Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category


If you’re like me, you’ve been following the rapid ascent of the Tesla Model S in the Los Angeles market.  On my daily commutes and errands, I’m sure to see at least one, and sometimes several Teslas slinking through traffic with those sexy reverse-angled signature LED daytime running lights.

The 2013 Tesla Model S in Blue. Tesla likes to keep the color names simple: Black, White, Silver, Green, Blue, Grey and Brown.

The 2013 Tesla Model S in Blue. Tesla likes to keep the color names simple: Black, White, Silver, Green, Blue, Grey and Brown.

More than any other alternative fuel vehicle, the Tesla is the first all-electric car that has real-world appeal to me. I drive to Palm Springs most weekends and I need cargo space for our family which includes two demanding dachshunds who travel in luxury crates.

The rear of the Model S is beautifully-balanced, understated and elegant.

The rear of the Model S is beautifully-balanced, understated and elegant.

The Tesla Model S, with its large battery pack sandwiched under the floor of the car, achieves a real-world 200+ mile driving range. The base 60 kWh battery pack carries a 208 mile EPA Certified Driving Range while the more popular 85 kWh pack option has a Certified Range of 265 miles.

The 4-door coupe styling is familiar from rivals like the Mercedes CLS and Audi A7. I like the frameless windows.

The 4-door coupe styling is familiar from rivals like the Mercedes CLS and Audi A7. I like the frameless windows.

With electrons to burn, you can zip to San Diego, Santa Barbara, Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear or Palm Springs without any range anxiety. Sure, go ahead, burn extra electrons with the AC blasting, Google Maps navigating and wireless devices charging.  As long as you can plug the Model S in somewhere at your destination, you should have no trouble driving around for the weekend and returning home in complete zero-emission bliss.

Here’s a rundown of the other pure electric vehicles on the market and their EPA certified driving range.

  • Chevrolet Spark EV – 82 miles
  • Honda Fit EV – 82 miles
  • Fiat 500e  – 87 miles
  • Ford Focus Electric – 76 miles
  • Nissan Leaf – 75 miles
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV – 62 miles
  • Toyota RAV4 EV – 103 miles

None of them could make a 120 mile trip to Palm Springs (or any other So Cal destination city) and, with the exception of the $50,000 Toyota RAV4, they are all too small for my needs.

Charging a Tesla is much faster than you’d think. Using a 240 volt charger, the battery replenishes at the rate of 31 miles per hour. Opt for the Tesla Twin Charger (installed in the car itself) and using the same 240 volt hookup, the battery absorbs enough electrons for 62 mile in one hour. Essentially, a nearly depleted 85 kWh battery can be fully charged in only 4 hours. That’s damn fast for such a large, powerful battery.

The rear doors are slim and attractive. The windows are frameless. Although it was a bit of a squeeze to get in due to the heavily-raked roof line, there was plenty of room due to the flat floors and lack of a transmission tunnel.

The rear doors are slim and attractive. The windows are frameless. Although it was a bit of a squeeze to get in due to the heavily-raked roof line, there was plenty of room due to the flat floors and lack of a transmission tunnel.

Around town, there are very few people who drive more than 200 miles a day. For most people, a 200+ mile range on one charge would be sufficient for 3-5 days of ordinary commuting. And if you can afford a Model S, it’s highly likely that you have a home and/or parking accommodations convenient enough for your own home charging station.

What cars compete with the Tesla Model S? It’s a stylish, luxury, 4-door sports “coupe” design, similar in size to and highly competitive with the Audi A7/S7, the BMW 6-series Gran Coupé, Mercedes-Benz CLS and the Porsche Panamera.

Tesla Model S $69,900 -$94,900 (before federal tax credit of $7,500 and any state credits)
Audi A7/S7 $60,100 – $78,800
BMW 6-series Gran Coupé $77,600 – $91,400
Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class $72,100 – $107,425
Porsche Panamera $78,600 – $161,100

Why would I want to be a pioneer, an early adopter of this new breed of electric vehicle? Why would I give up on my life-long love affair with the internal combustion engine (ICE)?

