Los Angeles carries the distinction of hosting the first major auto show of the year, though it trumps Detroit by only a couple days. La-La-land snared a few noteworthy U.S. model introductions and concept vehicles, ushering in a very promising show season.
We toured the convention center, rounding up the most significant vehicles for your review. Read on to see what the future holds...
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Aston Martin is not above looking over its own shoulder to its glorious past for inspiration, witness the DB AR1, a modern roadster that totally eliminates the top and all related mechanisms. Based on the current production DB7 Volante, this model (unlike last year's Zagato variation on the DB7) is aimed at the North American market. In order to make a viable business case for the project, Aston Martin's Dr. Ulrich Bez says that 66 firm orders are required to move forward on the 435-horsepower V-12, six-speed roadster and that total production will be limited to just 99 units. To broaden its appeal, Bez says that an automatic version, with ten less horsepower, could be offered.
From "Die Another Day," Bond's current ride, a specially equipped, all-wheel-drive version of the current V12 Vanquish. It proudly showed off some of its Q-branch upgrades, offensive ordinance like five heat-seeking missles and defensive countermeasures like a fully functional ejection seat. These upgrades came in handy when Bond jousted with Zao's specially outfitted Jaguar XKR.
It looks like the compact European sports sedan category is heating up and BMW aims to stay the ultimate driving machine with the introduction of the 330i Performance Package. Created exclusively for the U.S. market, the 330i Performance Package includes modifications to the 3.0-liter in-line six, with different camshafts and a performance-modified Digital Motor Electronics. Ten additional ponies raise horsepower to 235 combined with a standard six-speed manual transmission with a short-throw shifter and a more aggressive final drive ratio. Now the race from zero to 60 mph ends in just six seconds. Dressing up the outside, 18-inch wheels are matched with mixed-size performance tires ups the handling ante. Look for the first cars to start arriving at BMW centers in April.
BMW's Alpina tuning house has come up with a unique interpretation of the Z8, but the tariff isn't cheap. You'll need to dig deep and come up with $137,600. The biggest problem isn't likely to be the price; rather it will be its exclusive nature, 555 worldwide with just 400 destined for the US. The Z8-based roadster is the first of what could become a series of official Alpina imports. While the styling of the Z8 has not been universally admired, the Alpina version looked great in silver and evokes some of the same feelings one gets viewing a classic BMW 507 from the 1950s.
Wagons are hip again - although Chrysler Group execs are loathe to call it a station wagon, preferring to call it a variation on its "sports tourer" classification. The Dodge Magnum is a new millennium interpretation of a classic sixties big-block station wagon. The 345-horsepower Hemi-powered Magnum is an 85 percent correct version of the first of the rear-wheel-drive LX models that will start rolling into showrooms starting this fall. The first all-new American full-sized RWD sedans (and wagons) in a generation, Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche expects the Magnum and its Chrysler sibling to usher in a rebirth of the popularity of the traditional American sedan, offering a viable alternative to SUVs and crossovers.
American audience got their first look at the stunning Ferrari Enzo, and it looked as impressive in LA as when it debuted in Paris three months ago. Priced at just a bit under $700,000, all 399 of the Enzos expected to be produced have already been spoken for. The 6.0-liter V-12 produces 660-horsepower. Matched up with the F1-style six-speed transmission, the Italian powerplant can propel the 3000-pound Enzo at speeds well in excess of 200 miles per hour. Think of it as a civilianized, street-legal F1 car that only movie celebrities, rock stars, and lottery winners can possibly afford.
Ford appears to be leaving no stone unturned in its attempt to cover all the SUV bases, this time its at the smallest end of the spectrum with the Faction mini-SUV. It plays upon design chief J Mays' continuing fascination with style influences from outside the automotive arena, in this case cutting-edge European furniture. The Faction is an all-wheel-drive SUV, smaller than Ford's Escape that is aimed more at urban warriors rather than traditional off-roaders. To facilitate the parking process in the urban jungle, the Faction features City Eye, a fully integrated rear-view camera system. Some of the innovative design of the Faction can be expected to make their way to upcoming Ford SUVs both domestically and abroad.
Another Paris introduction making its U.S. debut in Los Angeles was the Jaguar XJ, now in its seventh generation. While the XJ is evolutionary as far as its exterior design is concerned, its aluminum body promises sizeable weight reductions and an air of exclusivity among its competitors in the luxury sedan category. Jaguar fans will have to wait until summer before the new XJ reaches U.S. shores, due to a number of teething problems dealing with the fabrication process of the all-aluminum body. While retaining traditional Jaguar design themes, the interior benefits from visible improvements in fit and finish and ergonomics.
