LA Auto Show: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly [w/ poll]
Audi e-Tron GT
Design-wise, the e-Tron GT is an absolute hit with its sexy curves and aggressive front-end. It’s a great reminder that Audi is still capable of bold designs and I sincerely hope the production version will not be toned down to become hardly distinguishable from the A5 or A7. However, the technology that Audi has presented for this car isn’t exactly earth-shattering (95kWh battery, 400km/250 miles of range) and considering it’s going to take another 2 years for the production version will hit the streets, by that time it will be about 10 years behind Tesla.
The large electric Audi was definitely one of the highlights of the LA auto show for me. Essentially an Audi version of the upcoming Porsche Taycan, the e-Tron GT proves once again that Audi can style cars in a way that will have us lusting over them (to me it looks nicer than the Taycan), it’s just that usually it chooses not to, aiming for elegant conformity instead. If the production version is half as nice as this, it will give the Tesla Model S a run for its money!
BMW Vision iNext
Putting the Vision iNext next to the Audi e-Tron GT makes me think of the movie “Twins” with Arnold Schwartzenegger as the perfectly-distilled specimen of its kind (here: electric car), while Danny DeVito as the, well, exact opposite. What exactly was BMW thinking is beyond me – at least when Bangle was running the show you had a feeling at least he knew what he was doing, even if you did not agree. Here I’m not so sure… If the production i5 looks anything like this, then I’m afraid BMW will have another iFlop on its hands.
Ouch, this hurts my eyes! This better not be even the slightest hint of the direction BMW designs are headed. This isn’t even polarizing, as I can’t imagine anyone finding this even remotely attractive. Especially considering an electric car doesn’t even NEED a grille, I don’t see what the brand is trying to tell us here, rather than attempting to shock us into thinking the X7 grill looks moderate. Perhaps this extreme styling is a protest against a future where autonomous shared mobility will commoditize cars and make stand-out design and brands obsolete, especially the premium ones. Too bad the horrible front takes all the attention away from the interior, which is actually rather well-executed.
Ah, the long-awaited new Z4! And it doesn’t even disappoint! BMW sticks to the successful recipe for any proper roadster: long and low nose, short rear, swooping window lines and bulging shoulders above the rear wheels. The only thing they’ve missed is an aggressive front, as the Z4’s fascia has more of a surprised expression than an angry one. Strange for a brand that’s so well-known for its “angry faces”, even on its SUVs. But regardless of that, we should be thankful to BMW (and Toyota for co-developing the Supra on the same platform) for bothering to even develop a new roadster, as it may soon be the last one standing. Sales of convertibles and roadsters have been dropping quickly for almost a decade now, and have reached a point where it’s become unsustainable for brands to continue carrying this type of car. Too bad, because roadsters offer the purest driving experience and should really be making a comeback before we all stop driving ourselves and just get into autonomous transport pods.
Picking up on Bart’s point, I applaud BMW for sticking to its guns and giving us a small, soft-top roadster at a time when most everyone else is abandoning the segment. I can’t help but be disappointed by the end result, however – it’s not that the Z4 is not good looking, but it simply does not look enough like a BMW to me. What’s more, while the overall shape is attractive enough, the detailing once again lets BMW down – every single line on this car seems to be going in its own direction, the bumpers and doorhandles are oddly “thick”, and the wheels are over-designed by half. And while I hope BMW all the best with this car, I really do, I just can’t imagine it taking the fight to Porsche’s Boxster – either on the road, or in people’s wallets.
The new Passport seems a bit schizofrenic to me: Honda wants to market it as a capable family off-roader along the likes of the Toyota 4Runner and upcoming Ford Bronco, rather than a family crossover as it has that corner of the market already covered with the CR-V and Pilot, but then it fails to give it distinctive, let alone “cool” styling. Much of the appeal of said competition doesn’t lie in their capabilities but rather in their coolness, and that is exactly what the Passport lacks. A black grille and higher ground clearance just doesn’t cut it among this crowd.
Mirroring Honda’s approach with creating the Passport I will put minimal effort into this paragraph – a shorter Pilot with an ugly nose is something no one asked for, and few will buy.
