The Los Angeles motor show 2014 review

Published: 20 November 2014

I’d like you to write a round up of the 2014 LA motor show, said web editor Tim.

You know, pick out a few themes like Gavin Green usually does. No pressure, then... Here goes.

Good things come in…

Given you’d probably think of the United States – and perhaps Los Angeles in particular – as a land of excess, the LA auto show is actually refreshingly modest in physical size. There are just two main halls, plus a third much smaller one occupied entirely by Porsche, and a couple of additional spaces for ‘exotics’ (so, Aston Martins displayed by a local dealership) and the aftermarket (which is to say tuner cars and pick-up trucks of varying taste).

But boy do they cram a lot of stuff into this space, especially given the dimensions of some of the exhibits.

For if it’s excess you want, the car industry is more than happy to oblige at this show. No accident that Mercedes chose to relaunch the Maybach brand here, nor that Bentley previewed a convertible version of the Mulsanne.

The latter’s almost bizarre replication of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé rather put the dampeners on that for me, but the Mercedes-Maybach S600 seems to have met with a much warmer reception than the last Maybach effort. Amazing the amount of opulence it’s possible to stuff into a stretched S-Class, and this time Mercedes appears to have successfully married such richness with taste.

Not to be outdone, Audi unveiled the vast Prologue concept, a recipe for a new A9 super-coupé that also previews the future styling direction of the firm’s larger cars.

For BMW it was time for the stupendously powerful new X5M and X6M models to step into the limelight. Porsche brought along a two-tone ‘Exclusive Series’ Panamera, limited to just 100 examples, many of which it promised would be sold before the end of the first ‘press’ day. Lexus showed off a concept for an RC F convertible called the LF-C2; naturally it painted it gold.

Hellcat at LA show 2014

US metal still big on horsepower – and big in general

Then of course there are the homegrown efforts. Ford chose LA to launch a new Explorer SUV, as well as the most powerful naturally aspirated Mustang ever, the ‘more than 500bhp’ 5.2-litre V8 Shelby GT350. But this pales in comparison to the Hellcats on the Dodge SRT stand, which offer 707bhp for a little over $60,000 (about £40k).  They look fantastic too, dripping with muscle car machismo, yet paired with high-tech instrumentation and driving gadgetry in a manner that threatens to overwhelm the old ‘unsophisticated’ cliché. We’ll be finding out very shortly.

The most authentic Americana are the trucks, though. Unfeasibly, almost incomprehensively massive, especially to those of us who so rarely get to see them, these pick-ups eschew any sense of restraint in favour of enormous load capacity – three tonnes was the largest I casually spotted – and towing capability. King of them all is surely the Ford F150, the latest version of which was present having launched earlier this year, but you can hardly ignore the seemingly unlimited variety of Chevrolets and Rams.

But not all of them…

And yet in spite of this enormity and tendency towards excess, the LA show also reveals signs of a move towards increasing restraint. Take that F150, for example, which makes a big deal out of its ‘military grade’ aluminium as an effort towards reducing weight and improving efficiency. Ditto the increasing numbers of downsized forced induction engines; the new Cadillac ATS-V features a twin-turbocharged V6 as it looks to take on the BMW M4. And what’s more, I didn’t hear anyone complaining it wasn’t powered by a bent eight.

Mazda CX-3 LA show

Mazda, which continues to draw large crowds to its fourth-generation MX-5, notably chose LA to launch the new CX-3 compact crossover; over on Honda’s stand the big debut was the similarly compressed HR-V, and at Nissan the Juke was centre stage – although the lurid colour combinations (black/orange, blue/white, yellow/black) chosen there also underline an earlier point. There are signs the carmakers now believe that not all Americans subscribe to ‘bigger is better’ anymore. The CX-3 in particular has been greeted with a great deal of positive noise.

That’s not to say they don’t want their small cars to have presence, however. Toyota’s youth brand Scion brought a new iM concept, which makes the latest Honda Civic Type-R look a bit limp. And VW excited the world with an R variant of the Golf estate (though rumours about the longer wheelbase’s advantages to the Nürburgring laptime suggest there might be other forces at work in that instance).

Fuel cell power gathers pace

There is also a strong presence in LA from alternative energy sources – and not just at some kind of high-concept level (ignoring the laser-powered Chevy Chaparral 2X concept, which has got to be my favourite of all the Gran Turismo computer game ‘Vision’ concept so far). California has a long history of being radically environmental, so fully operational hydrogen cars from Toyota, Audi and Volkswagen shouldn’t really be a surprise.

Chevrolet Chaparral Gran Turismo concept

Finally, it remains clear that Americans like their heroes forged in the crucible of battle (guess what movie I watched on the way over in the plane?). A substantial number of brands had new racing cars on their stands, from Cadillac with the amazingly be-winged ATS-VR GT monster to Mazda with the MX-5 Global Cup concept.

VW casually parked Tanner Foust’s mad, rear-engined rallycross Beetle amongst the regular production cars it had on display, while Audi showed up with the R8 Competition, which is a road car (and with 570hp, the fastest R8 ever), but you get the idea. Ditto Jaguar’s choice to announce the F-Type would be getting a manual gearbox (as well as all-wheel drive) in LA; when Americans buy performance cars they want pedigree and they want involvement – don’t forget this is the market that forced BMW to build a manual gearbox V10 M5 (regardless of whether it was any good, it’s true).

So, there you have it: the LA motor show demonstrates that the USA is a land of contradictions, a place where anything goes. Just like the everywhere else, really – albeit with a tendency towards super-sizing that’s still not entirely under control.

Catch up on CAR's live blog in pictures from the 2014 LA auto show here

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count