If there was a theme for the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show, it would be "how small would you like your SUV to be?"
Maybe it is a justified theme. I've heard reports of analysts expecting us to pay more for gasoline through 2018. Without citing any factors as to why, but any rise in fuel pump prices will translate into higher sales of smaller vehicles. The Compact crossover/SUV is where the market is centered these days, alongside mid-sized SUVs. Mid-sized and compact sedans are showing strength in the market, even as trucks are still maintaining its volume dominance.
Everything here points to a potential trend – one that has been bubbling under the consumer radar for a few years. If the subcompact SUV segment is the way to go, who will take the lead in it?
This is just one storyline coming out of Los Angeles. Let's explore the major introductions and analyze them in terms of themes and future trends.
2019 VOLVO XC40: Premium brands know that there's opportunity in the small SUV segment. It has already yielded a few products – the Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X1, Buick Encore, MINI Countryman and Audi Q3. The XC40 offers a lot of different ideas to this segment. The interior is focused on life – a garbage receptacle in the console, a perfectly positioned set of cupholders and hooks on the passenger side dashboard. There is more than just convenience and practicality. The XC40 opens up a new way to "own" it through Care by Volvo, which is an inclusive subscription with insurance and maintenance costs included. This new SUV is just months away, but it will be loaded with new opportunities for its customers.
2018 NISSAN KICKS: The Juke was fun while it lasted. It made people's eyes adjust, while it was easily set aside for more practical competitors. Nissan is fighting back and will be bringing its Kicks subcompact SUV to our country next spring. This was the same car Nissan introduced as their signature vehicle of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, so it has a track record. It has also been a strong global product that seems like a good fit for us. The power is fine – a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 125 horsepower. Nissan said it will start the Kicks off under $19,000 – a good value these days – with a choice of three trim levels. One would hope this will have a greater reception and more sustained sales than the Juke.
2018 HYUNDAI KONA: A few years ago, I keep hearing Hyundai's plan to grow their SUV portfolio to match current trends. The Kona not only represents that strategy – it also represents new opportunities for the brand in the USA. Design-wise, it combines the best of its signature design with new front lighting details – without referring it to the Jeep Cherokee. The remainder of the Kona is a stylish number, with a choice of engines (a 2.0-liter/six-speed auto and a 1.6-liter turbo/dual-clutch transmission) and final drive choices. Still, the heart of the Kona is the way it looks and how it integrates with Hyundai's identity. That, while shaking up the segment with an approach towards making solid choices instead of settling for 2-3 trim levels with limited driveline selections. The power of choice always wins – remember that!
2018 MITSUBISHI ECLIPSE CROSS: In the larger Compact SUV segment comes a stylish newcomer with more than just its looks on its shoulders. The name already stirred up the enthusiast's rankles, but if you look at the vehicle itself – maybe it will help its cause than hurt it. It is a very different vehicle for Mitsubishi that carries the weight of the brand the entire Renault Mitsubishi Nissan alliance on its shoulders. It features turbocharging for the first time in a gasoline-fueled SUV. It offers the best of ist current Outlander/Outlander Sport lineup with available Super All-Wheel Control. Plus, it kicks off many new initiatives at Mitsubishi, including a full app-driven telematics system. It bears repeating that a lot is at stake for Mitsubishi with the Eclipse Cross.
2019 INFINITI QX50: The long-awaited replacement for their compact SUV product arrived just in the nick of time. In doing so, it has to be built from the ground-up to compete directly with its more notable rivals. The front-drive-bias is contemporary, along with available all-wheel drive, a turbocharged engine with variable compression technology and a compelling design befitting of current Infiniti trends. The most important takeaway from this upcoming QX50 is its ambition. While consumers lap up every BMW X3, Audi Q5, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Volvo XC60, Mercedes-Benz GLC…and so forth…on their respective lots, Infiniti is ready for a full assault on this class. It's about time.
2018 JEEP WRANGLER: This oft-promised new icon has finally shown itself in 1:1 scale, three-dimensional lifeform. It also provided a few debates during and after its introduction. For example, traditionalists will miss the purpose-designed instrumentation binnacle, as Fiat Chrysler integrated its information center in-between the two dials and the UConnect screen in the middle. The lines may look the same, but some still wonder if the Wrangler lost any of its heritage-induced edge in the process. While the 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 remains, a 2.0-liter turbo with a light hybrid system, a diesel and stop/start is coming to this icon. The eight-speed automatic will join the lineup, as well. Here is what I am concerned about: Is this new Wrangler for the shopping mall or the off-road park? I most certainly hope it's for the latter…
2018 MAZDA6: The news from Los Angeles is not all about SUVs. This one is a major step upwards….and upmarket. The process of redesigning the new 6 followed the steps of the CX-5 – evolutionary, but progressive and upwardly aspirational. There are definite changes on the outside, as well as the interior. From those points, you can see the upmarket cues the new 6 wants to exhibit. The biggest news comes from the under the hood with the addition of the Skyactiv turbo engine and its octane-influenced performance – the range of 225-250 horsepower. This was the needed boost in performance to champion this car! Mazda should be congratulated in continuing their second-generation updates on their lineup.
The Los Angeles Auto Show is currently running through December 10 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. For tickets, log on to this website.