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    Afterthoughts: LA Auto Show Report Card


    • Which Vehicles Earned A Place On the Honor Roll and Which Ones Need to See the Principal?

    This year's Los Angeles Auto Show proved to be much better than first expected. When the news hit back in October of some the vehicles that were to debut, the show's organizers listed the Buick LaCrosse and Nissan Sentra as the big stars. Oh dear, this year's show was going to be a snoozefest.

     

    But as we saw in the past week, the LA showed proved to be exciting. There were a number of surprises, along with vehicles that stole the show. Of course, there were the vehicles that maybe should have passed on LA Auto Show.

     

    It is that time to grade the vehicles and find out which ones are the top of the class and which ones need to head to detention.

     

    Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio: Incomplete
    Despite Alfa Romeo rolling out the Giulia Quadrifoglio again and providing some juicy information (505 Horsepower, 7:39 lap time on the Nürburgring, $70,000 starting price tag), I still don't believe this car actually exists. Blame Alfa Romeo's track record of pushing back dates. Also, we haven't seen what the lower trim models will look like. The only details are a turbo 2.0L four-cylinder with 276 horsepower and all-wheel drive.

     

    Buick LaCrosse: Incomplete
    This car would get a high grade with an impressive interior, updated 3.6L V6, and a number of new tech and safety features. But there is one thing that is giving me pause; the LaCrosse's exterior. We knew that elements of Avenir concept shown in Detroit would influence the next LaCrosse and they are there. But something is a bit off and I can't put my finger onto it. This is a vehicle that I need to see in person before handing out a final grade.

     

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider: C-
    While Fiat does deserve a lot of credit for making their Miata-based roadster look much different, it badly needs to go back to the drawing board. Yes, it looks like the 60's 124 Spider. But this modern interpretation is ungainly. Also, could Fiat have done a little bit more to the interior? The only item that is saving this from a lower grade? The turbocharged 1.6 from the 500 Abarth.

     

    2017 Ford Escape: C
    Oh Ford, what have you done to the Escape? I understand that you are trying to bring it in line with the Edge, but the new face looks very awkward. On the plus side, the troublesome 1.6L EcoBoost has been shown the door with the 1.5L EcoBoost taking its place.

     

    2017 GMC Canyon Denali: C+
    Having to wait till late 2016 for this model is kind of a disappointment. Also, I'm afraid to see what the pricetag on this luxury version will be. Hopefully, GMC has the luxury appointments that can justify the price.

     

    2016 Honda Civic Coupe: A
    I'm shocked that I like the new Civic Coupe a lot. The production model mostly stays true to the concept minus a couple of things (the large rear wing and center mounted exhaust). It is quite the sharp-looking compact. When was the last time you could say that about a Honda? S2000 maybe?

     

    2017 Hyundai Elantra: C
    I'm getting a bit worried about Hyundai's car designs. The Sonata was a snoozer compared to the last one and new Elantra... well looks like the current one. It seems like they are taking a little bit more risk with their crossovers and I want them to take some of that and put them into their cars once again. But I will say the upcoming Elantra Eco model has me very interested.

     

    2017 Infiniti QX30: B-
    Now I like the standard Q30 as it looks quite sharp. Somehow I don't like the QX30 as much despite it being the same model with just a few inches of added ground clearance. Also, how come I can get AWD on the QX30 and not the Q30?

     

    2017 Kia Sportage: A-
    Kia continues their trend of producing sharp looking vehicles with new Sportage. The interior looks to be a giant leap ahead of the previous model. Oddly, the Sportage doesn't have small-displacement turbo option like the Tucson. One hope I have the new Sportage: Improved ride characteristics.

     

    Lamborghini Huracán LP 580-2: B+
    Rear drive Huracán? Uh, where do I sign up? But I'm wondering why it only produces 398 pound-feet of torque. I know most buy a Lamborghini buy it for looks, but a little bit more torque isn't a bad thing.

     

    2017 Lincoln MKZ: B-
    This was something completely out of left field. I don't think many knew that Lincoln was planning to show off anything besides the Continental (something we expect to see next year). There are some good parts to the 2017 model like the new front end which gives Lincoln a bit more of an identity. There's also this interesting feature of actual buttons for the center stack. (OK, that's a bit cold. But we're glad to see actual buttons again.) But then there are some questionable items. The big one being the 400 horsepower twin-turbo V6. Why? I mean it's awesome, but it also brings up concerns about what Lincoln sees itself as. It is a luxury brand trying to fill a space of what it means to be an American luxury car or is it trying to be like every other luxury car on sale? At least the MKZ was being talked about, something you couldn't say about Lincoln since the Continental concept.

