Archive for November, 2012

The 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show opened today with a slew of introductions. I’ll try and go through as many as I can with some color commentary:

Art Center College of Design always has some excellent concepts that the automotive design students present.  This Hybrid Sports Bicycle (HSB) caught my eye. The concept design and body fabrication was done by Tomas Bubilek and the chassis design and fabrication was done by Michael R. Bowser.

Concept Hybrid Sports Bicycle presented by Art Center College of Design students.

I also liked this Mazda concept 3-D mock up:

Mazda Design Concept

Acura: Honda’s luxury brand has a lot of work to do to regain sales that its lost over the past decade by not focusing on a brand image and just phoning in the cars and going a little off the range with the famous Acura Beak aluminum grille.  Acura introduced a new flagship, the 2014 RLX. No, it’s not rear drive, and in some ways it seems like a face lifted all-wheel drive RL, but it does look better. I’m simply not impressed. Maybe it drives well.

2014 Acura RLX – Front. I do like the all-LED headlights.

Rear taillight detail for the 2014 Acura RLX. I like the light show in the rear too, if not the overall look of the tail.

The interior of the 2014 Acura RLX, the brand’s flagship.

Audi: Audi really had nothing new to show the world at the LA show, so instead we were graced with the announcement that Audi would sell the A6, A7, A8 and Q5 with a 3.0L V6 TDI engine. The clean diesel power plant will likely sell well given the significant increase in fuel economy over the gasoline analogs.  This lovely A8L TDI should get 24 mpg city and 36 highway — stunning numbers given the heft of Audi’s flagship.  The diesel engine is rated at 240 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque and powers all four wheels through an 8-speed ZF automatic.  Audi says it will do 0-60 in 6.4 seconds.

The 2014 Audi A8L TDI

This A8 had the rear seat package that makes for a very comfortable passenger. Check out the controls for the passenger!

The driver of this 2014 Audi A8L TDI is in the lap of luxury. Audi still sets the bar high for luxury interiors.

Bentley: If you want something a bit more rarefied than an Audi, the Volkswagen Group owns Bentley too. Not much new for LA, but we got another iteration of the company’s Continental GT. This is the “Speed” version with Bentley’s 6.0L twin turbo W12 engine making 616 ponies with 590 lb-ft of gut-wrenching torque to go from zero to 60 in 4 seconds flat and top out at 212 mpg. It’s at least $225,000.

2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed.

If you have a bit more money to burn, Bentley also showed the 2013 Mulsanne. It’s sort of the old school Bentley using a thoroughly updated 6.7L V8 making a healthy 505 hp and a stunning 752 lb-ft of torque. It is all channeled thorough the ZF 8-speed automatic used in several other VW Group products.  You get the feeling of a locomotive when you’re behind the wheel because the Mulsanne weights in at 5,700 lbs. Yikes! But if you can afford the $296,000 (before options), who cares?

2013 Bentley Mulsanne. Check out those Gatling Gun headlights!

You may not mind being stuck in LA traffic if you are sitting behind this wheel. Beautiful real wood and top quality switchgear.

BMW: Our friends from Munich showed off the latest iteration of their upcoming i3 electric car. The i3 Concept Coupe is really just the standard i3 less two doors and some length. Still, it looks nice. I’d love to know what the final production version will look like when it shows up sometime in 2014.

BMW i3 Concept Coupe, front.

BMW i3 Concept Coupe side, from the rear.

If you’re not as interested in the i3, BMW dragged out the i8 Concept that was last seen a year ago in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. So just to tease you again, here are some pictures. It won’t look quite this amazing and flamboyant when it finally shows up for sale, sometime after the i3 goes on sale.

BMW i8 Concept Hybrid.

The i8 Concept Hybrid certainly has the futuristic interior to match the great exterior.

How about a BMW you can actually buy? This 2013 Gran Coupe is certainly a looker, particular in this expensive matte finish:

This lovely 2013 BMW 650i Gran Coupe starts at $87,395. The Frozen Bronze Metallic paint is a $3,500 option.

