MOTORING: Los Angeles Auto Show: Meet the City of Angels’ superstar show cars
By Deon Schoeman
This week, Los Angeles hosts the last major international motor show of the year, at a time when motor manufacturer support for these glitzy and expensive expos is dwindling. But in the shadow of Hollywood, at least seven newcomers deserve superstar status.
Motor shows aren’t what they used to be. Increasingly, motor manufacturers prefer to spend their marketing cash on more customer-focussed, experiential events where they get to showcase their latest wares and tech without vying for the spotlight with dozens of other brands.
As a result, even the big shows – Detroit, Geneva, Paris, Frankfurt, Los Angeles – struggle to attract a full complement of carmakers.
That’s a pity, because for consumers, the opportunity to see, touch, feel – and even test drive – the latest cars at a single venue remains an alluring prospect. However, it seems that times are changing in more ways than one.
In LA, for instance, Volvo adopted a different approach. Instead of cars, the Swedish auto maker filled its stand with interactive displays highlighting how emerging technologies will change our motoring future.
Certainly, it suggests that the cars of the future will be more about the technology that operates and supports them than the actual vehicle itself. In other words, it will be the interface, and the services, that matter most.
For now, however, cars still took centre stage in the City of Angels, and while electric models stole some of the limelight, there were plenty of more conventional machines to drool over, as well.
Here are our picks of the Los Angeles show car bunch.
Audi e-tron GT Concept
Colour: kinetic dust
It may be called a concept, but the Audi show car is so close to the final product that you might as well treat it as such. Due to go on sale in 2020, it’s destined to become Audi’s flagship electric car, and the third in a burgeoning line-up that will comprise a dozen models by 2025.
The low-slung, four-door coupé is vaguely reminiscent of the latest A7, but looks wider and lower, with more muscular detailing. The front end features a large, textured front panel where the grille would normally be, concealing a host of sensors.
Colour: kinetic dust
Two electric motors, one for each axle, provide a combined 434kW of power for hardcore sports car performance: think a sub-4sec 0-100kn/h acceleration time, and a 240 km/h top speed. The large, flat 90kWh battery in the floor allows a 400m real-world range, Audi claims.
Colour: kinetic dust
The cockpit features virtual instruments and an integrated touch screen for the infotainment system that blends into the dashboard when not in use.
BMW Vision iNext
Arguably the most futuristic car at the LA show was BMW’s Vision iNEXT, The all-electric concept will spawn an actual production model by 2021, while debuting an all-new platform which will be used across the BMW model range.
BMW Vision iNEXT
Described as a boutique on wheels, the Vision iNEXT recognises that future cars will be more about mobility than driving, with autonomous operation allowing motorists with more time to enjoy interior amenities.
BMW Vision iNEXT
Thus, the interior of the iNEXT focuses on tactile surfaces and materials in a spacious, configurable cabin, while conventional controls and screens remain concealed until needed. The X5-sized SUV is likely to feature all-wheel drive and an extended operating range of upto 500km.
The second generation of Kia’s cheeky, chunky Soul mini-SUV retains some of the original’s individual character, but adds greater sophistication and a slightly less flippant design approach.
The front end is almost futuristic, with its strip-like daytime running lights and huge grille, while the boxy silhouette remains true to the Soul’s combination of compact footprint and generous interior space.
The cabin is all about bold shapes, colours and textures, including mood lighting that can pulse to the beat of the sound system. The bad news it’s unlikely to reach South African shores because production is being limited to left-hand drive only.
Sleeker, sexier and sportier than its more pragmatic predecessor, the new Mazda3 continues the Japanese marque’s rise to stardom with a design that’s aerodynamically efficient and emotively evocative.
While many new-generation designs are focused on sharp and edgy aesthetics, the Mazda prefers a seamless look with rounded, organic contours. A large grille ensures a strong identity, while the stance is poised and athletic.
The Mazda3 will also be the first to employ the brand’s Skyactive-X SPCCI (for spark plug controlled compression ignition) engine, which promises high torque and reduced fuel consumption. All-wheel drive will be an option, too.
The Mazda3 is due in South Africa next year and will be offered in hatchback and sedan forms.
Despite its familiar silhouette, the latest Porsche 911, now in its eighth iteration, is arguably the most progressive yet, with a design that may prove to be the most appealing since the much-revered and in-demand 993-generation.
It’s certainly more aggressive and cohesive than the outgoing model, with wider dimensions, a rear that features a continuous light strip, and door handles that only pop out when needed.
There’s an all-new interior, too, featuring even more intuitive ergonomics with an integrated infotainment screen, toggle-like switchgear, a stubby gear selector, and clearly defined instrument dials.
The new car is offered in Carrera S and Carrera 4S versions, both powered by an upgraded flat-six, twin-turbo engine now good fro 331kW and 530Nm of torque. The newcomers are quicker and nimbler, too. SA order books are open, with the first examples expected in mid-2019.
And now for something completely different: a Jeep bakkie. Derived from the iconic Wrangler, the new Gladiator is a 4x4 pick-up with attitude – and a lot of all-terrain capability.
In all-terrain terms, it should outshine even the legendary Wrangler Rubicon, thanks to trick axles, electric diff locks, massive ground clearance, and a low-range transfer case. It’s also has a 750kg payload, and can tow up to 3,470kg.
That said, we think many Gladiator owners will buy it for its gung-ho looks, and its lifestyle appeal. Like the Wrangler, there’s a choice of different executions, including hard and soft tops, as well as a long list of options to personalise the Gladiator.
In the US, engine choices include a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel and a 3.6-litre V6 petrol, both coupled to an eight-speed auto gearbox. Let’s hope it joins the local Jeep line-up …
Love it or hate it, but the Toyota Prius has been a pioneering vehicle, bringing hybrid motoring into the mainstream long before it became trendy. The latest version finally adopts the edgier, progressive styling of other new-generation Toyotas, and offers all-wheel drive for the first time.
Never the most handsome of vehicles, the new version retains the fastback shape, but with keener detailing and a less slab-sided design. The rear is particularly distinctive, with an integrated spoiler and prominent taillight clusters.
The big news is the optional i-AWD all-wheel drive, which adds a second electric motor. Mounted on the rear axle, it only comes into play when extra traction is needed on compromised surfaces. Improved battery technology benefits overall efficiency, too.
Expect the latest Prius to reach SA showrooms in late February 2019. DM