The 2011 L.A. Auto Show proves that power and style never go out of fashion, even in a town where you're only as good as yesterday's ratings. For the first time in a long time, an auto show wasn't completely dominated by hybrids and electric-powered vehicles – although there were plenty of eco-themed vehicles on display.
The L.A. show allowed brands such as Ford and Chevrolet to unwind a bit and, in the process, engage in an all-out muscle car battle. Newcomers like Mastretta—Mexico's first sports car company—added some spice and variety to the proceedings. And how can you not like an SUV that opens and closes the rear tailgate automatically when your hands are full? The 2013 Ford Escape suddenly has the manners of an Eagle Scout.
Without further ado, our top picks from Los Angeles:
Subaru BRZ STI Concept
The BRZ is Subaru's first rear-wheel- drive sports car, and the STI Concept seen in Los Angeles hints at what the sportiest models will look like when they come to market. This 2+2 has a horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine mounted up front, which according to Subaru, will not be fitted with turbochargers. That seems strange, considering that STI models are synonymous with turbos—not to mention all-wheel drive. Subaru could be trying to pull a fast one here, pun intended. The large front air intakes, exaggerated rear fenders, thin-spoke alloy wheels and large rear wing add muscle to this coupe's lithe lines. A carbon-fiber roof helps trim curb weight and lower the center of gravity.
Ford Mustang GT500
The GT500 is officially the most powerful Mustang ever. The car's 5.8-liter V-8, fortified by an Eaton supercharger, pumps out a staggering 650 bhp and 600 lb.-ft. of torque. That's more power than many supercars—including the Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano and Lamborghini Gallardo—much less any Mustang that has come before. Ford says the GT500 is good for 200 mph. A 6-speed manual transmission routes power to the rear wheels, which are still supported by a live axle. Ford decided not to fit the car with an independent rear suspension, and we doubt any GT500 owners will mind. For some reason, Ford hasn't divulged the GT500's 0-60 mph time. We're guessing the Ford engineers are having too much fun melting the rear wheels to bother with an official time just yet.
Jaguar XKR-S Convertible
Jaguar's range-topping sports model now comes with unlimited headroom, once the top is stowed, of course. The 550-bhp XKR-S is now available as both a coupe and convertible, just in time for his-and-her holiday shopping. Under the hood is a supercharged and direct-injected 5.0-liter V-8, coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission. A manual mode lets your rip through the gears via paddles mounted on the steering wheel. If you find ridiculous levels of power and ground-hugging aero bits déclassé for a Jaguar GT, well, that's too bad. Our only gripe is that Jaguar plans to sell only 25 2012 XKR-S Convertibles here in the U.S. A second fault: The $138,000 price puts this Jag out of reach for most of us, especially those on an auto journalist salary.
The Cadillac XTS is the American luxury brand's next step toward shaking off its Florida retiree image, especially when it comes to its full-size offerings. Cars like the smaller CTS sedan—especially the rapid CTS-V sport variants—have been a huge step in the right direction. Now Cadillac is overhauling the top of its range. Vertical headlights and taillights, coupled with the XTS' bold grille, help make a strong styling statement without going overboard. The same is true of the 300-bhp direct-injected V-6 engine, which offers a good blend of power and economy. Front-wheel-drive models average 17 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. All-wheel drive is optional. Cadillac also touted its new Cadillac User Experience driver interface. The touchscreen system allows for proximity, gesture, and voice recognition.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Now that Ford has upped the power wars with the 650-bhp Mustang GT500, the 580-bhp Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible doesn't seem quite as crazy. Maybe that's mission accomplished for Ford, or proof that we're really getting spoiled. Come on folks, the 6.2-liter V-8 engine found in the ZL1 is not exactly lacking in power. Whether you opt for the 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, the ZL1 Convertible is certain to lay two streaks of molten rubber on the road whenever you punch the gas pedal. The Magnetic Ride Control should help you from getting on a first name basis with your local chiropractor. A Performance Traction Management system has five drive modes, including a Race setting used when the Chevy engineering team was busy setting hot laps at the Nürburgring.
The production-ready Mastretta MXT is making its first appearance at a U.S. auto show. That might explain why . Thankfully, no one made off with Mexico's first homegrown sports car, though we definitely wouldn't mind taking the tiny mid-engine machine out for a spin. Mastretta has done a fine job of making sure the chunky exterior is aggressive, but not over-the-top or cheesy. The cabin is pretty snug. However, with this type of minimalist sports car, that's more often a bragging right than a serious complaint. Power comes from a 250-bhp turbocharged Ford Duratec 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mated a 5-speed manual. With its 2050 lb. curb weight, the MXT's should be fast and agile—we can't wait for a head-to-head with a Lotus Evora. Aluminum and carbon fiber make up the chassis, while the body itself is constructed out of fiberglass. A Mastretta rep told us the base price should fall around $65,000 when the MXT arrives in the U.S. next year.
Dodge Challenger SRT8 Yellow Jacket
You have one choice of color with the . Any guesses as to what it might be? The Stinger Yellow paint is certain to catch your eye, and keep you popular with the police. As long as you don't mind the attention, there is a lot to like about this special Challenger. There are side stripes on the body and Yellow Jacket logos on the rear quarter panels. The alloy wheels are the same as those on the Super Bee: cast aluminum split 5-spoke designs with black accents. The cabin features leather seats with yellow striping and Yellow Jacket logos. Most important, the Yellow Jacket comes with the SRT8's rumbling 470-bhp Hemi V-8 and a choice of either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission.
Fiat 500 Abarth
This is the Fiat 500 we've wanted all along. True, the standard model is fun and nimble, but its 101-bhp 4-cylinder is no powerhouse. The Abarth edition sharpens the performance and looks, thanks to a turbocharged 160-bhp 4-cylinder engine and sportier bodywork. Fiat has not left many stones unturned when it comes to tweaking the Abarth. Larger front brakes have been fitted, the suspension has been lowered, the springs are 20- percent stiffer and the steering ratio has been quickened. About the only trade-off is the 5-speed manual transmission—apparently the standard 500's 6-speed manual wasn't stout enough for the extra power. The front fascia has been pushed out by 2.7 inches, the fenders are flared, and Abarth scorpion badges (inside and out) give this wee Fiat some needed sting.
The new Escape is so fuel efficient that Ford has opted to at least temporarily ditch the Hybrid version. There is a choice of three engines, including a turbocharged 1.6- and 2.0-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder, along with the base model's naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. The 173-bhp 1.6-liter is the fuel economy hero, although Ford has not pegged any official mpg figures for the moment. Expect a minimum of 32 mpg during highway driving—and that's a very conservative estimate. The sleek and aerodynamic exterior is radically different from the boxy proportions of the outgoing Escape. A motion detector system for opening the power liftgate is especially cool—as long as you have the key fob on your person, swinging a leg under the rear bumper will unlock and open the rear hatch.
Honda Fit EV
The electric-powered subcompact is based on the nimble and functional Fit hatchback and gets our nod as a top pick from the 2011 L.A. Auto Show. Instead of the standard car's fuel-sipping 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, the Fit EV is powered by a 92-kWh electric motor coupled to a lithium-ion battery pack. It serves up a maximum driving range of approximately 123 miles, according to Honda. While that's a pretty precise approximation, a better range estimate in a real world mix of city and highway driving will likely fall between 75 and 100 miles. Recharging the Fit EV will take 3 hours when using a 240-volt outlet, says Honda. When it arrives in mid-2012, the Fit EV will only be available in select markets in California and Oregon, and only via a 3-year, $399 per month lease program.