At every auto show there are certain vehicles that generate a buzz (and a crowd). Many factors — newness, rarity, performance, looks, lavish features, revolutionary technology — can make a car a crowd puller. But at this year's L.A. Auto Show, being sexy and green seems to be as important as being fast and expensive. We looked at a few of the models that have necks craning and cameras flashing at the L.A. Convention Center.
BMW CONCEPT 6 SERIES COUPE
This svelte four-seater is attracting an audience at the show because, though billed as a concept, it's widely rumored to resemble the production third-generation 6 Series due in mid-2011 — and in this status-obsessed city, we all want to see what'll be in our neighbors' driveways next year. The 6 Series Concept looks more taut and feline than the current street model and will probably be offered with either a 300-horsepower turbocharged straight-six or a 400-horsepower V-8. Expect to eventually see a mighty 555-horsepower M6 variant.
DODGE CHALLENGER SRT8 392
Those with a passion (or nostalgia) for muscle cars are huddling around this buffed-up version of Dodge's legendary pulse-pumper, which returned to showrooms in 2008. This latest SRT8 delivers staggering standing starts and straight-line speed from a 392-cubic-inch Hemi V-8 engine. Yet unlike many 1970s muscle cars, this beast offers impressive driving dynamics, cultured ride quality and (gasp!) decent fuel economy. The limited Inaugural Edition SRT8s come with full-body stripes — which should turn even more heads.
FISKER FACTORY-BUILT KARMA
If zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and 100-plus mpg from a gorgeous four-door sounds like fantasy, Fisker's factory-built plug-in hybrid is a dream come true. The Karma is that rare breed: a production car that truly lives up to the exotic promise of its concept. And with a range of up to 300 miles, it should be a very usable ride. The super-progressive Irvine-based Fisker included a solar-panel roof in the Karma and builds it (in Finland) with many sustainable materials. Starting at an estimated $87,900, it's in reach of a lot of Angelenos. Join the line.
FORD MUSTANG BOSS 302
Ford's Mustang is a legend 46 years in the making, so new versions always attract interest. With its flashy Boss 302 high-performance variant reappearing after a 40-year hiatus, expect a forest of cameras around this one. Ford claims the 2012 Boss is the "quickest, best-handling straight-production Mustang ever," equipped with modified suspension, steering and brakes to fully harness its 440 horsepower. Original 302s command small fortunes, but this returning rebel, in bold color schemes echoing those of its predecessor, should start around $36,000.
JAGUAR C-X75 (concept)
To mark its 75th anniversary, Jaguar has unleashed a 21st-century supercar that marries extended-range electric/gas turbine technology to racetrack performance (it has an estimated 205 mph top speed) and love-at-first-sight looks. The C-X75 concept, which makes its North American debut at the L.A. show, bears a family resemblance to current production Jags, most notably in its distinctive front-end. But its low-slung Le Mans aura sets it apart. Under the skin, electric motors at each wheel plus a center-mounted gas turbine engine deliver 560 miles of total range and a fearsome 780 horsepower.
KIA POP (concept)
Surprised to see a Kia on a list of audience attractors? You'll be further shocked when you set eyes on the Pop, an electric three-seater concept that's part Smart car and part space shuttle. Less than 10 feet long, with upswinging Lambo doors and out-there oblong windows, the Pop is designed to provoke discussion. Talking points include rear-view cameras in each door and a transparent instrument panel that displays readings only once the Pop is running. Its 50-kilowatt electric motor achieves 87 mph and a 100-mile maximum range. It may be the most unconventional vehicle at the convention center.
LOTUS (multiple models)
Beloved for its sexy sports cars, Lotus comes to the L.A. Auto Show with an array of North American debuts (production models and concepts). The 2011 Evora S sports a 345-horsepower V-6, while the Evora IPS (Intelligent Precision Shift) hits 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and tops out at 155 mph. The Exige S RGB Edition celebrates former Lotus director of vehicle engineering Roger Becker with a premium equipment package. The company's obsession with names beginning with E continues with first looks at Elan, Esprit, Elise, Elite and Eterne concepts.
MAZDA SHINARI (concept)
Mazda's beautiful Shinari four-door sports coupe serves as an introduction to the Japanese company's new "Kodo" ("soul of motion") design language. We'll be seeing its aesthetic echoes in Mazda's production vehicles for years to come. Fleeting reminders of the RX-8 aside, the Shinari is a departure from recent Mazda designs, having more of a muscular Aston Martin/Jaguar stance. Commanding attention are headlamps meant to mimic animals' eyes, minimalist rearview cameras in place of mirrors and the most impressive Mazda interior ever.
MERCEDES-BENZ B-CLASS F-CELL
Wondering why there's a crowd gathered around what appears to be a mini minivan? In spite of appearances, this new Mercedes is an engineering marvel, packed with some truly incredible technology. The B-Class F-Cell is a zero-emission, hydrogen-powered people carrier that's poised to change the way we drive. Mercedes-Benz actually produced the first fuel-cell vehicle in 1994, but Honda's FCX Clarity was the first to reach consumers. The B-Class F-Cell is due next month, having successfully tackled the traditional issues of bulky fuel cells and battery packs encroaching upon interior space. Its range is 240 miles and refueling takes just three minutes.
NISSAN MURANO CROSSCABRIOLET (concept)
While some of us are still getting used to the "crossover" tag to describe vehicles combining car and SUV qualities, Nissan has already come up with a sub-class: the convertible crossover. Their Murano CrossCabriolet is the world's first droptop 4x4 crossover and is apparently only intended to be produced in limited quantities. But it's no novelty vehicle: The CrossCabriolet offers space for four adults and their luggage, a premium interior and all the wind you can handle. Expect modest sales but a devoted cult following.