The 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show is in full swing, kicking off the U.S. auto show season. As show-goers take in the sights, sounds and smells of the convention center, it’s time for us to reflect back on what we saw last week, and what we think hit and missed.
Our Studs and Duds list is taking a little different approach this time around. Rather than concentrate on just the vehicles, we’re expanding it to the whole show. While there were plenty of new and interesting vehicles on stage, there were also displays, technology, and other show-related subjects that we just couldn’t ignore. But to kick things off, we’re going to start with the obvious.
Stud: 2013 Toyota RAV4
This is not the sexiest car of the show. It is not the fastest, the roomiest, the best handling, and it doesn’t hit the hot-buttons of enthusiasts. But Toyota is going to be hard pressed to build the 2014 Toyota RAV4 fast enough, for the simple reason that they’ve taken the tried-and-true RAV4 formula, and successfully updated it for the new reality. Sure, some of the steps sound a little backwards for this fourth-generation RAV4. For example, the trail-blazing V-6 engine is gone, for the simple reason that nobody was ordering it anymore. The third row is gone as well, which is fine by us, since even small children found it cramped. In its place is a thoroughly rethought and re-executed crossover for five, with generous cargo room, sharp styling, a great looking interior, and a renewed focus on fuel economy. Toyota even promises a little added sport in the RAV4 this time around, and we hear rumors of a hybrid version making its way to Toyota showrooms as well.
Dud: Acura RLX Debut
Note that we are not talking about the 2014 Acura RLX itself. The car promises a lot, and from initial appearances, it looks like it might even deliver. We dig the eight-element headlights, the sumptuous interior, and the all-wheel drive hybrid drivetrain is something we fully intend to geek out over once we have a chance to play with it. No, we’re talking about the actual debut itself, specifically, the use of a black car on a dark background. The thing is, what looks great to human eyeballs doesn’t always translate to photographic equipment. If you go to the show, and see the black RLX, it looks great. Take a picture to show your friends, and they’ll wonder why you have a photo of two bright white headlights floating in outer space. We don’t blame Acura’s PR folks for this one; rumor has it that the dealer body, when shown the black RLX, insisted that it have the spotlight instead of the more neutral-colored–and easier to photograph–champagne colored example. So our advice to dealers is this: Shut up, and let the pros handle it next time, OK? Or, maybe try yellow.
Stud: 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon
You heard it here first. Ford’s upcoming mini-minivan, the 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon, is going to be a hit. With a 30 mpg highway target, room for up to seven passengers–with comfortable third-row seating–decent cargo room and the driving dynamics of the Ford Focus upon which it is based, we see no reason why it wouldn’t. OK, fine, it’s a minivan, and supposedly nobody wants those. But the reality is that minivans are just about the perfect vehicle for most people. With sliding doors they’re convenient; with lots of passenger and cargo space you can take everyone and everything with you; with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic transmission, you’ll even get good fuel economy doing it. Plus, it looks neat, with a quirky European flair that gives the TCW a little extra funk. And did we mention the cool overhead storage bin big enough for an Apple Store’s worth of MacBooks? Or the billboard-sized sun visors? Or the third row seats that are on sliders? Granted, we haven’t driven the Transit Connect Wagon yet, so we can’t pass judgement on that aspect. But we’ve driven the Focus multiple times, and the Ford C-Max, and both of them appeal to our sense of behind-the-wheel fun.
Dud: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Grille
We were almost on board with the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander. The new crossover’s profile is clean and classy, the rear end is more of the same, and the interior, though plain, looks functional and right. It’s going to offer up Super All-Wheel Control across the board, a feature that had only been available on the previous-generation’s GT model. It can come with either a fuel-efficient four-cylinder or powerful V-6 engine, a third row that’s way better than the glorified lawn chairs of the previous Outlander, and advanced features like active cruise control and lane departure warning. But then we saw the nose. Oh lord, that nose. What’s with the weird design between the headlights? And the chinstrap beard? And the oh-hey-we-forgot-engines-need-air afterthought opening below the bumper? Hey, we’re all for unique styling, but the schnoz on this new crossover makes us stare for all the wrong reasons. On the other hand, it does carry on a longstanding tradition of weird looking Mitsubishi front ends; remember the Mitsubishi Endeavour’s septum, or the Mitsubishi Lancer’s squished headlights? C’mon, Mitsubishi. How about you make like Honda did with the Civic and rush out a mid-cycle refresh on this one and make the Outlander’s face as pretty as the rest of the crossover.
