2010 Los Angeles Auto Show: Winners and Losers, SUVs, Crossovers and Minivans
The 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show had so many new vehicles on display that we had to split our Winners & Losers story into two posts. First, editors David Thomas, Joe Wiesenfelder, Kelsey Mays and Mike Hanley weighed in on cars and convertibles. In this round, they take on SUVs, crossovers and minivans.
Joe Wiesenfelder: Winner
There's no doubt this new Durango is better than the reworked, refreshed models from Chrysler and Dodge. It's a handsome design that doesn't go overboard with the testosterone; the interior is well appointed and it's adequately roomy in all seat rows. Anyone who's not too concerned about mileage will find this to be a competitive option.
Kelsey Mays: Winner
The Durango’s roominess impressed me, particularly in the third row. However, the base cloth-equipped Durango Express at the show lacked a driver’s seat height adjustment, and the seat’s fixed position felt too low for me. Cabin materials are competitive, though.
Mike Hanley: Winner
The Durango SUV is a winner on its looks and interior quality alone, but having driven it at an earlier event, it becomes even more of a credible alternative to large crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse thanks to its top-notch ride and handling. Dodge got it right with this one.
David Thomas: Winners
Like the Charger, Chrysler's revised minivans are significantly improved. I wouldn’t put them in Honda Odyssey and Nissan Quest territory, but the Town & Country is close. Even in a model with cloth seats, the dashboard looks elegant with Rolex-like gauges and stitching everywhere. If the two are still value-oriented models compared to the rest of the class, I can see them selling well.
The same rules apply here as they do with all the Chryslers and Dodges. They need to be more than just better than they were. Would I take one over an earlier version? Sure. But they can’t keep up with the Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. Though reworked, the Stow 'n Go seats still aren’t comfortable enough.
I was on the fence, but the competitive landscape swings me toward Joe’s side. The second-row seats sit high enough off the ground — not something you get in a lot of minivans — and cabin materials are now class competitive. Alas, both minivans have worse reliability than a “Real Housewives” marriage, and neither one looks all that different now. The prior minivans represented such lackluster quality that Chrysler may wish it had differentiated these better.
Families visiting the L.A. auto show will be impressed with these updated minivans. Exterior styling changes are subtle, but the interior is now an elegant space. Like Joe, I wasn't wowed by the comfort of the second-row Stow 'n Go seats, but kids will likely be the frequent users of them.
I didn’t have strong feelings about the Journey as I did with the other Chrysler products, but it should compete well against the Kia Sorento and Ford Edge. The styling is much more contemporary now, and there's no understating the upgrade to the interior.
I’m going to go ahead and understate the upgrade to the interior. This one squeaks by because I think it deserves another shot, but I’m not overwhelmed by it. I sat in the new Dodge Durango first, and the Journey was still like falling off a cliff.
Like any smallish three-row crossover, the Journey isn’t particularly generous in second- or third-row space. However, I disagree with Joe. Cabin quality is good, with better materials than a Sorento, Edge or Toyota Highlander. Case in point: Perch your elbow along the window sill and you’ll find it’s padded. Any car above entry level should have that, but too many crossovers don’t.
At first glance, the Journey's new interior looks pretty nice. Parts of it are, but look a little closer and you'll find some low-rent buttons and trim finishes. Overall, the Journey is nicer than before, but you don't have to look hard to find nicer crossover competitors.
2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Five-Door
Sometimes it’s hard to understand what a car is really like until you see it in person. The Evoque is not a small vehicle in any way. I originally thought it would compete with the Mini Countryman, but after seeing it, the Evoque could easily go up against an Audi Q5. The interior may be a step above the Audi in some respects, and there's a decent-size backseat and trunk. The exterior is truly stunning. It’s the best-looking Land Rover since … well, Land Rovers aren’t vehicles that you gawk at, are they?
The Evoques at the Land Rover stand were my favorite production vehicles of the show. They don’t just look great; they look like nothing you’ve seen before, and that gets harder to say every year. The interior exhibits excellent use of aluminum and uniquely textured leather. The giant skylight makes it seem open despite the low roofline. Magnificent.
A striking exterior, handsome interior and surprisingly roomy backseat make the Evoque an easy win. I’m still put off by Land Rover turning the Range Rover moniker into the automotive equivalent of Apple’s “i,” but the detraction is minimal.