According to Kia, the body-on-frame Kia Sorento has surpassed expectations with its entry into the crowded and competitive mid-sized SUV market, with its RX 300-like styling, long list of standard features and an industry leading warranty. The Sorento Surf concept, first shown to the trade at the 2002 SEMA Show, shows that Kia vehicles can serve as a platform for aftermarket specialists to tack on all types of accessories, ranging from more aggressive wheel/tire combinations to a functional update to the already aggressive front fascia. Most noteworthy, due to the surf theme, is a functional, high-capacity roof rack, giving the value-priced SUV the ability to carry almost any type of sports gear.
The second surf-and-sun concept from Kia is based on the compact Rio wagon. With a low initial price, leaving budget for aftermarket accessorizing, the Rio gives entry-level buyers an appealing package on which to personalize. Like the Sorento Surf concept, the Cinco Swim was first shown at the 2002 SEMA Show and on the inside is decked out in neoprene trim on the seats, head rests, door panels and the cargo compartment. For tunes, it features the Delphi Sky-Fi XM Radio audio system along with a GPS navigation system. Kia hopes that vehicles like the Rio will increase Kia's growing brand awareness, especially among first-time buyers.
Addressing criticisms concerning the exterior and interior detailing of the retro-styled Thunderbird, Ford used Los Angeles to showcase a silver blue 'Bird whose body panels were "massage" in the words of Ford global design honcho J Mays. With a 390-horsepower supercharged V-8 under a louvered version of the chromed louvers punched into the stock hood and an interior that evokes the ribbed aluminum detailing of the 1961-63 'Birds, Mays told Motor Trend to expect to see similar detail upgrades roll out in the next 12 months as Ford attempts to keep the Thunderbird fresh and appealing.
The legendary "Goat" is back as the 2004 GTO signifies that performance and excitement will again rule the house at Pontiac. Fully leveraging the worldwide capabilities of the GM product portfolio, the next GTO is based on the existing Holden Monaro two-door coupe featuring a Corvette-based, 340-horsepower LS1 V-8 with either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels. GM said that stateside importation plans call for less than 20,000 GTOs for 2004 and may hint at other exciting overseas GM products migrating to North America. While pricing plans have not yet been formalized, look for a fully equipped GTO to sticker around $35,000 when it begins appearing in showrooms in the fall.
With an announced base price of $28,665, with the supercharged C230 Kompressor Mercedes now has an appealing and sporty entry in the near-luxury class. A sport tuned suspension, sport body cladding, aluminum interior trim, seven-spoke 17-inch wheels with appropriate high performance rubber, a standard 6-speed transmission and aggressive sport seats round out the package. The heart of the C230 is a supercharged 189-horsepower 1.8-liter engine which is classified as a Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV), giving it a 0 - 60 time of 7.6 seconds. In addition to the standard 6-speed manual gearbox, the C230 offers an optional 5-speed TouchShift automatic.
As part of its onslaught of C-Class product under $40,000, Mercedes introduced two more models, the sport-focused $27,300 C320 sports coupe and companion $35,200 sports sedan. Mercedes-Benz feels that it is better positioned than ever to give young car enthusiasts exactly what they are looking for. Featuring all of the same standard equipment as the C230 sports sedan above, the C320 is powered by a twin-spark/three-valve-per-cylinder 215-horsepower V6 mated to a standard 6-speed transmission, providing sub-seven second sprints on the 0 - 60 benchmark. For those that need the security of all-wheel-drive, the C320 sports sedan is offered with optional 4MATIC, providing a 35/65 front/rear torque split.
In car crazy, import-dominated Southern California, it should come as no surprise that the launch of Toyota's youth oriented Scion brand would be big news. The Scion brand launched to the American public with two models, the smaller of which is the xA model, based on the home market Ist. The xA is powered by a 1.5-liter/108-horsepower engine that is offered with a choice of either a five-speed manual or an optional four-speed-automatic transmission. The hallmark of the Scion brand will be the level of personalization that will be offered within the confines of the dedicated Scion showrooms set up adjacent to existing Toyota facilities as part of the company's effort to appeal to younger buyers whose hearts, minds and dollars have been won by Honda and Acura.
The xB, the second Scion model expected to reach showrooms in June (starting in Southern California), is based on the cubist bbX compact minivan shown last year and already in production for the domestic Japanese market. Like the xA it will be powered by the same 1.5-liter/108-horsepower engine and will offer a choice of the five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmissions. While the base price is expected to start at under $16,000 for a well-equipped vehicle, Scion officials expect that most owners will personalize the Scions with appearance options and massive sound systems, something we saw at the 2002 SEMA Show where most Scions were outfitted with powerful aftermarket Pioneer audio and video systems.
