2011 Los Angeles Auto Show: Studs and Duds

By Automotive Staff | November 21, 2011
The 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show is fast becoming memory as we occupy our minds with filling Thanksgiving tables with mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, and the now-traditional turducken. But before we sign off on the show entirely, let's take one last look at the cars to see what our favorites—and least favorites—were. Studs, quite obviously, are the stars of the show. They're the vehicles most likely to make a big impact, either with sales, or by moving the needle of their respective niches a few notches higher. Sometimes it's done through big horsepower, other times with outstanding styling or clever features. Once in a while, it's a combination of all of them, or something entirely unexpected. Then there are the duds. For whatever reason, they either don't live up to their pre-show hype, or disappoint us for some other reason. They aren't necessarily bad cars, mind you, and it's a good bet many will go on to be sales successes anyhow.
Without further adieu, here are our picks for the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show. And as always, sound off in the comments and let us know what you think.
Stud: 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

Sales of Fiat's little four-seat subcompact have inexplicably languished. We say "inexplicably," because there's a lot to like about the 2012 Fiat 500. It's undeniably cute, is packed with clever features, and it doesn't cost a whole lot. But despite the Italian manufacturer and proper name (cinquecento), the 500 lacks a certain…pizzazz, if you will. Enter the 160-hp turbocharged 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth. Sure, it's an enthusiast-only car, with a stiffened suspension, black-on-black interior, and enough scorpion badges to give anyone arachnophobia. But it also gives the little car some much-needed Italiano. After all, Italian cars have a reputation as sexy, ridiculously overpowered sportscars. The 500 Abarth doesn't lose any seats, but it does gain a lot of power and performance. If the Abarth does well, it could raise the profile of the 2012 Fiat 500 altogether.

Dud: 2013 Cadillac XTS

The 2013 Cadillac XTS is a good-looking car. A state-of-the art 300-horsepower V-6 engine is underhood. It has all-wheel drive available, and a sumptuous interior. So why is it on the Duds list? It's hard to pin down, really, but whatever it is, the 2012 Cadillac XTS just didn't floor us the way we wanted it to. Maybe it's the play-it-safe styling. Maybe it's the conservative engine specs. It could be the persistent rumors that an even bigger, more luxurious flagship—one that can take on the big Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series—is still waiting in the wings. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because the stunningly beautiful, classically elegant and mind-blowingly outrageous Cadillac Ciel concept car was parked mere yards away. While we can't buy a Ciel now or ever, it's possible the XTS simply didn't have a chance with such a gorgeous sibling nearby.

Stud: 2013 Ford Escape

After 12 years, Ford is finally introducing an all-new Escape. The old vehicle was introduced for the 2000 model year, and while it has received numerous upgrades since then, a 2011 Ford Escape cuts the same profile as that original 2000 model. So it's with no small amount of joy that the 2013 Ford Escape that debuted here in Los Angeles looks so similar to the Ford Kuga concept we saw in Detroit back in January. This is a good looking car, with room for five, clever features such as a hands-free rear hatch that you can open by waving your foot under the bumper, and a variety of engines for any power or fuel-economy need you may have. It enters a hyper-competitive compact crossover market, but at first glance we have little doubt that the 2013 Escape will hold its own.

Dud: 2013 Infiniti JX

A few years ago, Infiniti vowed that its cars would be based on a rear-wheel drive chassis, to better compete against similarly laid-out vehicles from Mercedes-Benz and BMW. It then proceeded to make good on that promise, and by "good" we mean that the company's vehicle lineup has gotten high marks for the better part of a decade now. But the 2013 Infiniti JX is based on the same general underpinnings as the front-wheel drive Nissan Murano, has the same 265-hp engine as the Nissan Murano, but costs nearly $15,000 more than a Nissan Murano. Granted, you get two extra seats in the JX, a healthy dose of added luxury, and styling that isn't going to be confused with a Murano any time soon. Yet it still saddens us to see Infiniti back away from that commitment, even with though the vehicle itself appears to be pretty good otherwise.

