Los Angeles 2011: The Auto Show that's 23 Miles from Victory & Reseda

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor of America, Inc.

It's true – I grew up 23 miles away from the site of this year's Los Angeles Auto Show.

So, how did I get 1,935 miles away from it? Why was I not there to cover it? Long story…but the show did yield some spectacular debuts. Some of these world premieres were well worth the wait.

It is a good thing that the Los Angeles Auto Show found resonance in its timeslot in November. The show itself puts the West Coast in the spotlight for our industry. November in Los Angeles is a great time to soak it all in – just before the Thanksgiving crush.

I'm talking about those of us in and around the automotive industry. But, for those of you who are planning to attend the show…what a way to spend turkey week!

However, the timing of the Los Angeles Auto Show is quite interesting. This year, it just happens to run concurrent with San Francisco's show. When I lived in the Bay Area, I would go to the show at Moscone Center the day after Thanksgiving. That way, I avoid Union Square on Black Friday. That was also when the Los Angeles show was in January…

In its second auto show season, Los Angeles appears as a prelude to Detroit amongst the North American majors. But, would it make sense budget-wise to have the Los Angeles show come before the San Francisco one? You bring most of the debuts and displays up there – saving money. Just a thought, folks…

Here's another thought: The Bay Area is a good automotive market as well. There's still a strong luxury market, deep loyalty for certain brands (Toyota, for example) and a diverse mix of consumer bases between Santa Rosa and Gilroy – out to Stockton.

Just my $.02 on how to save auto show costs for my cohorts in the industry…but, back to Los Angeles for the moment. Before the turkey is selected and thrown in the freezer until next Thursday, there were a few vehicles that debuted at the Convention Center on the edge of downtown L.A. Which ones struck this San Fernando Valley Flatlander's (now of the Twin Cities) fancy? Read on…

CADILLAC XTS: The first critique of the new large sedan for the Crest-and-Wreath brand was the expectation that it would be rear-wheel-drive instead of a front-driver. Aside from that, it just looks the part. The XTS is the spiritual replacement for the DeVille, though it effectively replaces the DTS and STS that have slipped away rather quietly. Power comes from the High Feature 3.6litre V6 that packs 300HP with the option of keeping the front drive system or going with an all-wheel drive set-up. Being that Cadillac will emphasize the all-wheel drive system, you set aside what's underneath to see what’s above ground. The first true six-window side profile ever seen on a Cadillac since the advent of opera windows on the 1975 Sedan deVille. There is an absolute feel of luxury that bridges Cadillacs past with the present and future. Then, there's CUE – the brand’s ultimate infotainment suite. Think of the CUE as if all of GM's infotainment technologies were fused as an all-out assault on Microsoft, Ford and Kia. That's not all – reading off the advanced engineering and electronic goodies that appear on the new big Caddy is like a menu at a technology conference where you get the entire buffet. The XTS may find homes with traditional Cadillac consumers and old Buick Lucerne owners with a bit more coin in their pockets, but I assure you that both the livery market and executives looking to stand out a bit more will find the XTS a choice worth considering.

MAZDA CX-5: This is the face of Mazda now. Just look at it! The grille shape that appeared on the RX-8 of late has permeated into the new corporate signature – the "KODO – Soul of Motion" look with the "signature wing" grille included. It makes the new small crossover one not to ignore. Everything else just reads like a winner. Skyactiv engine technology is now under the hood of the new small crossover/SUV – 2.0litres with 155HP on tap. Sound familiar? Look under the hood of the basic Mazda3 sedan to see where the CX-5 is going. Here's a tech note: This engine has the highest compression ratio of any mass-produced petrol-fueled internal combustion at 13:1. That's intriguing. Then again, would you expect anything else from Mazda? Would this be worth the price of admission when the segment is continuously growing? The prospects look pretty good so far.

Photo courtesy of the Ford Motor Company

FORD ESCAPE: The old tall, short, high-riding friend will be dust. I will miss ye ole Escape and its friendly demeanor and its lovely V6s that also drank corn juice. With the small crossover/SUV market turning towards more Earthbound wares, Ford had to create a global product by melding what was great about the Escape and what is Kinetic – as in Ford's Kinetic design language. The result is a new global Escape (or Kuga – depending on where you live on this planet). The design looks sharp and the interior reminds one of the current Focus, but how will it translate for our tastes? Do I need to squint to see these dials as I did on the Focus? Also, the V6 and FlexFuel capability are history. Instead, you get the carryover 2.5litre four-cylinder standard with two EcoBoost options. The 2.0litre EcoBoost four-cylinder sounds like more my speed – 237HP and 250lb-ft of torque are my kind of numbers. The question remains is how much of the old Escape will be lost in the new one. I'll withhold judgment until I meet one in person.

