Payne: American muscle, German metal, electrics highlight LA auto show
Los Angeles — If I were Santa Claus browsing the L.A. Auto Show, I would covet the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye sleigh on display at the front of the FCA booth. Yes, a 797-horsepower sleigh.
Introduced for a Black Friday TV promotion, the huge luge is door-less — its roof chopped and rear trunk lid removed to fit a giant canvas toy bag. The V-8 under the red hood exhales through four dragster-inspired exhaust pipes emerging from each side — its wheel wells engorged with silver snow runners instead of tires. My favorite detail? The iconic Hellcat logo has sprouted antlers. On Comet!
But since you, dear reader, simply want a new toy for Christmas, I will focus on the vehicles unveiled this week at the LA Convention Center. The LA Show has it all from the all-new Porsche 911 sports car to a Jeep pickup to three-row utes. Herewith my best in show. . . .
The wildly-anticipated Jeep pickup is a Wrangler with a bed. Not. That formula failed as the “Scrambler” back in the early-'80s CJ Jeep era. The Gladiator, based on the TJ Wrangler four-door currently ripping up the sales charts, is a midsize bruiser with best tow capacity in class, a 31 inch-longer steel frame supporting a 60-inch box. Equipped with all the Wrangler’s off-road hardware, this beast can scale Mount Rushmore, then off-load two dirt bikes for more grins.
The sports car that birthed a luxury brand. The family scion has grown wider with age (haven’t we all?) while packing interior luxury amenities to rival its Panamera sedan and Cayenne SUV offspring. Nevertheless, the muscled 911 has lost none of its athleticism, maintaining its status as the performance car upon which all others are judged. The eighth generation (you'll know it by the thin, horizontal taillight) gains 23 ponies, a half-second from zero-60, and a manual tranny for the hard-core faithful.
VW Beetle Final Edition
One German icon prospers, another wilts. The Bug predates the 911 and is as instantly recognizable. But it is a victim of the tide washing over small cars. For its final 2019 model year, V-dub will produce a limited edition with nostalgic details like chrome accents, available 18-inch chrome wheels, rhombus cloth seats, and unique beige and light blue paint. Ride the $23,000 Bug into the sunset as coupe or convertible.
Can a compact be the sexiest car in show? Mazda promised its 3 hatchback would look like the stunning Kai concept that wowed a year ago — and it delivered. Dressed in Soul Red, the 5-door hatch (a sedan is also available) is a triumph from its muscled haunches to its arrow-head headlights to its upscale cabin. And all-wheel-drive is available for those long Michigan winters.
With the cheaper Mazda 3 sexpot nipping at its heels and the Tesla Model 3 stomping it in sales, BMW has competition as the best 3 sedan. So Bimmer recrafted a lighter, state-of-the art chariot with angular surfacing and a fetching face. Inside, the BMW's techtastic digital displays catch up with Mercedes and Audi. The LA stand showcases the AWD, M230i trim with a whopping 382 horses. Yum.
Rivian R1T electric pickup truck
While the Chinese-made Byton M-Byte EV shown here is closer to market, the Made-in-America R1T is what turned heads here. Rivian is headquartered in Plymouth with manufacturing in Normal, Illinois, (ex-Mitsubishi plant) and its stylish truck doubles Tesla’s battery size to 180 kWh (the base, $69,000 model gets 105) to carry this dirt-kicker to the Outback and back. To make sure you don’t get stuck out there (um, while doing 3-second 0-60 burnouts in the mud) Rivian is building a park-based supercharging network.
Call it Navigator Jr. The three-row Aviator brings the big truck’s stitched leather and tablet interior on a more refined, rear-wheel drive unibody architecture. The hybrid version boasts a whopping, 600-torque hybrid model — but the Aviator is all about creature comforts, not stoplight burnouts. A Detroit Symphony Orchestra chime greets you, and the thing will even park itself.
While U.S. automakers are leaving sedans, Asian automakers aren’t quitting Detroit's bread-and-butter SUV segments. The elegant, three-row Palisade is light years from your father's tinny Hyundai compact. Palisade joins the Subaru Ascent in targeting the three-row Ford Explorer and Chevy Traverse.
They took a ZR1 and stuck a battery in it? Remarkable what you can do for $750,000. The GXE is an electric 'Vette — complete with 7-speed manual that will beat the ZR1 to 60 mph (2.5 seconds) and won’t stop until it hits 220. Add a higher rear wing for even more downforce, and you can tear up M1 Concourse without waking the neighbors.
Hmmm, maybe Santa would prefer a stealthy, 800-horse, electric Corvette sleigh. . . .
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.