445 lb.-ft. of torque (and up to 600 hp on the “track ready” racing version), the ATS-V will rocket zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds. With a hood scoop and rear spoiler, the ATS-V might be a Subaru WRX buyer looking to upscale.
Mercedes seems to use the LA show as a launching point for its high-performance AMG line. While it is true that muscle models across the OEM landscape provide more hype than actual sales, AMG had its biggest sales year in its history. In Los Angeles, Mercedes debuted the AMG GT and the AMG C63. With 456 hp (or 503 hp for the GT S screamer), the GT sports car looks like a Porsche fighter. The C63 comes with another “ready to race” V8 engine, Mercedes said.
Mercedes also announced the revival of Maybach, not as a separate ultra-luxury brand but as a sub-brand of the S Class. Dubbed an “emotional luxury lounge,” the S600 sports a whopping 6.0L, 523 hp engine and eight more inches of length.
BMW introduced the BMW X6 M, a high-performance version of its x6 crossover, which serves up a brain frying 567 hp and 553 lb.-ft. of torque.
Perhaps another manifestation of good automotive times, Ford’s refreshed Explorer gets a top-level trim, called the Platinum Series, with a 3.5L Ecoboost engine that churns out 365 hp. On the new Ford Explorer, we played with the auto-folding third-row seats and foot wave to open the tailgate, both useful new features.
Chrysler revealed a refresh of the 300 sedan and it too gets a Platinum trim, offered on the luxurious 300c. The 2015 300 features trim levels that aren’t “good, better, best” but more about lifestyles and drivers. With paddle shifters, 20-inch wheels and available spoiler, the sporty 300s goes after younger buyers. Inside, Chrysler has moved to a rotary dial shifter.
The Chrysler wing badge now floats in the 32% larger front grille; expect that design cue on Chrysler models moving forward.
- Can Crossovers Get Any Smaller?
One of the most-heralded reveals at the show was the all-new 2016 Mazda CX-3, a compact crossover that slots under the CX-5. Debuting next spring, the CX-3 continues the small car trend to crossovers that might have been built as B Series compact six or seven years ago. It’s all about the coveted “young, active buyer” segment.
The CX-3 will face off against a few other entries launched in Los Angeles. Honda announced the all-new 2016 Honda HR-V crossover, which also debuts next spring and uses the Honda Fit subcompact platform.
Scion announced it will bring a production version of the five-door iM compact hatchback to dealerships in 2015.
After its Golf family of models won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award, Volkswagen announced its entry into the compact SUV space, the Golf R Sportwagen, which merges VW’s “wagen” with a compact vehicle. With the Golf Model R (292 hp and 0 to 60 in less than 5 seconds) and Golf R400 (400 hp) close to production, VW now has a Golf for all seasons and reasons.
On Thursday, Fiat announced the Fiat 500x, expanding the 500 line into SUV territory — well, “mini SUV” territory, anyway. Built on its own platform, the 500x is Fiat’s “biggest, most capable and powerful” 500 yet, with a 2.4L, 180 hp Tigershark engine and a nine-speed automatic. This will be Fiat’s first 4x4 for America, allowing it to gain sales in snowier climes.
- Losing the Buttons
The trend in interior displays is toward intuitive touch displays that promise to relegate buttons and dials into the automotive museums.
Honda’s new HR-V crossover features a swipe touchscreen, as does Volvo’s all-new XC90.
Audi’s virtual cockpit re-envisions the dashboard display panel. Instead of standard instrumentation behind the steering wheel such as tachometer and miles per hour, the virtual cockpit repositions functions found on the console display — navigation, media info and car settings — to behind the steering wheel.
- Hydrogen Reemerges as the Alt-Fuel of the Future
Hydrogen has been making a comeback of sorts, though it’s still future tech. Mention of alternative fuels at this year’s show concentrated on hydrogen, once left on the back burner when electric vehicles became the rage.
Audi showed off the A7 h-tron, the first “performance fuel-cell vehicle.” VW had the Golf Sportwagen Hymotion concept, while Honda said a new generation of its FCV hydrogen concept will debut at the Detroit show in January.
Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.View Bio