FIAT 500 ABARTH: The 500 is not selling as well as expected. Now that the marketing is ramping up and that the first safety tests were completed, the job of enticing Americans back to Fiat will be made much easier. The 500 is quite a fun car to drive. The 500C convertible has a flair that had been missing on our roads. What's missing is an absolute icon to draw the curious to the Studios. In Europe, the 500 Abarth had been making a name for itself. The Scorpion underneath the cute retro body stings hard, turning up the Cinquecento to 11. It's our turn to experience the beast underneath this Fiat. The 1.4litre MultiAir engine gets a turbocharger and an intercooler slapped onto it – good for 160HP. Everything has been beefed up to handle this monster: Suspension, tires, rims, brakes, seats…you name it! The Abarth is not for romantic wine shopping in the Napa Valley and seaside drives out on Long Island. It’s for Road America, Malibu Canyon and US-29. We've been waiting for this one way too long…

CHEVROLET SPARK: I've always been intrigued by the latest rendition of GM-DAT's new city car. It was ripe for places where you can't go anymore in a standard compact – crowded streets in Asia, narrow old cobblestone pathways in Europe or among the teeming millions in any given metro area in India. Where would the Spark work in North America? Let's see…Montreal, Toronto, New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago…you get the idea. Our version of the Spark will come with a 85HP 1.2litre four-pot with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Plus, it comes in pink…among other colors. Obviously, this is the smallest car ever sold by GM in this country – smaller than the Chevrolet Sprint/Geo Metro/Suzuki Swift! As someone who actually liked the spunk of the old Sprint/Metro/Swift, one would hope that the Spark would bring that feeling back to our market. We could use a dose of the economy of scale here.

HYUNDAI AZERA: When the Sonata came out, a lot of tongues were wagging at the Fluidic Sculpture design Hyundai shaped their most popular product in North America (and last year's Vehicle of the Year). For the Elantra and Accent, they scaled it down a notch, but kept the primary aspects of the design. Now, they've stretch the design language to its biggest front-drive model in the line: The Azera (er, Grandeur). Since the Genesis and the Equus stands on top of the Hyundai heap, the Azera was left out of the equation. This is an opportunity to not only fulfill the gap between the Sonata and the Genesis, but to target disaffected traditional consumers of Mercury and Buick. Though the LaCrosse and the Toyota Avalon do a wonderful job of modernizing the traditional big medium-priced sedan, the Azera looks like it will move the bar further afield. So far, it will come with a 293HP direct-injected 3.3litre V6 with an automatic gearbox and front drive. The important fact of the Azera is that it looks competitive again – inside and out.

2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 Super Bee
Photo courtesy of Chrysler Group LLC via Flickr

DODGE CHARGER SRT8 SUPER BEE: How can anyone make a grown man cry? How can anything send someone back to their own childhood so quickly? It's rare for any automobile to do so – even with the stream of neo-retro designed vehicles still being sold to the masses. When I first saw images of the Dodge's new Super Bee – a Charger SRT8 with the iconic logo from the late 1960s – I was taken to a place where the sporty comic book bee was on the rear flanks of select Dodge Coronet hardtop coupes. It brought me back to 1970 – age 6 – and seeing a Plum Crazy Coronet Super Bee for the first time. It was like eating my first scoop of ice cream or playing with my first model car. I have to admit that Chrysler can still create vehicles that illicit such reactions…even if it’s a option package for the garden-variety Charger SRT8.

SUBARU BRZ STi: I have a few questions here…is that really a Subaru? I understand that the link-up with Toyota is supposed to yield some jointly developed machinery, but how? The BRZ is how. It pulls away a lot from traditional Subaru values with rear-drive instead of front or all-wheel drive. Ah, but it has the boxer engine retained. Maybe there’s some sense after all. Then, there is that body. Subaru has made compelling coupes before – the XT, the SVX and any two-door version of the Leone that was sold here. The BRZ is completely different than anything Subaru ever dreamed of. My question again is…how? Leave Toyota out of the equation for the moment…just how could Subaru let themselves do this? I could only think of many reasons, but I offer one thought: This is the next wet dream amongst the Subaru heads. For that, the BRZ makes a lot of sense.

Keep in mind that this is just a drop in the bucket amongst the world debuts the Los Angeles yielded for all of us. Don't take my word on all of this. If you happen to live in or near my hometown, please attend the show! Just click here for the details on times, admission prices and ticket sales. There are discounts galore to be had for admission. If you drive down, on-site parking is $12. However, Metro and the City of Los Angeles' DASH shuttles and Commuter Express buses serve the Convention Center with vast regional connections in downtown Los Angeles itself.

Enjoy this year's Los Angeles Auto Show! Hopefully, you're a lot closer than I am to do so.

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