2012 L.A. Auto Show: Winners and Losers

2014_Acura_RLX

The 2012 L.A. Auto Show is now open to the public and thousands of people will begin their shopping process by checking out the just-released models we evaluated the past few days. There weren't many show-stopping cars unveiled, but there were big updates for some of the best-selling cars in the country. Here's how they stacked up.

2014 Acura RLX

Kelsey Mays: Loser
Acura's flagship is a big, comfortable car, with substantially more room than cars like the BMW 5 Series and Infiniti M. This seems more like a Mercedes S-Class or Lexus LS wannabe, and I think Hyundai did a better imitation with the Equus. The auto-show car boasted handsome interior materials but few backseat amenities and noticeable silver plastic where there should have been real metal. Those headlights, meanwhile, scare me more than an episode of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo."

Joe Bruzek: Loser
I keep waiting for something different and striking from Acura to get the automaker out of the current styling funk where all its cars look very similar — just different sizes. The RLX isn't that car. With the exception of a few interesting features like all-wheel steering and the crazy LED headlights, it's business as usual for the RLX: a little bigger, a little nicer but not different enough to make a splash at the auto show.

Joe Wiesenfelder: Loser
Tempted as I was to call it a winner for its use of conventional buttons and screens rather than the dreaded capacitive panels that plague a growing percentage of cars, I have to agree on some points above. The all-wheel steer and coming hybrid all-wheel drive might change my mind, but at an auto show, the car's uninspiring. I really wanted something larger than the old RL, which was too close to the TL. Didn't get it.

David Thomas: Winner
The styling isn't in your face, but I don't think that's what an RLX buyer might want. Instead they'll gravitate to the plush interior and ultra-comfortable, ultra-large seats. The simple control panel may be another selling point for buyers who don't want to go through a training session on their car's multimedia system.

2014 Fiat 500L

2014_Fiat_500L

KM: Loser
If the 500L looks awkward in photos, it looks bizarre in person. I counted six separate openings in the nose of the 500L Trekking model on display. The interior is a hodgepodge of cheap plastics, with crank rear windows and plenty of shoddy construction: shimmying covers, flimsy stalks and a driver's seat that feels like it lost a few springs. That's to be expected in an auto-show car, but call me a cynic — I have little faith that an automaker that tied Smart for last place in J.D. Power and Associates' 2012 Initial Quality Study will right the ship by production time.

JB: Loser
The 500L looks like a copy of a copy of a copy of the Mini Countryman to the point where the degradation of quality makes it look plain awkward. I do like how roomy the second row is, however, plus good visibility from the tall windows.

JW: Winner
I can't blame a show car for flimsiness or construction; these things are often glued together at the last moment using Cheez Whiz. As I said in the Up Close, many of the aesthetic aspects I don't like in the 500 car aren't present in the 500L. The size and passenger space work for me, and I prefer the interior design and ergonomics over those found in the Countryman. As for quality, it depends on how Fiat prices it. And I am leery of how those bizarre split A-pillars will affect on-road visibility.

DT: Winner
The Fiat 500L looks to be a more affordable alternative to the Countryman, and it has more space and practicality. It likely won't drive as well as the Mini, but it delivers on the size and cuteness factor of that other tiny SUV. If the 500L gets worse mileage than the two-door version though, its practicality will certainly take a hit.

2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon

2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon

KM: Winner
Ford's Transit Connect is an interesting minivan alternative with gobs of headroom in all three rows and surprising legroom in the third. My accolade comes with a caveat, though: Ford needs to engineer a better way to get to the third row. Officials told me the second row comes only as a bench sans center walk-through, and getting to the third row requires folding down the second row or collapsing it to the floor — the latter a cumbersome, two-step process.

JB: Winner
Sure, it's based on a commercial van, but the amount of roominess combined with a promise of great gas mileage makes the Connect Wagon a real choice for small-to-large families. The inside looks and feels like a regular passenger car/minivan/SUV — even though the exterior is utilitarian and commercial-like. But if the Flex — or minivans in general — is any indication of the sentiment toward useful cars that look dorky, the Connect Wagon has its work cut out for it.

