Sports car makers cater to California’s need for speed

With 840 miles of coastline and a rich history of hot-rodding, California is prime territory for the kind of high-horsepower machines descending on Los Angeles this week.

The Los Angeles Auto Show will feature a wide array of the fastest new models from Audi, BMW’s M division, Cadillac, Jaguar, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche. Ford is bringing a new Shelby GT350 Mustang, first built as a 1965 model in Carroll Shelby’s legendary Southern California shop.

It’s an impressive collection of speed-seeking sports cars, sport utility vehicles, sedans and coupes in line with the buying habits of local drivers.

“California is the standout sports car market by any measure,” said Ian Hoban, vehicle line director for Jaguar. “If you’re going to be successful in sports cars, you need to be successful in California.”


Within the U.S. market, Jaguar sells one-fifth of its uber-sexy F-Type coupes and convertibles in California. With this audience in mind, the automaker chose this year’s L.A. show to announce that all-wheel drive and a manual transmission were being added to the 2016 F-Type lineup, which goes on sale next spring.

The addition of AWD has more to do with blasting through a hairpin turn quickly than it does making the F-Type more suitable for winters. Under normal driving, 100% of the car’s power will flow to the rear wheels. Only when the car’s computer systems determine the front wheels need traction will it direct as much as 20% of its power forward.

On the German front, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are giving the L.A. show the VIP treatment. And for good reason. Mercedes’ performance arm — newly dubbed Mercedes-AMG — credits Southern California with 16% of all U.S. sales.

With such a rapt audience, Mercedes is using L.A. for the North American debut of its new AMG GT sports car and C63 fire-breathing sedan.


The low-slung two-seat AMG GT coupe has a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine, a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission and rear-wheel drive. It sets its sights on a disparate group of sports cars that includes the Porsche 911, Jaguar F-Type R and Aston Martin Vantage GT.

The GT S version packs 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, enough to send it from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, Mercedes said. Its starting price is expected to be $130,000 to $140,000 when it goes on sale next spring. The 456-horsepower GT hits the market in 2016 for about $20,000 less.

Meanwhile, the C63 is the high-performance version of Mercedes’ excellent new C-Class sedan. This AMG variant uses the same turbocharged V-8 as the AMG GT: the C63 has 469 horsepower while the C63 S has 503 horsepower. Rear-wheel-drive and a seven-speed automatic transmission are standard on both.

The speed freaks over at Porsche have similar respect for the Southland market, because 17% of all U.S. sales are made in Southern California. This year’s Porsche debuts include GTS versions of the Cayenne SUV and 911, and a limited-edition, 570-horsepower Panamera Exclusive Series sedan.

BMW is revealing high-performance M versions of its X5 and X6 crossovers, while Audi is showing off a limited-edition R8 Competition model and its compact TT roadster and TTS coupe.

Cadillac is bringing an all-new ATS-V coupe and sedan. The ATS-V is the baby brother to the CTS-V that Cadillac is widely expected to unveil at the Detroit show in January.

Using the ATS compact car as a jumping-off point, this all-new throttle-stomping version takes direct aim at the similarly powered BMW M3 and M4, Mercedes C63 and Lexus’ new RC F Coupe.

It has the 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 from the larger CTS V-Sport sedan, but Cadillac tunes it here to pump out 455 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque. Power flows to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters.


Cadillac pegs the ATS-V’s zero-to-60 mph acceleration time at better than 3.9 seconds. Other upgrades over the base ATS include Brembo brakes at all four corners and the excellent magnetic ride control suspension that is optional on the lesser ATS.

But the icon among the U.S. hot rods is clearly the all-new Shelby GT350 Mustang. Ford revealed the coupe Monday at the Carroll Shelby Museum in Gardena, and it’s on display at the L.A. Auto Show.

The new GT350 is Ford’s play at a revived muscle car segment, which also includes Dodge’s 707-horsepower Challenger and Charger Hellcats, and Chevy’s Camaro Z/28 and ZL1.

The Ford uses a new naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V-8 engine that will produce more than 500 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, Ford said. Standard equipment includes a six-speed manual transmission, Brembo brakes, Recaro seats and an adjustable, continuously variable suspension. The car — whose price has not yet been disclosed — will go on sale in the second half of 2015.

This latest iteration of the Mustang is a track-oriented (but street-happy) machine that plays up the heritage of its namesake from 1965.

“The GT350, Carroll and California are pretty intertwined and connected,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief. “And California drivers are fortunate to have the weather and the roads to appreciate cars like the GT350 a bit more.”

Twitter @latimes_driven


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