LOS ANGELES, California – We admit, the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show turned out to be more relevant than expected, though we could have done without the whole day full of “Automobility” conferences, which consisted primarily of Silicon Valley types showing off their latest apps. Seriously, when did the automotive business go from dying off as millennials gushed over the latest smartphones to becoming the big cash cow potentially saving every Tom, Dick, and Chipmaker from bankruptcy?
Thankfully, press days two and three offered only the following cornucopia of automotive delights, disappointments and dissonance…
Hit: Jaguar I-Pace concept.
Jaguar says its first all-electric vehicle will have a 220-mile range, be capable of a 4.0-second 0-to-60 mph sprint, and will look very much like the well-received concept on the stand at the L.A. show. Jaguar expects to have it on sale by 2018 at a price around $80,000. The luxury all-electric vehicle market is about to get very interesting, and very crowded, very soon. The I-Pace has the looks, the stance, and the tech to make it a player.
For years Jaguar was behind the technology curve, but if the I-Pace is any indicator, those days are over. In 2018, the all-electric I-Pace will be on public roads, vaulting Jaguar into competition with heavy hitters like Audi, Tesla, and Mercedes-Benz. It’s just what Jag needed to be talked about as a critical player in the budding luxury EV space, and we hear that the architecture is “theoretically scalable” to the extent that it could underpin other EV models in the future. If Jaguar was hoping to shed its old British man reputation, then a sporty, forward-thinking, and segment-defying project like this was just what the doctor ordered.
The first plug-in Jaguar might, as our man Georg Kacher noted earlier this week, come off a bit as a “dressed up coupe edition of the F-Pace,” but I don’t mind one bit at this stage. Stand in front of the I-Pace and you can appreciate its design and reasonably aggressive stance. I hope many of this concept’s cues make it to the production version in 2018, including the outstanding interior. But what’s up with the pattern featured on the seats? Is that supposed to mimic a jaguar pelt, or is it perhaps the aftermath of a violent fit of sneezes?
The 90 killowatthour, 400-horsepower Jaguar I-Pace will have the requisite 220-plus-mile range. It can be recharged to make another 100 miles in 20 minutes. It goes on sale in 2018, the British brand’s design chief, Ian Callum said. No Elon Musk he, Callum directed potential buyers to “go to jaguar.com and click on [the tab that says,] ‘I want one.’ That’s all you have to do.” No $1,000 deposit necessary to help fund development or manufacturing costs. Touche, Ian.
Miss: Ford EcoSport
Really, Ford? “Echo” sport, but “EcoBoost?” The EcoSport is so late to this subcompact crossover party after being on sale in Europe that the Blue Oval’s ship may have sailed.
If its show stand examples are any indicator, the EcoSport will come off like a generation-old b-CUV by the time it comes to America. Fit-and-finish was meh and the mid-grade trim model has, at best, a “cheap and cheerful” interior.
Hits: Mazda RT24-P and CX-5
Its 600-some horsepower comes from a 2.0-liter turbo inline four, not a four-rotor Wankel, but the RT24-P is easily the most handsome endurance racecar in a generation. It joins the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship next year, beginning with the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. Let’s hope a return to Le Mans is no more than a season or two away. Elsewhere on the Mazda stand, the new, second-generation CX-5 wears the same Soul Red paint as the racecar, with handsome 2/3-scale CX-9 sheetmetal and an upscale interior to match. It should sell well enough to fill Mazda’s coffers with Miata and racecar development funds.
Hit: Mazda CX-5
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed looking over the new 2017 CX-5. Smallish crossovers usually do not inspire much passion, and while the Mazda might not raise heart rates significantly, it’s a sharp-looking vehicle. I particularly like the familial front-end that is also reflected in the company’s badass and similarly Kodo-styled Daytona Prototype international RT-24P race car unveiled next to the CX-5. If I didn’t see it for myself, I would find it difficult to believe a carmaker could effectively link a crossover with an IMSA prototype contender, but Mazda’s physical presentation on the show floor worked well. I’m looking forward to driving the CX-5 as soon as possible, and I have high expectations for it.
Hit: Alfa Romeo Stelvio
The star of the Los Angeles show, perhaps along with Jaguar’s I-Pace, Alfa’s performance SUV offers more than a hint of an Italian Porsche Macan in its styling — but that is no bad thing. The top-line Quadrifoglio, with its wicked wheels, big carbon brakes, 505 horsepower, and a sub-four-second 0-to-60-mph time make this an enticing proposition, at least as far as sporty SUVs go. If Alfa can deliver an SUV with segment-stunning performance as it has in the sport-sedan arena with the new Giulia Quadrifoglio, brace yourself for some interesting shootouts with established German competition.
Revelation: Italian Player
If the Alfa Romeo Stelvio actually goes on sale here as planned, it could be a real player. This thing looks hot as all hell. Alfa needs to make sure the Stelvio goes off without a hitch if it has any hope of surviving.
