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Published on Sat, Nov 20, 2010

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


Words by Brian Kennedy The Los Angeles Auto Show has become a rite of fall, the marker that Thanksgiving is coming. Two years ago, it was all doom and gloom. Last year, similarly, the manufacturers were down, with smaller displays, less aggressive intros, and—the horror! the horror!—no free lunch for the press. Here it is again, and you can read the real details elsewhere at LA Car. What’s here is a collection of impressions that you won’t get in a straight-up report, but that’s all they are—impressions. Don’t take my word for it.

Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible Final Edition

The funniest car name this year? The VW Beetle convertible called the “Final Edition.” Huh? Is the world ending and only Wolfsburg is in on the memo? The biggest disappointment? The Saab 9-5. It looks bland in pictures. In person, it’s completely boring and personality-free. This company was always known for its quirkiness. It seems that there’s nobody left to sell weird cars to, and so they’ve gone mainstream. Oh wait, there’s the Nissan Cube. That’s an oddball machine (I can say this—I have one). And it was at the show, but hidden around the corner from the main stuff the Japanese manufacturer was showing. That included their Corvette-fighter (GTR), the Leaf, the new Quest minivan, and a new convertible.

Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet

Perhaps they were hoping that the Murano CrossCabriolet’s ugliness wouldn’t rub off on the Cube, which was their reason for hiding the cute little box. Maybe they should have moved the GTR a few more feet away, then, too, because that Murano convertible is just plain Aztek bizarre. I love Nissans. But the message the company sent in its intro speech was just as bizarre. The Quest was described as “a true parents’ car that both mom and dad will enjoy.” The Murano was called a car for “active, optimistic married couples in their forties.” What about single people? Or alternate-style families? Anybody in Nissan-land ever take a look around and notice that the demographics of family have shifted? The company’s core message was good: “Innovation for the future; innovation changes the way we see things and lights our way.” OK. The Ellure was also shown, and with that was said, “Innovation for design; innovation for all.” It is, it was claimed, “the sedan reminagined.” But then the person doing the talking said something else hopelessly narrow. This car will be marketed to “women in their 30s and 40s.” Unless they’re married, of course, in which case they’ll buy the CrossCabriolet, and use it to travel and bring a case of wine back from NAPA (the wine part, they said). Unless they don’t live in California, in which case. Oh this, is all getting hopelessly complicated.

Chevrolet Camaro convertible

Touring the other displays and intros, it becomes clear pretty fast that most of what are being shown as debut vehicles at this show are just plain boring. Sure, the new Camaro convertible is handsome, more so than the coupe. The Buicks on display are distinctly BMW-like in their styling and execution. But what happened to Honda, Acura, Mercedes? Where’s the good stuff hiding, people? Honda took twenty minutes to detail the (yawn) history of the electric vehicle back to the last decade, then introduced (cue rocket fire) the Fit EV. What’s that sound they make on TV—something like “waa, waa, waa”—the bleat of a trombone to show a decline in excitement?

Subaru Impreza Concept

The auto show used to be a guide to what we’d be driving in a decade. This year, it’s an indication of what we’ll be driving in January. Even Subaru’s concept, which was supposed to look way out, seemed more like a slightly tweaked Impreza than the exercize in design that the company man who presented it suggested. What’s more, they couldn’t even think of a name for it. It’s the “Impreza Concept.” What was cool was the new Fiat 500. The car is small, but the interiors are stunning. There’s an old one on display, too, that gives perspective. That car had 13 horsepower. The new one has 100. Can you say that your car improves its ancestors by a factor of 800 percent? Didn’t think so.

Fiat 500

Who was cool was the dude who runs Dodge now, Ralph Gilles. He looks 19, but he’s in his 30s, and his mantra seems to be something like “stop building me crap or I’ll kick you in your ass.” He didn’t say that exactly, but he did say that his engineers have to hand over their designs and let him drive them before he signs off. If they suck, he sends them back to work. Poor driving dynamics? Off you go, nerd-boy, and make me a car I feel a thrill in. The new Journey, he said, has an interior that is “delicious,”—“You can’t believe it’s an American car”—actually the best cars at this show are American, so yes, I can.

Dodge Durango

That, unfortunately, did not help when the company redid the Durango. It now looks just like GM built it, a decade ago. It has Coke bottle lines running through the side, but in shadow, and the rest just looks like a box. The new Charger is different than the past one, with an inverse C-scoop effect on the front flanks ripped directly off from Corvette (Editor: uh, more like ripped from the 1968-1970 Charger), just like the double-red slash logo that Dodge is using. But it does have, according to the Pres, “much more sex per pound,” and better, more powerful engines.

Dodge Charger

GM, speaking of them, had their Granite concept on show. This isn’t new; it came out in Detroit at the start of this year, but it’s cool. I would buy it on looks alone. So again, good for the Yanks. Sister Chevy has their Cruze on display, and it’s a handsome, well-built car, far nicer than any of the Hondas, Toyotas, etc. (Except the Cube, but I covered that, right?). For the greenies, there’s the Volt, which in side profile looks almost exactly like someone in the design department has an old Subaru SVT. The Cruze is a car that will delight buyers, and give them more than their money’s worth. The Volt is a step too late, though with Evs, styling seems to be the last thing though about. Witness the Leaf—an odd little bug, and the CODA, which is but a repowered 90s Mitsubishi.

BMW 6-Series Coupe Concept

BMW is showing some nice cars, but don’t be fooled by their display. They have the loaded models showing, but the price listed in big letters is for the base models. They then have all the options priced out, but there’s no bottom line. So when you go to the dealer, your 1-series that starts around 30 grand will be 40 the way you see it here. You would have known that if you had calculated up all the options on the list, but who does that? It’s disingenuous to present the cars this way, in my opinion. I did like their 6 Series concept. One true concept neglected above is the new Audi Quattro. It’s sharp, but I overheard someone from the company say, “it’s years away from production.” But hey—it is a dream machine.

Audi Quattro Concept

Enough already—what’s the final truth? If times are hard and you’re not thinking about a new car this year, this is probably not the show for you. You’re not going to learn much about what’s going to be available in 2015 or 2020. If you are in the market, however, or even hopeful, it’s probably worth spending the $12 to have a look at the goodies. Just don’t expect to be blown off your feet*. *Editor: Do try out the Matrix movie-style photo shoot at the Camaro Convertible exhibit—you'll be able to send the clip to your email or Facebook page.

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