These are worth the drive

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Automotive critic Dan Neil can be reached at

YOU’VE read the stories. You’ve seen the pictures. If you’re really bangin’ you’ve already bought the T-shirt. But the Greater L.A. Auto Show, which opens Friday, will be your first chance to see the thing in the carbon-fiber flesh: the $1.2-million, 253-mph, quad-turbo, 1,001-hp Bugatti Veyron, the fastest and most expensive production car in the world. Can I get an amen?

Los Angeles is the more-money-than-sense capital of the Western World. While the annual show at the L.A. Convention Center (through Jan. 15) typically is upstaged by the January show in Detroit, super-exclusive carmakers -- Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, and rare isotopes such as Fisker and Spyker -- regard Los Angeles, not Motown, as the biggest show of the year.

And so the L.A. show will be North Americans’ first chance to see the new BMW M6, a 500-hp, 10-cylinder super-coupe that looks like Munich’s styling department was taken over by Sith lords; the new Mercedes-Benz S-class sedan, a rolling portmanteau of next-generation safety technology and mid-three-digit horsepower; the exquisite Porsche Cayman S, the hardtop version of the Boxster S that threatens to unhorse its venerated 911 elder; the Pontiac Solstice GXP, the track-ready version of the derringer roadster with a 260-hp turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels, and limited-slip differential; and the Maybach 57S -- the “S” stands for “stupid” fast -- a hot-rodded version of the Mercedes-derived luxury sedan with a 612-hp V-12 engine.


Altogether, a class of cars that will trigger more drool response than Pavlov’s bell.

The above-mentioned are all, believe it or not, production cars. Slightly more over the horizon are the show’s collection of concept cars. For starters, alphabetically, there is the Audi Shooting Brake, a three-door hatchback design study for the car that will eventually replace the historic (and still awesome-looking) Audi TT; the eel-sleek Hyundai NEOS III, a seven-passenger, V-8-powered, all-wheel-drive crossover with coupe-like styling, a vehicle that benchmarks how far and how fast Hyundai has progressed in the last half-decade.

And then there’s over the rainbow. The Maserati Birdcage 75th, for instance, is a manta-mouthed sports prototype from styling maestros Pininfarina. Based on the Maserati MC12 race car, the car’s most distinctive feature is its enveloping blue canopy, inside which the driver accesses the outside world through all manner of enhanced-reality technology supplied by partner Motorola.

Speaking of enhanced realities, Mitsubishi will display its mind-bending Eclipse Ralliart, a factory tuner version of the tolerably quick Eclipse coupe. Stuffed with the 405-hp guts of the company’s epic Lancer Evo, and crossed-dressed with carbon-fiber panels and 20-inch wheels, the Eclipse Ralliart brings perfect pitch to the art of tuning.

It’s not all fantasy-land, however. GM will debut its next-generation Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, vehicles that are critical to a company turnaround. On the other end of the curb-weight scale, Chevy will also unveil its redesigned global small car, the 2007 Aveo. Aligned against the Aveo is a product from GM’s archrival, Toyota, the new Yaris, a high-mileage subcompact that replaces the not-much-beloved Echo.

One of the most anticipated cars in the realm of the real is the Mazda CX-7, a gorgeous sport-crossover-something with optional all-wheel drive and a 2.3-liter turbocharged four cylinder. California Ra worshippers will like the new Volkswagen Eos, a four-seat coupe with retractable hardtop also equipped with a sunroof. Let the tanning begin.

If it seems like all the hype and horsepower, sun and schmaltz are a little tone-deaf to the times -- especially after a summer with gas prices of $3 or more a gallon -- well, there’s a case to be made. Certainly, a few manufacturers are saving their new engine and hybrid debuts for the Detroit show, which begins next Wednesday. But not all. Audi will display its Q7 hybrid concept, billed as the world’s first full-size SUV with a strong hybrid powertrain. Between the powerful electric motor and V-8 engine, the big Q7 can hit 60 mph in fewer than 7 seconds and return 13% better efficiency in normal driving, the company says.


These days, that’s pretty exotic.



What, when, how at the Auto Show

More than 1,000 vehicles will be on display when the L.A. Auto Show opens Friday for a two-week run. There will also be more than 60 exhibitors with a wide variety of aftermarket accessories, performance products and limited edition vehicles in Kentia Hall. (Note: This fall the auto show will move to November from its usual January slot.)

Dates: Friday through Jan. 15.

Show hours: Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sundays 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Where: Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles.

Admission: $10 for adults, $7 seniors (65 and up, weekdays only), children 12 and under free when accompanied by an adult.

Information: (213) 741-1151, Ext. 1 or

Parking: $10 at Convention Center ($25 for valet parking); $8 at Grand Avenue structure, with free shuttle on weekends only.