LOS ANGELES, California—This year’s Automobility/L.A. Auto Show was much like the last couple of years, only more so. Which is to say that on paper, there were a number of significant reveals, led by Fiat Chrysler’s very important and very profitable JL Jeep Wrangler.
Still, at the end of the day, the 2017 L.A. Auto Show left us, at best, whelmed. Perhaps it’s because more and more, the auto show plays second-fiddle to the advanced technology that is the centerpiece of Automobility, which wraps discussion of autonomy and electric-powered vehicles around reveals of the shiny new cars and trucks.
If you attend the public Los Angeles Auto Show, December 1 to 10, you might see things a bit differently. Here’s what we saw this year…
HIT: JL Jeep Wrangler
It’s lighter by 200 pounds, it’s more easily convertible, and it is extremely Jeep. The all-new two-door and four-door 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL models will please the marque’s faithful and entice four-wheeling neophytes. The four-door has a power top that removes very quickly and easily, there’s an optional open-air pass-through in the middle of each front door, and the windshield folds down for the full open-air experience.
I’m no off-road outdoorsy type, but the latest iteration of this American classic makes me want to convert. As typical for Jeep, there are so many surprise-and-delight features that I can’t guarantee my introductory news story of the debut is comprehensive. Hardcore fans will love the new Wrangler’s interior spec plate, recalling the original Willys MB’s dash plate, the fold-down windshield and the door hinges stamped with the tool number needed to remove them. The masses who bought the first-generation Wrangler Unlimited will want to trade in for easy-to-lower tops and subtle refinement that doesn’t at all diminish its hard-core image.
MISS: JL Jeep Wrangler pricing
Although Jeep promised to give us prices for the new JL models at the show, they weren’t ready to reveal just yet. Naturally, we’re fearing a big increase.
HIT: BMW i8 Roadster
There wasn’t a whole lot that BMW could do to make its i8 PHEV GT coupe cooler, but converting it into a roadster by ripping out the vestigial rear seats and dispensing with the fixed roof is a great way to do it.
HIT: Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman GTS
Its 2.5-liter turbo H-4 makes 365 hp, and top speed is 180 mph.
HIT: 2019 Lincoln Nautilus
The name may be a bit too dramatic for a fancy Ford Edge, but not only does the arrival of the 2019 Lincoln Nautilus signal the end of the brand’s confusing MK_ naming scheme (it’s the artist formerly known as the MKX, in case you’re one of the five people out there that could keep track), the midsize crossover wears the best interpretation of Lincoln’s current design language to date, suffering none of the proportional indignities of the Continental, Navigator, and MKC.
MISS: 2019 Lincoln MKC
The looks for the facelifted 2019 Lincoln MKC are a bit wonky, but that’s not the miss here. The miss is the missed opportunity to do away with the MKC name, as was done with the Nautilus, née MKX. This likely means that the Ford Edge-based compact crossover will be the last Lincoln to get a proper name.
MISS: Volvo XC40
I just can’t warm up to the new compact Volvo SUV. It looks short, stubby, and inelegant compared with the longer, nicely proportioned XC90, which I think is still the best SUV in its class. Though the interior is appropriately premium and well-designed, with excellent fit and finish, from the outside, the Volvo looks no more upscale than the Nissan Kicks.
REVELATION: Subscription is the new lease
This week at the L.A. show, Volvo announced its new “Care By Volvo” plan, a “subscription” program that it is rolling out nationwide on its consumer Web site volvocars.com/us, starting with its new XC40 compact crossover. The concept is simple, you choose either a Momentum or R-Design trim XC40 that you can configure, and everything else is covered: insurance, maintenance, payment, down payment, etc., and they deliver the car to you—no dealer required. The term starts at 24 months, but you can switch cars in as little as 12 months if you like. Mileage is capped at 15,000 a year. All for $600 a month to start. There is some fine print, namely around insurance (Liberty Mutual is the partner) and it’s fun to hear Volvo Cars global CEO, Hakan Samuelsson, and newly minted Volvo Car USA CEO, Anders Gustafsson, use the word “lease” a couple of times as they did in describing the program to me.
HIT: Reds a.k.a CHTC Redspace
Chris Bangle is thinking inside the box for a change. Reds is one of the most refreshing concepts to emerge in a long time. It’s not made for Americans and most folks will hate it, but I love its childish, Toontown looks and the idea of a car that’s designed from the inside out—definitely next level stuff. A woman at the show told Bangle it was beautiful and he was taken back—he doesn’t think it is but appreciated the comment. Beauty is obviously in the eye of the beholder.