JW: Loser
Did we see the same vehicle? The same market it's trying to break into? At first I thought it would be a reasonable choice for high-school athletic teams, church trips or airport shuttling, but then I saw how few seats it has and how little cargo space remains when all of them are raised. A converted cargo van that can serve the above purpose is one thing, but I have a hard time seeing the TCW as a consumer product. Who wants this thing over a minivan or our beloved, underappreciated Ford Flex?

DT: Loser
The answer, Joe, is simple. No one will want this over a minivan. The minivan "problem" is that every suburban parent I know doesn't want to be seen in one. The Transit Connect Wagon will not solve that problem. In fact, it makes it worse. Beyond the looks issue is its usability. Folding the seats is a chore and you'll be cursing the numerous straps to do so every time you have to shuttle the soccer team to a game.

2013 Honda Civic

2013 Honda Civic

KM: Winner
Honda addressed all the pesky things we complained about in its 2012 Civic. Styling and cabin materials have improved in all the important areas. A Honda spokeswoman told me improved aerodynamics help to retain the Civic's decent EPA mileage ratings, which weight-adding measures to address noise and ride quality worked against. A backup camera and Bluetooth connectivity are now standard. Paging all small-car shoppers: The Civic has awakened from its yearlong coma.

JB: Winner
With the exception of the Si, I never thought the redesigned 2012 Civic was overly offensive. But if Honda wants to substantially revamp the car for 2013 with improved styling and quality — the new rear is especially attractive — that's great for consumers considering an LX's price hasn't changed significantly.

JW: Winner
It looks great and has a ton of high-value content. I suspect the hits will keep coming once we drive it and experience the suspension changes and claimed noise reduction from thicker windshield and side glass and other treatments. With these changes, the rest of the compact class will remain in the best-selling Civic's rearview mirror.

DT: Winner
I'm one of the few people who liked the 2012 version of the Civic so the changes here are just gravy. I don't think the exterior looks astronomically better, but the updates to the interior materials, which most consumers probably couldn't eyeball, actually are worlds apart. Usually I don't buy automakers' spiel about more padding and better graining yadda yadda, but here I applaud Honda.

2014 Kia Forte

2014 Kia Forte

KM: Winner
Decent styling and sky-high interior options should help the Forte out, and Kia didn't drop the ball on practicality, either. The front seats have abundant room, and the rear is reasonably adult-friendly. The $64 question — see, I didn't win the Powerball — is gas mileage. The fallout from Hyundai-Kia's EPA mileage restating is long from over, and we'll have to see if the Forte can get that ever-important 40-mpg EPA highway figure.

JB: Winner
Kia may not like the constant reminder of where its cars come from (Hyundai), but it's doing a rock-star job of making exciting alternate versions. The Forte is the latest example — based on the Hyundai Elantra — that looks wider, longer and more aggressive than the Elantra. The interior shares its configuration with the Optima, and the list of standard feature is impressive. Rock on, Kia.

JW: Winner
Much agreement here. Some interior surfaces are plain, but I really like the backlit gauges and the carbon-weave pattern on some of the trim. And how about those headlight and taillight clusters? They're signature dimensionality and accents from former Audi designer Peter Schreyer. The taillights have a neon-type glow typically seen only on concept cars. Good stuff.

DT: Winner
Kia finally has a compact car it can be proud of with this new Forte. The new brand styling translates well, and I thought the grille itself was as intricate and attractive as any on luxury cars a few stands away. Inside, the Forte keeps the sporty feel of the brand versus Hyundai's more elegant approach. It's surprising just how different they are.

2014 Mazda6

2014 Mazda6

KM: Winner
Chalk up the Mazda6 as one of the more stylish redesigns in the family-car segment. I wish Mazda had adapted a little more of the headlight design from the Takeri concept from which the Mazda6 hails, but this should still command attention. The interior is bland but well-packaged, and family-car shoppers will soon learn the importance of torque: The forthcoming twin-turbo diesel should have enough low-end punch to make you forget this car ever offered a V-6.

