LA Auto show: our stars
* Our top show launches named * Production cars from Mazda and Mercedes * Concepts from Audi and Bentley...
The Los Angeles Motor Show is an annual excuse for the car industry to get a bit of late-autumn sunshine and give a late preview to the cars that are coming our way in the next calendar year. This year's event was no exception, with a decent smattering of production models from Mazda, Jaguar, Toyota and Mercedes - and some future concept material from Audi and Lexus.
As with the other big American shows, Detroit and New York, LA remains a relatively US-centric affair, with plenty of enormous SUVs (Ford's star was the vast Explorer). However, there was still an eclectic mix of globally significant reveals. Here's what stood out for us.
This baby SUV was probably one of the smallest debuts in Los Angeles - and at the same one of the biggest. Based on the Mazda 2, the CX-3 looks set to provide the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur with some stiff competition when it goes on sale in the UK next summer.
The CX-3 sits on the same wheelbase as the 2 small car, and has roughly the same cabin space (plus much of the same interior trim), but it's a bit longer overall so the boot capacity is a little larger. Interestingly, Mazda plans to offer the car with front- or four-wheel drive, although even company insiders admit that four-wheel-drive editions are likely to account for a tiny percentage of sales in the UK.
As with all new Mazdas, the new arrival gets the full range of Skyactiv weight-saving and fuel-saving technologies. It also gets some big-car features that will make it stand out in its class, such as a head-up display on some models, a central dash-mounted screen on all editions and the option of safety kit such as lane departure warning and blind spot-monitoring systems.
More than anything, though, the CX-3 just looks great - a really well-resolved design that should succeed in a market where buyers are after a raised seating position and image more than any genuine extra practicality.
Prices will be key, of course - but if Mazda can keep close to the £15k figure we keep hearing, this should be a real contender.
Audi Prologue concept
Audi's LA offering, a jumbo-sized two-door, was significant for a couple of reasons. First, it's supposed to preview the A9, a large range-topper due in 2016 as a rival for the Mercedes S-class Coupe. Second, it shows the new direction for Audi styling in general, particularly around the front end and headlights.
If that is the case then the firm will have been pleased by feedback from LA showgoers. The Prologue drew widespread praise for its slim headlights, evolutionary grille and, in particular, its relatively simple side surfacing. In an era where every car has flourishes along the front and rear wings, and doors, the Prologue has about three lines in total - and the rearmost of them also manages to be a faint nod in the direction of the original Ashes to Ashes-spec Quattro.
The cabin is a four-seat affair, but again, the fascia reflects how recent Audis, in particular the TT, have been moving away from regular instruments and lots of buttons and towards configurable high-resolution screens that can perform a multitude of functions.
It's an encouraging sign for the future. It'll certainly be interesting to see how the new styling direction filters down to smaller models like the next A3 and A1.
We've seen Toyota's hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle before - indeed, we drove a prototype of it a couple of months ago - but LA was the first time we got a look at its interior, and its final name: Mirai.
The Mirai is a Prius-sized hatchback that uses a hydrogen-fuelled 'fuel cell stack' to produce power from its electric motor - and produces no emissions at its exhaust (the only by-product is water). It has a range of around 430 miles and takes about three minutes to fill up - just like a regular combustion-engined-car, in fact.
The Mirai's looks continue to challenge - particularly its rear end, where the tail-lights make it look particularly wide - but the deeply scalloped front looks pretty futuristic.
The cabin feels a notch above a Prius's - which is probably a good thing, given that the Mirai is likely to cost a fair bit more. There's a particularly interesting glossy centre console, with touch-sensitive sections for buttons; it's certainly neater than the button-heavy approach you find on most Toyotas.
UK sales will start next summer, but the slow spread of Britain's hydrogen refuelling network is likely to restrict Mirais to London for the foreseeable future. It's a fascinating project, though, and given that Audi and Volkswagen also rolled out hydrogen-fuelled vehicles in LA, this did feel like a breakthrough show for the technology.
Jaguar F-type manual/4WD
We've been expecting a manual version of the Jaguar F-type for some time, but unusually the British brand elected to unveil it in one of the most automatic-centric countries in the world.
Still, an F-type with a stick is something to get excited about. The six-speed unit will be available with only the supercharged V6 editions of the car, and Jaguar is promising a short-throw shift that should appeal to enthusiasts. It's the thick end of £2k cheaper than the automatic-gearbox equivalent, too.
Jaguar also used LA to reveal the four-wheel-drive edition of the F-type. It's undoubtedly hoping to cash in on valuable sales in North America (where four-wheel-drive sales are strong) and give potential F-type customers another reason to look beyond the Porsche 911.
You won't see many examples of Mercedes' LA show star on the roads in the UK - because prices for the Mercedes-Maybach S600 will start at around £154,000 and end just shy of 'You don't want to know'. Fact is, the Merc-Maybach is really designed for well-heeled customers in China, Russia and the Middle East; Mercedes would much rather offer them a bespoke-trimmed, lengthened S-Class than have them buy a Bentley or Rolls-Royce.
A lengthened S-Class is pretty much all the Mercedes-Maybach S600 is, in truth - but you do get even more adjustable, electrically powered rear seats and an even wider range of premium cabin trims.
Perhaps more significantly, the new model heralds the arrival of the Maybach name as a luxury element within the Mercedes range - in much the same way that AMG is omnipresent as a performance sub-brand. This means Merc is planning to roll out extra-luxurious versions of many of its higher-end models; expect Maybach-badged editions of everything from the E-Class up to the GL SUV in years to come.
Bentley Grand Convertible
Bentley is still calling its Los Angeles show car a concept, but few believe that the Grand Convertible isn't going to make production. Fact is, Bentley showed a concept of this car to prospective customers as long ago as 2012; it wouldn't be bringing it out in public if it weren't close to making production.
In effect a replacement for the old Azur, the Grand Convertible is basically a drop-top version of the existing Mulsanne; indeed, Bentley quotes power figures of 530bhp and 811lb ft, exactly the same as the Speed edition of the firm's range-topping saloon.
As with the Merc-Maybach, the Grand Covertible is likely to be one of those cars sold in tiny numbers anywhere but the Middle East and China - but even so, it was hard not to admire its old-school ostentatiousness. It was certainly hard to miss - and that's almost certainly bang on message for the type of person who will order it.