As a group, we're wrapped up in our cars, rolling along on four wheels and tuned into everything that matters -- how they look, how they ride, and how we look riding in them. Our vehicles represent freedom. Individuality. Creativity. Like no other region across the nation, we escape into our private worlds every time we open the door and turn the key. No boss. No parents, spouse or kids. Just the road, the sun and our dreams.
Yet sometimes those dreams are nightmares. We are tops in the nation when it comes to teeth-grinding traffic jams. And as more of us move farther away from our urban workplaces, the daily gridlock we face gets worse, longer and more desperate. Add to that our crumbling roads and higher-than-average fuel prices, and autos in Southern California face a daunting series of demands.
We don’t want to be pestered by bad roads. We want our three-hour commutes to slide by like sweet corn. We want trendy, efficient cars that handle it all, because we also have the exhilaration of the Pacific Coast Highway on a crisp January day, the sweet sultry mood of Pasadena on a summer evening and mountain roads perfect for carving. Our cars are everything, our lifeblood indeed, so it’s no surprise that we have what is possibly the greatest collection of individual car collectors in the world. It's appropriate, then, that LA is first in line when it comes to the uniquely American tradition of gawking at new cars – which is really what an Auto Show is all about. What better place is there to introduce the very finest automobiles in the world, and, at the same time, the most popular cars on the freeways? We are the grind and the glitz, and automakers have come to a city of angels where no one walks and have invited all of us to marvel at their vast range of beauty, form and function.
2006 BMW M6
BMW enjoyed sales of more than 266,000 vehicles in the U.S. last year, marking the marquee’s best effort ever and capping off a ten-year period of impressive growth. Recently, the lineup has been bolstered by revised 3 and 7 Series models, a new 5 Series wagon, and soon Bavarian Motor Werks fans will be able to get their hands on a few new vehicles bearing the M badge, a group of outstanding rides that BMW calls the brand’s “crown jewel.” Blazing to the front of that lineup is the 2006 M6, powered by the same 5.0-liter, naturally-aspirated V10 as found in the M5 sedan, pushing 500 horsepower through a seven-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) transmission. That powertrain is bolted to a body and chassis that have been designed to be lightweight, complete with an aluminum front structure, thermoplastic front fenders, and the use of carbon fiber for the bumper supports and entire roof panel. Thanks to their efforts, engineers are able to boast of the 2006 BMW M6’s 0-60 mph time of only 4.5 seconds. The top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.
Any ride that is that freakin’ quick requires some serious control, and the 2006 BMW M6 comes prepared. Included is Electronic Damping Control, a suspension system that provides different setting for firmness dependent on driving style and road conditions; a locking rear differential controls wheel spin and puts hundreds of ponies directly to the pavement; and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) helps to protect drivers who end up a bit above their heads. But, for enthusiasts who really want to test their skills, DSC can be turned off, resulting in a battle between the driver and the road, with little intrusion from the vehicle. For such Mario Andretti wannabes, we wish you luck, and pray that you’re on a deserted strip of asphalt far away from the roads we travel in California.
Differences between the 2006 BMW M6 and the regular 6 Series include a revised front air dam, a rear air diffuser, quad tailpipes, unique mirrors, tweaked rocker panels, and gills in the front fenders. Like all BMWs, the M6 will be sold with a free maintenance plan spanning four years or 50,000 miles, because, as BMW Chairman of North America, Tom Purvis, puts it, “It’s the premium thing to do.” Maybe that added bonus will help buyers get past the $96,795 starting price.
The 2006 BMW M6 is due to go on sale in May of this year.
2006 Fisker Latigo CS
Serving as the base of the Latigo is the BMW 6 Series Coupe, the latest Bavarian Motor Werks example to be fitted with lead designer Chris Bangle’s tiered, bubble-butt styling cue. It’s a bit ironic that BMW and Fisker Coachbuild chose the same venue, the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show, to debut their newest interpretations of this large coupe, the M6 and the Latigo CS, respectively. Spinning under the blue, black and white brand emblem was the remarkable new edition to the M family, offering 500 horsepower and promising unquestionable handling, all for the sum of about $97,000. As one sits and watches this machine slowly rotate, it’s all grins and thoughts of what driver and car could do alone on a back road, and then – yikes – a view of that rear end and the dream is over.
Enter the 2006 Fisker Latigo CS. This is a completely rebodied 6 Series, though the BMW’s lines bleed through a bit, though thankfully the tail, with its smooth tasteful lines, resembles the old 8 Series more than any generation of the 6 Series. That’s a good thing, one of many on the Latigo CS, including the interior completely blanketed in fine leather, carbon fiber body panels, and a reworked front grille that is common to all Fisker models (which so far totals two). Under the hood is a 4.8-liter V8 offering 360 horsepower, while the Performance Plus Package bumps that up to 470 horsepower. Fisker Coachbuild is also planning on releasing a M6-derived Latigo CS in the coming months, with a standard rating of 500 horsepower and up to 620 horses with the Performance Plus Package. Consider it an M6 that’s “had a little work done.”