     

    2017 Mazda CX-9: A+
    When I drove the current Mazda CX-9 last year, it was in dire need of a replacement as it was aging quite fast. The new CX-9 looks to be a real contender with sharp looks (bigger CX-5 isn't a bad thing), luxurious interior, and having the full suite of Skyactiv technologies. Doesn't hurt the engine is also turbocharged. Best in show? I think so.

    2017 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class: C
    I know that it's a refresh and appreciate Mercedes improving the SL's interior. But I wish they could have gone a little bit farther with the exterior aside from a new grille. This is a vehicle that deserves more.

     

    2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport/2017 Mirage: D+
    Mitsubishi, I know that you are in the process of a plan to get you back on stable ground and sales are on the rise. But you could have done so much more to these models. A new front end for the Outlander Sport? Four more horsepower and a tweaked front end for the Mirage? A little bit more money in these cars could have done so much to these.

    2016 Nissan Sentra: C-
    During the press conference of the Sentra, Nissan's senior vice president of sales and marketing Fred Diaz said this was the year of the sedan at the company. Oddly the only model we remember from 'year of the sedan' is the Maxima. While the Sentra did get some elements of the Maxima in the front end, the rest of design matches up with the current Sentra. Nissan's 'year of the truck' for next year will hopefully be more exciting.

     

    2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible: B
    This is one of those vehicles that make you wonder why? But I'll admit that it looks quite sharp. Who knows, this might have a better chance at succeeding than the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet.

     

    Subaru Impreza Sedan Concept: A-
    Much like the hatchback counterpart we saw in Japan, the Impreza Sedan is quite the stunner. Now whether the production model looks like the concept remains to be seen. But considering Subaru's recent track record, this is something we're bit concerned about. At least the Impreza will be debuting a new modular platform that will underpin future Subaru models.

     

    Volkswagen America's CEO Apologizes Again: C+
    Volkswagen's apology tour continues with the CEO of the American branch, Michael Horn apologizing during Volkswagen's press conference. Look Volkswagen, we know that you are sorry about the whole diesel emission mess. But you don't need to keep apologizing at every event. It is getting to the point where if someone brings up a question not related to the scandal, you'll be saying sorry. Work on trying to get a fix out there.

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    I think the Sentra grade is too generous! It's a limp attempt at a refresh on one of the segments worst cars.

     

    Now this is a personal nitpick, but I'm surprised you find no fault with the hugely derivative MKZ front end design (400 hp drivetrain notwithstanding), while the Buick Lacrosse gets a TBD.

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    I share your concerns about the Giulia, albeit to a lesser extent. I think the car is probably further along than they're letting on as far as planning, but the development dollars aren't there.

    Also, I read that the QF gets its power running 35 pounds of boost. That's exciting for many reasons, not all of them necessarily good.

