THE BIG, THE BAD, AND THE PRETTY
at the LA Auto Show

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Dodge Challenger Demon at the LA Auto Show (Albert Wong)



By Brian Kennedy

Los Angeles—Trucks. And more trucks. Big ones. They cost more than $50 grand, most of them. That’s what the American brands (Ford and Chevy) are showing at the LA Auto Show this year. Chrysler, too, along with a whole bunch of versions of the Charger and Challenger.

Let’s not mistake this: anything that earns the name “Hellcat” is pretty cool. So is the Dodge Demon, with 808 HP on pump gas, and 32 more on high octane. Looks pretty cool doing a wheel-stand in its display, too. But most of what Fiat Chrysler is showing, aside from the Fiats, is pretty much what they’ve been selling for a decade. Is that a portent of a boring Auto Show? Read on.

As for Chevrolet and Ford, aside from the trucks, there are a couple of Camaros and a few Mustangs. The GT350R is very lovely. And it comes with driving school so you learn to handle the 526 HP, or maybe just because they’re taking you for $68,715.

Nothing quite like the original Mustangs from back in the day (Albert Wong)

The regular old Mustang fastback and convertible, well, they’re handsome. But there was no pizazz. No giant Mustang graphics on the wall. Just the cars sitting there in a sea of Focuses and, as was said, those darned trucks. And at $44,280 for the GT with leather, a six-speed, and 20” wheels, my 2015 Anniversary model, a true, numbered one, was actually a bit of a bargain. (You gotta know how to buy; let’s leave it at that.) So say it like this: the American car makers don’t have a lot to show that’s gripping. Unless you like trucks. Big trucks. Lots of big trucks.

The Alfa Romeo Giulia on display at the LA Auto Show (Albert Wong)

So what’s great about this year’s show? The Alfa Romeo Giulia. Wow. You can get one under $40,000. There’s a well-equipped one for $45K. You can go crazy and get the one on the TV commercials, but that’s over $60,000. There’s a dizzying array of choices. If you play around with the IPods (or whatever they are) which show the prices, be sure to click the button to toggle between AWD and RWD models, or you won’t get a true sense of pricing. (They could make this easier with a handout, especially since their product people aren’t all that informed about the models and differences.)

What else? To loop back to Ford for a minute, the NASCAR cutaway of Stenhouse’s car. You can really see what goes into one of these things. And imagine yourself driving one at 200 mph. Then tell me these guys aren’t skilled. There’s also a NASCAR over at Chevy—one of Harvick’s “Freaky Fast” machines. Not freaky fast enough to win the title, though. That was in the Toyota booth, with a life-sized cut-out of Champion Martin Truex, Jr. with his trophy.

The rear-wheel drive Stinger at the KIA display (Nakano)

But that’s all old news. Here’s what’s current: the Kia Stinger. I’m not crazy about the hatchback. But I love the idea of a RWD GT sedan that will get to 60mph under five seconds and look, from most angles, OK doing it. It’s bigger than it looks in photos. The front end of this car is a little too brand-identity like the Soul for my tastes, and the grille ends up looking kind of like a smiling emoji. I don’t much like the frowny rear bumper, either, but did I mention the RWD? And the zero to sixty?

The Fiat 124, which had Christmas music playing on its radio when I leaned my head in. Sign from above? Let’s just say I’ve always thought I’d look handsome in a convertible.

Fiat 124 Spyder Abarth (Albert Wong)

The new Nissan Kicks is pretty cool, a definite evolution of their lineup of what seems like 17 exactly identical little trucks. It’s actually five, and this one kicks the old Juke to the curb. It’s smart looking. Not like what everybody else is offering. I’d test-drive it if I were in the market for a CUV or whatever we’re calling what used to be a small station wagon.

Nissan introduces the Kicks crossover SUV at the LA Auto Show (Albert Wong)

What else is good and bad? All VWs now officially look exactly like one another. And not a one of them has any character. Except for the three ID models, one of which looks like the old Bus. To make the point, the company had a genuine, 1960s-leftover, rent-a-hippie standing around. That was all fun until I got close and saw the single dredlock that hung to his knee. I’m pretty sure I smelled the hair, too. On second thought, maybe he wasn’t an actor. He might have been just looking at the car.

Volkswagen ID Buzz and Crozz at the LA Auto Show (Albert Wong)

The Mitsubishi “Re-Model A,” a bizarre and poorly explained custom. What it seems to be is a lookalike of a Ford Model A with an Outlander Plug-in Hybrid chassis underneath it. But am I mistaken, or is the Model A not an actual part of Mitsubishi’s heritage? Or was there a Mitsubishi Model A? There’s hybrid, and there’s weird idea. This is the latter.

Aside from this new sheet metal, the show has a surprising number of mini-revelations:

Mercedes now apparently uses the word “Coupe” to mean “four-door.” Mini will soon be appearing as a pure electric. BMW as a whole will have 25 electrified vehicles by 2025. Subaru has been in the US 50 years next year. The Brats. Volvo has reinvented the XC 40 and taken a sad line from VW by making the front end, at least, characterlessly straight of line. They have, whether for good or ill, used the same rear window shape GMC does. How does that happen? And Lexus has managed to make their hideous grilles even more scary with a silver-button-and-bars looking arrangement that accentuates the cow-catcher look they’ve been using for a while now. Some things just shouldn’t be made to look bigger than they are.

Mercedes-Benz introduced a new CLS at the LA Auto Show (Gabriela Moya)

And last but not least, it’s possible to drop $102,000 on a Cadillac. It’s the CTS-V IMSA edition. Nice car. Wickedly, stupidly fast. They race in IMSA. Is there a single person who knows that who has this kind of money to buy a car? Does it matter, or is this one of those projects that exists more to bring joy to the car guys who create it than the bean counters who approve it? It made me happy, anyway.

The show was, for a couple of years, threating to become so green as to be no fun. And most automakers are still heading that way (except for all those giant trucks). Now, it’s all about CUV, SUV, or whatever you call them. There aren’t many cars anymore, but those that are new are cool.

The bad news is the lack of car. The good news—the ones that remain are some amazing, beautiful things, and if you’ve got around ten thousand more bucks to spend than what the average middle-market sedan costs, you’re gonna have a hard time choosing between several competing products. Or, you can just do what your neighbours are doing and get a hybrid or a small, raised-up, “ute.” Your choices are nearly endless.

Chevrolet introduced the new Corvette ZR1 Roadster at the show (Albert Wong)

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