By David Thomas on November 22, 2010
Automakers are certainly experiencing a rebound these days as sales are climbing. The boost in their coffers has led to an explosion of new models, and the auto-show season is the time to introduce them to the world. This makes our days harder — and the list of winners and losers a lot longer. In alphabetical order, see which debuts dazzled and which fizzled in the eyes of our editors, David Thomas, Joe Wiesenfelder, Kelsey Mays and Mike Hanley. Next up will be the SUVs, crossovers and minivans.
David Thomas: Loser
I walked by the Acura stand knowing there was a redesigned model somewhere, but I had a hard time finding it. Yes, the new TSX looks a little more refined than the current model, but the differences are so slight I’m wondering if it deserved the virtual ink we gave it.
Joe Wiesenfelder: Loser
The grille is a welcome improvement, but from an auto-show perspective, the car is easily overlooked.
Kelsey Mays: Loser
The TSX’s new bumper looks fine, and the navigation system’s updated graphics are welcome, especially since Acura says its buyers opt for navigation at a high rate. However, opportunities were missed: The interior’s silver plastic trim still looks cheap, and Acura needed to drop or significantly upgrade the TSX’s pokey four-cylinder. It’s fuel-efficient, but so is the turbocharged Audi A4 and compared to the TSX, the A4 hauls.
Mike Hanley: Loser
Of all the Acuras with the brand's distinctive shield grille, I've always thought the TSX's was the best executed. My opinion is unchanged regarding the new grille, but the modest changes got lost amid the avalanche of new cars that was the L.A. auto show.
2012 Buick Regal GS
It looks terrific — at least as good as any performance variant of a sedan can look terrific. There is just one problem: GM promised the GS’ added power and performance would go to the ground through all four wheels, and the production version uses just the front. It might not prove a horrible detriment in most real-world driving, but for the audience it's aimed at it’s a deal-breaker.
I think the lower front vents and the exhaust finishers are a little too prominent. I’ll withhold judgment on the car until I drive it, but it’s possible the lack of all-wheel drive will prove disappointing. Overall, I commend Buick for making this version at all and endowing it with a manual transmission.
The GS’ styling enhancements look well-fitted, but some tack-on decals like hood vents and bumper strakes diminish the look up-close. As David and Joe mentioned, what happened to the all-wheel drive from the Regal GS concept we saw at January’s Detroit auto show? With the same engine, it could hit 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, GM claimed at the time. Saddling the front-drive production car with 295 pounds-feet of torque seems like a recipe for more torque steer than the recently discontinued Chevy Impala SS. We’re told the GS now reaches 60 mph in less than 7 seconds. I’m underwhelmed.
I could do without the fanglike vents in the front bumper — perhaps Buick's trying to attract young buyers by going after the "Twilight" crowd? — but if this is what the future of Buick looks like I'm enthused. The regular Regal has redefined the Buick ride and handling experience, and the GS is poised to add a healthy dose of horsepower to the equation.
2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible
Just like the Camaro coupe before it, we’ve seen nearly production-ready concepts of the convertible for some time. That takes the glow off the real thing’s debut in L.A., but it doesn’t change that this is a gorgeous car I’d pick to cruise down California’s coastal highway any day.
From the front, with the top down, this car looks even better to me than the coupe. I still don’t like the rear end, though. I’m not the Camaro’s biggest fan; in part because it’s too heavy, and I can’t imagine more than 250 additional pounds in the convertible is going to help matters. But you can’t say that at an auto show, where it’s sure to be a hit.
With the top up, the Camaro convertible doesn’t promise any better visibility than the Camaro coupe, which means it should still be as easy to see out of as the inside stateroom on a cruise ship. Dropping the top is one solution — even if you can’t do it year-round. It makes the car, top-down, eminently more livable.
The Camaro coupe has been out for more than a year, but it still catches your eye when you see it on the street. The new convertible promises to keep the interest level in this car high. For Midwesterners like us, it's just unfortunate that it hits dealerships in February, the dead of winter.
2011 Chrysler 200/2011 Dodge Avenger
Both sedans look better, but after close inspection I still wouldn’t put them in the middle of the competitive midsize-sedan pack. The Avenger’s design is a little more cohesive than the 200's, but it just isn’t enough.
Neither car’s exterior wows me, and I’m still put off by the black plastic panel behind the Avenger’s rear door windows. The 200’s gloss treatment is better. As for the interiors, they’re improved — especially in the 200 — but there are still swaths of plain plastic, and the wobbly, clattery center console lid remains. I’m wary of the “most-improved” award. Any new or redesigned car has to be as good as or better than the competition. These aren’t.
The interiors bear many improvements over their predecessors, but neither leads the pack in terms of refinement. Chrysler did what it could, but most of the company’s limited resources went toward overhauling models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Charger. With underwhelming gas mileage, a few dated controls and outward styling that’s still just not all that interesting, it’s obvious both cars drew the short stick on company resources.
