Henry Payne picks the best of LA Auto Show

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — It’s auto show season again and the automobile cornucopia overfloweth. Let us give thanks. Before Detroit opens the new year with a bang, the Los Angeles Auto Show wrapped up 2015 with a feast.

Unlike the compact Cobo Center, LA’s convention center puts its displays in two halls on opposite ends of the planet, meaning I had to schlep miles to see all 26 debuts. My dogs are barking. California offers a driver’s bounty of stunning natural views and wide-open spaces (once you get out of LA’s 24/7 traffic jam), meaning customers want everything from green statements to speed skates. It’s not uncommon to see a Prius and a Porsche in the same garage.

Here are The Detroit News’ picks as the most significant vehicles in show.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

“If emotion were a car, it would be an Alfa Romeo,” Alfa CEO Reid Bigland said in his introduction of the compact sedan. You’d be dead not to feel a stirring in the loins when you see this blood red, twin-turbo, 505-horsepower sexpot. Quadrifoglio is not shy about its intentions. It’s determined to make you forget all about that BMW M-whatchamacallit. The all-wheel drive performance model is the most powerful thoroughbred in the compact luxury class and the fastest sedan ever around Germany’s legendary Nurburgring race track. Not just a little faster. Giulia obliterated the lap record held by a Porsche Panemera S, for goodness sake, a six-figure cyborg not even in its class. Priced around $70,000, however, the Q won’t exactly be price accessible to most buyers. Which is why the base model’s also-class leading 276-horsepower turbo four still makes us smile.

Ford Escape

The Escape is part of an SUV revolution reshaping the face of automobiles. Compact crossovers have overtaken midsize sedans as the autodom’s biggest-volume segment – and the hot-selling Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV-4 have led it there. Yet while the Honda and Toyota are reliable appliances in the Japanese mold, the technology-laden Escape is evidence of the blur between luxury and mainstream brands. Indeed, while Lincoln stunned L.A. with a gorgeous, new face on its MKZ, the Escape debuted its own chrome kisser. The makeover means Escape rivals cousin Lincoln MKC in looks while offering handling and a suite of engine choices that embarrasses Japanese rivals. With an improved, roomier console (the biggest knock against the old mule), the Blue Oval continues as a pioneer on the crossover frontier.

Mazda CX-9

Speaking of blurs, the Mazda’s zoom-zoom midsize crossover may be the most handsome sight in its segment. Luxury or mainstream. Audi Q5, the object in your mirror may be closer than it appears. The 9’s pleasing exterior sheet metal comes with European-like handling and interior layout. And despite a single engine offering, Mazda’s first turbo promises plenty of low-end torque to go with its typically impressive SKYACTIVE fuel efficiency. What’s more, the Mazda comes with three rows of seats – mandatory for the mainstream segment but scorned by similarly sized Audi and Bimmers. So, if it’s European flavor you want – but without having to sacrifice family practicalities and a year’s income, the Mazda is in your sweet spot.

Fiat 124 Spider

Oh, joy. Already spoiled by Mazda’s best-ever MX-5 Miata in 2015, we get a sequel with the 2017 “Fiata” – the MX-5-based return of the Fiat 124 Spider. Where the original Miata was a retro-homage to the Lotus Elan, the new Fiat is a throwback to the 1966 Spider that Yanks embraced – it sold 75 percent of the 200,000 models produced through 1985. The new model bears an uncanny resemblance to the original (a copy of which was nailed to the wall on the Fiat stand). Fiat’s heritage is more cruiser than Mazda track rat, so the 124 will be 100 pounds heavier and likely less stiff than MX-5. Still, Fiata will have more power than its Japanese partner thanks to the same 160-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbo found in the bratty Fiat 500 Abarth. And with Japanese engineering as its foundation, customers are assured that this Fiat stands for Fix-It-Again-Tokyo.

Cadillac XT5

Cadillac’s ferocious V-series sedans have served notice that GM’s luxury brand is serious about taking on the German titans at luxury’s pinnacle. Now the all-new XT5 (formerly SRX) brings the same commitment to SUVs where Caddy has been product-poor. The XT5 goes on a 300-pound diet making it the lightest entry in segment – a full 650 pounds below a Mercedes GLE – that will pay dividends in handling and fuel efficiency. Perhaps more important to frustrated soccer moms who have taken to banging the CUE infotainment system with both fists, the new system is reportedly three times faster — and with more emphasis on touchscreen functions than haptic sliders (Bang! Bang! Bang!).

Henry Payne isThe Detroit News’ auto critic and can be reached at hpayne@detroitnews.com.