The Model S in Red. The daytime running lights are very distinctive. Of course, LED DRLs are nearly mandatory on any new luxury vehicle, thanks to manufacturers like Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

The Model S in Red. The daytime running lights are very distinctive. Of course, LED DRLs are nearly mandatory on any new luxury vehicle, thanks to manufacturers like Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

I’ll try to answer the question with another one. I used to own a BlackBerry “smartphone” with a physical keyboard. When Apple introduced the first generation iPhone, I said that “no one would choose that horrible touchscreen over this great physical keyboard,” despite the BlackBerry being such a comparably clunky design.

The instrument panel is a large, horizontal thin film transistor (TFT) full-color display. Lovely stuff.

The instrument panel is a large, horizontal thin film transistor (TFT) full-color display. Lovely stuff. The gear shift and steering wheel control stalks, as well as the switchgear come from Tesla investor Mercedes-Benz. One thing you won’t find in the Model S is a “start” button. The car knows the key is present and it’s ready to go as soon as you sit down in the driver’s seat.

Today, the answer to that question is self-evident. Touchscreens are far and above the preferred keyboard.  But at the time of the iPhone’s introduction, touchscreens were small and not responsive and people weren’t used to them. That is why a hybrid phone made sense until touchscreen technology became so good that a physical keyboard was useless dead weight.  The exception at the time, of course, was the iPhone, which worked well as a pure touchscreen.

The interior of the Model S is a study in simplicity. The instrument panel is a large TFT video display and the gargantuan 17 inch center console tablet controls almost all the functions without physical knobs. Usually I like physical knobs, but in the Tesla, it's iPad-like touchscreen interface proves it can be done and done well.

The interior of the Model S is a study in simplicity. The instrument panel is a large TFT video display and the gargantuan 17 inch center console tablet controls almost all the functions without physical knobs. Usually I like physical knobs, but in the Tesla, it’s iPad-like touchscreen interface proves it can be done and done well.

The Tesla Model S is like the iPhone of the car world.  While it’s not perfect in its initial offering — the original iPhone had trouble with email and was too slow to be a useful computing device; likewise, the Model S is inferior to ICE cars for long trips.

Nice details: The door handles are nestle flush into the body for better aerodynamics. When the driver approaches the door, the car senses the key and the handles extend automatically. Slick touch and it worked perfectly for me.

Nice details: The door handles are nestle flush into the body for better aerodynamics. When the driver approaches the door, the car senses the key and the handles extend automatically. Slick touch and it worked perfectly for me.

The iPhone committed so completely to touchscreen tech that it was able to make something functionally superior to old phone designs, thus proving the future of phone design has arrived. Similarly, the Model S committed so completely to EV tech that it was able to make what Motor Trend, Automobile Magazine, Consumer Reports, and many others have declared is the best car ever made — despite its current limitations on long road trips.

Here are some concrete examples of how Tesla’s commitment to a pure EV allows it to make a car better than anything else on the road:

Design

A lack of ICE components allows a clean slate and every opportunity to take advantage of a singularly electric car. Many find the Model S to be beautiful; the designers were freed from the constraints of the need for air intakes, radiator, exhaust and other “complications” associated with ICE and/or hybrid technology.

Safety

Not having an engine, transmission, gas tank, exhaust system, and countless other drivetrain components allowed Tesla to put crumple zones and reinforcement bars in ideal places, often where an engine component would have been. The result is that the Tesla is one of the safest car on the road, at one point a testing machine was broken by the car!

Interior

Lack of an ICE drivetrain allows the Model S to fit up to 7 people and have more cargo space (58.1 cubic feet, with the rear seats folded) than many SUVs. No plug-in hybrid comes close to that.

Lift the "hood" of the Model S and you will find a large cargo space, like a much larger version of what you'd find on a mid-engine Porsche Boxster.

Lift the “hood” of the Model S and you will find a large cargo space, like a much larger version of what you’d find on a mid-engine Porsche Boxster.

