2017 Los Angeles Auto Show Preview: Expect a Giant SUV Traffic Jam
Jeep Wrangler and a gaggle of crossovers will woo the masses, but the Corvette ZR1 and Mercedes-AMG’s hypercar make L.A. an enthusiast’s dream.
Los Angeles isn’t just the City of Angels, but the City of Sequels. For the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show—officially known to its organizers and no one else as "AutoMobility LA"—that means more SUVs, the ultimate tentpole attraction that ensures industry buzz, sales, and profits. If that makes L.A. yet another auto show that's as predictably generic as a Transformers flick...well, these rampaging, increasingly robotic SUVs will have to do, at least until automakers can turn their electric concepts—such as Mercedes-AMG’s 1,000-hp Project One hypercar, making its North American debut—into showroom reality.
From three-row, tardy-to-market haulers—the Subaru Ascent or BMW’s concept X7—to an all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler and crossovers like the Volvo XC40, these SUVs are charged with staving off an inevitable, cyclical drop in car sales for a few more years. In the wake of the Great Recession of 2009, American new vehicle sales recovered quickly and have climbed for seven straight years, culminating in a record 17.55 million in 2016. That historic pace won’t be topped in 2017, with Moody’s now projecting a 3.6-percent drop and another 0.6-percent decline in 2018.
Yet that still leaves Americans buying more than 16.9 million new cars this year, and around as many in 2018. And with automakers having reduced break-even points via efficient production and other cost savings—oh, and don't forget transaction prices of option-stuffed cars reaching all-time highs—the softening market still translates to multi-billion-dollar profits for major automakers.
And since no auto show would be complete without earnest discussions (or pompous gas-bagging) about our transportation future and impending human obsolescence, AutoMobility LA will look to lure traditional tire-kickers with four days of tech conferences, demos, and more than 50 vehicle reveals. As for the general public, the Los Angeles Auto Show welcomes them to the city’s Convention Center from December 1 through December 10. If you’re planning on attending, or doing your part to plump those industry sales, then do check out some of the latest wares in Los Angeles. And check out The Drive's live coverage during the show's media days on Wednesday and Thursday, where several more cars will break cover.
2018 Jeep Wrangler
The early star of the L.A. show might seem a craggy-faced relic on par with Clint Eastwood. But where most hardcore off-road SUVs have seen sales dry up, and several nameplates have died off entirely, the Wrangler has never been more popular. Jeep’s tall-riding cowboy found nearly 203,000 American buyers in 2015, and about 192,000 last year. Incredibly, the Wrangler never once topped 90,000 annual sales between 1997 and 2006. (The addition of a four-door Wrangler gets a lot of credit, but can't entirely explain the sales explosion).
Built in Toledo, Ohio, the redesigned Wrangler JL comes to showrooms in early 2018, lightened with aluminum for better fuel economy. Available features include a cool cantilevered bikini top, Chrysler’s trusty UConnect infotainment, and two likely engines: A 2.0-liter turbo four and the familiar Pentastar 3.6-liter V6, mated to either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic. Further down the road, a Wrangler-based pickup called the Scrambler will join standard two- and four-door models. A hybrid and possibly a diesel model are in the works, all designed to keep the Wrangler climbing up the sales charts.
2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS
The CLS kicked off a body style that’s become all the rage: the slinky-roofed “four-door coupe” that was promptly mimicked by the Audi A7 and Volkswagen CC, and now utilized by the Kia Stinger and many more. That CLS also signaled Mercedes’s radical, generational shift from sedate, avuncular models to high design, boutique luxury cars, now expressed in everything from the flagship S-Class to the AMG GT sports car. That makes an all-new CLS a very big deal, though sales don't begin until next fall, as a 2019 model. So far, Mercedes has managed to tease auto fans while keeping the new model under wraps before its LA debut—though some enterprising blogger/hacker from Azerbaijan is sure to spoil that. Still, we’re expecting a mix of the usual and not-so-usual powertrains, from Mercedes' new inline six-cylinder to a biturbo V8 and a mild hybrid version.
BMW Concept X7 iPerformance, 2018 i8 Roadster, 2018 M3 CS
Tired of standing on the sidelines while the Audi Q7 and Mercedes GLS-Class hog the glory and sales, BMW—finally—has its own three-row luxury SUV coming in the X7. It’s heading to showrooms in 2018, built in Spartanburg, S.C. on the lightweight, carbon-fiber-enhanced platform of the 7 Series sedan. First shown in Frankfurt, the Concept X7 iPerformance advances the nostalgic trend toward squarer, more-upright SUVs, seen everywhere from the Audi Q7 to Volkswagen Atlas. The interior is sumptuous, including quilted leather seats, a vast panoramic sunroof and the latest toys. The concept flaunts hulking 23-inch wheels and a plug-in hybrid powertrain, likely similar to the battery-boosted turbo four found in hybrid versions of the X5 SUV and the 3 and 5 Series sedans. But showroom versions will surely offer the option of turbocharged six-cylinder or twin-turbo eight-cylinder engines.