That beauty comes at a steep price. Figures for the M6-based Fisker aren’t yet available, but the 2006 Fisker Latigo GS built on a BMW 650 Ci chassis sells for $180,000. That includes $72,000 for the donor vehicle, $108,000 for the Fisker Coachbuild body treatment, $7,500 for the Fisker trim package, and $35,500 for the Fisker custom trim package.
2006 Fisker Tramonto
Chances are his Tramonto won’t be recognized by the Green Car Journal, either, as it’s powered by the Mercedes-Benz’s supercharged 5.5-liter V8 that cranks out 493 horsepower and 516 lb.-ft. of torque in standard guise, while the Performance Plus Package, which includes tweaked exhaust and camshafts, boosts output to 610 horsepower and 650 lb.-ft. of twist. Premium unleaded is required, so don’t go thinking that the big spending is over after the $234,800 sticker price has been covered. That lofty figure includes $126,000 for the SL55 AMG that serves as the Tramonto’s backbone, $7,500 for a Fisher trim package, $35,500 for a Fisker custom trim package, and a weighty $108,000 for the Fisker Coachbuild body, which features carbon fiber panels and milled aluminum that shines like chrome. There’s also $43,000 tossed in there for the Performance Plus Package, which besides the 610-horsepower supercharged engine, adds aluminum paddle shifters for control of the five-speed automatic transmission, larger cross-drilled disc brakes, and promises a 0-60 mph time of only 3.6 seconds; the “base" 2006 Fisker Tramonto lethargically meanders to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. Top speed is reportedly 202 mph, and mating the whole shebang to the ground are 20-inch forged alloy wheels, with Michelin Pilot Sport 255/30 tires up front and 325/25 tires out back.
Buyers interested in purchasing a 2006 Fisker Tramonto might face a challenge in obtaining their very own copy. Mr. Fisker promises that all of his company’s models, now and in the future, will be limited to a production run of only 150 units. There are currently four dealers in the Los Angeles area, with expansion expected gradually throughout the U.S. So, if you’re not one of the lucky and extremely wealthy individuals fortunate enough to land a Tramonto, you might just have to settle for a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG and drive through the neighborhood with shame.
2006 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder
So -- what kind of fuel economy does it get?
Maybe that doesn’t matter so much. Given the price, around $200,000, and the prestige, which is unending, gas by the gallon just gets lost in the wind dancing over your head and streaming along the side of the Gallardo Spyder, spinning its own fairytale as you head down your favorite driving road. Just let me know what 520 horsepower feels like with the top down. Until then, I will have to appreciate the Gallardo from the Concourse at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show.
Originally debuted as the concept S at the 2005 Geneva Auto Show, the Gallardo Spyder makes its way to the US this spring. Lamborghini plans to sell 350 Gallardo Spyders in the US, most of which are already spoken for. Those 350 lucky ones will get a 5.0-liter V10 engine (all Gallardos do) that generates those delectable 520 horses…with the roof tucked under the engine cover and roll bars ready to pop up from behind the seats. The top takes about 20 seconds to lower at the push of two buttons; though driving sans top reportedly slows the car by 4 mph. That would be an issue until you consider that the Gallardo Spyder goes 0-60 mph in just a tick more than four seconds, and reaches up to 195 on the speedometer, thanks also to a revised suspension and steering setup.
2006 Maybach 57S
Thus the introduction of the warp-speed Maybach 57S performance model, unveiled to Americans at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show. We’re talking about 12 twin-turbocharged cylinders, more than 600 horsepower, and a torque curve that peaks flat between 2,000 and 4,000 rpm. Acceleration to 60 mph takes less than five seconds, impressive for a vehicle that weighs more than 7,000 pounds, with 275/45 Michelin Pilot Sport tires wrapped around 20-inch multi-spoked wheels keeping the power glued to the pavement. The Maybach 57S is also equipped with a lowered chassis and an Adaptive Damping System II suspension that is designed for perfect calibration regardless of speed, road surface, or vehicle direction. Plus, the stability and traction control systems are calibrated to offer a wider handling and performance envelope than standard models.
When Diddy rolls by in his new Maybach 57S with custom rims, you can still identify it as the performance model by its redesigned grille with double louvers. Other styling changes include chrome surrounds for the fog lights, a redesigned rear apron, and chrome-dipped exhaust outlets. You can get a Maybach 57S in black or silver, but the interior can be custom-tailored. Most buyers might want to stick with the piped Nappa leather upholstery, piano lacquer trim, and carbon fiber panels. For 2006, a Business Package with Bluetooth wireless technology, a color printer, and a wireless 80 kbps Internet connection can transform the Maybach 57 or 62 into a mobile communications station, but is rightly dismissed from the 57S.
We say good riddance. Leave that Business Package option for Moneypenny’s chauffered Maybach 62. Bond definitely wants the performance-tuned Maybach 57S, which is both shaken and stirred.
2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
But when sales drop, it’s time to inject some new life into the product. You’ve gotta give the customer, in this case a customer with plenty of expendable income, a good reason to trade up. With the 2006 Cayenne Turbo S that debuted at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show today, Porsche has done just that.