Like the Porsche Panamera and Audi A7, the Model S is a 4-door hatchback design. However, unlike its competitors, the lack of mechanical and exhaust systems permit a cavernous space. Optional rear-facing seating for two small people increases the Model S's passenger capacity from 5 to 7.

Like the Porsche Panamera and Audi A7, the Model S is a 4-door hatchback design. However, unlike its competitors, the lack of mechanical and exhaust systems permit a cavernous space. Optional rear-facing seating for two small people increases the Model S’s passenger capacity from 5 to 7.


Reliability

Lack of moving components allows unprecedented reliability. Several Model S vehicles have gone over 500,000 miles and counting on the original batteries with no issues and less than 20% battery degradation. I’m not aware of a single drivetrain (battery or motor) breakdown in any of the 10,000 plus Model S vehicles on the road.

Service

Much of the Model S is controlled by software. Having a problem with the HD radio? Tesla can fix it through the car’s standard wireless internet connection. The car’s giant center console 17 inch touchscreen is essentially a sophisticated tablet computer. Like your smartphone, it can be updated by remote technicians using on-board diagnostics and downloading software updates and fixes. The Tesla Model S is essentially the first car that can be serviced online.

The brilliant, high-definition Tesla 17 inch touch screen is just amazing in person. Like a tablet computer, it's internet-connected and technical service can be rendered online. Updates are downloaded and installed overnight while you sleep!

The brilliant, high-definition Tesla 17 inch touch screen is just amazing in person. Like a tablet computer, it’s internet-connected and technical service can be rendered online. Updates are downloaded and installed overnight while you sleep!

Cost

Although the Tesla is expensive, it is very comparably priced with other ICE cars in its class (see chart above). Meanwhile every plug-in hybrid is at least $8,000 more than comparable cars in their class. Instead of making two compromised drivetrains, like with hybrid plug-ins, the Tesla just has a single, uncompromised one.

Performance

The lack of ICE components allows for a clean undercarriage and minimal air induction. This translates into a drag coefficient of .24 — currently the lowest on the road! Incredible for a car this size. A MINI Cooper, by comparison, is .35 despite being less than half the size! A Ferrari 458 Italia has a drag coefficient of .33. The fastest production car in the world, a Bugatti Veyron Supersport, has a drag coefficient of .41.

The Model S, like any proper sports sedan, is rear wheel drive. It’s three-phase, four pole AC induction motor is mounted directly between the rear wheels. It uses a single-speed fixed gear transmission.

EV components can be mounted much lower to the ground than ICE components, allowing a sports car like low center of gravity, and therefore sports car like handling, despite being a big, heavy (4,647 lb), full-sized sedan.  Motor Trend clocked the Model S 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds. The instant torque of a pure EV is compromised by the ICE engine weight and integration of a plug-in hybrid

Tesla Supercharger Stations

Tesla isn’t waiting for governments or third-parties to build a nationwide EV charging network. It has begun building its own Tesla Superchargers to allow Model S (and future Teslas) to drive all over California and even coast-to-coast. It’s even more exciting because use of the Superchargers is free forever to every Tesla Models S owner.  Non-Tesla owners can use the stations, but they must pay.

A rendering of a Tesla Supercharger station.

A rendering of a Tesla Supercharger station.

The 120 kw Supercharger can charge a Model S equipped with the on-board supercharger by 50% in 20 minutes.  According to Tesla, it’s 20x faster and delivers 16x more electricity than other public charging stations.

The Supercharge module is standard on both Model Ses with the 85 kWh battery pack and it’s a $2,000 option on the 60 kWh base models.

According to Tesla’s website, here is the current information on the status of its Supercharger network:

  • Today – 8 stations
  • Summer 2013 – 27 stations
  • Winter 2013 – Coast-to-coast travel
  • 2014 – 80% of the US and Canada
  • 2015 – 98% of the US and Canada

Many owners may still prefer the Tesla on long trips because the fuel is free, the ride is fun, and taking a 45 minute break every 200 hundred miles or so is something they would do anyway.