Capitalizing on their participation in the most recent James Bond flick, "Die Another Day," Aston Martin displayed two of its cars made famous in several of the previous 19 films, a silver DB5 from "Goldfinger," "Thunderball" and "Goldeneye," and the V8 Volante with outriggers driven by Timothy Dalton in "The Living Daylights." Even though it sported appropriate plates from "Goldfinger," the silver DB5 on display was a standard, left-hand-drive U.S. version, it was instantly recognizable as what many people still refer to as the most famous car in the world.
The next Aston Martin on display was a V8 Volante from "The Living Daylights," the first of two movies featuring Timothy Dalton. This was one of the cars from the film as it still sported the outriggers from the famous ice chase and border crossing, ranking up there with the greatest Bond chase and escape sequences. While Dalton's participation as Bond lasted only two features, the memorable V8 Volante has survived intact and looks as good as it did almost a generation ago.
The Jaguar XKR, like the Vanquish, was outfitted with a custom all-wheel-drive system for its ice-traversing duties in "Die Another Day." In addition, it was upgraded with a Gatling Gun centered behind the cockpit missles emerging from the front grille, concealed rocket launchers and a trunk compartment filled to the brim with mortar bombs, proving to be a worthy advisary to Bond's machine in "Die Another Day." Certainly with its bold green finish, Zao will not have trouble finding it in a crowded parking garage.
The third car on display from "Die Another Day" was Bond girl Halle Berry's Ford Thunderbird. Bond-aholics know that this is not the first time that an Aston Martin and a trendy Ford product have been paired in a Bond flick. The first time was 38 years ago in 1964 in "Goldfinger" when James Bond established an inexorable link between Bond and Aston Martin while Tilly Masterson introduced audiences worldwide to the then brand new 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang convertible.
The all-new aluminum A8 L is Audi's weapon of choice in its plans to double its penetration into luxury sedan class dominated by the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series. Employing Audi's lightweight aluminum body technology, the A8 L is 60-percent stiffer than its predecessor and is motivated by a 330-horsepower 4.2-liter V-8 that will propel the A8 L from 0 to 60 in 6.3 seconds. The A8 L will also feature a six-speed Tiptronic transmission with Dynamic Shift program (DSP). DSP reduces the number of gear shifts, rewarding its driver a more dynamic and enjoyable driving experience. The A8 L naturally features quattro all-wheel drive and its Adaptive Air Suspension system offers continuous damping control.
The Volkswagen Touareg had its formal U.S. unveiling at the Los Angeles Auto Show. While its exterior is far more conventional than its sportier cousin from Porsche, its interior detailing sets new benchmarks for SUVs priced below $50,000; it is simply spectacular, especially equipped with leather. With its base V-6, the Touareg is priced at just under $35,000, the same ballpark as V-8-equipped Explorers and Grand Cherokees, while the base V-8 model will start at $40,700. It doesn't appear that Volkswagen will have any difficulty in moving the iron, as this promises to be an appealing SUV offering true four-wheel-drive capabilities and a luxury driving environment.
With the Mazda RX-8 expected in dealer showrooms later this spring, Mazda used the Los Angeles Auto Show to give enthusiasts a sneak peak at a special model to appear in the upcoming theatrical release of "X2," the highly anticipated sequel to "X-Men." Director Bryan Singer personally introduced a video clip that featured the construction of the movie car and showed it in heroic action. The "Mutant Blue" RX-8 is dominated up front by an X-shaped grille and is expected to play a major part in the film. This high-profile product placement should help get the launch of the production version off to a strong start ... not that Mazda will need much help selling the RX-8s earmarked for the United States.
Maybach offers the ultimate luxury to affluent customers who prefer personalized service and craftsmanship. In a separate studio at Mercedes' dealerships, buyers commission, rather than simply buy, a car like it was in the 1930s for high society. Seen in person, the Maybach is limo sized, reminding that it is all about "big." The engine is a special twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-12 producing 550 horsepower, capable of 0-60 mph sprints to board meetings in 5.2 seconds. Other excesses can be seen in the 600-watt audio system that delivers Dolby digital surround sound for each seat. There are two million potential equipment variations, including body color, wood, DVD entertainment, leather, and humidor choices. In base form, the Maybach promises a pampering experience that only a priviledged few will enjoy.