Highlights From the Los Angeles Auto Show

By John Stewart

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Toyota introduced a newer, sleeker ’13 RAV4.
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The ’13 Civic has been refreshed and revised, with more content as standard equipment.

The Los Angeles Auto Show has a reputation as a “green car” show that skews heavily toward advanced technology. This year’s show was consistent with that image, but there were more than a few debuts of high-volume production vehicles that will matter to SEMA members, along with an unusual number of interesting concept vehicles that may point the way to the future. Here are some that caught our eye.

Hyundai unveiled its Veloster C3 Roll Top concept, a convertible three-door designed to combine open-air freedom with coupe styling and a functional tailgate. Designed by Hyundai Design North America, the Veloster C3 Roll Top has a power-retractable canvas roof that opens to the rear or windshield of the vehicle. Roll the top forward, open the tailgate, fold the rear seats and the C3 goes into recreation mode for surfing, biking or kayaking. A 1.6L twin-scroll turbocharged GDI four-cylinder engine powers the Veloster C3 concept and produces 201 hp at 6,000 rpm and 195 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,750 to 4,500 rpm with regular fuel. Insiders said that it’s unlikely Hyundai would actually offer a Veloster Roll Top anytime soon, but the effort to continue adapting the Veloster to suit a young, active audience got lots of attention.

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The Lexus LF-CC is not a production car, but we should expect to see its hybrid powertrain in use in the near future.
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This Mercedes concept is thought to suggest some modernizing treatments that the iconic G-wagon might receive in the future.
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A rendering of the Galpin Auto Sports GTR-1 supercar project, due to debut in early 2013.

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The Nissan Hi-Cross, an adventure-ready crossover concept.

Galpin Auto Sports (GAS) announced its “top-secret supercar” project—the GTR-1. Beau Boeckmann, president of GAS, announced the company is currently building a prototype of what the Ford GT might have looked like if Ford had continued production of the legendary supercar. The car is considered a concept vehicle for now, but something very much like what you see here is scheduled to debut in early 2013. Built in the spirit of Carroll Shelby—making existing production cars faster and delivering even higher performance—the GTR-1 is based on Ford’s popular GT that was built in 2005 and 2006. The specially developed supercar will have more than 1,000 hp and will be available with the choice of handmade aluminum or carbon-fiber coachwork, upgraded drivetrain and suspension modifications, and an interior tailored to the customer’s specifications.

Lexus showed a luxury performance sedan concept that not only displayed revolutionary styling, but also incorporated a new Lexus powertrain slated for future production. The LF-CC is powered by an all-new 2.5L hybrid powertrain designed to deliver both performance and efficiency. The powertrain system features an all-new four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to a compact, high-output, water-cooled permanent magnet electric motor. Lexus has said it will introduce this new hybrid powertrain into its model range in the near future.

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Fiat’s 500L is a bigger version of the Fiat 500 sport compact car that will appeal to young families.
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Unveiling of the Hyundai Veloster C3 Roll Top concept.
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Racer Ken Block was on hand to prepare the media for the debut of Ford’s performance Fiesta cars.
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Also catching our attention were a number of high-performance musclecars, including this ’12 Shelby GT 500, which has been treated to custom bodywork, custom interior, six-piston front and rear brakes and 750 hp from a Ford Racing/Shelby supercharger.

To our eye, the LF-CC’s taut bodywork and sculpted angular form made it one of the most visually compelling vehicles at the Los Angeles Show. While it’s not intended as a production vehicle, the LF-CC’s styling is thought to be a signal of the new design direction Lexus intends to take.