The Evoque pulls off the tricky feat of being easily recognizable as a Land Rover while looking nothing like anything else in the automaker's lineup. It instantly becomes one of the more appealing entries in the compact luxury crossover segment.
The Mazda5 remains one of the most utilitarian affordable cars on the market. Now it has a much improved interior, and the exterior is a little more interesting, too. I’m not a fan of the Mazda smiley face design, but it’s less offensive on a minivan.
Being better than I expected doesn't make a car a winner, but I do think the accents on the sides are far more subtle than they looked in photos, and I agree the grille is less offensive than some of the Joker's — er, Mazda's — recent work. I would have liked a little more front-seat travel, but if you fit in the thing, you'll probably like it. The Kia Rondo is gone, which makes this little sprite even more special.
Sure, the Mazda5's exterior is pretty stylish, but after checking out the cabin, it's clear Mazda didn't take the time to improve the interior quality. It's much the same as the outgoing model, despite the design differences. I know the Mazda5 is basically all alone in its segment, but that's no reason to slack off.
2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
It might look odd, but I was drawn to this the moment I saw the first picture. Up close, it's a massive vehicle, but it’s easy to get in and out of the backseat, and there's tons of room for all passengers. Lost in the big price tag is the fact that this is the most opulent interior ever in a Nissan; it's Infiniti-grade.
I'm not wild about the execution or the price, and I fear it simply won't catch on, but I'm a fan of convertibles and I rue the loss of large, comfortable ones. That's what this one is, so I'm calling it a winner on spec.
I can’t stomach the CrossCabriolet’s bizarro styling. I looks even goofier with the top up. The Murano handles itself well enough over bumps, but lopping the top off something this size could mean a driving experience that noodles around a lot — no matter how many reinforcements Nissan added.
Automakers tend to be risk-averse, but the Murano CrossCabriolet is the automotive equivalent of tightrope walking without a safety net; the thing could be a smashing success or a disastrous failure. Time will tell, but Nissan is a winner for having the guts to build it. Not many carmakers would.
2011 Nissan Quest
Like the Murano CrossCabriolet, the Quest’s interior in top-trim form is remarkably upscale. I’d say it's ahead of the Honda Odyssey Touring Elite in that regard. However, the interior is set up like that of a three-row crossover, without a second-row bench seat to accommodate more children. Having lots of children is one of the reasons people consider a minivan over a crossover, so even if I liked the boxy shape, it wouldn’t solve that dilemma.
There's always room for another high-quality vehicle, which is what the Quest show van appeared to be. Anyone who doesn't want captain's chairs in the second row will look elsewhere, but anyone for whom it's not a problem should know this one seems like a winner.
In terms of styling, the Quest falls somewhere between the left-field Odyssey and mainstream Toyota Sienna. The seats fold as easily as those in a crossover, and there's a minivan-size storage well behind the third row.
After a somewhat disappointing effort with the previous-generation Quest, Nissan has come back strong with the latest version of the minivan. The interior looks sharp, and despite the unorthodox way the third row folds, it doesn't look like passenger or cargo space has been compromised. The exterior is still distinctive, but it's not trying too hard anymore.
2012 Saab 9-4X
The recently redesigned Saab 9-5 has an outdated, somewhat-cheap interior. The same can be said about the 9-4X, but it’s slightly better than the 9-5's interior in some areas like the passenger-side dash. The seats are also quite nice. Overall, I think the interior is better than what is in the Cadillac SRX, which is related to the 9-4X.
Everything's relative, and as I said of the Cadillac SRX, the 9-4X's biggest problem is the Chevrolet Equinox. Both of these sister models need to be nicer than the Chevy, and to my eye they're not. The Saab has a handsome exterior, but in this crowded segment, I don't think that's enough.
KM: Loser The SRX pedigree doesn’t bode well. At best, it means most 9-4X models get GM’s weakling 3.0-liter V-6; at worst, it could signal problematic ride quality and brake-pedal feel, as the SRX exhibits. Styling is subjective, but cabin quality feels a few steps behind the competition.
Kelsey's concerns are worth remembering if you decide to take a 9-4X for a test drive. Not having done that yet, it's safe to say this car is a winner for Saab, which finally gets something it's needed in its lineup for a while: a real crossover.