The Gran Coupe has one of BMW’s most sumptuous and well-crafted interiors. You won’t (and shouldn’t) find any cheap plastics inside here.

BMW likes to show off expensive cars, and this auto show is no different. How about the M6 and M5 in the background? If six digit prices offend you, avert your eyes.

The price of the 2013 BMW M6 starts with a six digit number.

Buick: It was kind of lonely at the Buick booth. I mean, LA is not very friendly to Buick. There aren’t many Buick dealers and the brand hasn’t sold well here in decades.  GM’s wants its near-luxury marque to appeal to a budget-minded Lexus customer.  That’s a tough hill to climb, given the years of neglect and the 25 years Lexus has been honing its luxury credentials.

However, to entice younger buyers, Buick is introducing a small crossover called the Encore.  Opel sells a version of it called the Mokka in Europe and, like the Mokka,  the Encore is imported from GM’s South Korean subsidiary.

2013 Buick Encore

2013 Buick Encore – from the rear.

The interior of the Encore is nice, but built to a price. I mean, this is a car in the $20,000 range, so you can’t expect top quality plastics. GM did go to great lengths to make the colors pleasing and the dash is distinct, if not a stand-out.

Space isn’t bad for a little CUV. I’m not sure if a young family with no kids and a dog will want this of if empty-nest retired baby boomers will go for it. Time will tell.

Cadillac: Another GM division that’s got fresh product is Cadillac.  The all-important, all-new rear-drive ATS was introduced earlier this year to much fanfare and pretty good reviews. The ATS’ stated target is the BMW 328i and it’s the first time Cadillac has real skin in this game.  While the press is slobbering all over the ATS, I’m not impressed by the interior. The plastics feel cheap, the wood looks fake (even if it is real) and the shiny digital center console with the “Cadillac User Experience” (CUE) featured prominently only looks good when it’s turned on and the sun isn’t shining on it.  The hepatic touch-control feedback is overrated and feels clumsy. Certainly not something I’d like to futz with while driving. Maybe I’ll enjoy the driving experience.

2013 Cadillac ATS

The cockpit of the 2013 Cadillac ATS with CUE. This one looks better without the wood inserts.

The rear seat of the ATS isn’t any worse than the BMW 328i or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Chevrolet: Not to be left out, GM’s mainstream division, Chevrolet, has new product too. First, the “big deal” is the 2014 Impala. It’s basically the Chevy version of the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS. It’s big and it looks it. No more rental fleet for this Impala, right? Time will tell.

The 2014 Chevy Impala. Big. New. But I just don’t care, sorry, guys.

Chevy picked LA to show off its new 2014 Spark EV.  The Spark is the smallest car Chevy’s ever sold. It’s a product of GM South Korea (a.k.a. Daewoo). It’s better than the Aveo, but still a bit too rental for me. The EV is a big deal because California requires all the major manufacturers to sell zero emissions vehicles by a certain date. I think the first two markets for the Spark EV will be California and Florida. What it has going for it is price. It’s cheap, as far as EVs go – below $25,000 after a federal tax credit.  The electric motor is good for 120 hp and a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque. The Spark EV is quick too – GM says zero to 60 is 8 seconds.  But the big news is the fast charging system. The Combo DC Fast-Charge system promises to deliver an 80% charge in just 20 minutes.  We haven’t seen range figures yet, but the magic target is usually 100 miles per charge.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

The 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack adds a whopping 560 lbs to the Spark. But that weight on the floor should make for a great low center of gravity and add to stability.

The 2014 Spark EV is a bit spartan, but interior parts painted in the exterior color ads some visual interest. It’s not bad for the price point, but there are lots of hard plastics.

This 2013 Corvette ZR-1 is always a crowd-pleaser with its striking good looks, carbon fiber bits and a 6.2L LS9 V8 supercharged engine producing 638 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque. It can go from zero to 60 in 3.4 seconds and its top speed is 205 mph. Take that, Viper! A bargain at a base MSRP of $112,600.

