Monday, November 24, 2014

Events: 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show

2014 marks the first year in a while that East Brother and I were able to attend the Los Angeles Auto Show together. With two people at the show, we were able to cover much more of the cars and test drives that I ever was able to do on my own. We arrived at 9am, right as the doors opened. East Brother went in to cover the new cars while I started on the various test drive events. Here are some highlights from this year's Los Angeles Auto Show.




Debuts

Acura ILX
There were 32 all new debut vehicles this year at the auto show. The one I was most concerned with (yes, concerned) was the new 2016 Acura ILX. As mentioned in our reviews of the ILX, this is a car we both want to like, but just find it difficult to like. With the specifications and pictures of the car already making their way to various Honda and Acura forums, both East Brother and I knew that Acura actually did quite a bit to improve this refreshed ILX over the current one. With some Civic Si design cues and the drivetrain from the TLX in the car, the ILX is starting to look promising. When we finally got to see the car in person, it did not disappoint...except for the unsightly wheel gap. Come on, Honda! Everyone else gets wheel gap right, why can't you guys do it right too?

Cadillac ATS-V Sedan and Coupe
Cadillac has done a lot over the years to improve its image and product quality, and it is working. The CTS is now considered a legitimate competitor to its German counterparts and even won Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" award. Cadillac's mid-size offering, the ATS is also quite the car. Not wanting to be left behind in the mid-sized "super sedan" segment, Cadillac trotted out the all new ATS-V Sedan and Coupe to fight the BMW M3 and M4. With 455 horsepower under its hood, a 3.9 0 to 60 sprint, and a top speed of 185 MPH, I think Cadillac will definitely give BMW a run for their money. The car is quite the looker too, though both East Brother and I agree that the sedan version looks much better. 

Chrysler 300
East Brother mentioned to me that he actually enjoys the Chrysler 300. When he got one as a rental car once, he liked how comfortable the car was and how easily it ate up the miles as a cruiser. Unfortunately, it has a few shortcomings, but the overall car was a decent one to begin with and has now gotten even more improved. The all-new 300 not only amps up the aggressiveness on the exterior, its interior upgraded as well with a move to the rotary dial shifter from the 200 and some better looking center console materials. Sure some of the plastics still feel kind of cheap, but in this day and age, it almost seems unavoidable. And the 300S? It is actually one mean looking machine, and has the engine to back up those looks. 

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
This was another car I was personally looking forward to. A naturally aspirated V8 Mustang with a redline that is as high as my own S2000 seems just too good to pass up. On the outside, the GT350 is one heck of a looker. The new Mustang was already a pretty attractive car, but with the Shelby body kit, it just looks mean...and absolutely awesome. Unfortunately, we did not get to hear the V8 that resides under the hood, but if you look around on YouTube, you are bound to find the video of Ford driving the car out to introduce it while revving that sweet sounding V8. The return of the GT350 moniker is also a sign that Ford is getting serious again about having a full Shelby branded line-up as a new Shelby GT500 cannot be far behind. 

Mercedes Benz AMG GT S  
Not wanting Porsche to have all the fun in the sub $200k sports car arena, Mercedes trotted out the AMG GT and GT S at this year's auto show. The AMG GT is billed as a car designed to swoop potential Porsche buyers away from the 911 Carrera and its many trims. The GT S will debut in spring with a twin-turbo 4.0 liter V8 making a very healthy 503 horsepower. A milder GT version will debut later in 2016 with 456 horses under its long sculpted hood. If the looks and performance are any indication, Mercedes might just be able to lure some potential customers away from the venerable Porsche brand after all, though a head to head battle between the GT and some equally priced Porsche hardware is still to happen.

Mercedes Maybach S600
Take a top of the line full-size executive limousine, stretch it to offer some more rear seat leg room, and swaddle it in insanely opulent materials and leave no detail to chance and you pretty much have this car. The last Maybach was often criticized for looking too much like a Mercedes S-Class so the company took that feedback to heart and decided to just offer the Maybach as a new uber-trim version of its vaunted S-Class. While the car was behind railings and not open to view, what was visible was an imposing sedan with what looked to be exceptional detailing of interior materials and exterior design changes. It definitely is an S-Class, but on the road, it I have no doubt that it will offer the kind of posing presence that a buyer with this kind of money expects.

Volvo XC90
An all new XC90 was the center of attention at Volvo's booth this year. The XC90 has been a long serving competitor in the world of seven-passenger SUVs, but the current generation has been around so long, your liable to find it fossilized next to some dinosaurs. Enter the all new XC90, with a completely new design in and out. An all new twin-charged engine (the engine utilizes both a supercharger and turbocharger) sits under the hood of the XC90 and an option is available to add a plug-in hybrid motor to provide V8 levels of power with I4 levels of fuel economy. On the inside, the center of attention is on Volvo's new singular, large, touchscreen-based infotainment screen. With this all new XC90, it looks like Volvo engineers have been hard at work to try and design a new seven-seat SUV to dethrone Acura's MDX as the best selling seven-passenger SUV.  

