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NOV 20th 2014

LA Auto Show round‑up ‑ a tale of two cities?

The annual LA motor show is gaining ground every year

On the morning of the first day of the 2014 LA Auto Show I took a couple of hours to drive around the local area, taking in such iconic sights as Santa Monica, Malibu Beach and of course the big Hollywood lettering on the hills. It was illuminating and for a car nut a sensory overload. On one hand, I’ve never seen so many examples of the Toyota Prius in one place, and there can’t be a greater concentration of the Tesla Model S anywhere else either. They love their hybrids and electric cars in LA.

LA SHOW STARS – CLICK THROUGH THE GALLERY ABOVE

Yet the distinctive rumble of a big capacity V8 is just as common, in everything from ex-cop Chevy Caprices to shiny new Mustangs and even Euro-looking models like the BMW 550i. My own ‘ride’ for the day was a rear-wheel drive BMW X6 sDrive35i, powered by the company’s turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine. I swear it sounds like a V8 at times, and the X6 is a common sight around LA.

Which is why BMW chose the LA show to launch its new X6 M – and it’s slightly less divisive X5 M sibling. Who needs 575hp high-performance SUVs like this? The Americans apparently – they can’t get enough of them, making the US the largest consumer of M cars.

The scene on the roads is repeated inside the convention centre, where there are two distinct themes to the event. Perhaps the strongest is that of ‘green’ hydrogen fuel cell technology. Honda and Toyota are leading the way by revealing two production-intent fuel cell cars (though why the Toyota Mirai is so visually challenging we have no idea). Volkswagen revealed a rather more conventional-looking fuel cell car based on the Golf Estate called the SportWagen HyMotion, but Audi usurped everyone with its high-tech A7 Sportback h-tron quattro.

Also interesting is Audi’s other world premiere, the Prologue concept car. It’s the work of the company’s new design boss, Marc Lichte, as he sets out his stall for the future of Audi design. It has presence, and rumours suggest it’s more than a hint at a new model to rival the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupé.

Speaking of Mercedes, and excess for that matter, the Maybach badge made a return to the world on the back of a seriously stretched S 600 S-Class. I sat in the opulently upholstered show car and it’s undeniably impressive, especially if you’re impressed by a built-in champagne cooler.

The potential buyers of Bentley’s new Grand Convertible will be no strangers to the bubbly stuff, and we’re pretty certain the Mulsanne-based two-door cabrio will be produced in limited numbers. It looks quite special in the metal, though the blue and silver colour scheme of the show car has more than a hint of Rolls-Royce about it. Surely not a coincidence?

Two minutes away in the North Hall is another open-topped roadster concept, the Lexus LF-C2. Ahead of the show, we expected this to preview a new RC cabriolet, but in the metal it looks much more like the Lexus IS – that’s once you look past the cool headrest buttresses and (not quite so cool) exaggerated spindle grille. Hopefully it drives a lot better than the previous folding hardtop equipped IS did.

Jaguar’s stand, full of F-Type loveliness, looks positively restrained in comparison. We wholeheartedly applaud the introduction of a manual gearbox in the F-Type, of course, and all-wheel drive will also increase the appeal to many markets. (Though we’ll stick with rear-wheel drive, thanks.)

Contrary as it may seem, we’re rather happy the new Volkswagen Golf R Estate has four-wheel drive. It would be quite unseemly for daddy to spin away all his 300hp on the way to the school, after all.

The ‘real world’ show star was the Mazda CX-3, and all the activity mentioned above seems rather to shame the American car makers’ efforts. It took a scant five minutes to walk around the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Lincoln and Dodge stands to ascertain that there really wasn’t much to look at that we’ve not already seen…

See what the Americans were doing here.

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