2019 Los Angeles Auto Show Hits, Misses, and Revelations

A Freaky Friday week in La La Land from Automobility L.A., the event formerly known as L.A. auto show.

Automobile StaffWriter, Photography

It was like Freaky Friday, the movies made nearby in which either Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, playing her daughter (2003), or Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster playing her daughter (1976) switch bodies. During auto show week in Los Angeles, Ford, which makes all its money on big pickup trucks, finally introduced its signature battery-electric vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E. Meanwhile at Hawthorne Municipal Airport, home of SpaceX and just east of Automobile's El Segundo headquarters, Tesla, which loses all its money on electric vehicles, unveiled its new pickup truck. Neither reveal event, you should know, actually took place at the L.A. auto show. So, where does that leave the show, which now goes by the term "Automobility L.A.?" Full of Tesla alternatives, the usual proliferation of sport/utility vehicles, and—gasp!—even a few new cars. Herewith, a taste of how our staff's varied tastes reacted to this particular automotive spectacle:

HIT: Mustang Mach-E

It has been pretty well acknowledged that this car is the hit of the show, and with good reason. Unlike the Tesla pickup, the Ford was put on display in the L.A. Convention Center, despite having been revealed off-site at the beginning of the week. It's amazing Ford was able to keep this under wraps for so long—it seems like just a few weeks ago we got teaser shots of a Mustang-inspired SUV, and now whoomp, here it is. The EV's Mustang relationship may be both tenuous and controversial, but if you look past that, you'll see a car that represents Detroit's first real attempt to meet Tesla head-on, and from what we've seen, Dearborn has managed to throw off their self-attached corporate shackles and develop something people will really want. Tesla (like Apple) has the advantage of a group of devotees who think their products are cooler than they actually are, but if American early-adaptors are open minded, I think they're going to find something they really like. Well done, Ford. —Aaron Gold

HIT: Badging the Mach-E as a Mustang

Really, Ford almost had to do this. If it had badged the Mach-E as anything other than a Mustang, there wouldn't be nearly the buzz: good, bad, or otherwise. It will inevitably mean far more headlines, purists will continue to howl and cry foul, and the curious will continue to be curious. Really, if they had called it anything else, would I even be writing this? Exactly. Ford desperately needs its first true EV to be a hit, and the iconic Mustang badge gives it a fighting chance. -Mike Floyd

Revelation: Ford Mustang Mach-E

I genuinely can't believe it took this long to see a semi-affordable, non-premium electric crossover SUV head into production. Even stranger is that it was Ford who took the lead in the race, and that it thought stepping all over the Mustang name in a cheap marketing ploy was worth it when it could have easily gone with Galax-E. No matter, this is a landmark car regardless of any baggage. This is a case of an automaker giving consumers a handsome, sleek EV it would actually want, and not some small, frumpy hatchback that gives off rental lot vibes. This is marketable, sexy, and is proof automakers can match Tesla blow for blow. They just don't have the guts. It's not really my kind of thing, but it sure will be for thousands and thousands of other buyers. Good stuff, Ford. —Conner Golden

MISS:  Ford Mustang Mach-E

It looks a little half-baked and is not as sporty as, say, an Audi e-tron Sportback. Sorry, I'm not ready to drink the Kool-Aid yet, Ford. —Ed Tahaney

REVELATION: Can't wait for the Avelli trim level

The Ford Mustang Mach-E is better-looking in person than in photos. Good news is it's rear-wheel-drive, with RWD proportions. I'm fine with a pure electric Mustang, but a four-door sport/utility Mustang simply can't overcome the lack of elegance all SUVs have from certain angles. And the huge touchscreen will be hard to use in a moving vehicle without taking your eyes off the road. I told that to the guy in the passenger seat when I finally got behind the wheel of the white Mach-E on the show floor. He agreed, and told me he works for Tesla. His friend checking out the back seat said, "this'll probably beat the Model Y." Tesla guy agreed. —Todd Lassa