2013 Corvette (C6) ZR-1 from its sexy rear.

The front end of the 2013 Corvette ZR-1. Next year, the all-new C7 (7th Gen) Corvette will be introduced to the world.

Prepare to yawn.  Here is the 2013 Malibu. It should be a contender in the large mid-size family sedan segment, doing battle with the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata; however, I think the Malibu will continue to find its place in the rental fleets.

Here it is: The all-new 2013 Chevy Malibu.

The best viewing angle for the 2013 ‘Bu is definitely from its rear.

It’s the best interior of any Malibu in the past 40 years, but that might be damning with faint praise.

Chevy recycled some concept cars too. Both the Code 130R and Tru 140S appeared nearly a year ago at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January. Nice to see them in the flesh, but they are old news. What remains to be seen is if GM will do anything with these concepts. Of particular interst is the small rear-drive platform for the Code 130R.

Chevy Code 130R Concept. Love the paint.

Chevy Tru 140S Concept

More to follow…..


I’m not usually at a loss for words when it comes to cars and dealerships.  When I went to a nearby Audi dealer to test the 2013 Audi Allroad, I wasn’t prepared for the salesman to tell me that he didn’t want me to drive the car.  Even when I pressed the point, I was turned down.

Chris Hemsworth from the 2011 movie Thor – The God of Thunder.

As background, the last time Audi sold an Allroad/Allroad quattro in the United States was for the 2001 – 2005 model years.  The first-generation Allroad was based on an A6 Avant (Audi-speak for wagon) with added ride height, some body cladding and a choice of a 2.7 L turbo V6 or Audi’s 4.2 L V8.

2005 Audi A6 Allroad quattro V8

These were ruggedly-handsome wagons – think Chris Hemsworth (Thor) with  a five day beard – that occupied a grey zone between an normal wagon and an SUV.  At the time, Audi didn’t offer an SUV in the very SUV-friendly U.S. market and Audi dealers were champing at the bit to offer something to the Aspen, Long Island or image-conscious LA customers who wanted an Audi with a better view of the road and a small amount of soft-road capability.

Today, Audi offers the Q5 and Q7 SUVs with a Q3 coming in a couple of years, so Audi didn’t see the need to continue offering wagons in the U.S. It discontinued the A6 Avant quattro in 2011 and the A4 Avant quattro in 2012.

For the 2013 model year, Audi reintroduced the Allroad quattro in the form of a pumped up A4 Avant rather than the larger A6 format. Audi’s website makes the “a” in Allroad small, perhaps to let you know it won’t really go on any road. You should stick to paved roads or perhaps a packed dirt road — but not a muddy bog.  Think light snow on a plowed road. Coiffed, calculated scruffy not rugged.

The 2013 Audi A4 Allroad quattro

The rear of the 2013 Audi A4 Allroad quattro is nicely styled. The rear kick plate is really more for show than for fending off boulders.

The Allroad is only 1.5 inches higher than the standard wagon, but the Allroad package makes for a handsome styling exercise. It wears a 360 degree belt of hard plastic body cladding, including the wheel arches, running boards and front and rear lower bumper scrape zones. It sports a unique, nicely-detailed Audi corporate grille with the four interlocking Auto Union rings properly centered.

The large grille featuring some delicate vertical chrome detail and the new headlights with complex LED eyeliners that form a continuous line of light rather than individual points of light.

I was allowed to sit in the car – that’s  as far as I got.   The interior is lifted entirely from the A4 sedan, which is a good thing. Nobody does mass-market auto interiors as well as Audi, and the Allroad is no exception.  Fit, finish and quality of materials is top notch.

The cockpit of the 2013 Allroad is very buttoned down and proper with luxurious trim pieces. The layered Oak Wood inlays are a nice touch.

Like the A4, the rear seats don’t give a bigger person much leg room (thigh support is marginally-better than the usual fare in this category) and I was disappointed that they seats don’t fold exactly flat.   I’d also like a pop-open rear glass, but only BMW thinks that’s a handy feature.

