LA auto show 2017: a review by the editor of CAR magazine

Published: 30 November 2017

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To see Porsche and California together is to feel a little queasy, so sickly and naively exhibitionist is their ocean-deep love for each other. Think 356 and you think of a little flash of air-cooled quicksilver cavorting on canyon roads. And if California were a country, it’d sit fifth on the Porsche global sales leader-board.

Unsurprisingly given LA’s unrivalled form for sensitively hot-rodding 911s, the new 911 Carrera T was met with rapturous applause. ‘Less is more,’ insisted board member Detlev von Platen with laudable accuracy given that the stripped-out T, inspired by the 911T that gave Porsche its first Monte Carlo win 50 years ago this January, will be sold at a premium over lesser Carreras. 

The on-paper spec of the Carrera T (world debut in LA below) is nothing ground-breaking, but as you read on – lower PASM sports chassis, 20-inch wheels, seven-speed manual with shortened lever and shorter ratios, 365bhp flat-six, LSD – and factor in touches like the thinner rear glass and optional bucket seats (which also delete the rear seats), you find yourself falling under its spell nonetheless... 

New Porsche 911 Carrera T at the LA motor show

And if it’s the spirit of the 356 you’re keen to evoke, the 718 GTS Boxster and Cayman twins also made an appearance in LA, in trademark GTS red of course. Those canyon roads should reverberate with the efforts of Porsche flat-fours and flat-sixes for a good while yet. 

California’s love for German premium cars extends well beyond Porsche, though while Porsche made little more than a nod to electrification (with the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo), Mercedes-Benz and BMW scattered e-mobility buzzwords about the place like confetti. Within their pretty niche niches the i3 and i8 are success stories, and both took to the stage again at LA, in warmed-up i3S and i8 Roadster forms.

The latter is as perfect an LA car as it’s possible to imagine but couldn’t help feeling a little overdue, its still-wild, carapace-inspired styling a little contrived next to the sleekly futuristic Vision Dynamics concept car, BMW’s thinly-disguised near-future EV sports saloon. 

The BMW Concept X7 iPerformance: a big gob

‘Electro-mobility is the new normal,’ proclaimed BMW R&D head honcho Klaus Frohlich, shortly before being drowned out by the V8 of the new M5 and straight-six of the limited edition M3 CS. America is the biggest single M car market (just as it’s also the biggest market for Rolls-Royces or AMGs), and the new M5 shouldn’t change that. Mildly underwhelming in its visual menace, it looked positively beautiful next to the awkward (but crucial) Concept X7 iPerformance (above, due late 2018, and to be built at BMW’s Spartanburg facility in South Carolina) and the not-quite-right 8-series Concept. 

Just as North America loves M cars, so it loves AMGs, and chairman Tobias Moers was in justifiably bullish form on stage: another F1 season steamrollered, a new hypercar benchmark revealed and more sales record smashed (North American sales up 50% year on year, and AMG on course for comfortably in excess of 100,000 units sold globally).

The star of the 2017 LA auto show should have been the new CLS, the third generation of Mercedes’ genre-mashing coupe-aloon. For some it undoubtedly was, and certainly the prospect of Merc’s new straight-six engines with 48-volt assistance plus some pretty knock-out interior design (vents that colour-shift as you change the cabin temperature? We’re sold) isn’t without appeal, but certainly the design underwhelmed as the sheet was pulled off. Maybe it’s a grower. Maybe that’s what happens when you follow a car like the Project One (below)…

Mercedes-AMG Project One leads the GT4 racer  

Either way, more cameraphones came out for the North American debut of the AMG GT GT4 car, surely the most gentlemanly example yet of the gentleman-racer friendly GT4 class. Fully adjustable traction control and ABS, together with a GT R-derived powerplant and optional air-con? After 24 hours at Daytona you’d only just be getting warmed up. Yours for a shade under €200,000. 

The show’s star turn? Tricky, but out in a marquee behind the convention centre Jeep’s eloquent and likeable Mike Manly introduced the all-new Wrangler to a throng of believers. Jeep’s trajectory is skyward bound, with what was an America-only thing now truly global: ten manufacturing sites across six countries and sales now in excess of 1.4 million.

New Wrangler (due in the UK Q3 2018, below) effortlessly shouldered Defender-esque sequel expectation, deftly underpinning a more refined on-road drive, complete with 2018 essential’s like touchscreen connectivity and LED lights, with timeless, wilderness-ready 4x4 underpinnings and a strong engine line-up, from turbo petrol four through diesel and petrol multis to a plug-in hybrid, due 2020. Over to you, Land Rover – it’s very nearly new Defender time. 

The new 2018 Jeep Wrangler, unveiled at the 2017 LA show

Talking of which, the night before the LA show’s first press day, Jaguar Land Rover summoned thousands of press, VIPs, hangers-on and James Corden to a downtown warehouse for a Special Vehicle Operations event, the stars of which were Project 8 (now with outrageous Nürburgring lap time – 7min 21.2sec – and video) and the new SVO-fettled version of the 2018 Range Rover, the SVAutobiography

The standard Range Rover gets a more convincingly luxurious interior for 2018, and the SVAutobiography builds on that in some style to take the Range Rover closer to the big-money, ultra-luxe Bentayga. A bigger vehicle than the Bentley, the long wheelbase-only SVA offers private jet-spec rear seating, Rolls-style power-close doors and enough residual Range Rover class to make such opulence feel entirely acceptable. 

Out in LA, Jaguar Land Rover also ran production prototypes of next year’s i-Pace on LA’s sun-drenched streets. In fact, a few of the most interesting cars of LA 2017 weren’t even at the show.

Jaguar i-Pace twins at the 2017 LA motor show

The i-Pace was, on Jaguar’s stand in both street and e-Trophy racer guise (above), but outside of the convention centre the future – prototypes of Lucid’s stunning Air luxury EV – ran comfortably alongside the past, notably Gunther Werks’ 400R, a Porsche 911 (993)-based lesson in retro-Porsche purity with much of a Singer’s driver appeal, if not quite its just-so design. 

That’s the thing with Los Angeles – so rich, diverse and spectacular is the car culture of its streets that the auto show has to have a vintage year just to scrape a draw.

Our full LA auto show A-Z guide is here

By Ben Miller

The editor of CAR magazine, story-teller, average wheel count of three