10 best debuts at the Los Angeles Auto Show

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Los Angeles – This year’s Los Angeles Auto Show lived up to its green stereotype as automakers court Californians who buy the lion’s share of electrified vehicles.

But green isn’t what it used to be. Manufacturers are using the prodigious torque of electric motors to appeal to speed freaks as well as tree-huggers. The result is a show floor boasting electric vehicles ranging from an 1,100-horsepower Karma SC2 hyper-car to the versatile Bollinger pickup to the domesticated 147-horsepower Nissan Leaf.

But electric vehicles are by not means the only new offerings on the floor. Here are my picks for best in show.

The 2021 Mustang Mach-E takes inspiration from the iconic Mach 1 Mustang coupe..

Ford Mustang Mach-E: Ford took a bold gamble to put its muscle badge on an electric SUV. The compact SUV is a Tesla wannabe wrapped in signature Mustang design cues: a big screen, small and big battery options, even a performance model called (what else?) a GT. The Mach-E can be pre-ordered online and will be in a race with the Tesla Model Y to market next fall.

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible

Chevy Corvette Stingray convertible: For its first auto show appearance, ‘Vette’s mid-engine masterpiece (it debuted south of Los Angeles in July) blew the roof off the LA convention center with its hard-top version. Retractable hard-top convertibles are normally associated with $300,000 exotics like Ferrari and Lamborghini, but will be offered on the C8 for just $7,500 over the $60,000 coupe.

Land Rover Defender

Land Rover Defender: Like the Corvette, Defender is an icon remade from the ground up. This is Land Rover’s upscale Jeep Wrangler, a brand-defining off-road vehicle that climbs walls while showing off state-of-the-art technology like allowing the driver to look at their car from a 360-degree exterior view. Land Rover claims a rock-crawling unibody chassis three times stiffer than its ladder-frame peers.

Toyota RAV4 Prime

Toyota RAV4 Prim: Yes, the ol’ wallflower RAV4. The best-selling non-pickup in America has already distinguished itself with a tough-looking Tacoma-like style and a hybrid model that out-sells the venerable Prius. Now comes the RAV4 Prime plug-in that offers a stonkin’ 302 horses. It's proof that batteries can be used for HPs as well as mpgs.

Karma SC2

Karma SC2: Speaking of power, the latest concept from Karma boasts 1,100 horsepower and a sub 2-second zero-60 run that will leave your spine’s imprint on the seat. If this car doesn’t flip your switch, get your switch fixed. The scissor-door SC2 is part of the resurgence of Karma (formerly Fisker) that is now juiced with China money.

Mercedes-AMG GLS 63

Mercedes GLS 63: Green what? The fire-breathing, three-row SUV stole the show from Mercedes' first-ever EQC electric SUV.  The three-row is as luxurious as it is imposing with heated and cooled cupholders, nine USB ports and rear captain’s chairs. The 603-horse, 4.0-liter V-8 biturbo engine (with 48-volt battery boost for good measure) will hit 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds while draining Saudi Arabia of oil.

Chevrolet Trailblazer RS

Chevy Trailblazer: This is not your father’s Trailblazer. There’s a new segment in town and it’s called subcompact-plus SUV. Dealers are rabid for all things ute, and carmakers delivered here. The Jeep Compass pioneered the segment and the Trailblazer (and sister Buick Encore GX) remakes itself as a stylish, upsized Trax a bit smaller than an Equinox. I’m particularly smitten by the off-roady ACTIV trim and its white roof. Trailblazer will have stiff competition from the Kia Seltos and sexy Mazda CX-30.

Alfa Romeo Tonale

Alfa Romeo Tonale: Speaking of sexy, the striking Tonale concept – maybe the best-looking subcompact SUV penned – made its debut here. The SUV comes as Alfa struggles in the U.S. with just one utility in its lineup. Spy shots have leaked in Europe of a production mule, so the Tonale cometh. Expect hybrid-power starting around $30,000.

Nissan Sentra

Nissan Sentra: Why buy midsize sedans anymore? The Sentra follows an industry trend of striking, roomy compacts. The sub-$20,000 Sentra can be mistaken for an Altima with its long nose and floating, two-tone roof. Inside, the dash gets a modern tablet screen and GTR-like rotary vents.

Volkswagen ID. Space Vizzion

Volkswagen ID. Space Vizzion: Volkswagen's long-promised electric future is taking shape, and VW says this crossover-wagon is on course as a 2022 model after the ID. Crozz SUV. The sheet metal and interior are very concept-y, but the overall design hints at a sleek, minimalist design language.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.