The Best Car in the World

It may sound like hyperbole, but the Models S has been met with near universal acclaim from the men and women who live and breathe ICE for a living.  It’s a stunning accomplishment given Tesla’s status as a startup company and that the Model S is its freshman entry into a very cutthroat worldwide automotive marketplace.  And as a California native, I can’t help but be proud that Tesla is a Silicon Valley-based company and the Model S is made in an old GM-Toyota joint venture factory in Freemont, CA.

Consumer Reports – never the go-to source for automotive enthusiasts – proclaimed the Model S to be the best car they have EVER tested. It scored an eye-popping rating of 99 out of 100.

If enthusiasts can agree with Consumer Reports about the Tesla Model S, it really must be the Best Car in the World and I want to drive the Best Car in the World. Who wouldn’t?


Mazda: Mazda has struggled to compete against much larger rivals both in Japan, its home market, and in the US, it’s largest market. First, long-time partner and partial owner, Ford, divested its ownership interest in Mazda, ending some platform and engineering sharing agreements. Then the Great Recession hit, draining Mazda of precious resources needed for future product development.

Deep inside Mazda’s R&D facilities in Hiroshima, engineers worked non-stop to develop a new line of engines, transmissions and technologies that would lead the company into a much more cleaner and fuel efficient future.  Although Mazda lacks the hybrid technology of its larger competitors, it came up with a family of new engines and transmissions marketed under the unfortunate banner of “SkyActiv” technology.  The new drivetrains combine direct injection, variable valve timing, turbocharging, reduced friction, and smarter 6-speed transmissions to bring marquee fuel efficiency to its new models.

First up last year was the CX-5 small crossover that competes in one of the hottest market segments dominated by the likes of the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4.  This year, Mazda is introducing the completely redesigned 2014 Mazda6 mid-size family sedan, that finally seems poised to capture consumers’ attention from perennial favorites like the Camry, Accord, Altima, Fusion, Optima and Sonata.  The sexy styling reminds me of Ford’s new Fusion – something that may not be as coincidental since the last-generation Ford Fusion and Mazda6 shared the same platform.

The standard engine for the 2014 Mazda6 will be Mazda’s SkyActiv-G 2.5L 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine good for 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. Most will be sold with a six-speed automatic, although a six-speed manual will be available on lower trims. EPA figures haven’t been released  yet, but Mazda expects highway fuel economy to beat 35 mpg.

However, the most important  introduction will be the SkyActiv-D engine, a modern 2.2L 4-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that burns clean enough to need no additional NOx aftertreatments.  This promises the fuel economy of a hybrid without all the expensive batteries and dual electric-gas drivetrains.  Expect to see highway fuel economy better than 40 mpg and a substantial increase in city economy over the gasoline counterpart.

The 2014 Mazda6 with SkyActiv-D technology.  It should be available by mid-2013.

The 2014 Mazda6 with SkyActiv-D technology. It should be available by mid-2013.

The front of the 2014 Mazda6 sedan.

The front of the 2014 Mazda6 sedan.

The rear of the 2014 Mazda6 diesel sedan.

The rear of the 2014 Mazda6 diesel sedan. Mazda calls its new styling language “KODO” – Soul of Motion.

The interior of the 2014 Mazda6.

The interior of the 2014 Mazda6. The plastics look and feel class-leading and the switchgear feels precise and well-made.

 

Mercedes-Benz: The largest single market for Mercedes-Benz worldwide is Southern California (thank you Fletcher-Jones in Newport Beach), so you’d think Mercedes might introduce some important products here. You’d be wrong.  While I very much like the 2014 SLS AMG Black Series, it’s not like this is a volume car. It gets a few upgrades to the “standard” SLS AMG package, but the engine is the same 6.2L hand-built AMG V8 good for 622 hp and 468 lb-ft of torque.  The  AMG Speedshift dual clutch 7-speed sports transmission, is the same but slightly upgraded. For the extra $100,000+, the Black Series gets ceramic-composite brakes, adaptive performance suspension, lighter alloy wheels, special performance tires that wear out even faster than the standard tires. As you’d expect, it’s also the fastest SLS, leaping from a standstill to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds – performance you are sure to need while crawling on the 405 at 8:30 am.

