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L.A. Auto Show: Dan Neil's calls on the carpet

December 3, 2009 |  8:42 pm

Some have taken to calling it the the Los Angeles International Carpet Show because of all the empty floor space this year. But if you look hard enough, you'll find some striking cars, concepts and trends on display at the L.A. Auto Show, which runs Friday, Dec. 4, to Sunday, Dec. 13.

Best-looking car: It’s not particularly new and it’s not particularly representative of the production car to come in 2010, but the Volvo S60 Concept -- a copper-skinned beauty with long graceful roof arches and heroic front styling -- just grabbed me by the lapels.

Volvos60 Among the savory details are the twin reflectors in the headlamps that are designed to look like Viking longboats rowing in formation. You don’t see that every day. And the central console that runs from the dash to the back seat is made of a single, beautiful swell of Orrefors crystal, which probably wouldn’t pass crash-test standards at any price.

Like Saab, Volvo retains a strangely indelible residual charisma as a properly Swedish brand, despite being owned by Ford. Ford has been hosting troupes of potential investors from China in Gothenburg, but according to one Volvo insider, the language barrier (Swedish-English-Mandarin) has been so difficult that people are “completely mystified.”

Why bankruptcy is a good thing: Imminent disaster does seem to focus the mind. During a show where GM’s front-office drama was all the buzz, the company unveiled some pretty serious product, including the 2011 Buick Regal, a lightly Americanized version of the mid-size Opel Insignia.

Buickregal Taut, tailored, substantial and unforced, the Regal is a handsome car with an interior to match. The car will be powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder paired with a six-speed automatic, good for 30 mpg; later, a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 220-hp four will power a sportier version.


Meanwhile, Cadillac unveiled the devastating CTS Coupe, a glowering, predatory mega-coupe that looks like it was drawn by Frank Miller after his happy meds ran out.


And not 50 feet away was the Cadillac Converj, a Volt-based concept for a luxury coupe. The Converj also scores a clean kill in the looks department, particularly when you compare it to other car companies’ green-car concepts, such as the Honda P-NUT, which looks like it’s double-parked at a UFO convention in Roswell, N.M.


Biggest sign of the changing world order: Not too long ago, Suzuki couldn’t get arrested if it were carrying a bloody ax down the street. But in the past year or so -- buoyed by the success of the SX4 – the company has been coming on.

Suzuki This week the company announced its Test Drive Challenge, which dares consumers to compare the new Suzuki Kizashi -- on the turnstile at the L.A. Auto Show -- with no less than the Audi A4 and Acura TSX. If shoppers ultimately decide to buy the Audi or Acura instead, Suzuki will give them $100. For the few C-notes it will cost Suzuki, this is a great promotion, if only to get Suzuki mentioned in the same breath with Acura and Audi.

Car I’d most like to drive: The Audi e-Tron coupe, which I saw a few months ago at the Frankfurt Auto Show, is a highly speculative electric sports car from the German giant (part of the VW Group). The car reappeared at the L.A. show painted a heart-attack metallic umber.

Audietron The e-Tron is powered by four electric motors (one for each wheel) generating together 3,319 pound-feet of torque. With a half-ton of liquid-cooled batteries and a range of 150 miles, the electron-killing e-Tron is nobody’s idea of an eco-friendly grocery getter. But I bet it’s more fun than nitrous oxide.

--Dan Neil

Photos: 2009 L.A. Auto Show: Production Cars
Photos: 2009 L.A. Auto Show: Concept Cars

Photos: 2009 L.A. Auto Show: Green Cars

More L.A. Auto Show news

Photo: The Volvo S60 Concept car, which has a 1.6 liter 4-cylinder GTDi engine with 180 horsepower, at the L.A. Auto Show. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Photo: Craig Bierley, Buick's marketing director, introduces the 2011 Buick Regal at the L.A. Auto Show. Credit: Buick

Photo:The 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe. Credit: Cadillac via Getty Images

Photo: The Cadillac Converj concept car at the L.A. Auto Show. Credit: Gabriel Bouys / AFP/Getty Images

Photo: The new Suzuki Kizashi is displayed last month at 41st Tokyo Motor Show 2009 in Chiba, Japan. Credit: Kiyoshi Ota / Getty Images

Photo: The Audi e-tron makes its North American debut at the L.A. Auto Show. Credit: David McNew / Getty Images