Stud: 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

There are 650 reasons the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 appears on this list, and they're all under this super-Mustang's hood. Yes, we know that a mega-horsepower Mustang won't appear on many mainstream shoppers' lists; they'll probably be looking at the new Escape. But thanks to the 5.8-liter supercharged V-8 engine under its baby-blue hood, this is the most powerful Mustang ever made, and let's be honest, there's no way we could overlook it. Besides, it pushed another potential stud off this list: The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, which boasts "only" 580 horsepower. Sure, Chevy may brag that its Camaro is ready for the street and track right off the showroom floor, but this is a horsepower war, and Chevy's behind by 70 points. Yet, bowtie fans can take solace in one thing: There's still no current-generation Camaro Z28 on the streets, and now that Ford's made its move, Chevy has a firm target.

Dud: 2013 Lincoln MKS

Poor Lincoln. It arrived in Los Angeles with two newly restyled vehicles at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto show, and both of them wound up on our duds list. The first is the 2013 Lincoln MKS. This big, Ford Taurus-based sedan debuted a couple years ago with aggressive new styling for the Lincoln brand. But the car never quite caught on. The grille design was too out-there, and the interior accommodations, while nice, weren't exactly $40,000 luxury car nice. Lincoln has improved the interior with upgraded styling and a new version of MyLincoln Touch, its voice-activated do-everything touchscreen system. But the exterior styling updates retain the same waterfall grille as before, albeit toned down a notch. The new 300-horsepower base engine is a nice touch, but the MKS still doesn't distinguish itself against other luxury competitors; compared to this, the 2012 Cadillac XTS is a stud.

Stud: 2012 Honda CR-V

When it comes to the compact crossover class, the Honda CR-V is a force to be reckoned with. Even in its fifth year, the CR-V continued to break sales records, due in large part to its comfortable interior, good fuel economy and low price. With the 2012 Honda CR-V there's more of the same, but wrapped in a package that's significantly better looking. Eschewing the bigger-more philosophy of some of its competitors (specifically, the Toyota RAV-4), the 2012 Honda CR-V still seats only five passengers, doesn't grow significantly in any particular direction, and still has only a four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission. But the interior boasts a host of clever innovations such as standard Pandora streaming, the engine gains a comfortable bump in horsepower and improves on its fuel economy, and the styling—which on the previous CR-V was never critically acclaimed—finally stands out for all the right reasons.

Dud: 2013 Lincoln MKT

Remember what we said about the 2012 Lincoln MKS sedan above? Same applies here. The MKT debuted with a thud shortly after its mechanical sibling, the Ford Flex. But the MKT's proportions and front end were ungainly, and its interior wasn't quite up to snuff to go against the higher-end luxury models it targeted. Now, with a new nose, upgraded interior and more horsepower, Lincoln hopes that the 2013 Lincoln MKT will finally distinguish itself in all the right ways. The added horsepower certainly helps, and we always like an interior improvement. But the exterior refresh doesn't go far enough. The odd hump along the side windows remains, the nose still droops too much, and the new grille combines the worst elements of the defunct GM brands Pontiac and Oldsmobile.

Stud: 2012 Hyundai Azera

When the 2012 Hyundai Azera was unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show, we're pretty sure we heard some very unfriendly language coming from the nearby Toyota display. And really, who can blame them? The 2012 Azera is aimed squarely at the Toyota Avalon, and if Hyundai's recent history is an accurate yardstick, the Avalon may have problems on the horizon. The 2012 Hyundai Azera's packing a 292-hp 3.3-liter V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, standard leather, a roomy interior, and class-leading fuel economy, all wrapped in Hyundai's now-expected head-turning styling. Does this mean we're just suckers for a pretty face? Maybe, but the 2012 Hyundai Azera also takes the previous car—a dud by any measure—and rockets it to stud status faster than you can say "80's-style training montage."

Dud: 2013 Volkswagen CC

The Volkswagen CC is supposed to be the brand's premium sedan. Based off the previous-generation Passat, it boasts a refined interior, upscale appointments, and a coupe-like profile. Up until this year, it also offered buyers a unique and striking front end, but sadly, that's no longer the case. The 2013 Volkswagen CC gains the same front end styling that has made its way onto the new Passat, Jetta, Golf, and the rest of the Volkswagen range. It's a nice enough corporate face, but it also eliminates one of the primary reasons to pay extra for the CC: It looked a lot different (and better) than the Passat. True, the 2012 Volkswagen CC finally gets a fifth seat, and the impressive array of engines remains. But as a styling statement, Volkswagen messed with a good thing, never a smart move.