MISS: CHTC Redspace
It lacks charm, beauty, grace… most of the attributes we tend to seek in cars, but the Redspace city vehicle is the most interesting device in the L.A. Auto Show, apparently all about maximizing interior volume to enhance comfort while its occupants are stuck in traffic, which is estimated to be about 90-percent of the time the thing is in operation, at least in such target-market cities as Beijing. Chris Bangle’s return to car design shows us why he should have foregone the opportunity. Dreadful object. Not a car, a street fixture. Most massive A-pillar ever.
REVELATION: CHTC Redspace is an appliance
It looks like a huge, rolling coffee grinder. That’s not necessarily a criticism; I love coffee.
HIT: Volkswagen I.D. Crozz EV Crossover Concept
Volkswagen’s autonomous I.D. concept looks like a cloud with wheels. And although it’s just a concept, it’s easy to believe a ride in this all-electric vehicle would be as silent as a fluffy altocumulus. Big points for the airy, spacious interior (although it’s 6 inches shorter than the Golf) with futuristic seats, a panoramic full-glass roof, and a steering wheel that folds forward into the dash when the driver isn’t needed. Look for it in 2020.
HIT: Jaguar’s show stand
Jaguar pointed its upcoming i-Pace electric SUV and related spec series electric racer, parked in parallel, straight at the Tesla Model 3 on its stand across the aisle. The Jaguar i-Pace is scheduled to go on sale late next year. Wonder, which EV will reach full production first.
MISS: 2018 Chrysler 300
Seems to have lost all the charm it once possessed. Too bad. This nth reskin of an ancient Mercedes chassis was costly.
REVELATION: The Multilink from Infiniti’s Variable Compression Engine
On the surface, Infiniti’s sculpted QX50 has been received as a design hit. But beneath the crossover’s wavy sheetmetal is a deeper story: the world’s first series production variable compression ratio engine. Christian Meunier, Infiniti’s VP Global Marketing and Sales, shared his thoughts with Automobile on the 2.0-liter VC-Turbo engine’s unique bits, which he compared to “parts of a Swiss watch” while flashing an elegant Jaeger-LeCoutre Reverso on his wrist. Case in point: the palm-sized multilink component, which serves as the lynchpin for altering piston clearance and varying the compression ratio from 8:1 to 14:1. “The manufacturing tolerance on it is greater than anything we’ve ever done,” he explains. “It’s one thing to produce it, and another to mass produce it.” While the QX50 on display drew the attention of onloookers, this small hunk of steel tells the arguably more intriguing story of the 20-year struggle to bring a variable compression ratio engine to market.
HIT: Kia lineup
Kia is a surprise to me. Stinger is quite good looking, and Kia’s number-one rating in initial quality is excellent. Obviously European stylists have made a major contribution to the current status of the make.
MISS: Toyota FT-AC concept
I really wanted to like it and make it a “hit.” But I find it an overdrawn take on the new Subaru Crosstrek. Toyota’s Jack Hollis describes it as a crossover, though it has torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive with front and rear lockers. It’s a tweener, size-wise, bigger than a RAV4, but not quite a mid-size vehicle. One of its best features is a built-in rear-bumper bike rack that can accommodate just one bike, though it isn’t any different from this SUV-concept trope we’ve seen at auto shows for years. Plus, the rack is probably three-times the weight of the Specialized mountain bike attached to it. Meanwhile, there are huge, 20-inch tires mostly filling large Crosstrek-style black plastic overfenders, though these overfenders extend out from the bodywork, which doesn’t seem very aerodynamic. While Toyota hints the FT-AC is headed for production, the concept doesn’t have an interior. Toyota’s TJ Cruiser at October’s Tokyo Motor Show came with an innovative interior, and though bigger, boxier and more minivan-like, that concept was one of my hits.
REVELATION: Land Rover’s 1 Percenter Drafting
The likes of Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and Lamborghini are making it a lot less lonely at the top of the SUV pyramid, but you needn’t shed a tear for O.G. luxury offroad manufacturer Land Rover. “You wouldn’t have bought a Range Rover for more than £90,000 ten years ago; now, we sell quite a lot of £160,000, £170,000 Range Rovers,” Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicles Operations boss John Edwards told Automobile. “Customers are coming to us and spending another £30,000 on top of that bespoking them. We’ll do probably 250 bespoke cars this year.” Can we expect a new Super SUV from Land Rover to play with the (even bigger) boys? Edwards was mum on future product, but emphasized that competition has made business better than ever. “People always used to tell me, particularly when Bentley was going to be introducing an SUV, ‘You must be really nervous, this is terrible news.’ I’d say, ‘This is fantastic news because it’s going to grow the market; I’m very respectful of Bentley but what they’ve done is expanded the marketplace and provided us with an opportunity. Our business has benefitted massively from that marketplace growing. It is crowded and becoming more crowded, but it’s becoming stronger.”
