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LA auto show 2011 review by Ben Pulman

By Ben Pulman

Motor Shows

17 November 2011 10:17

When the automotive industry was in the midst of recession, the LA auto show carved out a niche for itself as the place to be seen to be green. Detroit represented the big, bad gas-guzzling old school, but the forward-thinking culture of southern California meant the relaxed atmosphere of the LA Convention Centre was the perfect setting to preview the smaller, more compact and more fuel-efficient future.

This year it was different. Squeezed between the monstrous Frankfurt motor show and the biennial Tokyo show, a casual glance would make you think the show was dominated by a plethora of go-faster editions. There were world debuts for the Porsche Panamera GTS (with 424bhp), the AMG-tuned Merc ML63 SUV (with 518bhp), the Jaguar XKR-S Convertible (542bhp), the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible (572bhp), and the latest Ford Mustang GT500, with an enlarged and supercharged 5.8-litre V8 good for a stonking 650bhp. And 600lb ft. And a 200mph-plus top speed. Yes, the Ford stand featured a five-door Fiesta ST concept too (it was shown in 3dr form at Frankfurt) but everywhere you looked there was unaffordable and inaccessible performance.

Moving away from muscle there were no obvious themes. There were new saloons from Cadillac (XTS) and Hyundai (Azera), and a revised VW Passat CC that’s dropped the ‘Passat’ tag to become just CC and make you think it’s a Coupe Convertible, but of note to Europe was Ford’s Escape (the new Kuga to you and me). But gone are the good looks of the Vertrek concept – the criticism it attracted was a plentiful as the praise for the cohesive styling of Honda’s new CR-V SUV that sat in the same hall.

The gorgeous Jaguar C-X16 (a £55k Porsche rival) and Land Rover’s two chunky DC100 concepts (previewing potential ideas for the new Defender, and the cover stars of CAR’s December issue) were making North American debuts with new coats of paint. Still not sure about the Speedster-style DC100 Sport, but the new blue DC100 and the white C-X16 both look so right. The latter will push the XK upmarket, and whatever ‘traditionalists’ think about what a new Defender should be, there’s little arguing that the direction the DC100s are taking the company will provide it with the most long-term profit. Whether it pleases farmers and the British Army is another matter but what good is an icon that’s obsolete? JLR sales are up 30% this year, parent company Tata is investing heavily, and the future finally looks bright for both brands. 

My undoubted highlight though was Subaru’s BRZ STi concept. For the past few years Subaru has seemingly bumbled along as Toyota has shown FT-86 concept car after FT-86 concept car. And now, less than a fortnight before it unveils the production car in Tokyo, Subaru has finally revealed a concept – it must be the shortest teaser in history. Still, it’s gorgeous enough to make you forget about the last few years of bad PR. I’m driving the new Porsche 911 tomorrow, but if you offered me a go in an FT-86 or BRZ instead, I’d be there in an instant.

My only fear is that while the fitment of skinny rear tyres to both the BRZ and its Toyota cousin will mean entertaining handling for enthusiasts at relatively low speeds, I’m already worried that both companies might be hit with lawsuits from idiotic drivers who breach the low limits and blame the manufacturers for their mistakes. Such sad thoughts occur when you’re in America.