Unlike the Lincoln Aviator, which seems right “on the money”, I can’t escape the feeling that there is something “off” with the Palisade. For starters, its positioning appears to be “110% of the Santa Fe” – neither making the Palisade that much different from its (slightly) smaller brother, nor truly competition for the (much) larger cars like the Nissan Armada or the Tahoe, Suburban & co. Makes me thing of the Jeep Commander, which failed by being a (slightly) larger and (considerably) less attractive Jeep Cherokee, or Hyundai’s own Veracruz. Then there is the styling, which tries too hard by half to blend Hyundai’s new aggressive aesthetic, which started with the Kona, with a blocky, conservative shape. I am sure the Palisade is a perfectly good car, but I’m afraid it may struggle to attract many buyers.
The Santa Fe XL never really caught on because it was too cramped and the Palisade fixes that, but unlike Kriss, I find the Palisade to look not too much like a larger Santa Fe but rather too generic like any other large crossover that it tries to compete with – Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse etc. It’s big and square and if you take away the badge, nobody would say they think it’s a Hyundai. Combine that with the brand’s lack of awareness in this segment due to its failure to recognize the shift from cars to crossovers on time, and the fact that the overall market growth is stalling, it will be hard for the Palisade to carve out a significant share of that market.
The idea of making a Wrangler pick-up seems like such a no-brainer that you have to wonder why FCA took so long to bring this model to market. With the Wrangler’s unique cool Jeep will be able to not just sell this car to those who would otherwise not consider a pick-up, but will be able to charge them much higher prices than any of its competitors. With a removable roof, doors and foldable front windscreen, as well as the inevitable two-door shorter-wheelbase version, the Gladiator will surely be a huge hit for Jeep.
I fully agree with every word Kriss says. Jeep and pick-up are like BBQ and beer, or like Thanksgiving and turkey: they go so good together that you know it’s going to be great.
The Kia Soul happily fills the void Scion left when it went from selling funky boxy hatchbacks to rebadged dull sedans. The third generation even takes that design a step further and is funkier than ever. The Soul is preparing for the inevitable moment when crossovers get their minivan-moment and become the uncool family cars that mom and dad used to drive, and the young generation wants to drive something different. When that moment comes, Kia is ready to welcome them with open arms into the Soul. The Koreans may have missed the crossover boom, but they are poised not to miss the next big thing.
The Soul is suffering from the same problem that iconic designs from the past two decades seem to all go through – after an amazing debut and a sequel that most people agreed was great, if not quite as good as the first one, the third-generation car tries that little bit harder to be original. However, much like with the Suzuki Swift and Audi TT gen III, the new Soul ends up in a bit of a lose-lose situation: it’s too close to the first generation car to be called truly original, and yet the new design features somehow dilute and cheapen the final appearance. And so, the narrow front lights would be great on a lower car, but give the tall Soul an unattractive, gaping mouth (a problem with many “sporty” SUVs). The rear light “ring” and side creases too would be interesting on a swoopier car, but look weird on a boxy shape. And yet the final product, like the Swift and TT, is still more interesting than most its competitors, hence the “so-so” rating.
Finally Lincoln is on the right track to becoming a credible luxury brand with understated elegant design that manages to stand out. Giving it a real name instead of some vague letter combination goes against the grain in ” luxury land”, but in Lincoln’s case it’s definitely for the better. This car should be able to put the brand on shopping lists of car buyers that would never have considered it before.
OK, so the Aviator is not exactly a car to salivate over, with styling that ranges from elegant (profile), through anonymous (rear) to slightly awkward (the nose). However, there is a sense of “rightness” about this car that has been missing from Lincoln products for too long. It starts with the positioning – the seven-seat Aviator is aimed squarely at the likes of the Q7, X5 and GLE, without resorting to awkward positioning like the MKT. Then there is the natively-RWD platform that promises good driving dynamics, and gives the car a nicely purposeful, swept-back stance. Top that off with engineering highlights such as a 3-liter bi-turbo 400hp “base” engine, a 10-speed auto transmission, and an incoming plug-in hybrid, and you get the feeling that the Aviator has what it takes to succeed.