As someone who learned to drive a stick-shift on an '83 Sentra, I've always had a soft spot for this car, and it's been sad to watch the 25-year decline since the B13 was replaced. So I was pleased to see what Nissan has done with the 2020 Sentra—which, if you haven't been following show news, is to pump it up with a huge dose of Maxima DNA. We only saw the top trim levels at the show, but they look good inside and out, and the chassis specs are promising. Too bad there's no stick-shift for future generations to learn on, though. —AG

No longer straight-to-rental, the new Nissan Sentra gets an independent rear suspension, even as it loses its manual transmission option (sigh). As the vast majority of new car buyers trade in their midsize sedans for compact sport/utilities, nicely appointed compact cars seem to be getting more popular than midsize cars. This new compact sedan comes just in time to help rescue Nissan. —TL

HIT: Kia's EV booth

We all rely on the auto shows for news, but their real purpose is to sell cars to the locals, so it's kind of amazing how little thought is put into those local markets. Kia—which has its U.S. headquarters here in Southern California—had a separate booth dedicated to their electric and electrified cars, which is exactly what Los Angeles wants to see. California is, after all, ground zero for the alternative-fuel movement. As a transplanted Californian, I appreciate Kia giving us what we want. —AG

 HIT: Mercedes-AMG GLS63's rims

 Contrasting neatly with this super AMG crossover's white hue, the matte black, monoblock 23-inch optional rims fitted to it were the best-looking set on the L.A. show floor, bar none. Not that you're going to see them much because this big, bad AMG will likely be blowing by you on the freeway thanks to its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 603 horsepower capable of propelling the GLS63 to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds. —MF

Miss: The Weird Monoblocks on the Mercedes-AMG GLS63

Look, I'm as big of a fan as the old AMG Monoblocks from the 1980s and 1990s as anyone, but these modern interpretations ain't it, chief. The old wheels worked so well because the cars they adorned were far more angular and upright than the curvaceous soap-bar aesthetic we find on current Benzes, and in this case, they look like some weird cheap bling rim weighing down shelves at rent-a-wheel outlets. —CG

MISS: Mercedes-AMG GLS63

Excess exceeds excessively. —TL

HIT: Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex

If it weren't for the Mustang Mach-E, this would be the star of the show—and maybe it still is. This concept car is so cool on so many levels. It's part hyper-retro car, part street rod, part futuristic EV, a simple looking design that hides many intricate details. Even the way the lap belts lie across the seat is cool. Once I finish writing these entries, I'm going back to the Mercedes booth to stare at it for a little while longer. —AG

Happy that this retro EV has toggles on the dash and no touchscreen. —TL

HIT: Audi RS Q8

591 HP? Yes, please. —AG

MISS: Audi RS Q8

This RS Q8 model forces me to recall my Chevrolet Avalanche analogy. Chevy takes a pickup truck, turns it into the Tahoe/Suburban SUV, then cuts the top off again after the C-pillar to create the Avalanche "sport/utility pickup." That's sort of what happens with the RS Q8, which is a lowrider-like sport/utility, presumably lowered for better handling than a standard Q8's. I'd bet the slightly lower Audi RS6 Avant parked next to it on the stand is far more fun to drive. —TL

Genesis' new flagship is a mish-mash of bad ideas: Wheels cribbed from the Maybach, side spears cribbed from Lincoln, and a grille cribbed from a chain-link fence. And when I looked at the back of the G90, I was put in the mind of the (supposed) words of Giorgetto Giugiaro upon seeing the Triumph TR-7. The legend says that he walked around the car and exclaimed, "My God, they've done the same to the other side as well!" I cannot wait to see what our own Robert Cumberford says about the new G90. Twenty bucks says he runs out of adjectives. —AG

REVELATION: We need side view mirror cameras like Audi has—Now.

