The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Of the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show

Years ago, the Los Angeles International Auto Show was held much closer in the calendar to the Detroit show.  Then a few years ago, organizers moved the show earlier, to late November, in order to create some separation between the two shows.  LA now has a personality all its own compared to Detroit – there’s much more emphasis on green energy and import brands than in Detroit, or even New York and Chicago.  Those I spoke with who attended this year’s LA show noted that it just seemed to lack something.  Sure, there were several global debuts, and several North American debuts.  But it wasn’t a packed schedule of new-car introductions that we often see in other auto shows.

That being said, here is one person’s opinion of what did – and what didn’t – work among the cars show in LA for the first time.

The Good

2013 Honda Civic
Just one year from the introduction of the ninth-generation Honda Civic, a car panned by critics but purchased in large numbers by consumers for its diminished driving dynamics and interior that was engineered to a price point, Honda showed off the results of its crash update program.  Honda revised front and rear styling of the car, updated the interior – including adding a panel on the passenger side of the dash that is has stitched seams – and stiffened the body structure. The company also added standard equipment, including Bluetooth, Pandora integration, backup camera, and steering wheel audio controls, while bumping the price just $160 across the lineup.  The upgrades are nice, and certainly will help.  Whether it will satisfy critics ,who knows, but buyers were ignoring the critics and purchasing the whipping boy 2012 Civic in huge numbers, so I’m sure they’ll love the 2013 model.  Honda pulls out a win when it really needs one.

2014 Subaru Forester
According to the folks at Subaru, the Forester is their number one conquest vehicle.  More people abandon other brands for the Forester than for any other car in Subaru’s lineup.  As with other bread-and-butter cars that manufacturers don’t dare mess with a successful formula on (the BMW 3 Series and Ford F-150 come to mind as other examples of this fear of failure), Subaru took an extremely conservative approach with the new Forester.  It may be hard to believe, but the Forester is actually an all-new vehicle, not just a mid cycle enhancement, which it certainly looks like it is.  The new car adds quite a bit of refinement to a vehicle that many of us at Techshake were fond of; the hard plastic dash is now soft to the touch, and there is generally more space to move about.  Turbocharged models are still not available with a manual transmission (why, Subaru, why??) but they mercifully drop the awful hood scoop.  Base models with the 2.5 liter four can be spec’ed with either a CVT or a 6-speed manual, and turbos are only available with a CVT.  The 2.0T is a new engine, and sees a power bump from 224 to 250 horsepower vs. its predecessor.  From the looks of it, Subaru did a great job on the new Forester.

2014 Mazda6 Diesel
That’s right, fans of oil burning, fuel sipping cars: the lovely new Mazda6 will be available with a diesel engine when it hits dealers early next year.  What’s more, you can even order a manual transmission with your diesel 6!  But no wagon in this country.  The Skyactiv-D engine will displace 2.2 liters (the base gasoline engine displaces 2.5 liters), and the new 6 will be the first Japanese midsize sedan with a diesel sold in the U.S., many years (despite earlier beliefs that Honda would be the first, years ago).  The 2.5 liter Skyactiv-G found in the standard 6 will become an optional engine in the CX-5 crossover, which is welcome news; it seems that the only black mark on its record was that its current (and only) 2.0 liter engine was just a bit too weak.

Ford Transit Connect Wagon
We’ve covered the Transit Connect Wagon with its own article, but the bottom line is that its impressive interior space (seating for up to seven, a giant fold-flat cargo area with a very tall roof) and strong fuel economy (approximately 30 miles per gallon highway with no hybrid parts and just a 1.6 liter EcoBoost four cylinder) make it a compelling choice.  Now, if only Americans would reset their notion of what “mini” means in “minivan.”

Jaguar F-Type
Gorgeous, gorgeous car.  It looks like a Jaguar should, and with its strong powerplants, aluminum construction, and luxurious interior, it’s what a Jaguar should be.  This car will be a hit for Jaguar and will bring new buyers into the brand.  This was the North American debut of a car that first went under the spotlight in Paris earlier this year, and Jaguar took the opportunity to introduce a special details called “black packs” both inside and out to set the car apart even from its other F-Type peers.  The F-type will be available with either of two supercharged 3.0 liter V6s or a supercharged 5.0 liter V8.

The Bad

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe LWB
It’s hard to call the Santa Fe a bad car, because it’s not.  But it’s also hard to call it a comfortable place to haul seven people, which is ostensibly its mission.  Riding on a wheelbase that’s 3.9 inches longer than the standard five-passenger Santa Fe, second row legroom is about 2 inches longer, and Hyundai crammed a third row into the cargo area.  The third row, while larger and more comfortable than the one offered early in the second-generation Santa Fe’s life cycle (but later dropped) is still not nearly as comfortable as what you’ll find in larger crossover competition such as the Explorer, Flex, and Traverse (though Hyundai points out that it has more second- and third-row legroom than the Toyota Highlander, which is on the small end of the midsize scale).  The third row is tight for an adult, and the seat is perched on the floor, meaning that adults are jacknifed into their seats.  Since the longer Santa Fe is Hyundai’s only people mover with the discontinuation of the Veracruz ( the Entourage minivan years ago), this may prove a disadvantage in the marketplace.

