Latest News > Previews 2011 LA Auto Show, Picks Most Notable New Car Debuts Previews 2011 LA Auto Show, Picks Most Notable New Car Debuts

by James M. Flammang on

Through the 1990s and into the current century, the Los Angeles Auto Show stood behind Detroit, New York, and Chicago in importance. In the past few years, however, the annual Los Angeles extravaganza has been growing strongly in size, scope, and stature. Now, it’s vying against Detroit’s North American International Auto Show for dominance.

At least 20 world premieres of new and redesigned models are expected at the 2011 LA Auto Show, which opens to the public on November 18. Another 30 North American debuts are scheduled–mainly of models that first appeared at the Frankfurt (Germany) motor show in September. Here are our favorites among the reveals that are expected at this year’s show.

Fiat 500 Abarth: Not many cars have drawn as much eager attention as the tiny Fiat 500 (Cinquecento), which reached the U.S. market early in 2011. Now, Chrysler/Fiat is adding a hefty dose of performance, reviving the Abarth badge for its Los Angeles introduction. Back in the 1960s, Abarth fans coined the phrase “small but wicked” to describe the legendary race-ready minicars created by Karl Abarth. This new, limited-production Fiat 500 Abarth promises what Chrysler/Fiat calls “purposeful and aggressive styling,” along with a high power-to-weight ratio. Said to build upon the excitement of the regular Fiat 500, fitted with a 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine, the Abarth edition is intended for driving purists as well as enthusiasts who like to take their mini-sized automobiles to the racetrack. In addition to “race-inspired” design touches, the Abarth offshoot gets an Abarth-tuned suspension and brake system.

Mazda CX-5: As its model designation suggests, Mazda’s newest crossover wagon is smaller than the company’s CX-7 and CX-9. Considered an entry-level crossover, it’s the first Mazda product to employ the entire new SKYACTIV technology system, which debuted in part on the redesigned 2012 Mazda3. Unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show earlier this fall, the 2013 CX-5 holds a direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Operating with unusually high (13:1) compression, the engine runs on regular-grade gasoline and is likely to develop a bit more power than the SKYACTIV-G powerplant in the Mazda3. Based on the Minagi Concept seen at the Geneva show last March, the CX-5 features Mazda’s KODO design language, which translates to “soul in motion.” Dimensionally, at least, the CX-5 will occupy the slot formerly taken by the Mazda Tribute–a close relative of Ford’s Escape.

Chevrolet Spark and Camaro ZL1 Convertible: Celebrating its centennial this fall, Chevrolet is bringing vehicles from both ends of the performance spectrum to Los Angeles. Spark, which evolved from the Beat concept seen at the New York Auto Show back in 2007, is the smallest Chevrolet model ever. Aimed at affordability and thrifty operation, the youth-oriented four-door hatchback is smaller than Chevrolet’s new Sonic subcompact. As reported by Kelley Blue Book, an 83-horsepower, 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine works with a five-speed manual gearbox or optional automatic transmission. Plenty of personalization options will be offered. Though the Sonic is made in the U.S., the 2013 Spark is a product of GM Daewoo Auto Technologies, in South Korea.

In regular V-6 guise as well as SS V-8 trim, Chevrolet’s Camaro, as revived for 2010, has a well-deserved reputation for exuberant road behavior. Now, devotees who crave a bit more–or a lot more–can savor the 2013 Camaro ZL1. First seen at the Chicago Auto Show, in February 2011, it’s the strongest-performing Camaro ever. Named for the all-aluminum racing engine developed in the late 1960s, installed in just 69 Camaros, the ZL1 unleashes a supercharged LSA 6.2-liter V-8, generating an estimated 550 horsepower and 550 pound-feet of torque. The six-speed manual transmission mates with a dual-disc clutch. Magnetic Ride Control, claimed as the world’s fastest-reacting suspension system, will be standard, and aerodynamic touches aim at high-performance driving. Sales begin early in 2012.

Infiniti JX: Seen previously in concept form, this new seven-passenger, three-row crossover wagon made an appearance in concept form at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance this summer. Entering a vehicle segment, the sizable premium crossover, that’s pretty crowded already, the JX “advances the Infiniti design language,” says chief creative officer Shiro Nakamura, “sharing design cues of the Infiniti Essence concept” and including a crescent-cut D-pillar. Nakamura says it’s “a fresh, bold alternative to the many flavors of vanilla currently dominating the three-row luxury crossover segment.” New Backup Collision Intervention helps detect crossing objects behind the vehicle, and can even apply brakes automatically if necessary. JX buyers even get free Infiniti Personal Assistant, a new personal concierge service, available 24 hours a day. Offered with front- or all-wheel drive, the V-6 engine works with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), including a Sport mode that can mimic a conventional “step-gear” transmission.

BMW M5: At BMW, “M” stands for performance; or perhaps, for mature performance. At Los Angeles, the fifth generation of the performance-packed edition of BMW’s upper echelon 5 Series midsize sedan makes its North American debut. Billed as the “world’s most successful high-performance sedan in the premium segment of the executive class,” the latest M5 moves to a “high-revving” 4.4-liter V-8 with twin turbochargers, a cross-bank exhaust manifold, and precision direct injection. Output is 560 horsepower at 6000-7000 rpm, with 502 pound-feet of torque from 1500 rpm. Despite hp/torque boosts, fuel usage has been cut by more than 30 percent. Mating with a seven-speed M Double Clutch Transmission, the engine gets an Auto Start-Stop function and Brake Energy Regeneration.

