LOS ANGELES — The lure of the Los Angeles Auto Show, held every fall in the City of Angels, hinges on Detroiters and Germans looking to get the heck out of their hometowns for one last look at the sun before winter. Our local man, David Undercoffler, knows the best ways to avoid traffic. (Hint: He stays at home.) But here’s what drew him onto the freeways and to this year’s L.A. show.
Lincoln Nautilus: In the pantheon of silly names, MK (insert random letter here) rates up there with another Ford beauty: Edsel. But credit to Lincoln for finally realizing no one — not even its own employees or customers — knew one MK from another and acting on it. Nautilus? Sure, I’ll take it. Sounds vaguely sailboat-ish, and every luxury marketer knows that if you align your vehicles with boats, good things happen. I have no idea what else Lincoln changed in this midlife update of the MKflubbermuffin because I was so excited by the name.
Volvo XC40:Is there anything Volvo can’t do? Sure, the brand’s larger crossovers, sedans and wagons are hotter than a Swedish meatball right now, but getting a company’s smaller wares to carry the same swagger is a tough feat for designers. Volvo has done it with the bite-sized XC40. Its looks are sophisticated rather than cute and it packs plenty of space for humans and gear inside. Volvo even had a model on display that featured flaming orange carpet and trim which — and I can personally vouch for this — is a great place to wipe your hands after a bag or two of Cheetos.
Jeep Wrangler: Redesigning an icon has to rank high among thankless tasks, right up there with naked cactus picking and cough syrup flavor testing. But the minds behind this latest Wrangler did it right: satisfying purists by keeping the SUV’s ethos intact, and luring newcomers with savvy updates. These include a new diesel variant, due in 2019, and a turbo four-cylinder as additions to the stout 285-hp V-6 base engine. Add a smartly bolted-together interior, doors that come off easily and a windshield that folds quicker than Mike Tyson’s sparring partner, and you have a winner. Margarita-flavored Robitussin anyone?
Toyota FT-AC:Toyota is looking to man up its line of nontrucks, which brings us to this lime-green bite of trail mix. Ignore the fact that it’s wearing more faux flair than a lonely TGI Friday’s hostess and look at the crossover underneath: It’s clear Toyota is on to something here. A production version of this thing would slot perfectly alongside the more urban/family-oriented RAV4 (a new generation is due next year); it could share that nameplate’s Toyota New Global Architecture, powertrains and even its price range and still not cannibalize a thing. Plus, if Toyota makes this, it’s less likely we’ll all have to look at the TJ Cruiser from the Tokyo Motor Show. Wins all around.
Mercedes-Benz CLS: My grandfather is fond of telling me that it’s the third generation that often screws things up. So maybe it’s no surprise that this third generation of the CLS does just that. Though the CLS is largely credited with making the large four-door coupe segment an actual thing, this new version is more sedan than coupe. And while the outgoing generation had it all — classy looks, athletic stance, a full head of hair — the new one loses all of that, particularly in the rear-end styling. Now it just falls flatter than my cousin’s meatless turkey last month. Which probably explains Grandpa’s reasoning.
Chevrolet Corvette ZR1: Look, if Santa drops this acid orange head trip in my stocking this Christmas, you won’t hear me complain — 755 hp is a thoughtful gift for any loved one. But couldn’t Chevy have done something more creative for the swan song of the front-engine Corvette? GM’s got the chops, so flex ’em! I know the midengine ‘Vette is right around the corner — after a gestation period of several decades — and it will no doubt pack some serious forward-looking tech. But I wanted more than just redneck-fantasy horsepower wedged into a roofless retirement gift — stuff like active aero with tree-avoidance technology, automatic sunscreen-deployment for your bald spot, Uber-delivered replacement tires every two weeks. Next time, I guess.
Subaru Ascent: Look, any car that gets introduced with the help of a kennel’s worth of golden and Labrador retrievers is well on its way to a win in my book. But look past the wagging tongues and incessant body hair and you were treated to a styling letdown. I get that Subaru was burned by the original Tribeca crossover from years past — the one that resembled a cross-eyed Alfa Romeo knockoff — a look we’re still trying to forget. So the brand went conservative this time. But the result just looks like an Outback on stilts carrying around a bit of water weight. Somehow the subtle changes from last spring’s seemingly production-ready concept to this production model just made it more homely.
VW future presentation: Volkswagen tried to up its chill game with an event called “People Moving Forward” that was supposed to be about the future of mobility — tied into the brand’s push into electric vehicles. But over the course of the 2.5-hour name-dropping marathon something got lost in the German-to-Silicon-Valley translation, namely, a message about VW’s vehicles. Instead of batteries and motors, VW’s guests talked about mountainside yurts (is that a food?) and Blockbuster video (I’m not sure what that is but it sounds like my grandfather’s Netflix). VW could have saved the hundred or so attendees each about 149 minutes and 55 seconds by reading them this statement: “Change is gonna happen. Deal with it.”