Miss: Alfa-Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
I’m sure this will be a great performance vehicle…for an SUV. With its fast roofline and quad exhausts encased in an aggressive lower rear fascia, the Stelvio QF has a Porsche Macan stance from the rear. Though none of us have driven it yet, I’m sure that like the Macan, it will be flat in the corners and neck-snapping quick from zero to 60 mph, with a rock-hard ride thrown in for compromise. You’re not going to take it off-road, you’re not going to haul a lot of stuff in it and you’re not going to get through snow any quicker than in the stunning rear-wheel-drive only Giulia QF sedan unless you put winters on it (which would work nearly as well on the sedan), so what’s Alfa trying to prove with another over-tall performance car?
Revelation: Alfa needed to rent a bigger tent.
Things got so jammed at Alfa Romeo’s press conference for its new Stelvio crossover that fire marshals were ultimately forced to stop journalists from entering the temporary tent Alfa had set up just outside the L.A. convention center for its event. Upwards of a hundred or more folks were turned away. Judging by what went down it appears there is some interest in the Stelvio – at least among the automotive press.
Hit: Jeep Compass
Now this is an SUV brand. The all-new 2017 Compass looks like a downsized Grand Cherokee clone, which makes it a huge improvement over the first Compass model. It looks like another winner from the hottest brand in the business. And unlike the Renegade, the six-speed manual will be available with all-wheel-drive as well as front-wheel-drive models, just for automotive luddites like me.
Miss: Nissan Rogue Tie Fighter
Yep, they went there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a “Star Wars” fan, and I loved the giant Tie Fighter Nissan had on display on its stand. But then you had to know the reason why. A special-edition Nissan Rogue trim package playing off of the upcoming “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” movie. Rogue, Rogue One. Get it? Yeah, we got it. So did Lucasfilm, in the form of a Brinks truck full of cash from Nissan.
Revelation: Acura may have made a better control knob
If the Acura Precision Cockpit concept, with its intuitive haptic touchpad and “absolute position” relationship between that touchpad and the instrument panel and infotainment screens work as well in production as in the brand’s show stand buck, I may give up on control knobs. Acura says this new design, combined with rich leathers and wood trim will eventually populate all its models, beginning in a few years. If that first Acura is an RLX replacement based on the ’16 Detroit show’s Precision Concept, Honda’s premium brand might finally have a winner in the full-size sedan segment. But only because Acura promises just a couple of control knobs for the radio.
Hit: Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Good on Chevy. For one, it was a real surprise that a new Colorado would be showing up for the L.A. show. The sweeter treat is that with the ZR2, the Colorado finally has something desirable and useful to offer off-road fans that are in the market for a smaller truck. The regular Colorado’s insufficient approach angles, lack of locking differentials, and front air dams all pale in comparison to what the ZR2 has on tap. Finally there’s an all-around off-road truck to compete with the Tacoma in the mid-size segment, and to a degree the Jeep Wrangler, whereas a Ford Raptor is much bigger and will cost a pretty penny more.
Hit: Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic
The new Mercedes E-Class is probably the best midsize luxury sedan available, especially when equipped with its efficient four-cylinder engine. But as much as I like the Dr. Jeckyl E300, I’m smitten with the subtle lunacy of the Mr. Hyde 603-hp AMG E63 S 4Matic. AMG chief Tobias Moers told the press conference crowd his favorite feature is the car’s “drift mode,” demonstrated with a video showing the family sedan gone-wild making a perfectly insane drift around a racetrack.
Revelation: Nismo Buzzkill
Nissan has its priorities all out of whack. As much as I appreciate the effort to put some flavor into the Sentra lineup, the Nismo Sentra is nonetheless a buzzkill given the objective excellence of the Sentra Nismo concept we saw a few years back. That car had 240 hp, a limited-slip diff, and a more cohesive design. I hate to see Nismo sully its name with a lukewarm softball like this. A Sentra SE-R would have been a lot more welcome. Then take the Rogue One Star Wars car, which is a pretty empty cash-grab with little substance, and you have a nice glimpse of how things are handled over in Tennessee these days.
Revelation: Is the Viziv-7 concept a Subaru too tall?
Subaru has scored 59 consecutive months of sales increases in the U.S. and will sell more than 600,000 cars and SUVs this year, making it the envy (along with Jeep) of the industry. Its goal, according to North American president Tom Doll, is to hit 800,000 units by 2020, with the help of a three-row midsize sport/utility coming in 2018. It’s easy to predict this Subie will be much more successful than the ill-fated Tribeca. But if the Viziv-7 concept, previewing the model to be named Ascent (and built off a new modular platform, instead of the Toyota Highlander, as originally planned), is any hint, it will be too tall and too conventional for an automaker that found success by avoiding the mainstream and by selling SUVs to American consumers who don’t like SUVs.