HIT: Sonders electric three-wheeler
This is probably another pipe dream, but it’s really well styled, very professional, has a believable layout (unlike tandem two-seaters) and could work. But the $10,000 price? That’s a pipe dream.
MISS: Ampere 1 three-wheel electric sports car
A very crude prototype that should never have been presented in public. “With a range of up to 100 miles.” Yeah, sure.
With their overwrought side surfacing, the first- and second-generation Mercedes CLS-Classes looked especially awkward where the rear haunches met the rakish four-door “coupe” profile. The new CLS, like the E-Class on which is based, has a much cleaner profile, resolving the issue. And now there’s room for three, not two, in the back seat.
HIT: 2019 Subaru Ascent
The last time Subaru tried to make a three-row SUV, things didn’t work out too well—but the less said about the bygone Tribeca, the better. The automaker did a good job of scaling up its current design language for the Ascent, which looks like a meatier Outback. Now, Subaru owners with growing families will no longer be forced to look elsewhere, so Subaru’s absurd streak of increasing sales for 71 months in a row is nearly certain to continue.
Hit? More like a home run for Subaru.
REVELATION – Mercedes-Benz’s (Inscrutable) 48 Volt Inline-6 Engine
Mercedes-Benz’s arc-shaped CLS has long been considered the sleeker (and less functional) cousin to the workaday E-Class. But the CLS 450 unveiled at the L.A. Auto Show packs a secret weapon that should appeal to anyone with an appreciation for mechanical elegance: Daimler’s latest, greatest, 48-volt-equipped inline-6 powerplant. I was smitten by the mild hybrid engine’s smooth power and imperceptible start/stop action during our first drive of a Europe-only S-Class. Using an integrated starter/generator, the powerplant produces a baseline of 362 hp and 369 lb-ft, adding another 21 hp and 184 lb-ft when electric assistance (aka, EQ Boost) kicks in. But how will Benz pull in non-techy, design focused consumers towards the advanced powertrain? I posed the question to Dietmar Exler, Mercedes-Benz USA’s president and CEO, who answered, “We have to find a way to communicate what the technology really does. When you ask a non-gearhead ‘What’s a Hemi engine?’ I’ll bet you 90 percent of consumers don’t know about hemispheric combustion chambers. But they all know it means more power.” Until Mercedes comes up with a one-word answer to that marketing conundrum, I’ll say this: driving is believing.
HIT: Ram pickup and Chevrolet Silverado High Country backup cameras
If you’ve ever towed a trailer or had a payload in the back of your truck that necessitated leaving the tailgate down, you know how that ordinary backup cameras can be useless. That’s why it was good to see on display with Ram and Chevrolet some well-developed trailering camera systems. The Silverado High Country on the show floor featured a standard three-camera trailering system by EchoMaster. Cameras on each side mirror activate with the turn signals and display on the infotainment screen. There’s also a wireless backup camera to place on the back of your trailer. Options include a front camera kit, a second wireless camera, and a third brakelight camera kit.
HIT: Bollinger Motors B 1
Stupidly primitive as is its styling, it’s full of interesting ideas on storage in an electric 4X4. And like the original Land Rover, it should be easy to repair.
REVELATION: Reports of the death of the conventional car are greatly exaggerated
For the last few years, the Los Angeles auto show had largely focused on green cars, with some self-driving car chatter thrown in for good measure. That went out the window this year despite increasing proclamations about the looming deaths of the internal combustion engine and the human-driven automobile. Instead, we were treated to hot convertibles, brawny sedans, and gas-chugging SUVs, none of which have any plans on driving themselves. Maybe we should focus on improving driver training after all.
HIT: JL Jeep Wrangler press kit
For at least 20 years, Chrysler/DaimlerChrysler/Chrysler Group/Fiat Chrysler has created the best traditional press kits, even as everyone else migrated to thumb drives, then to special websites. A thick booklet describing all the myriad features of the new Jeep Wrangler comes in a wood-and-brass box, with a brass-colored thumb drive and a Jeep grille-theme mini-speaker. You can probably find them offered up on eBay, but not from me. I’m keeping mine.
REVELATION: Mitsubishi Mirage hatch is cute
…but not too impressive on fuel mileage.
HIT: Dodge Durango SRT
Dodge agrees with those of us who believe SUVs can be slow, boring blah-mobiles. Just because you need a seven-seater doesn’t mean you don’t want a little power. That’s why they stuck a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 in the new Durango SRT with 475 horsepower, 470 lb-ft of torque and—get this—a 0-60-mph time of 4.4 seconds. Pile all of your friends into the luxe interior of this beast and show them that bigger is indeed better. But where is our Durango Demon?
REVELATION: Car magazines can’t wait to write the first-drive headline, “Nissan Kicks Ass”
There. We’ve done it already.