Paula Patton Dazzles LA Auto Show

Despite all the exciting new vehicles, press days at the LA Auto Show can be a tedious affair.  With a consecutive string of sixteen 25-minute presentations strategically scheduled over the course of 8 hours, journalists are lulled into a stupor over the course of a long day of hyperbolic information overload.  So with a late 4 pm conference, BMW wisely trotted out a lively celebrity spokeswoman to spice up the proceedings a bit.  The attempt was not lost on the mostly male crowd…

Dazzling the show, actress Paula Patton took the floor to announce the North American debut of BMW’s new i concept cars, the i3 and i8.  Both cars boast cutting-edge electric/hybrid powertrains and barely-realized driver interface technologies, and have long been in development as part of the manufacturer’s Vision Efficient Dynamics design program.  Patton’s appearance was no random celebrity appearance, however.  As the co-star of the upcoming installation in the Mission Impossible film franchise, Patton got to ride around on camera in one of the original Vision Efficient Dynamics concept cars, a direct predecessor of the i8.  In fact, BMW introduced the actress with a revised trailer for the film depicting her and headliner Tom Cruise furiously operating the car’s imaginary hologram windshield displays to presumably outrun bad guys and save the world.  Patton’s story of her struggles to remain calm while enduring harrowing drives in the car with Cruise behind the wheel provided a welcome respite from the day’s barrage of technical details and car talk.

In addition to the late afternoon star power, the latest LA Auto Show offered a notable world debut with the Cadillac XTS.  Scheduled to hit showrooms next spring, the all-wheel drive XTS is powered by a 3.6 liter V-6 engine, and is positioned as the flagship of the 2013 model line-up.  Cadillac claims the car is the only luxury sedan to come standard with Magnetic Ride Control, a proprietary technology they’ve recently boasted in tv ads as having been adopted by Ferrari.

Jaguar also made a world debut with its XKR-S Convertible, which claims to be the fastest convertible Jag ever.  The car’s third-generation AJ-V8 develops 542 horsepower, good for a top speed of 186 mph and 0-60 mph sprints of 4.2 seconds.

North America debuts included:

Audi R8 GT Spyder

Audi’s new bulked-up open top version of the exotic R8 is powered by a 5.2 liter V-10 that develops 560 horsepower.  Utilizing lightweight construction, the Spyder is able to reach 62 mph in a blistering 3.8 seconds, just .2 seconds more than its lighter coupe brother.

Bentley Continental GTC

The second-generation of the open-top Continental GT follows on the redesign of the coupe earlier this year.  Shaving weight from the seats to offset the generally heavier convertible power-to-weight ratio, Bentley has preserved the Continental GT’s performance with a convertible that is actually lighter than the coupe.

Fiat Abarth 500

Perhaps lost on non-enthusiasts, Abarth was one of the most interesting race-oriented European manufacturers of the immediate postwar period, and founder Carlo Abarth even collaborated with Ferdinand Porsche.  Another in a long line of tuned Fiats, the Abarth 500 is rather obviously a redressed version of Fiat’s new vogue subcompact.  Like the scorpion logo implies, though, this car has a little more sting.  IHI turboboosting squeezes another 34 horses from the diminutive 4-cylinder engine, adding a bit of punch to a revised suspension that includes a Sport Mode.  A wolf in sheep’s clothing…

Jaguar C-X16 Production Concept

Despite the ambiguous name (is it a production car, or is it a concept car?), Jag’s C-X16 is still one intriguing ride.  Finished in Neutron White for its first viewing in the US, the C-X16 promises 4.4 second launches to 62 mph and a top speed of 186 mph, care of its new 3-liter V-6 engine.  A hybrid boost system fed by regenerated brake energy delivers an extra 94 horses that can be temporarily summoned for spirited passing moves or quick gobs of acceleration.

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster

No earth shattering surprises here, but isn’t the ragtop version of the SLS AMG sweet?  The folding softtop can be retracted in 11 seconds at speeds as high as 31 mph, and as is often the case when a car’s top is eliminated, the SLS’s rear proportions are rewarded by the absence of a roofline.  Though aesthetics are debatable, there’s no denying the strength of the AMG powerplant, a naturally aspirated 6.3-liter V-8 that delivers 563 hp and 479 pound-feet of torque, good for 0-60 mph times as low as 3.7 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 197 mph.

And a few other, not quite as new but oh-so-goodies:

Aston Martin One-77

As reported by Car and Driver, this example of Aston’s slowly emerging hypercar is not actually one of the 77 examples for which the model is named.  It is instead a highly driven test mule prototype of the supercar whose details have only trickled forth after a concept debut in 2009.  The ultimate Aston Martin street performer, the $1.83 million One-77 is powered by a 7.3 liter V-12 that develops 750 horsepower and delivers speeds as high as 220 mph, with 0-60 mph times under 3.5 seconds.  If you can afford one, better hurry up, as only 6 to 10 examples of the 77-car production cap are reportedly still available for order.

Audi e-tron Spyder

The open-top version of Audi’s still-in-development electric sports car may be more fiction than science at this point, but its melding of the basic R8 dimensions with an S5 shoulder line and a barely-there front fairing/windscreen result in one of the best looking cars on the floor.  Defined by Audi as a technical study rather than a concept car, the e-tron Spyder is a plug-in hybrid with two electric motors up front and a 3-liter TDI engine (a version of VW’s high-mileage turbo-diesel) for the rear wheels.  Claiming to reach 60 mph from standstill in just 4.4 seconds, the e-tron boasts an electronically limited high end of 155 mph.  There’s little doubt that Audi can manufacture this car as defined, but not at a price point that wouldn’t undermine their business model.  Not yet, anyway…

Cadillac ELR

Cadillac’s Converj concept car, the Standard of Excellence’s 2-year-old entry in the electric/hybrid segment, was approved for production last August with the name ELR (a not-so-creative abbreviation of electric).  Details remain murky, but the car will feature an extended range hybrid drivetrain, not unlike those offered by Fisker or the Chevy Volt.  That is, when the battery runs low after a limited range of electric-only driving, a gas-powered generator kicks in to add extra juice.  In the photo, GM VP of Global Design Ed Welburn explains some of the car’s finer point to a couple of journalists.

All photos © by Mike Daly