I had a chance to drive the 200 at a Chrysler event held before the L.A. auto show. While it does offer significantly better handling than the Sebring it replaces, on the auto-show floor these two cars are easily overlooked — even with their new styling. Despite the significant improvements to these cars' interiors, they won't be competitive for long in the cutthroat midsize-sedan segment.
2011 Dodge Charger
Unlike the Avenger/200, the Charger’s new design is not only significantly more striking than before, but the interior has a lot of racecar-inspired touches. There’s still enough room in the backseat to comfortably fit adults. Like the updated 2011 Dodge Journey, the Charger gets a new navigation system that can only be an improvement from the previous one.
The Charger is a better version of what was already a better car than the Avenger. I’m not sold on the sculpted sides and hood — as if the car needed to look more aggressive? At least the rear styling now matches the rest of the car. The show car’s interior had some good-quality materials, including some nicely executed textured aluminum. The Charger has been underappreciated; perhaps the changes will help.
Forget the Avenger; keep walking past the Challenger. This, the 2011 Charger, is Dodge styling at its best. From every angle it looks ready to tear up some asphalt. Save some garish silver trim in the show car, the interior competes with the Taurus from crosstown rival Ford. Well done. Let’s hope this one can improve on its predecessor’s marginal crash-test ratings.
The Charger's rear-wheel-drive layout — a rarity in its class — facilitates the full-size sedan's proper proportions, and the new styling is both more aggressive and more functional, as visibility has improved. The Charger wasn't in a prominent location on the show floor during the media preview, but that didn't do anything to diminish the car's chained-pit-bull attitude.
2011 Hyundai Elantra
Conventional wisdom might tell you that a mildly refreshed version of the disappointing Toyota Corolla will likely outsell an all-new, better-looking, more spacious and efficient Hyundai Elantra. However, with the new Hyundai Sonata selling nearly at Camry levels, Toyota — and every other automaker with a compact sedan — better be worried. The Elantra looks to already outclass the class.
Huge winner. I think it’s even sharper than the Sonata and a worthy competitor to the upcoming Ford Focus, which seemed to have the compact-class styling award wrapped up. The interior isn’t quite as rich as the Sonata’s, but it’s more than competitive. And 40 mpg on all versions? This could become Hyundai’s best-seller. That’s saying something.
The Elantra is a winner for all the reasons mentioned above, but I can’t enthuse about it as much as Joe or David. Get past the sharp interior design and you’ll find the cabin materials aren’t anything this class hasn’t seen before. Backseat legroom is good for a small car; headroom for adults is so-so. At least trunk volume is an impressive 14.8 cubic feet. It helps, too, that the Elantra is quite easy on the eyes.
If the efficiency-focused future of driving holds more cars like the redesigned Elantra, maybe car shoppers won't go kicking and screaming after all. Like the upcoming 2012 Ford Focus, the Elantra is a car that people will want because of how it looks and not just because it gets good gas mileage. If the Elantra drives well, it'll be another home run for Hyundai.
2011 Toyota Corolla
It’s amazing how far the Corolla has fallen since its redesign just a few years ago. Since then, Chevy and Kia have released competitive compact sedans, and Ford and Hyundai have ones on the way. I appreciated the new radio and USB port, but that’s not enough for an underwhelming car like this.
The Corolla didn't have far to fall, as it was uncompetitive from the day this generation came out. Toyota didn't go nearly far enough with this update, and it's clear before even driving it.
The Corolla is a perfect example of Toyota’s fall from its halcyon days of excellent interior quality. Why it remains the best-selling small car in the country baffles me. Competitors have bested the Corolla, and the updates for 2011 aren't enough to change that.
A new front grille and other minor changes don't fix what's wrong with this car, which is now even more obsolete than it was with the arrival of redesigned competitors like the Hyundai Elantra.
2012 Volkswagen Eos
VW wants to make this a manlier car than the current Eos. I have no idea why since it fulfills the same purpose as the Cabriolets and Beetle convertibles of the past. The lack of masculinity didn’t hurt the popularity of those droptops. The changes look fine overall, but will they connect with male or female buyers on an emotional level like a convertible should? It’s unlikely.
There are two reasons this is a winner: One, they made the exterior look more aggressive, improving it exactly as they have the Golf. Two, they didn't cheapen the interior too much, as they have the Jetta's.
I’ll be a single-issue voter on this. European models will get a set of snazzy LEDs around the headlights; as of this writing, U.S. models won’t. Bring the LEDs here, Volkswagen, and while you’re at it, bring back the stick-shift offered on the prior Eos.
I've never been wild about the shape of the Eos with its top up, but it looks pretty good with the top down, and the face-lift for 2012 is a significant improvement.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David