While getting a walk around of Audi's attractive new e-Tron Sportback crossover, I had a chance to demo a first of its kind system Audi calls virtual exterior mirrors. Integrated into each side mirror housing, which is compact and aerodynamic in shape, is a small camera which broadcasts a high-contrast OLED picture inside each side of the vehicle. Located in the top front area of each door, I watched as show goers passed by on the camera's sharp screen. This isn't a new idea; numerous automakers have been dreaming up such systems on concept cars for years. Now that it's a production reality in Europe on the Audi e-tron models, it's time to make this super cool tech legal here, too. —MF

REVELATION(ish): Get ready for the Audi e-tron S

They've been spied running around the Nürburgring, but so far there hasn't been any real acknowledgement from Audi that a higher spec, performance version of the e-tron is on the way. Until now. Audi officials on the show floor told us an e-tron S is indeed coming and we should see it sometime next year. Not earth-shattering news by any stretch as it was something of a forgone conclusion, but the S model e-tron as well as the coming e-tron GT are welcome developments. We'll soon see all manner of all-electric vehicles hit the market in the next 10 years, and it's clear as day that many will be performance themed. Bring 'em on! —MF

HIT: Honda CR-V Hybrid

How do you make Honda's best-selling CR-V compact SUV better? Make it a hybrid without a plug to mess with and add AWD and Honda Sensing safety nannies standard. Honda insiders were tight-lipped about its price and all-electric range, but since it uses the same system as the Accord Hybrid, I'll bet its two-motor hybrid powertrain will deliver 212 horsepower with an average fuel economy near 43 mpg and a total range that's over 525 miles on a single tank. To compete with Toyota's RAV4 Hybrid it should be priced in the $28,000 to $37,000 range. —ET

REVELATION: Doubling up on small SUVs

This show's most disturbing trend is the overlap of new subcompact and compact sport/utilities, or crossovers, with existing models. Instead of replacing the Chevrolet Trax and Buick Encore with the Trailblazer and Encore GX, showrooms get both. Same with the Mazda CX-3 and the new CX-30 (which I like better than when it made its debut last March in Geneva). In each case, the new model is slightly bigger, lower, and better proportioned than the models they should supplant, rather than complement. —TL

Hit: 2020 Mini John Cooper Works GP

For me, the wacky and wonderfully aggressive Mini GP was the surprising dark horse best-of-show. I don't particularly like Minis, as they're usually overly expensive compromises when compared with similar products, but this GP is the coolest Mini since, well, the original. Visually, it's a one-two uppercut to the noggin, thanks primarily to the crazy chopped carbon aeroblades adorning the wheel arches. These are easily the most divisive aspects of the design, but I think they work with the hyperactive aesthetic. The wheels look great, the roof-mounted wing doesn't look tacked-on, and the GP badges are some of the coolest logos going into 2020. This isn't some lame appearance package writing checks it can't cash; 301 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, no rear seats, and a locking mechanical diff means this is probably as good to drive as it looks. Yes, the lack of a manual is upsetting, but you can still order a standard JCW with a stick. It's heinously expensive at $45,750, but while it might not drive $10,000 better than the almighty Civic Type R, it looks like it has $10,000 worth of extra character. —CG

MISS: Mini John Cooper Works GP

Automatic-only? Who do the Mini folks think they are, Porsche? —AG

HIT: Paul Smith Mini Cooper

Celebrating 60 years of the model, built when a Mini was mini, and came only with a stick-shift. —TL

MISS: Those wacky wheel flares on the Mini Cooper Works GP

Yes, it's pretty cool that the carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic wheel flares are made from material recycled during the production of the BMW i3 and i8. And yes, I fully respect that they help with the Mini JCW GP's aerodynamic performance. But man, they just look so goofy, I can't get past it. I'm sure I will when I drive one, however, because with 301 horsepower and multiple other significant aero features, the GP should be one heck of a runner. —MF

I know, I know—we're up to our butts in all things Corvette. But for thousands of Angelinos, this will be their first time seeing the C8 in person, and there's no question the car is going to get mobbed. Chevrolet brought a couple of C8s, including a bright blue convertible with matching interior trim. What a great way to introduce the cradle of America's car-crazy culture to America's sports car. —AG