Sure we will see a few of them in LA, but they will be owned by collectors with a dozen other exotic cars in their home garage or by misbehaving  scions of Saudi royalty.  The US price hasn’t been announced, however, in Germany it will be 249,900 euros, or around $322,846 at current exchange rates. Get in line now.

2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series

2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series

That rear wing is a sure giveaway that this 2014 SLS AMG is the Black Series, not the run-of-the-mill SLS Gullwing.

That rear wing is a sure giveaway that this 2014 SLS AMG is the Black Series, not the run-of-the-mill SLS Gullwing.

Mercedes showed one concept truck, the Ener-G-Force Concept Fuel Cell Vehicle. It’s said to foreshadow the styling on an upcoming “baby” G-class SUV, perhaps built on the new A-Class front drive architecture. But this is no baby. It’s quite big – bigger than the tank-like G-wagon (short for Geländewagen or cross-country vehicle) that Mercedes has been producing in substantially the same form since 1979.

The styling is quite flamboyant while fluidly-sculptural. I even like the designer LED headlights in the outline of a “G.”  Overhangs are practically non-existent and this thing looks like it could climb over a Range Rover or through the hills and craters of the moon. The built-in front winch is very slick.  Of course, a fuel-cell drivetrain is unlikely for any production car, at least in the near future, but it does hint at possibilities in the next couple of decades when the costs of fuel cells comes down and you can buy a hydrogen refill at every “gas” station. I have more pictures of this that I will include in another LA Auto Show post.

The Ener-G-Force Concept SUV from Mercedes-Benz.

The Ener-G-Force Concept SUV from Mercedes-Benz.

MINI: BMW’s British unit didn’t have any real news for Los Angeles.  It was the first show for the 2013 Paceman, a 2-door version of the widely-popular Countryman SUV that has been the backbone of MINI in the U.S. since its introduction.

2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman.

2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman.

For some reason, the marketeers at MINI thought they needed some “news” for Los Angeles and cooked up the a variant of the Clubman 3-door wagon called the Clubvan. Essentially it’s a Clubman without the rear seats that can be used as a mini panel van. This is from the Answer to the Question That No One Asked department.

2013 Mini Cooper S Clubvan.

2013 Mini Cooper S Clubvan.

Nissan: Not much new from our friends at Nissan. The 2013 Altima was introduced and went on sale months ago.  I’m not a fan of the evolution of the exterior; however, I was impressed with the look, feel, materials and quality of the interior. Now I just need to be motivated to test drive one.  Nissan insists on using continuously-variable transmissions (CVTs) and I’d much prefer a 6-speed automatic in this kind of car.  I think Altima’s interior is excellent – better than the new Accord, but the Honda name will sell more units.

2013 Nissan Altima

2013 Nissan Altima

2013 Nissan Altima interior.

2013 Nissan Altima interior.

Nissan completely redesigned the 2013 Pathfinder too. No longer is it a bulky truck, made for off-road duties but civilized enough for the more likely on-road family-hauling. The all-new Pathfinder – which shares almost everything with its more expensive cousin, the Infiniti JX – is a 7-passenger crossover with car-based rather than truck-based credentials.  This is the Pathfinder’s first major auto show, but, like the Altima, it was introduced a couple of months ago and is already on-sale at your local dealer.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder - front

2013 Nissan Pathfinder – front

2013 Nissan Pathfinder - Side. She's a big girl. Good thing you can get a "Bird's-Eye" camera system that shows you the outside from all angles.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder – Side. She’s a big girl. Good thing you can get a “Bird’s-Eye” camera system that shows you the outside from all angles.  It reminds me of the Chevy Traverse, which has been in the market for almost 5 years now.

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder shares much in common with other Nissan products. There are lots of buttons here, but all seem logical and easy to grab.

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder shares much in common with other Nissan products. There are lots of buttons here, but all seem logical and easy to grab. I’m never a fan of plastic-looking wood.