Stud: 2014 Ford Fiesta
You’d think we’d be talking about the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST here. You know, the one with the powerful turbocharged four-cylinder, promised razor-sharp handling, and all the other enthusiast dream stuff. And, yeah, that’s pretty neat and all. But it’s also been done. What hasn’t been done, at least, not for the past 20 years, is a three-cylinder subcompact. But here we are, with the 2014 Ford Fiesta and a 123-hp turbocharged three-cylinder engine under the hood. And you know what? It’s good. Really good. So good, in fact, that we like it better than the Ford Fiesta’s less powerful four-cylinder engine. That’s right; the 1.0-liter three-banger in the new Fiesta has more power than the older, larger four-cylinder. In fact, thanks to its added power and torque, plus its better fuel economy, Ford is positioning the three-cylinder as the upgrade engine. The best news is that for the most part, the Fiesta is unchanged, save for a couple of other additions. One is MyFord touch, Ford’s touch screen infotainment system. The other is Ford’s SmartKey, which can be programmed to limit top speed, radio volume, and even designate a pre-determined range for the car; think of it as Big Brother for your teen driver. In fact, with its IIHS Top Safety Pick status, the 2014 Ford Fiesta may just be the perfect first car.
Dud: Lincoln Display
Lincoln is undergoing a renaissance. It’s introducing a slew of new, sleekly styled cars over the next few years–the 2013 Lincoln MKZ is just the first of many–it is re-branding itself the Lincoln Motor Company to further differentiate itself from its Ford corporate parent, and it’s trying desperately to shed its old-man’s-car stodgy image. So what better way to do that than…show off a bunch of its old cars! The idea is for Lincoln to demonstrate just how cool it used to be. Remember the suicide-door Lincoln Continental from the 60s? Or the Contenintal Mark II from 1956, an iconic coupe whose $10,000 price tag was more than a Rolls Royce. Yeah, those were sure cool cars. Maybe a little too cool, because frankly, next to its heritage models the 2013 Lincoln MKZ looked a little too much like its Ford Fusion brother. We love heritage, don’t get us wrong, and we think it’s great when companies put their classic cars on display. But when you try to say your brand new four-cylinder front-wheel drive hybrid sedan belongs in the same crowd, well, it feels like a bit of a backfire to us.
Stud: 2014 Mazda6 Diesel
We’ve already driven the European version of the 2014 Mazda6, and we came away very impressed. The U.S. version promises to impress even more when it goes on sale early next year. But what really caught our attention wasn’t the styling, or the features, or even the bright red 2014 Mazda6 sitting on the display stand. No, it was Mazda’s promise that the 2014 Mazda6 would be available with diesel power. That’s right, the zoom-zoom brand is offering up a diesel in its most mainstream car, and we can’t think of a better ambassador for the fuel. It’s not as if Mazda is the first to offer diesel power in the midsize sedan segment–Volkswagen has been doing it for years with the Passat–but for a brand with its fortunes pinned on being the sporty alternative to boring cars, Mazda offering a diesel means something else. And why are we so hot on diesels? Because they’re a no-compromise solution to better fuel economy. You get all the power–well, most of it anyhow–of a more powerful engine, but with amazingly good fuel economy, and you don’t have to sacrifice part of your trunk space to a battery in the bargain. The exhaust doesn’t stink anymore, diesel fuel has never been easier to find, and the price increase is no more than an uplevel engine or hybrid drivetrain. We’re hopeful that Mazda’s bold move will catch on, and inspire more automakers to pursue diesel power.
We have two honorable mentions. The first is the 2014 Jaguar F-Type. By far the sexiest car on display in Los Angeles, it debuted at the Paris Motor Show earlier this year, promises to reinvigorate the entire Jaguar lineup with a true two-seat sportscar. We can’t wait to drive it, but for now, just check out the photos. The other was the Fiat press conference. Leave it to the Italians to sex up an electric car, and a somewhat dopey-looking wagon. Words don’t do the conference justice, so just watch it for yourself. Start at the 5 minute mark; not even Italy can sex up annual sales figures.