LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Auto Show has morphed into a tech conference/exposition and car show in order to improve its stature among the world’s major shows. LA is arguably the style capital for the world’s car culture. Even in the snug confines of the LA Civic Center, there was lots of serious news being made. Much of it centered around a raft of compact SUVs from Audi (Q5), Ford (EcoSport), Jeep (Compass), Mazda (CX-5), Toyota (C-HR), and even Alfa Romeo (Stelvio).
Here’s our favorite new cars from the press days of Los Angeles Auto Show and its new trade show / conference called Auto Mobility LA. The public part of the show runs through November 27.
Second-generation Audi Q5 crossover/SUV
The second-generation, 2017 Audi Q5 steps up the technology quotient inside, while the outside gets a swoopier look. Audi says the new look doesn’t compromise cargo space on the 183-inch-long vehicle, which is important because the next roomier Audi crossover/SUV is the Q7 at 200 inches.
After an eight-year run with the first Q5 of 2009-2016 that is currently Audi’s best seller, the new 2017 Q5 is making even more of a splash with technology. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is available: The instrument panel is one large LCD that can be a traditional instrument cluster replica or a 3D map with real time updates via Audi’s telematics. A head-up display is offered. Audi MMI is there, of course, with a big touchpad that recognizes letter gestures. The upgrade audio is Bang & Olufsen.
At the intro, Audi spoke of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 252 hp and a seven-speed dual clutch transmission driving front or all four wheels and a 0-60 mph time of less than six seconds. A diesel may be possible once VW/Audi work out their emissions problems. Look for the Q5 spring 2017 with a list price little changed ($ 40K) and options that quickly put you in the fifties.
2017 Mazda CX-5 gets latest tech
The 2016 CX-5 is Mazda’s best seller and also the oldest vehicle in the Mazda line. Still, it’s the go-to small crossover/SUV for driving enthusiasts who won’t pay Audi Q5 or BMW X3 prices. The all-new model brings Mazda’s technology suite up to date and offers three engine choices, including Mazda’s long-waited 2.2-liter SkyActiv clean diesel. It gets the useful G-Vectoring Control technology that reduces engine power slightly when the driver turns the wheel into a curve, helping the car track better.
Mazda moves the 7-inch center stack LCD to the top of the dashboard, gives it touch capabilities, and is Mazda’s first use of optical bonding of the panels for a clearer image. The console-mount control wheel continues, relocated so the shifter isn’t in the way, and makes better use of the armrest while using the wheel. Mazda’s first true head-up display, “active driving display” in Mazda terminology, is available, a step up from the previous ADDs that projected info on a small plastic panel sitting on the dash. The CX-5 gets Mazda Connect that works in conjunction with your smartphone for internet connections.
Adaptive cruise control now is stop-and-go and follows the vehicle ahead from a standing stop. Traffic sign recognition reads speed limit signs and posts the info on the head-up display. Mazda will continue to offer blind spot detection and lane departure warning. The CX-5’s length is still 179 inches.
Jeep Compass: Grand Cherokee, downsized
Nobody has more small SUVs than Jeep, but some were long in the tooth, especially the first-generation Jeep Compass (2007-2016 model years). The second-generation, 2017 Jeep Compass that debuted in LA looks like a nine-tenths scale Jeep Grand Cherokee, which isn’t a bad thing. The new Compass measures 175 inches long with one engine choice for the US, a 180-hp four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic transmission (front-drive) or nine-speed (4×4); a six-speed manual is also available. Jeep claims 30 mpg for the front-drive model. A Compass Trailhawk variant is for more serious off-roading with hill descent control and a 20:1 crawl ratio when you need to creep along a rutted road.
The cockpit gets LCDs of 5.0, 7.0 or 8.4 inches (big for a compact SUV) and Jeep-Chrysler’s idiot-proof UConnect navigation. It’s possible to get the biggest screen and roll you own nav via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The 2017 Compass slots just above the Jeep Renegade in size; it also replaces the Jeep Patriot. Expectations are the 2017 Compass will sell and be much better than the aging first version.
Ford EcoSport sub-compact van coming to America
The subcompact Ford EcoSport, 167 inches long, slots below the Ford Escape compact crossover. It’s due in the US in 2018, 13 years after it was released as a world car. Were this a sedan, it would be the Ford Fiesta (EcoSport shares the Fiesta architecture) compared with the Ford Focus. It should run on a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged 123-hp engine with an optional 2.0-liter four cylinder.
Some of the smaller SUVs are weak on amenities. This one gets (standard or optional) Ford Sync 3, an eight-inch touchscreen (huge for a subcompact), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, AC outlet, multiple USB jacks, B&O Play upgrade audio, blind spot detection, and even a mobile app to locate and remotely start the vehicle. While millennials are the target audience, that many options suggests Ford wants to comfort older buyers downsizing and unwilling to let go of tech features. The current model has a side-hinged tailgate, which can be a challenge in tight urban parking spots; it’s not clear if that will continue on the USA model.
Competitors include the Jeep Renegade, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Honda HR-V, Buick Encore and Chevrolet Trax (cousins), Nissan Juke, and Mazda CX-3. Compact SUVs such as Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 outsell subcompacts five to one, but the subcompact market is growing faster. Sales of subcompacts will be just over 500,000 this year versus 2.5 million compact SUVs and crossovers.
The EcoSport was one of Ford’s better moments the week of the LA show, offset by scrambling back at Ford HQ in Michigan to clarify that when President-elect Trump took credit for Ford not closing its Kentucky assembly plant and not putting US workers out of work, Ford never was planning to close the plant, only to change what vehicles were built there. As for the EcoSport, it has been built in Brazil, India, Thailand, and Russia. It’s not clear where the USA EcoSport gets assembled.
Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 off-roading pickup
If you ever saw the Saturday Night Live spoof commercial for Shimmer — “It’s a dessert topping and a floor wax” — you’ll understand the ZR2 version of the midsize Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup. It’s equally at home cruising paved roads and going deeply off-road on sand, gravel, and even among rock-strewn roads. Chevrolet claims the Colorado is a “category of one” kind of pickup.
Credit goes to Multimatic, the creator of the special multi-chamber shock absorber system that allows for extreme extension of the shock absorber piston, a fairly smooth ride on pavement, and the ability to absorb punishing compression and rebound in the outback.
Compact SUV-crossovers were a hit at the show. For the past year, midsize pickups have experienced a rebirth of interest, led by the popular Colorado. Success of the Colorado ZR2 depends a lot on how much of an upcharge Chevrolet asks for its dual-role pickup.
Chevrolet is demonstrating the Colorado ZR2 at an urban obstacle course some distance from the LA Convention Center and will provide transportation. It’s worth the detour.
Acura Precision Cockpit
At the Consumer Electronics Show each January, components and speaker cable are displayed side by side with TVs, tablets, sound bars, smartphones, and digital imaging products. At auto shows, it’s rare to see a partial car, let alone components, although LA, Detroit, and New York are changing, lest they lose any more ground to CES. Case in point is the styling buck — two seats and a dashboard — that Acura used to showcase its new way of interacting with controls and understanding the cars, pedestrians, and cyclists nearby.
The Acura Precision Cockpit is Honda-Acura R&D’s plan to simplify dashboard controls where others have tried and gotten mixed customer feedback, including Cadillac CUE and, it should be noted, Honda Display Audio, two infotainment interfaces where buttons were banished and much of the human-machine interface was touching an LCD on America’s somewhat bumpy roads. Here, Acura replaces the LCD’s touchscreen with a concave touchpad with fixed addressing, meaning the upper left corner of the touchpad corresponds to the upper left corner on the screen. In a demo, it was easy to understand and control. That’s part one of Acura Precision Cockpit.
The second part is a virtual world presented on the instrument panel behind the steering wheel. It’s another 12.3-inch TFT that can be a traditional gauge pack with driver warnings popping up. APC uses sensor fusion — radars, sonar, cameras, possibly lidar — plus vehicle-to-vehicle position and speed reporting that maps what’s where as you drive. It allows the driver to merge easily, or change lanes, or the car can do it. It also predicts what pedestrians and (top image) cyclists might do and tracks their most likely path, so you can brake or swerve, or the car can do those, too. The first part of APC could be on the market in 2-3 years, probably augmented with at least some buttons (say, volume) and possibly separate climate controls, something focus groups love. The sensor fusion part is further off, but not much further than self-driving cars; say 2020. Luddites will slam APC, but for the mainstream, this has the ability to take the hassles out of driving while improving safety.
Other LA Auto Show cars of note
Cadillac Escala concept. This could be the future design for big Cadillacs: big, brawny, done in the manner of big American land cruisers, a long hood hinting at the twin-turbo V8 inside, not, say, a turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder. The show car on the stand had the rear hatch — hatch, not trunk lid — open to reveal three matching white leather bags.
It measures 2011 inches long, 7 more than the current biggest Caddy, the CT6. When the CT6 debuted, the midsize CTS was somewhat along in life and the ATS was a mere 3 Series-size vehicle. A Cadillac exec was asked if the company saw the need to have more cars to fill in the range. The answer: “We could see the need for something bigger.” Done. The Escala looks more production-ready than the earlier Ciel and Elmiraj concepts.
Honda Civic Si. This is the in-between sporty Honda Civic — more sporty than the standard Honda Civic that is as good as compact cars get, not as hot and not as costly as the all-out Civic Type R. The Si employs a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, same as on the main Civic. The Si will be available as a sedan (which is as roomy as many midsize cars), or a sportier hatchback.
Hyundai Blue Link with Amazon Alexa. Want to remote start your car so it’s toasty warm (or cooled) and the defrosters have cleared the windshield of snow or ice? Hyundai has integrated the Amazon Alexa virtual assistant into its well-regarded Blue Link connected app. (Despite the name, it’s got nothing to do with Bluetooth.) Possibilities include remote start, door lock/unlock, trigger lights and/or horn, adjust cabin temperature. This can be done already with the Blue Link smartphone app, but Alexa adds one more way to talk to the car. Ford beat Hyundai with an announcement at CES 2016 in January, but Hyundai is actually delivering. Hyundai already has it on its Genesis sub-brand, and now it’s expanding to other current Hyundais.
Jaguar i-Pace electric SUV concept. It looks a concept car (as in, it won’t look like this when it’s built). Jaguar contends this is the preview of a five-seater vehicle that will be produced in 2018. It’s all-electric, delivering 400 hp, 200 hp each from motors attached to the front and rear axles. The concept is 184 inches long, a bit more than, say, a Honda Civic. Jaguar claims 220-miles-plus range and a 4.0 second 0-60 mph time. Since the Chevrolet Bolt already is known to hit 250 miles and it’s out in a couple weeks, it’s going to be hard to sell 100-mile EVs unless they’re under $ 25,000. With a 50-kW DC fast charger, Jaguar estimates reaching 80% of full range with 90-minute recharge.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Alfa Romeo has made a successful comeback to the US. Its most recent effort, unveiled in LA, is the Stelvio SUV (named after an Italian mountain pass). Engines range from a 280 hp four-cylinder version through a 505-hp V6. With help from Ferrari, Alfa has tuned the engine to produce a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 285 kph or 177 mph. Just to stay on the good side of the EPA, the big engine employs cylinder deactivation. Look for the Stelvio in mid-2017. For the SoCal market always looking for something new and different, as well as fast, this could be the ticket.