Nissan’s big reveal was an updated GT-R sports car. You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between this 2014 model and the 2013 model.

2014 Nissan GT-R rear.

2014 Nissan GT-R rear. It’s still Godzilla in a suit. And still over $100,000.

2014 Nissan GT-R interior. Still nice. Still six digits.

2014 Nissan GT-R interior. The carbon fiber (yes, it’s real) is a nice touch for the GT-R.

Porsche: Although pictures had been leaked ahead of the LA Auto Show, the big news was the 2013 Porsche Cayman. The Cayman, the hardtop version of the Boxster, always appears several months after the introduction of a new Boxster, so it wasn’t as much of a surprise as it was just a treat to see in person. The Cayman starts at $52,600. The Cayman S starts at $63,800. Unfortunately, like every Porsche, you have to add at least $20,000 of options to make it the car you’d like it to be. Porsche can teach a doctorate level class in nickle and diming.

2013 Porsche Cayman

2013 Porsche Cayman

2013 Porsche Cayman.

2013 Porsche Cayman. Like the Boxster, the rear spoiler is integrated with the taillights and center stop light. The lines flow beautifully.

The interior of the 2013 Cayman is nearly identical to the Boxster - which is a good thing.

The interior of the 2013 Cayman is nearly identical to the Boxster – which is a good thing. This Cayman had the 6-speed manual shifter but the upgraded 2-tone leather interior and Porsche’s excellent navigation system.

The side scoops that are accentuated with the deep creases in Cayman's door sheet metal, is how the engine breathes.

The side scoops that are accentuated with the deep creases in Cayman’s door sheet metal, is how the engine breathes.

This screaming yellow Porsche is the Cayman S. It also took center stage with the “base” Cayman above. The engines and transmissions are identical to those found in the Boxster and Boxster S.

That big lump in the back of the 2013 Cayman S is the engine cover. Like the Boxster, the Cayman has a mid-mount engine which makes it the best handling Porsche. Just don't say that to the Germans at the show as they will always tell you that the 911 is the best. All the car magazines say otherwise.

That big lump in the back of the 2013 Cayman S is the engine cover. Like the Boxster, the Cayman has a mid-mount engine which makes it the best handling Porsche. Just don’t say that to the Germans at the show as they will always tell you that the 911 is the best. All the car magazines say otherwise.

You could call it the Convertible Cayman or just the Boxster.  I love this 2013 Boxster S this special silver color.

You could call it the Convertible Cayman or just the Boxster. I love this 2013 Boxster S in this special GT Silver Metallic color.

There was no sticker on this 2013 Boxster S; however with the PDK transmission, navigation, power seats, full leather, etc., there is probably another $25,000 in options added to the base $60,900.

There was no sticker on this 2013 Boxster S; however with the PDK transmission, navigation, power seats, full leather, etc., there is probably another $25,000 in options added to the base $60,900.

Another previously announced Porsche is the Cayenne Diesel, which starts at $55,750 (a relative bargain in the Porsche Universe). Power comes from a Porsche-tuned version of the VW Group’s 3.0-liter V6 turbo-diesel engine with a common-rail injection system. Its turbocharger features Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG). The EPA has rated the Cayenne Diesel at 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway. That sure beats the Cayenne S with a V8 rated at 16 city, 22 highway.

Except for the diesel badge, the 2013 Cayenne Diesel looks almost exactly like the Cayenne V6.

Except for the small diesel badges on the front side fenders, the 2013 Cayenne Diesel looks almost exactly like the Cayenne V6.

2013 Cayenne Diesel

2013 Cayenne Diesel

Also making its North American debut is the 911 Carrera4, 4s and Cabriolet variants.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet

Except for a special torque split gauge, in the instrument panel, the interior of the 911 Carrera 4S is the same as the "regular" 911 Carrera.

Except for a special torque split gauge, in the instrument panel, the interior of the 911 Carrera 4S is the same as the “regular” 911 Carrera.

Range Rover:  Now that Land Rover has made Range Rover its own sub-brand,  the name Land Rover was almost non-existent at Press Preview. All emphasis was on the 2013 Range Rover which is trickling into dealerships as the LA Auto Show opens.