Test Drives

2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost
2015 marks the first model year that Ford has introduced a turbocharged four cylinder Mustang since 1986. That initial offering, dubbed the SVO, was a total flop. The new EcoBoost, on the other hand, is a real contender. As mentioned above about about the Shelby GT350, the all new Mustang is quite the looker. Thankfully, the 2.3 liter turbo four cylinder is able to back up those go-fast looks. Left in its most aggressive drive setting, the Mustang EcoBoost has plenty of thrust and handles exceptionally well. As with the other EcoBoost engines I have experienced, turbo lag is very minimal. The six-speed automatic handles shifting duties pretty well and actually rev-matches down shifts. My biggest complaint? The noise coming from the car seems to be all turbo spool. I get that the noise is intentional, as Ford seemed to have engineered the car to pipe turbo sound into the cabin, but it gets annoying. I like turbo engines as much as the next gear head, but I want to actually heard the engine before I hear the turbo. Sure, the EcoBoost is being marketed to the tuner crowd that may prefer turbo noise over engine sound, but I sure do not.

2015 Cadillac CTS V Sport
This was probably the best car I had driven all day. Not only does the new CTS look amazing in the V Sport trim, its twin-turbo V6 makes this thing haul. The V6 cranks out 420 horsepower and makes an amazing sound. Cadillac greatly improved the interior over the previous generation as well. Materials all look and feel incredibly nice, and the car also comes with a lot of neat tech gadgets as well such as 4G LTE wireless connectivity, and wireless cell phone charging. Unfortunately, CUE still sucks. Besides the crappy infotainment system, this is a car I would definitely consider buying. It is not faster than an M5, but that is what the up coming CTS V is for.

2015 Lexus RC F Sport
At the Lexus test drive center with an LS F-Sport and
the silver RC F-Sport that we got to drive
Lexus trotted out its brand new coupe, the RC350. Both the regular RC350 and the F Sport models were available for testing. East Brother and I had opted to test the F Sport model with its larger 19 inch wheels and F Sport exterior design cues. It is not a bad looking car (the silver one in the back in the photos). It does basically look like an IS F Sport sans two doors from the front, but at least Lexus made the rear of the car different to make sure people could recognize the difference in the models. The interior? Disappointing. While the leather and the seats were nice, some of the plastic trim used in the car looked like it belongs in one of parent company Toyota's pedestrian people movers. The 3.5 liter equipped in the RC also sounds very Camry like at cruising speeds. In other words, it sounds boring. Step on it, and it does make a nice sound, but I barely got the chance to do so as traffic around the convention center was quite terrible when we had gotten to the RC. There is much to like about the RC, but there is perhaps more to dislike about it.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI
I have never driven a diesel car before, so I was not quite sure what to expect. All I can say is that I was pleasantly surprised. Having all that torque at such a low RPM is something I am not used to, but found to be very useful. The TDI did not have GTI like handling, but it still managed itself surprisingly well. Over downtown LA's terrible roads, it was also quite comfortable and composed. Interior materials felt very nice to the touch, and the seats were very comfortable. This ended up being a car that I greatly enjoyed. Though the test car that was available at the Auto Show had the six-speed DSG transmission, a six-speed manual is available. If I can find a Golf TDI with a six-speed manual, I may have found a potential daily driver...as long as Volkswagen's "legendary" reliability does not rear its ugly head.

2015 Volkswagen E-Golf
Waiting in line for a test drive of the Golf line-up
East Brother drove the E-Golf and was impressed with how familiar the car felt to the regular Golf. Despite the added weight of the batteries and the lack of a real transmission, the entire experience was surprisingly not that different. VW has also managed to do a nice job packaging the modifications to the car in order to ensure that it did not lose out on car space or drivability. Acceleration from 0-30 mph is brisk as the electric motor offers instant torque, but the thrust tapers off significantly as the speed increases, resulting in a 0-60 mph time in the mid-high 9 second range. Still, as a daily driver, it is easy to see how people could enjoy running around an urban jungle in near total silence.


2015 Kia Soul EV
Waiting at Kia's test drive tent to hop into the Soul EV
This year's auto show was chock full of firsts for me. While the Volkswagen Golf TDI was the first diesel car I had ever driven, the Kia Soul EV became the first electric vehicle I had ever driven. I had always been a bit skeptical about electric cars (with maybe the exception of the Tesla Model S), thinking that the way they drive must be strange and completely different feeling from a regular car. To my surprise, it basically felt like driving a regular car, but without any road noise and just one very long gear. As for the Soul EV itself, it was a very nice driving car. I did not try anything crazy with it since that is not what the car was designed for, and I was still not very confident about the way the brakes felt. From a design standpoint, the car is definitely still too cutesy looking for my taste, both inside and out. I spent a good part of the test drive expecting one of Kia's hamster mascots to pop out of nowhere and start dancing.

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Summary

Overall, the Los Angeles Auto Show was done quite well this year. For a while, manufacturers stopped using the LA show as a platform for introducing new vehicles because of its odd date during Thanksgiving weekend. In the last few years though, I have seen many manufacturers go back to treating LA as a top venue to debut new cars as it is hard to deny the show's importance given that it sits in one of the largest auto markets in the United States. 32 all new debuts is nothing to shake a stick at, and it would seem the crowds really ate it all up.

For me personally, this was probably the most enjoyable auto show I have been to in years. Most of my enjoyment had to do with the fact that with East Brother around, I did not have to try and juggle doing test drives and fighting the crowds for decent pictures of the cars. For once, I could actually take my time to enjoy being at the auto show instead of running around like a mad man trying to squeeze everything in.