LOS ANGELES—I’ll be honest with you: this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show was not the most mind-blowing car show I’ve been to. Most of the big reveals were cars that had already broken cover elsewhere, earlier, and the proximity to CES (which is now a car show) and then Detroit in January has had a bit of a negative effect. But that’s not to say there’s nothing to see at the LA Convention Center (where the show runs until December 10). What follows are some highlights of the neatest design and engineering we saw during the two-day press preview.
Infiniti’s very clever new engine
We already looked at Infiniti’s new variable-compression ratio engine earlier this week, but it deserves another call-out as one of the most interesting advances for the internal combustion engine in decades. A multilink can vary the distance the pistons travel within each cylinder, allowing it to operate at compression ratios between 8:1 and 14:1. The engine first ships in the new QX50 SUV.
My favorite car goes topless
As you might imagine, I often get asked the question “What’s your favorite car?” The McLaren 650S and Ferrari 488 both rate very high, but probably my all-time favorite remains the BMW i8. It manages to feel 200kg lighter than it is thanks to very good damping and that carbon-fiber tub. And it drives like it has 150hp more than it does, thanks to the way the electric power deploys at the front axle. But the best thing of all is that you can drive it like you stole it and still get 25mpg—try that with a Corvette or 911 and you’d be lucky to get half that. Now BMW has chopped the roof off to make the i8 Roadster. I’ll take one in white, please.
An F1 car for the road, really
The Mercedes-AMG Project One hypercar lives in very rarified air. It’s one of a tiny handful of road cars (like the Ferrari F50) that can credibly claim to be directly related to an actual Formula 1 race car. The engine and hybrid system are basically the same as the one that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have used to win the last four World Drivers Championships. Unlike those single-seat race cars, this one has a few creature comforts, like a roof and somewhere for a passenger to sit. Total power output from the hybrid powertrain will be more than 1,000hp, and just 275 will be made—each one retailing for $2.7 million.
Do my eyes deceive me or is that a Tesla Model 3?
Tesla almost never comes to auto shows, so it was very surprising to see the company out in force in LA in 2017. (The year before it had an airstream trailer underneath the stairs between the two main halls.) What’s more, it brought along what may well be the most hotly anticipated car of the century: the Model 3 electric vehicle. It’s the first time I’d seen the Model 3 in person, and to my eyes it’s the company’s best-looking design yet. The rear is like a much less hideous version of the Model X, and the front has a sporty, even menacing aspect to it. Still no word from Tesla as to when we might be able to get one for a review, but we’re working on it.
Rear-view mirrors reimagined
Backup cameras are now a ubiquitous feature in new cars, but General Motors has an interesting twist on the idea. Instead of just streaming the feed to a screen in the center console, it has created a video rear-view mirror that lets you keep your eyes up above the dashboard, which gives you a much greater field of view than a conventional reflective mirror. That means smaller blindspots and better situational awareness. I tried the mirror out a while ago in the new Chevrolet Bolt, and it really is very good.
NSX points the way for future Acura hybrids
Acura’s new hybrid NSX continues to wow crowds wherever it goes. Unlike the i8, this one isn’t a plug-in, and it uses not one but three electric motors—one for each front wheel and a third that works in conjunction with the twin-turbo V6 to drive the rear wheels. I recently got the chance to drive one, briefly—it was an interesting experience that left me desperate for more time with it so we could write a proper review. The abiding impression that comes to mind when I think of the car is the whooshing noise you hear from the turbos behind you as you step on the gas. Although the NSX hasn’t been a huge sales success, the lessons that Acura has learned with the car will be used in the brand’s other, more sedate hybrids.
That’s no Land Rover
Bollinger’s B1 electric vehicle has become a real crowd favorite. It looks like a 1960s Land Rover, but the design is all new and all-American. It definitely puts the Utilitarian in SUV, with an interior that can be hosed out and adaptable cargo space that even allows you to carry an entire tree’s worth of 2x4s thanks to pass-through hatches at the front and back. The B1 has a charm that is sadly missing from too many new vehicles. Production hasn’t started yet, but there will be 60kWh and 100kWh versions available once that happens.
The best infotainment system on the road just got better
Not all infotainment systems are created equal, and it’s fair to say that if my friend Lee Hutchinson had spent some time with Audi’s MMI he might be less angry about the whole idea of computers in cars. When Ron Amadeo conducted his deep dive into the topic recently, he came away impressed with what Audi has managed to do. Audi hasn’t been sleeping, though; its new A8 flagship contains the latest and greatest version of MMI and cements the brand’s position at the top of the tree when it comes to in-car tech.
As you’ll see in the video and photo gallery, there were plenty more quirky or cool highlights, like the weird new vehicle from Chris Bangle or Subaru’s 19-cup-holder Ascent SUV. And we’ll have some more coverage from the show in the coming days, including a delve into BMW’s plans for its innovative i sub-brand, what Volvo has been up to as it rethinks the car buying and car owning experience, and a little more about that one-make race series for Jaguar’s new I-Pace EV.