For Bimmer fans with fewer children to carry, BMW is also expected to unveil an electric model—likely the long-aborning Roadster version of the i8 hybrid sports car, with an electrified X3 SUV a long-shot possibility. And if that’s not enough, BMW will show the 453-horsepower M3 CS, the most powerful factory M3 in history. Consider stealing the show car off the floor, because just 1,200 copies will be made.
2019 Aston Martin Vantage
If you get tired of gawking at SUVs, try drooling over the all-new Vantage, which The Drive's Mike Spinelli did during his recent sneak peek in Gaydon, U.K.. Taking its knee-wobbling cues from the larger DB11 and 007-approved DB10 concept, the Vantage amasses 503 horsepower from the Mercedes-AMG-sourced, 4.0-liter biturbo V8. An eight-speed automatic transmission attends the car’s showroom debut, but a seven-speed manual transmission will follow, to purists’ delight. Particulars include a 3.6-second scamper to 60 mph, a 195-mph top speed, and a $149,995 base price.
2018 Subaru Ascent
Subaru can do no wrong these days, so unless it fumbles as embarrassingly as Mark Sanchez, the production version of the three-row Ascent—shown in near-completed "concept" form earlier this year—should win its share of former Outback and Forester families who’ve struggled to master birth control. This seven-passenger SUV is built on the brand’s new, lightened Subaru Global Platform (SGP). Stretched beyond even the beefy Ford Explorer, the Ascent will need every ounce of power it can squeeze from its new turbo-boosted boxer four, which displaces 2.4 liters. And where frumpy styling might stop another SUV dead in its four-wheel tracks, Subaru fans never seem to mind.
2018 Hyundai Kona
Hyundai looks to continue its remarkable winning streak with the Kona, whose cool, caffeinated styling might give it a leg up against blander crossover SUVs. On sale in the first quarter of 2018, the Kona is built on a new compact SUV platform. It offers four-wheel-drive, LED headlamps, and a pair of engines: A 2.0-liter, 147-hp four or a 1.6-liter turbo four with 175 horses. The stronger engine gets a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, or a conventional six-speed for the 2.0-liter model. A new Display Audio system allows Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to be run on a central screen.
2018 Nissan Kicks
With tiny SUVs proliferating like Tribbles on Star Trek, Nissan gets into the act with the Kicks, a subcompact crossover first shown in concept form in 2014 at the Sao Paulo Auto Show. The Mexican-built Kicks, already on sale in Latin America and other markets, is a bit longer and taller than the current Nissan Juke, built to take on models like the Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V, and Toyota CH-R.
2018 Volvo XC40
Volvo couldn’t find buyers for small wagons to save its Swedish ass, but the all-new XC40—yet another compact luxury SUV—may be a different story. Looking like a cross between a Land Rover Evoque and a Jeep Renegade, this cutie pie aims for a younger, slightly less affluent audience than the larger XC60 and XC90. Flashing some extroverted color and trim choices for the usually sedate Volvo—Lava Orange carpet, anyone?—the XC40 goes on sale next year, battling models including the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.
2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Convertible
Corvette connoisseurs are always on the hunt for a collectible, and the ZR1—especially with an epoch-changing mid-engine ‘Vette in the works—seems to fit the pricey bill. After dropping the ZR1 coupe in Dubai, Chevy is expected to unveil the hair-rending convertible version in L.A. History’s fastest Corvette cranks 755 Porsche-pissing horsepower from its supercharged, 6.2-liter V8. Corvette honchos say the latest ZR1 will top 210 mph, and may top a long list of exotics if it can crack the seven-minute barrier at the Nürburgring – aided by its gaudy “high wing” that’s said to clamp down with 950 pounds of downforce.
2019 Infiniti QX50
Coming to showrooms next year, the new QX50 crossover SUV flaunts an impressive world’s first in technology: An engine that can vary its compression ratio on the fly, to boost either performance or fuel economy. The VC Turbo engine generates a healthy 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque from just 2.0 liters of displacement, mated to a continuously variable transmission. Infiniti claims the QX50 will sip unleaded at 27 miles per gallon in both city and highway driving, or 26 mpg for AWD versions. This tech hotbed also debuts Nissan and Infiniti’s ProPilot, a suite of semi-autonomous driving aids.
2018 Lexus RX L
Take the wildly popular Lexus RX midsize SUV, stretch it to add a coveted third row, and voila, you have the RX L. Powertrains and designations are equally familiar, via the V6 RX 350L and hybrid RX 450h L.
2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
How popular are SUVs right now? Even Mitsubishi is banking on one to revive the corpse of its U.S. sales and brand. Mitsu’s first all-new model in several years is a small crossover in the vein of the Jeep Compass or the impressive new Subaru Crosstrek. On sale early next year for roughly $22,000 to start, the Eclipse Cross is definitely not bland: A new “Dynamic Shield” grille nods to Lexus’ schnoz treatments. If that’s not polarizing enough, a two-part, bisected rear window is already drawing comparisons to Walter White’s favorite whip, the maligned Pontiac Aztek. The interior, however, is a major upgrade from current Mitsubishis—yes, they still sell Mitsubishis in America—and power comes from a new, direct-injection turbo four with better than 166 horsepower.