Two of 2016’s most controversial cars made their debuts at the Los Angeles Auto Show - but even the heated debate over the Range Rover Evoque Convertible and the Fiat 124 Spider was tempered by an even more relaxed atmosphere than usual at what is traditionally one of the year’s more laid-back showcases.
We’d seen both of the trouble-makers in advance, of course - though only by a matter of hours, in the case of the Fiat, which leaked out overnight. Most agreed that the truth in the metal was considerably more appealing than the Photoshopped official pictures suggested - though the Evoque probably drew a few more grudging nods of approval than the Fiat, which tore social media asunder with its more restrained looks compared with those of its sister car, the Mazda MX-5.
Both should sell well in the US - and particularly in California. It does not take an enormous leap of faith to picture drop-top Evoques littering Rodeo Drive - or 124s cruising up Mulholland Drive. Despite its mixed reception, the Fiat looks well-judged for a market where 75% of all previous 124s were sold; in particular, engineers have added a little more boot space over the MX-5, a potentially crucial trick in a country where people rarely pack light.
The VW Group stayed on safer ground, predictably, with the Beetle Dune - a very modest extension of the retro model that’s popular in California - and another string of apologies from boss Michael Horn over dieselgate. Audi showed nothing new at all - although the Q6 e-tron’s first appearance on US soil was a clear attempt to rattle Tesla’s cage.
That left Porsche as the standout VW Group brand; at what it considers a crucial show it gave debuts to the 911 Targa 4 and the considerably more focused Cayman GT4 Clubsport, which looks every inch the Weissach-developed track-day special that will have us drooling.
This felt a quieter show than Tokyo, not least because the local brands’ content was aimed squarely at local customers. Ford’s effort was particularly understated, with no big speech and a comedy video to introduce the latest model-year Escape. But Cadillac had a new SUV, the XT5, and Chevrolet and Lincoln both showed new versions of existing saloons (Cruze and MKZ).
Two foreign brands trying to muscle in on American SUV sales showed contrasting vehicles; Mazda brought the seven-seat CX-9, enormous but undeniably impressive, and Infiniti gave a debut to the much more compact QX30, which looks small by US standards but could give the brand a much-needed blip in Europe.
There was also the feeling that while Japan’s domestic brands had gone to town for their local event, and introduced technology that will have a global impact, the US makers - and, one presumes, their customers - are still stuck in the rut of large petrol SUVs and pick-up trucks that Europe and Asia largely ignore.
Perhaps it was a reflection of the fact that biennial Tokyo was only a couple of weeks ago, but this LA Show felt more specific to North America than many could remember. Given how this allowed them to dominate the international coverage, it’s unlikely that Land Rover and Fiat will complain.