To many people the Mazda3 has been the compact car of choice when looking for something outside the box, with its sharp styling and handling, but I sense those have been toned down with the new generation. The distinctive “Kodo” design has been softened and the car has grown larger, giving me a feeling like that fun cousin you used to play with but that’s now grown up and has become all serious. From certain angles the 3 still looks pretty handsome, but from other angles it’s just too boring or even a bit awkward.
People are falling over themselves in praising the look of the new Mazda3, but I am less convinced… sure, there are angles from which the new 3 looks pretty great (rear 3/4), but the front is almost identical to its predecessor, and the profile pretty boring on the sedan. But the worst offender is the hatchback version’s gigantic C-pillar, which gives the model a huge backside visually, while at the same time making the rear seats feel claustrophobic. The interior too is lauded as a big step forward, but just like on past Mazda models, the combination of sharp, straight lines down low and swoopy shapes above makes me think of an attractive guy with a swollen upper lip. Overall I am sure there will be many who love the new 3, but I feel like for many it will not be enough of a step forward from the great Mazda3 Mk III.
This could actually be the first GLE (or the first Mercedes crossover for that matter) that I like. The former generations never struck a chord with me, even though I used to prefer the brand’s sedan and coupe styling over that of its German rivals. I guess the softer and rounder design language the brand is implementing works better (for me) on their crossovers than on their sedans. The interior is wonderfully done as well, and equipped with giant screens as we’ve become used to from Mercedes. Looking beyond the styling, the GLE is jam-packed with impressive technology for better on- and off-road capabilities and should be able to give the all-new X5 a run for its money.
I agree with Bart that Mercedes’ new smoother design language works well on the new GLE. Unlike Bart, however, I was a big fan of the Mk II model, and I think the key to the new Mk IV also looking good is the stance – unlike the narrow-hipped Mk I and Mk III, the Mk IV has nicely swollen wheelarches that suggest athleticism. Add to that the high-tech interior and, finally, the option of a third row of seats, and I think this may be the most popular GLE yet. Pity that the face makes me think of the Nissan-in-drag X-class…
Adhering to the age-old “if it ain’t broke” adage, Porsche did not mess with a good thing and instead simply massaged the 991 generation model, a car which I love, to get the new 992. And yet I can’t help but to think that too many of the new elements on the 992 seem to be sourced from other Porsche models: the Panamera Mk II-esque rear lights, squared-off front and bumper openings that are more Cayenne than 911, and gigantic wheels that seem to be trying hard to make the 911 as “macho” as the 918 hypercar. All in all, the 992 to me seems to be trying too hard to fit in with the Porsche family, rather than be the unique icon we all want it to be.
The “new” 911 will be once again an evolution of the current model, just faster, more efficient and more dynamic, blah blah blah. Yet still we will all drool over it and praise it as the greatest thing the automotive industry has even hatched. And we wouldn’t even be wrong to do so. Porsche knows not to mess with a great recipe, the 911 is the best all-round sports car and the pillar that the brand floats on. Yes, I know the SUVs rake in all the money, but they do so because they can claim to be related to the 911. Tinkering too much with the backbone of the brand could easily destroy that brand and probably take the whole VW Group with it as Porsche is their big cash cow. Am I exaggerating a bit? Probably, but never underestimate the 911.
Rivian R1S and R1T
Finally an electric car startup that isn’t promising some futuristic EV hypercar with mind-boggling performance that will never make it into the real world. Rivian knows that the big numbers in EVs will come from family SUVs and lifestyle pick-up trucks. They’ve been secretly working on its first concept cars and it shows. Not only do they look pretty realistic and almost production ready, they have some great touches that show they’re well thought through. The company claims to have the money, the skills and the capacity to start production within 3 years, and while these concepts look impressive, mass production is a totally different ballgame, just ask Tesla.
100% with Bart on this one – what makes these concepts so “hot” is just how well thought-out the seem from a practical perspective. Not only can I see them being put into production with relatively few modifications, but I think they immediately serve to create an identifiable image for the company: ambitious but not pie-in-the-sky, progressive yet not outlandish. This, to me, seems one of the more goldilocks EVs yet, slotting neatly between the boringly-normal German cars and the willfully-different Teslas. I can’t wait to hear more about Rivian!