For a gathering of the automotive world within the same smog basin as Hollywood, the Los Angeles Auto Show lacked a lot of star power. The hottest car in Los Angeles -- the new Lamborghini Aventador Spyder -- never made an appearance. Neither did the industry's car of the year, the Tesla Model S, perhaps influenced by the fact that auto shows are organized by auto dealers, which are suing Tesla over its plans to bypass them and sell directly to customers.
And the show reflected the strange state of the industry; massively profitable, but increasingly passionless, with many models stuck with designs dictated by regulations more than aesthetics. Yet the best were able to stand out and offer a promise of something different, and better. Here are the three new models that impressed us most, and the three that left us cold.
With cars like the Volkwagen GTI getting larger over the years, a lot of sports compacts aren't, well, compact any more. And since VW stubbornly refuses to release the Polo GTI stateside, Ford is there to fill the B-segment performance niche with the Ford Fiesta ST, following in the already popular footsteps of the Ford Focus ST. A featherweight hatch making nearly 200 hp and getting up to 34 mpg? We don't need Ken Block doing donuts to get excited about that.
As with the Chevy Spark, Chrysler has to build a Fiat 500E to meet regulations requiring electric vehicles. And as such transformations go, the 500E sports several nice tweaks to stand out from everyday Cinquecentos, albeit with an orange shade not often seen outside running shoes and Donald Trump's mirror. But Chrysler chief Sergio Marchionne has made clear he's no fan of electric cars, and as with the Spark, there's no revolutionary technology under the hood. Among large automakers, only BMW and Nissan have committed to purpose-designed electric cars meant for the mass market. Everyone else is marking time.
The Lamborghini Aventador roadster looks sharp, but no car made the pain from a pocket full of losing Powerball tickets more acute than the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series. With the new GL-Class SUVs, the SLS and the Ener-G concept, Mercedes had the most to talk about of any automaker at the show -- and made a far bigger impact than Audi and BMW.
There's a reason modern cars all look alike. Fuel economy rules demand maximum aerodynamic efficiency, mandating the rising wedge shape and tall trunks. Pedestrian safety rules require taller grilles, unless automakers want the expense of hood-mounted air bags. Even the odd vertical creases first seen on the Toyota Prius' bumpers that reduce drag have spread like bedbugs through the industry, popping up on the BMW i3 this year. The Acura RLX is the very model of a modern major general car design, forced to squeeze all attempts at personality into the insect-eye LED headlamps and flowing tail lamps.
The new Civic unveiled two years was a rare stumble by Honda, making the king of compact cars duller, cheaper and less fun to drive. It didn't much matter -- Honda has enough cash to survive a few fiscal cliffs, and no automaker has a more loyal following of buyers in the United States. Despite all the carping by critics, that subpar Civic was still one of the top-selling vehicles in the world. Honda could have waited a couple of years and then tweaked the Civic on schedule. The fact it rushed to make updates quickly where others would have been satisfied to keep building a flawed product shows how those loyal buyers became that way.
For reasons that escape us, Lincoln populated its stand Wednesday with a bevy of classic Lincolns, including a beautiful 1959 Lincoln Continental Mark II owned by Elizabeth Taylor painted the color of her eyes. No car drew quite as much open-mouthed gawking -- or highlighted just how far Lincoln had traveled from its heyday. By Thursday, the classics had been replaced with the 2013 Lincoln MKZ— not one or two, but nine of them. Emptier than an Occupy rally in the Deep South, the Lincoln booth serves as an ideal retreat for self-contemplation, or just taking a break from sound and fury of the show. It's also a great spot for human-watching — and seeing the bewildered looks of people passing through. "What the hell?" uttered one confused visitor, as he walked by a sign that read, "This is Lincoln now."