The second-generation hydrogen fuel-cell electric hybrid sedan, now with rear-wheel-drive, premiered at the Tokyo show last month. But it was hard to find there, as Toyota kept it off its all-future-vehicle stand, and unfortunately, L.A. got only a full-scale fiberglass model without an interior. But the exterior design should be enough to do for fuel cells what the Tesla Model S did for electric charging stations, and push hydrogen infrastructure for what is arguably a superior green technology. —TL

Wowza. This thing looks super fun in person and I really dig the side ladder and taillamp cubes too. If you can get one just under $50,000—what's not to love? —ET

I'm happy to report the new Defender looks a whole lot better in person than it does in photos; a realization we find ourselves in more often than not lately with the new Corvette and the Mustang Mach-E. The exterior is still a bit early-2000s Ford concept car for my taste, but the interior was highly impressive. Big fan of the exposed bolts, sealed buttons, and on the example I sat in, the raw wood trim. Can't wait to drive this thing through some mud. —CG

HIT: Ford Ranger Tjin Edition

I'm not much of a sport-truck kind of guy, but when I saw the Ranger Tjin edition—a SEMA build carted over to Los Angeles—I had to stop and admire. Low-slung and painted in yellow, I thought I was looking at a modern-day version of the 1993 Ford F-150 SVT Lightning (remember its supercharged 5.4 liter V-8?). I'm sure this wasn't even a nod to something that might happen, but y'know, Ford… Soup up that 2.3-liter EcoBoost under the hood, and I bet you could sell a few.  —AG


MISS: Hawaiian Blue Dunaway Garage Ford F-250 Platinum

Male enhancement for guys who find factory stock Ford F-250s too small and understated. —TL

HIT: 1978 Ford F-150 Ranger

Want! You can keep your electric Teslas, Rivians, and Bollingers—this badass dent-side Ford at the Galpin Motors booth is easily the best truck at this year's show. —ET

HIT: Smacircle S1

Personally, just like rowing my own gears, I prefer to pedal bikes myself. But this e-bike on display just outside the South Hall has some impressive numbers. The carbon-fiber frame folding bike is just 23.7 pounds with its Samsung cell-phone style 2.05 killowatt-hour battery pack under the seat, has a range of about 15 miles and a top speed of 12.5 mph, and is priced at just $1,399. This is true last-mile transportation—it's designed to be carried on the subway for commutes. —TL

HIT: Volkswagen I.D. Space Vizzion EV

If this is what it takes to lower sport/utilities to conventional station wagon height, more electric power to ya. My only worry is that VW is pushing itself upmarket again, and there won't be any profit margin in the I.D. Space Vizzion (silly name) to overcome lack of VW's long desired sales growth. —TL

REVELATION: The Los Angeles auto show is alive and well.

Industry pundits have been saying that auto shows are on the decline, and the 2019 New York and Frankfurt shows provide pretty strong evidence—but apparently Los Angeles did not get that memo. This is the best auto show I've been to in ages, with plenty of important concept and new-model introductions and no major players except for Volvo missing. And lots of good cars, too—I've only identified two cars as Misses. It's easy to speculate that L.A. is benefitting from the Detroit show moving to the spring, but let's not forget that Chicago is only a month or so after Detroit and not that far away. No, there's more going on here—a real sense of auto-show optimism that I've not felt in a long time. —AG

HIT: Lexus LF-30 Concept

Finally! A cool concept that looks like it rolled out of a Blade Runner sequel. With that out-of-this-world spindle grille—up front and around back, Lexus should have called it UF-oO. —ET

HIT: Lego Bugatti Chyron

Any life-size car made of Lego bricks is automatically a hit in my book, but check out the skin on this one—an intricate latticework made up of Lego Technic pieces. The model also has working lights and engine sounds. Where was this stuff when I was a kid? —AG

REVELATION: L.A. Show pressroom coffee.

It's also taste-free. —TL

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