JB: Winner
Occasionally I sit in a car and everything feels natural right off the bat: visibility, seat comfort and overall feeling of being one with the car — like I've been sitting in it for years. The Mazda6 is that car for me at the L.A. auto show. The new look is great yet different from the rest of the segment, though I would like to see less wheel gap between the tires and body.

JW: Winner
It's a looker, and finally a non-German automaker is going to market a diesel car — rather than just talking about it. Win, win, win. The dark interior of one car didn't knock me out, but the red car with the light interior made a better impression. There's a big trunk and a huge opening for the folding rear seats. In many cars, this aperture has shrunk too much.

DT: Winner
How do I create conflict? I loved the black interior. The thick, meaty steering wheel and heavy dials trimmed in metallic finishes, and the contoured seats scream sports car like no other sedan on the market. It looks great outside, too. If it drives as well as it looks, there's no way this car can lose.

2013 Mini Paceman

2013 Mini Paceman

KM: Loser
The Paceman's modest ground clearance — an inch less than the related all-wheel-drive Countryman — will hamper its all-wheel-drive capabilities. The car still looks plenty rugged, but despite a slight increase in length, the backseat and cargo area take a hit versus the well-packaged Countryman. And Mini ditched the cool dashboard window switches for conventional door-mounted ones. Mini is popping out variations left and right, and the Paceman may be one too many.

JB: Winner
One of my roles at Cars.com is choosing the questions for our Ask.cars.com answer site where we are constantly barraged with queries about which cars have all-wheel drive. Commonly, readers want cars that don't typically have it: minivans, coupes, hatchbacks and convertibles. The two-door Paceman has all-wheel drive available on the higher-optioned S and is in company with much more expensive all-wheel-drive two-door cars that were previously the only answer.

JW: Loser
Too much of what I don't like about the Countryman — the enormous yet illegible center-mounted speedometer among them — is here. Things I do like about the Countryman — rear doors and backseat headroom — are gone. Mini's giving me version fatigue. If you think there's a significant difference among a taco, a tostada, a burrito and a soft-shell taco, maybe you can appreciate the differences among Mini's jillions of models. Tasty, perhaps, but how many ways do you need to wrap it?

DT: Winner
I have major version fatigue, too, but I need to take to task the idea about why you put all-wheel drive in the Paceman. For performance geeks, an all-wheel drive Mini should be about all-out handling, not for ferrying urban families through cooler climates. Since the automaker can't fit all-wheel drive in any other Mini out there, it actually needed to create the Paceman.

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander

OutlanderWL

KM: Loser
If the showcar is any indication, the Outlander got a lot right in terms of materials quality. But the two-seat third row is absurd, and the overly technical styling lost me. Strong EPA mileage could rescue this, but those are still TBD.

JB: Loser
The outgoing Outlander is such a dog. Mitsubishi pumped quality materials into the 2014, but it's not the huge leap needed to catch up to a competitive small SUV segment.

JW: Loser
Yeah. To have a chance, it would have to be very compelling. It's not even a little compelling.

DT: Winner
I'll throw Mitsubishi a bone here. I thought the interior was much improved, keeping the layout minimalistic to the extreme. Most folks in this segment aren't looking for a third row so I won't ding it for that shortcoming, but the loss of the clamshell tailgate, one of my favorite features from the outgoing model, is a travesty. Why, Mitsubishi? Why?

2014 Porsche Cayman

2014 Porsche Cayman

KM: Winner
The Cayman is this year's best-looking Porsche, period. Gaping bumper ducts evoke Ferrari and Lamborghini; the subtle tail spoiler plays out the same visual magic as the Boxster. The two-seat cabin is well-packaged, and between the front and rear trunks, there's improbable luggage space. Plus better fuel efficiency, less weight and more power? Sign me up.

JB: Winner
C'mon. This is easy. For the same reasons the Boxster looks exotic and not like an entry-level Porsche, the Cayman succeeds as well. The Cayman coupe is sleek, sculpted and I can't wait to drive it.

JW: Winner
Red, please.

DT: Winner
I'm not as enthusiastic about this Cayman as I was about it originally or the new Boxster, either. I'm not sure why. But I loved how the Boxster drove, and I can only imagine the Cayman will top it, so chalk me up on the winning side.