Another compelling concept was Mercedes’ vision of an off-roader based on the company’s luxury off-road icon, the G-Wagon. What you see here is a design exercise intended to showcase futuristic features that a police force of tomorrow might demand in a vehicle. But Mercedes suggests the Ener-G-Force could also be a clue about a new beginning for the off-road design idiom of Mercedes-Benz. The distinctive roof and the three-panel greenhouse echo fundamental structures of the classic G-Class from Mercedes-Benz, but modernized and riding on 20-in. rims. Unlike the V8-powered G-Class wagons now on the showroom floor, the Ener-G-Force concept is designed around the idea of a hydrogen fuel cell for propulsion. A roof rack and additional lamps are integrated into the roof.

The Nissan Hi-Cross name reflects the concept's purpose as a traditional Nissan adventure-ready sport utility. Built on a 109.4-in. wheelbase with a 183.5-in. overall length, the Hi-Cross Concept offers seven-passenger seating within compact dimensions, thanks to short front and rear overhangs, compact Hybrid drivetrain and efficient packaging.

The styling combines existing Nissan design cues with new elements. The narrow, deeply tapered LED headlamps integrate with the curved hoodline, flared fenders and large 10-spoke, 21-in. aluminum-alloy wheels to provide a muscular stance. The hybrid drivetrain makes extensive use of battery technology developed for the Nissan LEAF. The system uses a high-output, fast-charging compact lithium-ion battery, linked to high-level motor control technology, to provide acceleration assist when needed and permits downsizing of the gasoline engine for optimum economy and emissions.

Toyota showed a bigger, sleeker ’13 RAV4. Now in its fourth generation, the ’13 RAV4 is designed to be sportier and more active-family-friendly than prior generations. It will be offered in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, with a new six-speed automatic transmission with Sport and Eco modes. The optional V-6 will be discontinued in favor of a 2.5L four-cylinder engine that delivers an estimated 31 mpg on the highway. One key design change was relocating the rear-mounted spare tire under the cargo area. This enables a new rear liftgate instead of a side-mounted door.

The ’13 Honda Civic debuted with extensive interior and exterior design upgrades, retuned suspension and steering and new standard features. The ’12 Civic had received tepid response from critics, prompting Honda to upgrade and refresh the sedan, even though it had remained the best-selling compact car in America. The ’13 Civic is expected to be offered with a modest increase of $160 across the lineup, with pricing for the ’13 Civic LX starting at $18,165. Honda also announced that the ’14 Accord Plug-In Hybrid earned an EPA-certified 115 MPG rating and will go on sale in New York and California January 15, with an MSRP of $39,7801. Separately, the Accord Hybrid, featuring Honda's new two-motor hybrid system, will launch nationwide next summer with anticipated fuel economy of 49/45/47 city/hwy/combined. The revised ’13 Honda Crosstour and ’13 Honda CR-Z also made their auto-show debuts. Honda has scheduled a measuring session for SEMA members in early January for all four vehicles.

Fiat extended the Fiat 500 line by unveiling the all-new Fiat 500L—a bigger version of the iconic Fiat 500 sport compact. The 500L adds two more doors and room for five passengers. The 500L is bigger by 26 in. in length and 6 in. more in height and width, to deliver more than 42% more interior space. The 500L will be powered by Fiat’s 1.4L MultiAir Turbo engine with 160 hp and two six-speed transmissions. With its tight European handling and quick steering, the Fiat 500 quickly appealed to the North American performance aftermarket in its first year and was named “Hottest Sport Compact” at the 2011 SEMA Show.

Ford unveiled its vision for a future high-performance Fiesta ST, ushered in amid a smoky burnout photo-op laid down by Rallycross racer Ken Block. While the Fiesta ST concept is a far cry from Block’s race car, the rallycar-inspired package signals the next step in Ford Motor Company’s global performance vehicle strategy, and hints at how a future Fiesta ST model might look when it joins the Focus ST in the global small-car portfolio. Ford has been making waves with the new Fiesta, which sports a new exterior, an interior optimized for ergonomics, and which will become the first vehicle in North America to be equipped with the “International Engine of the Year”—Ford’s 1.0L EcoBoost engine that is expected to be certified as the most fuel-efficient, non-hybrid powerplant in the United States.