Hyundai Veloster C3 Roll Top Concept
I’m not picking on Hyundai today, I promise.  But the notion of turning the Veloster into a convertible by removing the rear hatch and adding a canvas top strikes me a pretty lame, in a “the Fiat 500C is not really a convertible” sort of way.  Kind of a cross between a Veloster and a GMC Envoy XUV (which no one less than Bob Lutz said was the only car he regretted green-lighting), this car is the answer to the question that nobody asked.  I really dislike the non-matching wheel colors, too.  While the production Veloster is a pretty cool looking car, this one is just trying too hard.

2014 Fiat 500L
You may see this ugly duckling show up on another list if you keep reading.  If you can manage to get past the design, you’ll find a family-friendly version of the Fiat 500 that lacks all of the charm of the Cinquecento, but adds 42 percent more interior space and 100 percent more doors, thanks to a 26 inch platform stretch.  The only engine is the 160 horsepower 1.4 liter turbo shared with the Dodge Dart and Fiat 500 ABARTH (though likely with much quieter exhaust).  Inside, the massive headroom and questionable ergonomics of the standard 500 successfully make the transition, while adding the quirk of manual-crank rear windows paired with power front windows.  The last car in recent memory with such a quirk was the Dodge/Plymouth Neon.  Why?  Probably cost saving.  But the 500L is a much-needed expansion of the Fiat lineup that falls short of the mark from a design and ergonomic standpoint.  It just doesn’t look as cool as a Mini Cooper Countryman.  In fact, it looks like the ugly Chinese knockoff of the Mini Cooper, the .

Yes, a whole brand full of bad news – or rather, no news.  Sure, the Volvo stand had cars. But the cars were part of an aging lineup without any announced prospects for replacements.  Meanwhile, we milled about uncomfortably in the presence of the XC90 (going into its eleventh model year), C70 (going into its eighth model year).  Volvo needs new product news, stat, or we’ll start asking about them the same way we have been asking about Suzuki and Mitsubishi.

Toyota Corolla
Do you know that if you buy a new, 2013 Toyota Corolla with an automatic transmission, it still is a four speed unit?  Even GM phased out four speeds a half decade ago.  Unacceptable.  Fail.

Purple Infinitis
The Infiniti G37 is getting old.  There’s a new car right around the corner.  Still, that’s no excuse to have half of the Infiniti lineup at the show representing in purple metallic.  Who really wants a purple Infiniti?  Now, would all New Jersey guidos please put your hands down.  Is anyone left?

Nissan’s Blandmobile Trifecta
It could be said, charitably, that the Nissan Altima, Sentra, and Versa share a design language.  Less charitably, they all basically look like the same car in different lengths.  Remember the Sentra SE-R of the early 1990s?  Apparently Nissan doesn’t.  CVTs across the lineup = ugh.  However, one good thing is that the Altima knocked the cover off the ball in terms of miles per gallon, with class-leading numbers.  Nissan also had a big fail by playing Fun.’s “We Are Young” before its press conference. Hello? .

The Ugly (Lightning Round)

2013 Jaguar XF-RS
The car is fine, but the rear spoiler just has to go.  It has no place whatsoever on a Jaguar.

2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon
Utility and passenger space in spades. But also a very cheap plastic interior and a shape only slightly less homely than its litte-box predecessor.

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander
The Outlander had been one of Mitsubishi’s few non-oddball vehicles in the U.S. (ahem, Galant, i-MiEV, Endeavor), but an updated that allegedly “cleans up” the design of the older model and improves its aerodynamics while increasing interior utility just leaves me cold.  One cool thing is that it will ahve a plug in hybrid variant beginning in 2014.

2013 Honda Crosstour
Oh dear.  Nothing will fix this fundamentally flawed vehicle shy of euthanasia or a complete re-imagining of the concept of a hatchback Accord/Accord wagon.

2014 Lincoln MKZ Fender-Mounted Antenna
The new Lincoln MKZ is a seriously good looking car, at least from a distance.  You can get a giant panoramic sunroof , which slides over the rear backlight to allow a larger-than-normal opening.  The problem is, that forces the radio antenna to the left quarter panel rather than being hidden in the roof structure.  Said antenna looks like a 1997-vintage OnStar antenna.  Not good.

In Other News…

Acura revealed its new flagship RL replacement, the RLX.  It looks a lot like the old car, but has more power and is lighter, and it has additional technology.  Yeah, I didn’t notice it either.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Techshake's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. Chris,

    If you’ve had the chance to sit in a 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, I love to hear how you think that compares to the Santa Fe in terms of 2nd and 3rd row space. That was good input on the Santa Fe third row for a potential 7 seater buyer like me. Given both are brand new for 2013 I will be giving them a hard look as most other attributes (design, mpg, ride, quality, etc) sound appealing.

  2. About the Acura RLX, I posted the following on when it showed a pic of the RLX in the dark.
    “Is it my imagination or the picture seems to reveal a bad omen for Acura’s fate?”

  3. …everything you wanted to know about the LA autoshow – but were afraid to ask

  4. Very enlightening and entertaining article. Big LIKE!

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