2013 Range Rover HSE

2013 Range Rover HSE

The split clam-shell that makes for a good picnic table hasn't changed for the new Rangy.  This black one is the top-of-the-line Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography.

The split clam-shell that makes for a good picnic table hasn’t changed for the new Rangy. This black one is the top-of-the-line Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography.

The instrument panel and dash of the 2013 Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography

The instrument panel and dash of the 2013 Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography. I don’t like the “magic” cylinder that rises out of the console to shift between Drive, Reverse and Park. It’s clumsy in practice and more gimmicky than useful.

The oddities of the last Range Rover have carried over to the new one. The memory seat buttons are on the arm rest where the window switches should be.

The oddities of the last Range Rover have carried over to the new one. The memory seat buttons are on the arm rest where the window switches should be.

The Range Rover's window switches are on top of the window sill, in a very awkward position. I know it's "tradition" but this one needs to be thrown out.

The Range Rover’s window switches are on top of the window sill, in a very awkward position. I know it’s “tradition” but this one needs to be thrown out.

Smart: The diminutive smart fortwo hasn’t been updated much since its introduction 3 years ago. Colors and options change and Mercedes says it’s updated the horrible automated manual transmission, but it still jerks around with little finesse.

The big news for the LA Auto Show was the 2013 fortwo ED (electric drive). Apparently there were so many bad reviews of the 2012 (and first) version of the car that the whole electric drive system has been revised and the battery range has been extended to around 68 miles. The coupe version starts at $25,750 (before the $7,500 federal tax credit) Smart also offers a 240 volt home charger for $1,300.

2013 smart fortwo ED (electric drive) coupe. Base price $25,750.

2013 smart fortwo ED (electric drive) cabriolet. Base price $28,750 (before federal tax credit).

The smart ED bicycle is a fantastic design. The reps told me that it will be sold in the U.S., but there is no specific launch date. It will be expensive, probably in the $3,500 range.

The smart ED bicycle is a fantastic design. The reps told me that it will be sold in the U.S., but there is no specific launch date. It will be expensive, probably in the $3,500 range.

Just for fun, smart showed a Jeremy Scott designed Special Edition of the fortwo. You won’t miss this one coming at you.

smart fortwo Jeremy Scott Concept

smart fortwo Jeremy Scott Special Edition. I think this thing is actually a driver that is used to promote both the smart brand and the Los Angeles-based designer.

Check out this interior of the smart fortwo Jeremy Scott Special Edition. No expense was spared here.

Check out this interior of the smart fortwo Jeremy Scott Special Edition. No expense was spared here.

Subaru:  I keep hoping that Subaru will find its way in the design and styling department, but each time a new model rolls out, I’m disappointed.  The media dutifully attended Subaru’s introduction of the 2014 Forester, but there wasn’t much buzz or hurried Tweets of the homely model that was unveiled this week.  The Forester is basically a tall Impreza wagon

2014 Subaru Forester - Front. Is it that different from the current model?

2014 Subaru Forester – Front. Is it that different from the current model?

Here's the 2014 Subaru Forester from the rear. Again, no new ground broken here.  I think that Subaru likes the formula for the Forester and is going to stick with it as long as customers keep buying it.

Here’s the 2014 Subaru Forester from the rear. Again, no new ground broken here. I think that Subaru likes the formula for the Forester and is going to stick with it as long as customers keep buying it.

The interior of the 2014 Subaru Forester is mostly lifted from the Impreza. The infotainment system is easy to use, but lags behind the competition.

The interior of the 2014 Subaru Forester is mostly lifted from the Impreza. The infotainment system is easy to use, but lags behind the competition.