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      2016 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe
      It is amazing how far Cadillac has come in the past decade and proof of it can be shown in the ATS- V coupe. A 464 horsepower twin-turbo V6 makes the vehicle fly with no issue. A set of sticky tires and adjustable dampers show the ATS-V is just as capable, maybe more so than its German counterparts. But it can also provide decent ride around town if you set the dampers into a comfort mode. Then there is the look. I’m not usually a fan of red, but it looks killer on the ATS-V coupe. It pairs quite nicely with sharp angles and a low roofline This was one of the models where I found myself grinning from ear to ear because of how much fun I had.
      2016 Chevrolet Volt
      It is amazing how far Chevrolet has come with the Volt. Five years ago, the Volt was this odd looking vehicle with a clever powertrain that made range anxiety nonexistent. Yes, 35 miles of electric-only range didn’t seem like a lot. However, the gas generator acted as an insurance policy if you ran out of juice with the battery. Flash forward to this year and Volt has not only seen an increase in overall range to 53 miles, but it has also gotten sleeker. This is currently my favorite looking Chevrolet vehicle with the new Cruze a close second. Other plus points include an improved interior and smooth ride. The new Bolt is currently basking in the spotlight that the Volt was at one time. But let us not forget the Volt is one of the key reasons why the Bolt exists. 
      2016 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack & SRT Hellcat
      Dodge covered the two extremes of performance this season with the Charger R/T Scat Pack and Hellcat. The Scat Pack was first up and I fell in love with it. For almost $40,000, you basically got an SRT Charger minus the adaptive suspension and number of luxury items. It was great fun with the 6.4L HEMI V8 bellowing down the road and the sharp looking Plum Crazy paint color. I found that you really don’t need the adaptive suspension as the Scat Pack does ok on bumpy roads or curvy roads.
      Then we come to the Charger SRT Hellcat. 707 horsepower from a supercharged 6.2L HEMI V8. It seems maddening that we are given a vehicle with all of this power for a price tag under $66,000. Trying to describe the way the Hellcat goes is difficult and something you need to experience. This is a vehicle that will make you laugh like a small child every time you decide to drop the hammer to hear the whir of the supercharger and manic sound of the V8.
      2016 Kia Optima SXL
      It is no secret that the Kia Optima is one of my favorite midsize sedans. It offers distinctive looks and feature set at a price that will surprise many. But it was set to fall off my list earlier this year when I drove the Optima EX. The big issues were an uncomfortable ride and poor noise isolation. So when I found out that the top of line SXL was scheduled later in the year, I was worried that it would be plagued by the same issues. But those issues never appeared. The SXL was not only quiet but showed a noticeable improvement in terms of ride comfort. I still don’t know what black magic Kia did on the SXL, but it kept the Optima on my favorites list. Now if they could work on the lazy throttle…
      2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
      “Sometimes to fully test a vehicle, you need to put it in a situation where it isn’t fully comfortable.”
      That was the case for the Mazda MX-5 Miata as it would not be only driven in the middle of one of the coldest winters in Michigan, but it would also be taking me to and from the Detroit Auto Show. Crazy? Of course. But the MX-5 Miata was wearing a set of winter tires which helped it stick to the road. Despite the cold temps and snow that would fall during the latter half of the week, the MX-5 Miata proved to be just as fun as it would have been in warmer weather. Sharp handling, an engine that loved to rev, and a slick six-speed manual transmission. It didn’t hurt that I could actually fit my suitcase into the trunk of the Miata for the show.
      2016 Scion iA
      I have a trend of driving brands or vehicles that will be ending. Most infamously was the time when I drove a Suzuki SX4 for review and then hearing the news of the brand leaving a couple of days after returning it. That was the case of the Scion iA. A few months after driving the iA, Toyota announced that it was shuttering the brand. Some of the vehicles, like the iA would continue as Toyotas. This was a smart move as the iA proved to be a winner. Being a rebadged Mazda2 was a big reason as to why I liked the iA. It was a fun vehicle to drive around town or on a special road. But it also featured a lot of standard equipment including automatic emergency braking. While the brand is gone, it is good to see the iA lives on.
      2016 Toyota Prius Three
      I have never been a fan of the Prius family. Every Prius that I have reviewed left me wondering who decided to start selling a science experiment and not an actual vehicle. But the 2016 Prius is my biggest shock of the year. Yes, the Prius will take its time getting up to speed on the freeway. But around town, the Prius was a spritely performer. More surprising was how well the Prius drove. Taking a corner, I was expecting to experience motion sickness because of how much body roll previous models had. But the Prius took it like a champ showing little body and some decent steering - thank the new TGNA architecture. It doesn’t hurt that I got 60.2 mpg as my average for the week. Well done Toyota.
      2016 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
      If there is one shining light at Volkswagen, it would have to be the Golf family. Last year, I named the Golf GTI as one of my favorites. This year, that honor falls to the SportWagen. Yes, it isn’t the sharpest looking vehicle in the class and the DSG transmission needs some more work. But Volkswagen got the basics right. The 1.8T is powerful and delivers excellent fuel economy. The interior spacious for both passengers and cargo - I was able to fit two massive Ikea boxes into it. Volkswagen also mastered the dark art of balancing fun to drive with comfort. I could take the Golf SportWagen down a windy road and be entertained. Afterward, I could drive it around town and not feel any road imperfections. 
      There you go, the eight vehicles that earned a coveted spot on my favorites list. Now it should be noted that some vehicles we’re close to getting onto this list, but were kicked off for one reason or another. Here are those vehicles,
      Chevrolet Malibu 2LT: Chevrolet did an excellent job with the new Malibu with fixing a number of issues that plagued the old model. But the 2LT introduced a new set of problems - questionable materials, poor road noise isolation, and the lack of options. I really do like the new Malibu, just not in 2LT form. Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible: Loved the V8 performance and noise. Hate the $54,000 pricetag. This might explain why GM has such a large amount of Camaros sitting on dealers. Hyundai Elantra: Hyundai played it safe with the updated Elantra and this would have been ok a couple of years ago. But in light of the redesigned Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic, it wasn’t enough for the Elantra to be a strong contender as it once was. Nissan Titan XD Pro-4X: This was a truck I really wanted to like. Nissan was trying something different with the Titan XD - offer something between a light-duty and heavy-duty pickup. Plus, a nice Cummins V8 diesel could have been the cheery on top. But trying to convince someone that your truck is the best is difficult since truck buyers tend to stick with one brand. Not helping is the lack of cab and bed sizes. At the time of our original review, the XD was only available as a crew cab. A regular cab has been since introduced. But it seems Nissan doesn’t fully understand the truck market. You need to have a lot of options available to buyers at launch, not down the road.
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