The Sweetest Rides of the LA Auto Show

The city of Los Angeles and I have a long love/hate history. The traffic along the 110 brings out unmentionable evil thoughts. The traffic in Beverly Hills inspires feelings of pure love, though that’s mostly due to the rumble of Maseratis.

I love the ocean. I hate the heat. I love Disneyland. I hate earthquakes. You get the idea.

I also love the annual LA Auto Show, a showcase of shiny awesomeness with a hint of the kind of extravagance only LA can provide. This year’s show has featured plenty of exciting cars, some of the most interesting of which are shown after the jump.

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VW Passat Wins Motor Trend Car of the Year Award

2012 Volkswagen Passat

The lack of media applause was deafening as the 2012 Volkswagen Passat took the still-prestigious Motor Trend Car of the Year Award. In fact, some people, like Jalopnik’s Mike Spinelli, got downright nasty about it. Other venues simply put down the award as disingenuous and irrelevant.

In a way, it’s fun to read these guys, who try to establish themselves (maybe we all do) as truth-tellers in a world of false values, corporatism and special pleading for unspecial cars. The enthusiasts vs. the whorish media.

These are rhetorical games—not to sell cars but to attract readers.

So, if you read Motor Trend’s story about why and how it picked the Passat, there is a sense throughout that its selection team saw the car as a series of fair compromises—which of course all constructors of mass-market cars must make.

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Cars Coming Soon: 2013 Ford Escape Goes All European

2013 Ford Escape

The Ford Kuga has had my attention for years.

The Europe-only crossover was one of the cars that ended up on my list anytime I complained about the cool cars not available in the United States but sold across the pond. In contrast to the clunky and boxy U.S. Ford Escape, the Kuga is sleek and good-looking and has better fuel economy. Why on Earth has it not been available here?

There are lots of reasons, but now, Ford has finally decided that customers on this side of the Atlantic are sophisticated enough for the Kuga. We’ll know it here as the all-new Ford Escape, but it’ll always be a Kuga to me.

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Muscle Wars Continue: Camaro vs. Mustang, Price vs. Power

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Chevrolet announces that the 580-hp Camaro ZL1 will cost $54,995 MSRP. Ford announces its new Ford Shelby GT500 will have 650 hp, no price yet.

Ford wins, of course, on marketing strategy (and maybe on specs), but in a one-on-one, the Camaro may prove to have better handling. Finally, who cares?

Why would any sane person shell out this kind of bread (I’ll bet the Ford comes in at way over $60K) for a car that’s less of an all-round performer than a recent-model M3, for instance? DealFinder will give you the answers.

Aren’t we all getting a little tired of this madness? Two cars—one with 200-mph capability (the Shelby), and the ZL1 can do 184 mph. Each is supposedly tuned for the track, but guess how many of them will end up there. Both look like relics from the past, which they are.

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Green Update: $40,000 for a Focus EV?

Ford Focus Electric

The big news seems not to be the debut of Ford’s all-electric 2012 Focus but its price. At $39,995 (including destination fee), it is $3,995 more than the Nissan Leaf—its real competitor—and twice the price of a gas-powered Focus, to which it looks nearly identical.

Chevrolet’s Volt is priced the same but has the range-extender gas engine. Guess which car I’d want? Both are eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit.

Ford pumps up the fact that the car will recharge in three to four hours using a 240-volt charging station (optional) and that it comes with a slew of standard equipment. The Leaf takes much longer and options out its equipment list.

Whether one would want all this stuff—MyFord Touch, rear camera, push-button start, MyKey, Bluetooth, SIRIUS satellite radio, etc., etc.—is surely questionable. Your only options are leather seats and two paint colors. “Build your car” with these two choices at the Ford site.

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Fake Engine Sounds for Your 2012 BMW M5

2012 BMW M5

If it’s being faked, would you want to know, or are you better off blissfully unaware?

That’s a question that’s about to enter the automotive world, as a concerning predicament is beginning to take place in the world of luxury performance cars. On one hand, drivers expect an auditory cacophony of engine noise resonating in their chests as they accelerate. On the other hand, many luxury car buyers accept nothing less than a tomb-quiet cabin.

What’s the solution? BMW has one, and frankly, I don’t like it.

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New Mercedes SUV: 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds

2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG

Mercedes-Benz’s M-Class started as a dog and now emerges as a thoroughbred. Parading at the L.A. Auto Show this week is the new ML63 AMG, with its big attraction, a 5.5-liter V8 outputting 518 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque.

This will be the third generation of high-performance M-Class cars from AMG, which Benz calls “the founder of the high-performance SUV segment.” This has turned out to be a good thing, because the first 1998 ML 320 factory version was a sort of half-breed, with substandard M-B quality.

AMG got into the act in 1999, and the car has been much the better for their tuning. Of course, it costs a bundle more than the standard version, but you get a lot more. Whether that incremental value is worth the cost of those prominent fender-mounted “V8 Biturbo” badges is another question.

The new engine gives you more clout, particularly in torque, over last year’s—plus a 33 percent improvement in fuel economy, now 16 mpg combined. A 7-speed automatic provides three driving programs, stop/start engine on/off function and shorter shift times.

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New Volkswagen T2 Microbus Headed for Europe… and the States?

Volkswagen Type 2 Microbus

In certain crowds, mention of the Volkswagen Type 2 results in fond memories of a wild, but lost, youth.

To others, dropping “Type 2” in casual conversation results in nothing but blank stares. Call it a VW Microbus, though, and people know in an instant exactly what you’re talking about. Whatever it’s known as, there’s no denying VW created an icon that played a part in defining an entire generation in the 1960s.

Introduced in 1950, the panel van was Volkswagen’s second model. (Thus Type 2. The Beetle, of course, was Type 1.)

Although the Microbus hasn’t been available in the U.S. in decades, it never has ended production. That’s right, in some places, it’s still possible to take home a brand-new VW Type 2. Could it re-enter the U.S. market?

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Where Is the Industry Headed Next Year?

Mississippi Toyota plant

We can learn a lot from the past, even if predicting the future is impossible. So, naturally, opinions seem to be all over the lot regarding the auto industry outlook for 2012.

Let’s begin with the optimists. Bloomberg interviewed several people who stressed the fact that auto companies, foreign and domestic, were committing to new plants in the U.S. and quite a number of new jobs. The reasons are, basically, pent-up demand and the increasing cost of labor in China and India. Can you believe it? U.S. labor is competitive!

Toyota is opening a new plant to build Corollas in Mississippi (above) and hiring 1,500 people. Other furriners—Kia, VW, Mercedes, Nissan, Honda and BMW among them—are adding capacity and jobs: 6,350 this year, 3,400 in 2012.

The Detroiters have made contract agreements to restore or create 20,000 U.S. jobs by 2015. Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s North American EVP, is quoted as saying the auto industry “will spur 88,000 more jobs” this year and next.

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