The Audi A4 Allroad had a decent amount of cargo space that is easy to load. I wish the seats folded completely flat, but it won’t matter in most situations. Cargo space is about the same in its cousin, the Audi Q5 SUV.

The Allroad costs thousands more and has less cargo space that its cousin, the Q5 (also based on the A4 platform).  So it’s really a “lifestyle” vehicle, all dressed to impress.

The Allroad offers only one drivetrain: Audi’s ubiquitous 2.0L direct-inject turbo four cylinder engine making 211 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is a ZF 8-speed automatic, used widely by both Chrysler and BMW. Since I have only driven the BMW and Chrysler version, I can’t share my thoughts on Audi’s tuning of the ZF, but in the 2012 Dodge Charger SXT and the 2012 BMW 328i, it’s  an amazingly smooth and intuitive transmission that significantly increases fuel economy (usually by more than 10% over previous 6-speed auto boxes).

The Center console of the 2013 Allroad is also from the A4. The shifter has a Tiptronic manual function. You probably won’t use it much as the transmission probably does most of the thinking for you.

What went wrong with my test drive?

How did this happen? It wasn’t like they were so busy that the salesman had three lease deals all pending and I was merely wasting his time.  I always make a point of visiting dealers during slower days and times when they won’t miss a sale if they spend some time with me.  And, while they usually don’t know it, lots of local people read my column both here and in and the dealer may get customers as a result of my reviews or musings.

I was dressed the part with expensive casual clothes, as is very common in LA. You don’t have to show up in a German luxury car showroom dressed in Hugo Boss to get their attention.  I drove my older Mercedes, so it was clear that I could be in the market for a new car. I had done my usual homework about the car, its pricing, option packages, etc.

My mistake was talking the competition with the salesman.

I told him that there wasn’t much competition in the area of luxury wagons. The Mercedes E-Class wagon, while lovely, was too big and much more expensive.  I threw out that I was interested in the 2013 BMW 328i Touring, which hasn’t hit our shores  yet, but should be here in early 2013.  Mercedes-Benz stopped importing the C-Class wagon several years ago, and while I hadn’t tested the refreshed GLK, the substitute for the C wagon, I wasn’t sold on the styling.

2013 BMW 3-Series Touring wagon. Only BMW offers the pop-open rear window. The Audi Allroad and all the competitors have fixed glass.

I didn’t toss out the Volvo XC60 or XC70 or the Infiniti EX, as those weren’t on my radar screen.

I sat in the cockpit of the lovely Brilliant Black Allroad parked in front of us and touched various surfaces and pushed dead buttons. I asked if it was fully-loaded.  I always love to test them.  Of course, he said oh yes- it has everything!  My first thought was that it should have everything for $49,695, but instead I asked: “Does it have adaptive cruise control?”  A bit rattled, he said no. I let it go, but he didn’t know that it was available as part of the eye-popping $3,200 Driver Assist package.  A fully-loaded Allroad can easily top $54,000 (base MSRP $40,495).

Then I asked: “Does it have vented/cooled seats?” He admitted that no, that was a option on more expensive Audis.

So it’s not loaded, I concluded.

I also made the mistake of telling him that I wasn’t ready to buy a car that day.  Never say that to a salesman.  We then played a little game, apparently to prove a point.   He asked me whether if he could sell me the car today for $29,695, would I take it?  I said “I’ll get my checkbook.”  He seemed very satisfied with himself  that I did have a price and he could make the sale that day; but most people would take that deal.  It was fiction, and obviously too good to be true.  I could resell it the next day, eat the sales tax and DMV fees, and still pocket at least $5,000.

His final, and I do mean final, advice to me was that I should go and drive all the competition first, then drive the Allroad. He was sure I’d pick the Allroad.  I got lumped into the category of dumb consumer, with the attention span of a gnat, who would buy the last car I’d drive because it was the latest shiny thing in front of me.  Despite my direct protestations to the contrary, he insisted that I go away, drive the others first, then come see him.  Fat chance.