News Column

At LA Auto Show, Small Gets Bigger

Nov. 29, 2012

Chris Woodyard, James R. Healey and Fred Meier, USA TODAY

The annual auto show here is first of the four big U.S. shows each year and opens to the public Friday. Next up, Detroit in January.

Among the themes this year:

Small cars are getting bigger, both inside and out. For example, the compact Nissan Sentra has midsize passenger room, while the Fiat 500L is a stretched version of the 500 minicar.

Makeovers for mainstreamers. The long-awaited 2013 Toyota RAV4 SUV is finally unveiled.

Plus, there are high-price models from the likes of Jaguar/Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz. And some just-plain-fun-mobiles, such as a convertible version of the Volkswagen Beetle. Some highlights:

A look at 2013 Toyota RAV4

Toyota unveiled its much-awaited, redesigned 2013 RAV4 small crossover Wednesday. It goes on sale early in the new year at prices still to be announced.

The fourth generation of what Toyota says was the "original small crossover SUV" when it rolled out 16 years ago, was a big event -- a redo of one of the four core products for the world's largest automaker. And it has been seven years since the last redesign.

But most might still find the new RAV4 more conservative than other recent redesigns, such as Ford's Escape, Kia's Sportage and the new Mazda CX-5.

The RAV4 finally has a traditional liftgate (with power available) and a doughnut spare under the cargo floor rather than the spare tire on the rear door.

"What's left is a sleeker, modern vehicle that competes much better with rivals in a small SUV segment whose market share has nearly doubled in the last 10 years," says Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell. "Toyota now has a stronger alternative for hesitant Camry shoppers" who are weighing whether to get a small SUV instead of a midsize sedan.

The interior of the new RAV4 received substantial upgrades, with details such as soft-touch materials on the dash, nicer trim and upgraded lighting.

The carried-over 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine is paired with a modern six-speed automatic rather than the outdated four-speed. On front-drive models, the combination will be rated at 31 miles per gallon on the highway, an increase of 2 mpg, and 24 mpg in the city, Toyota says. All-wheel-drive models are rated 29/22.

The RAV4 comes in Sport and Eco modes and the number of trims is cut to three: LE, XLE and Limited.

Navigation will be available on most models. And all models get a backup camera and 6.1-inch dashboard screen.

Safety upgrades also include eight air bags and blind spot and rear cross-traffic sensors.

Sleeker, bigger 2014 Kia Forte

Kia unveiled its redesigned 2014 Forte compact sedan, showing off a sleeker car with more interior room and upscale features typically found on fancier cars.

The intro came after Kia opened its auto show press conference with an apology to customers and the assembled press for recently having to restate mileage ratings on several models, including the Rio subcompact and quirky Soul.

The new Forte sedan comes just 31/2 years after the original arrived in the U.S., and it has became the brand's No. 2 segment in sales volume. Kia said the sedan model shown here will be first on the market at the end of the first quarter, with a hatchback and coupe to follow. Pricing was not announced.

The new Forte compact is about an inch longer than the outgoing model and now has total interior volume that actually falls into the government's midsize-car segment.

In addition to the new look and an upgraded interior with more soft-touch materials and chrome accents, the Forte has a new chassis. Standard is a 148-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder. Option: 173-hp 2.0-liter.

After pledging to continue its pattern of value pricing, the South Korean maker ticked off new features to be available on the Forte, which will come in LX and EX trim levels.

An optional Eco package includes ignition start-stop that shuts off the engine at long lights. And the power steering, now electric, will have an optional system that lets the driver choose "comfort," "normal" or "sport" steering response. Also available: heated front and rear seats, with cooling also for the power driver's seat, and heated steering wheel.

Fiat 500L sports a hatchback

Watch out, Mini: Here comes the hatchback version of the Fiat 500.

Basically, the 500L, introduced here, is the familiar Italian-inspired minicar with a squared-off back. Toyota took a similar approach with its Prius in making the Prius V. In Fiat's case, the 500L is sized just about right to take on the popular Mini fun cars.

Fiat even refers to its "small-wide" architecture. The 500L is 26 inches longer than a Mini but 6 inches wider and higher. And the 500L adds up to 42% more interior space than the 500. It's all about keeping customers as they get older and families grow.

"The all-new Fiat 500L will keep our customers within the brand as their lifestyle needs expand," said Tim Kuniskis, head of Fiat Brand North America. "Those who love the style and performance that only the Italians can create, can now enjoy space for five, functionality, practicality and value."

The hatchback is powered by Fiat's 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine designed to provide 160 horsepower. It will come with either a manual or automatic six-speed transmission.

New Beetle ragtop

Volkswagen unveiled the Beetle convertible in a trio of unique "launch" colors that will go out of production once 1,000 of the special-edition models are produced.

The regular but brand new version of the Beetle ragtop hits showrooms in December, starting at $25,790. No limit on making that one.

The convertible styling differs slightly from the hardtop Beetle, and the folding-top car sits slightly lower. The top can be operated while the car is moving up to 30 mph. Many convertibles lock out top movement if the car's underway.

The top drops in 9.5 seconds and goes up in 11 seconds, VW says. Those times are about half what it often takes on other folding-top cars.

The three special-edition versions all have standard leather interiors rather than the normal VW leatherette (fancy vinyl). The trio and the eras they are meant to represent:

1950s. Black, tan interior, wheels with large chrome centers, 2.5-liter five-cylinder gasoline engine rated 170 horsepower, 177 pounds-feet of torque.

1960s. Denim blue, two-tone seats, 2-liter turbo four rated 200 hp and 207 lbs.-ft.

1970s. Toffee brown, a color not otherwise available on the Beetle droptop, and 2-liter engine.

Splashy debuts

If you want to make a grand entrance, Land Rover and Jaguar decided, there is no better way than to try to upstage Moses, er, Charlton Heston, when he parted the Red Sea.

The new Range Rover SUV and Jaguar F-Type made spectacular debuts on the Paramount Studios movie lot.

The two British brands, owned by India's Tata Motors, once again created a lake by flooding a famous parking lot. It's there that Heston, as Moses, performed a miracle for The Ten Commandments and Jim Carrey tried to escape a cloistered life by boat in The Truman Show. The backdrop was a movie screen flashing images of the vehicles in action and Great Britain's fluttering Union Jack.

The scene gave Land Rover a chance to send the Range Rover splashing through tire-high water to get to the review stand. The Jaguar made an equally grand entrance through billowing fog, while a throng that included a few celebs and British rockers sipped Pimm's Cups and other thoroughly English cocktails.

The Range Rover sports cleaner lines and a simplified cockpit in which the glove box and other storage is virtually invisible. The rear bench seats now have power recline with massage. And a new system senses the terrain and adjusts the suspension and traction accordingly.

The Jaguar F-Type gets its own makeover. It will come with three supercharged engines, ranging from 340 to 495 horsepower. There's a sport suspension with active damping, assessing body motion and rolls 100 times a second and acting to counteract the effect.

Veloster's colorful wheels

Hyundai has created a hot new version of the sporty Veloster that asks the question we never thought to ask: Why do car's wheels all have to be the same color?

The Veloster C3 Roll Top concept unveiled here takes the three-door coupe to a whole new, and fun, level. The front wheels and back wheels are different colors.

What's more, the roof is a roll top, not unlike the desks of the past century. With the top and tailgate open, there's room for a kayak.

In the concept, a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 201 horsepower.

(c) Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.



Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012