Audi S6, S7, S8: A trio of high-performance offshoots of midsize and full-size Audi models are the main attraction at the German automaker’s display stand. The big, luxurious S8 debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September, fitted with a new 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8 engine that’s shared with Bentley (Audi’s sister company). Rated at 520 horsepower and driving an eight-speed automatic transmission, the new V-8 delivers 70 more horsepower than its V-10 predecessor, but beats it in gas mileage by nearly 23 percent.

Also ready for Los Angeles appearances are the S6 sedan and Avant (wagon), and the S7 Sportback "coupe." Both models get a less-potent (420-horsepower) version of the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8, and a seven-speed automatic transmission. The S6's drive select system modifies gas-pedal characteristics and shift points, among other factors, with a choice from five settings. With the 2012 Audi A7, a rear spoiler extends upward from the roof at highway speeds. An air suspension is standard. Audi’s “cylinder on demand” technology helps the twin-turbo V-8 deliver passable fuel economy, likely helped by Audi’s stop-and-go function. A parking assist system uses a 360-degree camera.

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series Coupe: Building on the foundation of the newly redesigned C-Class coupe (and sedan), the C63 AMG takes Mercedes-Benz performance close to the limit. For buyers who can never get quite enough, the C63 AMG Black Series that makes its premiere at the LA show takes energetic motoring another step forward. In the “regular” C63 AMG coupe, Mercedes Benz’s 6.3-liter V-8 engine develops 451 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. Going to “Black” raises the output to 510 horsepower and 457 pound-feet. Scheduled for sale early in 2012, this will be the third Black Series model in the Mercedes-Benz lineup. Aerodynamic and Track packages will be available, to whet the appetites of the most avid enthusiasts.

Volkswagen Beetle R Concept: Now that the redesigned Beetle coupe is on sale as a 2012 model, Volkswagen has turned its attention to a design study that enhances the familiar “R” designation–which, at VW, promises “top-notch performance.” This design study, first seen at the Frankfurt auto show, is the third “R” edition, following up on the 266-horsepower Golf R and the 261-horsepower Scirocco R. Painted “Serious Grey” and wearing 20-inch “Talladega” alloy wheels, the Beetle R Concept suggests what a production verison, presumably turbocharged, would look like, according to Volkswagen. Bumpers were widened by 1.2 inches, the front bumper consists of three air intakes, and vents are installed on each side of the hood.

Everybody knows that a Beetle convertible will appear soon, to join the redesigned coupe that began to reach dealerships this fall. Will that soft-top turn up at the Los Angeles Auto Show? Volkswagen representatives are keeping quiet about that possibility, but VW fans are sure to keep their eyes peeled for such a sight when approaching the company’s exhibit space.

Honda CR-V and Fit EV: First introduced in 1997, Honda’s popular CR-V compact crossover gets a major makeover for the 2012 model year. For its fourth generation, styling has been freshened and a new engine is likely. Full details will be available after Honda’s news conference on November 16. The Honda CR-V has been a longtime rival to the Toyota RAV4, among other smaller-size crossover SUVs.

Also promoted in Los Angeles is a battery-powered rendition of the smallest Honda model: the Fit EV. First seen at the LA Show a year ago, in concept form, the production version of the Fit EV will use a lithium-ion battery pack and should have a per-charge range close to 100 miles.

Ford Escape, Fiesta ST Concept: Ever come up to a crossover or SUV with your arms full, fumbling for a key to open the hatch? Ford has a solution, as part of its reworking of the popular Escape crossover SUV. Not too many details have been released on the latest iteration of Ford’s compact crossover, which makes its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show. But the company has been promoting its “segment-first” hands-free liftgate, which can open by applying a gentle kick under the rear bumper, with no need to search for the key. Motion-sensing technology that makes this happen is “gesture-based,” comparable to that used in some video games. A similar kicking motion closes the liftgate afterward. Three engines will be available in the redesigned Escape, including 1.6- and 2.0-liter versions of the EcoBoost.

Also at Los Angeles, Ford will unveil a Fiesta ST Concept that’s said to preview a future high-performance version of the recently-launched subcompact. Beneath the hood sits a specially-tuned, 180-horsepower, 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine. Styling is said to be inspired by the Fiesta RS WRC, which is one of a series of hot Fiestas to emerge over the past 35 years. Ford also will show the ST edition of its larger Focus.

Hyundai Azera: Among family sedans from this South Korean automaker, Genesis has been drawing the bulk of attention for the past year or two. Azera has been rolling along, patiently awaiting a redesign. Los Angeles is the site for the next Azera’s initial appearance. Full details will be announced after the press unveiling of the 2012 Azera on November 16.

Lexus GS 350 F Sport: After exhibiting its redesigned 2013 GS 350 sport sedan at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August, Lexus introduced a new F Sport package at the SEMA Show. Each version will be exhibited at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The F Sport package includes 19-inch staggered-width wheels and an adaptive variable suspension.

Porsche 911: Not too many cars date back as far as Porsche’s iconic 911, which first appeared in 1963. Now entering its seventh generation, the redesigned “991" edition made its initial appearance at the Frankfurt auto show in September, and will be a stellar attraction in Los Angeles. Among other technological advances, it’s the first car to get a seven-speed manual gearbox. Porsche’s flat-six engine produces 350 horsepower in standard trim, and 400 hp in “S” guise.

Located at the Convention Center, the 2011 Los Angeles International Auto Show opens to the public on Friday, November 18, and runs through Sunday, November 27. Complete show information may be obtained at

See more debuts in our LA Auto Show photo gallery.