Toyota:  When Toyota introduced the RAV4 in 1996, it was the first small SUV based on a car (the Corolla) platform. The small crossover segment is red hot. The Honda Civic, Ford Escape and RAV4 each sell more than 200,000 units a year. A few generations later and well over a million units sold, Toyota rolled out the 2013 RAV4 for its world premiere at the LA Auto Show.  The simple fact of the matter is that Toyota had to keep up with the competition. Ford has a new Escape that is selling very well. Honda redesigned its CR-V a year ago and it too is burning up the sales charts. As of September 2012, Honda had sold 100,000 more CR-Vs than the RAV4. The new little SUV aims to reverse that trend.

2013 Toyota RAV4 SUV. The looks are fresh, if not exciting.

2013 Toyota RAV4 SUV. The looks are fresh, if not exciting.

2013 Toyota RAV4 side-rear. Note that the spare tire has moved from the rear door to under the cargo floor. The rear tailgate is now hinged at the top like the competition.

2013 Toyota RAV4 side-rear. Note that the spare tire has moved from the rear door to under the cargo floor. The rear tailgate is now hinged at the top like the competition.

The 2013 RAV4's interior looks and feels upgraded. While there is still lots of cheap plastic, soft-touch and textured panels populate the areas you see/touch the most.

The 2013 RAV4′s interior looks and feels upgraded. While there is still lots of cheap plastic, soft-touch and textured panels populate the areas you see/touch the most.

The RAV4's dash has many horizontal layers that I think work. The center controls are easy to reach and mix both hard knobs and buttons with some functions on the touch screen.

The RAV4′s dash has many horizontal layers that I think work. The center controls are easy to reach and mix both hard knobs and buttons with some functions on the touch screen.

Volkswagen: VW finally introduced the convertible version of the Beetle. It will be on sale just in time for convertible season in sunny states like California. All the engine options are the same as on the Beetle – 2.5L 5-cylinder, 2.0L Turbo and 2.0L TDI. The top faithfully recreates almost the exact silhouette of the hardtop Beetle and it lays nearly flat; however you still have to cover it yourself with a piece of snap-in vinyl. Prices start at $24,495.

2013 VW Beetle Convertible. This one has the 2.0L turbo gasoline engine.

2013 VW Beetle Convertible. This one has the 2.0L turbo gasoline engine.

The 2013 VW Beetle Convertible has better rear visibility than the last version. However, the top still doesn't lay perfectly flat.

The 2013 VW Beetle Convertible has better rear visibility than the last version. However, the top still doesn’t lay perfectly flat.

The interior of the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible is pretty much the same a the hardtop version. The color-matching interior parts is a nice touch.

The interior of the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible is pretty much the same a the hardtop version. The color-matching interior parts is a nice touch.

VW also showed its first gasoline-electric hybrid car, the 2013 Jetta Hybrid. It starts at $24,995.  VW mates a 1.4L turbocharged and direct-injected TSI gasoline engine to an electric motor. The combination is good for 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.   A 7-speed dual clutch transmission is standard. VW says the 2013 Jetta Hybrid will drive up to 44 mph in EV mode, zero to 60 in 9 seconds flat and deliver a combined 45 mpg.  It should be arriving in VW showrooms now.

2013 Jetta Hybrid

2013 Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

The interior of the 2014 Jetta Hybrid looks like a nicely upgraded Jetta - much closer to the Jetta GLI. I hope it gets better fuel economy that the company's TDI models.

The interior of the 2013 Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium looks very nice. It should for around $32,000. At least you can get automatic climate control in this Jetta!

Volvo: Poor Volvo. Ever since Ford dumped Volvo to the Chinese, Volvo North America has been starved for new product. The best the company could muster at the show was a custom-built Concept S60 with Polestar performance upgrades. It has a 2.0L inline 6 cylinder turbo engine making an astounding 508 hp with a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission. Power is routed to all wheels through a 4th generation Haldex XWD system. It can race from zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds and the top speed is 186 mph. The cost is said to be around $300,000.  Volvo is testing interest in a  performance version of the S60, but it would have to be much less than $300k to get me interested.

This is the Volvo S60 Polestar Concept Car. Would you buy one?

This is the Volvo S60 Polestar Concept Car. Would you buy one?

Volvo Concept S60 Polestar from the rear.

Volvo Concept S60 Polestar from the rear.