2014 Subaru Forester

2014 Subaru Forester

KM: Winner
I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and Subaru to go the way of other automakers, cutting sightlines for the sake of sleeker styling. The Forester bucks the trend. Tall windows and narrow pillars still make it one of the easiest SUVs to see out of, and the roomy front-seat adjustments should accommodate tall drivers.

JB: Winner
Maybe it was the signature massive sunroof that let in a ton of light or maybe the Forester's new interior dimensions really do make a difference, but this Forester's interior felt significantly more spacious than the outgoing model. I quickly got over the awkward styling after sitting inside, plus the appearance wasn't as brutal in person as in photos.

JW: Winner
I wanted this thing to look as good as I think the new Impreza does, and while I'm disappointed, I don't consider it a step in the wrong direction. The Forester doesn't lose the things that make the current generation good, and it gains some functional and quality updates. Mostly I'm looking forward to the 250-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter with direct injection in the 2.0XT ... even if it doesn't come with a stick shift.

DT: Winner
Let me make one thing clear: This is not an attractive vehicle. The spacious interior, capable all-wheel drive and expected affordability make this Forester a winner. Subaru keeps that formula going while phoning it in on the design side of the equation and continues to succeed. Who am I to argue with that strategy?

2013 Toyota RAV4

2013 Toyota RAV4

KM: Loser
The third row can go, but Toyota says 10% to 15% of shoppers in the outgoing RAV4 bought the V-6, which differentiated the SUV from a horde of competition by simply making it damn quick. Swapping the infernal swing-gate for a liftgate was long overdue, and the dashboard stitching adds an upscale vibe. But no more adjustable rear seats or seat-folding levers in the cargo area? Gas mileage that only meets — not leapfrogs — the competition? Hit the snooze button.

JB: Loser
Unlike the Forester that redeemed awkward looks with an impressive interior, the missing rear seat functions and gas mileage that Mays mentions, plus the long-gone V-6, put the RAV4 in a less-notable spot compared to other small SUVs.

JW: Loser
Some of the interior treatments are interesting, but ... I'm stretching here. Usually when you walk away from a newly introduced car, you have something definitive to say about it. I'm not sure I do. Nothing overwhelmingly negative, either, but in a class full of strong competitors, a "meh" reaction = loser.

DT: Winner
This is the least "meh" small SUV you could possibly expect from Toyota. Next to the Forester it looks like a spaceship while not being as unsightly as say Nissan's Murano, which many commenters on our Facebook page mentioned. The interior styling and materials of the showcar were terrific, too. The rear-seat issues the others mention are a glaring misstep and aren't the kind that are easy to fix in the near future, but Toyota loyalists might not even notice.

Comments 

Bob

What do you guys think of the interior of the new Civic versus the Acura ILX?

Joe W

How about some Fiesta ST love? Did Fiat talk about their two cylinder mulitair engine for the US? And that Cayman looks great. Hard to disagree with you guys. Great proportions.

Ken

I applaud David Thomas for his comments on the RLX, Outlander, Forester, and RAV4. The other writers essentially put forth the same predictable comments.

carma

I agree that RLX and RAV 4 are winners. Dave nailed it. You other guys are experts, but on this one, Dave is your daddy.

Jenk

The new Rav4 is supremely disappointing. Awkward, mini-van-esque styling, fuel economy that lags the competition (Forester whips it), and an overall awkward design. I was really hoping for great things from the new Rav4. The 2.5L Mazda CX-5 and '14 Forester are the two best options in the CUV segment, as far as I'm concerned.

I applaud David Thomas for his comments on the RLX, Outlander, Forester, and RAV4. The other writers essentially put forth the same predictable comments.

Bowrider

You guys should write these reviews exclusive from one another. One reviewer's comment likely influences another's.

carma

So why would toyota drop the adjustable rear seats on the new Rav 4? My theory is that they are planning a hybrid version and adjustable rear seats would not be compatible with a large battery pack. The new Rav looks like it might be a good basis for a lexus version.

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