Porsche started by dropping a twin-turbo, 4.5-liter V8 engine good for 520 horsepower and 530 lb.-ft. of torque under the hood. For perspective, consider that only the Porsche Carrera GT supercar makes more giddy-up. Acceleration to 60 mph takes just 4.8 seconds of your life, and you can run this puppy up to a top speed of 167 mph. But dipping into the throttle is gonna cost you in more ways than just sticker price. The Cayenne Turbo S is rated by the EPA’s light foot at 13 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway. You’re buying this thing to go fast, so expect a real-world number possibly as low as the single digits.
Suspension components get an upgrade to handle all that additional power – 16-percent more than the already stunningly quick Cayenne Turbo – and the beefed-up brakes feature special cooling ducts for the ventilated front rotors. The rear discs are internally ventilated, and the Porsche Active Suspension Management system gets recalibrated software for the Cayenne Turbo S’s increased performance potential. The Cayenne Turbo S gets unique 20-inch SportTechno wheels, too.
You can opt to paint the inserts on those wheels in the same color as the body, and there’s a Sport Design package available that adds special trim front and rear, a larger roof spoiler, and unique side skirts. Inside, the Cayenne Turbo S comes loaded with equipment, including a Porsche Communication Management System with navigation and a Bose audio system breathing through 14 speakers. Interesting options include a panoramic roof, keyless locking and ignition, four-zone climate control, a rearview camera, and other goodies. In fact, you can load your new 2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S with so many extras that the price goes from stratospheric to ridiculous faster than the SUV reaches 60 mph.
But when you’re spending $110,600 just to put a foot in the door, another 30 grand for options doesn’t seem out of whack. If you’ve got a wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket, the 2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S goes on sale in two weeks, landing in showrooms in the middle of January, 2006.
2007 Saleen Sport Truck S331
Apparently, Ford engineers and Steve Saleen don’t like the view from second place, so much so that they’ve created the 2007 Saleen Sport Truck S331, an F-150-based SuperCab pickup that promises to give the Ram SRT-10 a serious run for its money.
With about 5,000 vehicles built in 2005, including three versions of the Mustang, the GT supercar, and the stellar S7, Steve Saleen and his crew have proven they know how to build fast cars. The Sport Truck S331 is no exception, thanks to the availability of two engines: a 24-valve V8 cranking out 325 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque, and another V8 with twin superchargers pushing 450 horsepower and 500 lb.-ft. of twist. Saleen hasn’t talked about fuel mileage, but you can bet that won’t be this screamer’s best selling point.
Anyone who’s familiar with Saleen vehicles knows they can expect more than just oodles of power. In the case of the 2007 Sport Truck S331, those extras include reworked front and rear fascias with honeycomb inserts, a new horizontal-slat grille, a supersized front air dam, and an integrated rear bumper with a diffuser. The hood is new, with a sculpted vent, the flanks are dressed with lower skirts, and gracing the wheel wells are 23-inch alloys, which Saleen suggests are the largest standard wheels on a production truck. Inside the five-passenger cabin are unique gauges, race pedals, and a supercharger gauge cluster is mounted atop the center dash on the 450-horsepower models. The Saleen name is embroidered on the seats and printed on the gauges, while the floor mats feature the S331 designation.
If the 2007 Saleen Sport Truck S331 sounds like your kinda truck, you’ll have to wait until July 2006 for units to arrive at Saleen-authorized Ford dealers. Prices for the 325-horsepower models will start in the high $30,000 range, whereas the 450-horsepower S331 will sticker for closer to $50,000.
2007 Toyota Yaris
Built on a larger new platform, the Yaris will likely improve on the outgoing Toyota ECHO that it replaces. The Echo failed to gain much traction in North America, its weird design condemning it to a last-resort teenager car. But Toyota does nothing if not learn from past mistakes – theirs and others – and the Yaris corrects several issues that consumers had with the Echo: styling, with a more subtle, professional design, a more roomy interior, better powertrain and, most importantly, choice. Shoppers who arrive at a Toyota dealership in March, when the Yaris arrives, will get to pick from a sedan, a sport sedan, and a liftback. Base prices start at an MSRP of $10,950 for the liftback, $11,825 for the sedan and $13,325 for the sedan S. All base models come with a manual transmission.
Features include a 1.5-liter four cylinder engine that produces 106 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 103 lb. ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm. The engine is mated to either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 34 city/39 highway miles. The Yaris is certified as a Ultra-Low Emission vehicle.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, tinted glass, and more, and options include ABS brakes and side and side curtain airbags. Fifteen-inch wheels are also available.
2007 Volkswagen Eos
The 2007 Volkswagen Eos is powered by a 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder driving the front wheels. After the initial launch, a 250-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 matched with VW’s excellent Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) clutchless manual transmission may become available.
Fully equipped in a single trim level, the 2007 Volkswagen Eos includes stability control, a pop-up safety roll bar, and side impact airbags as standard equipment. Sixteen-inch wheels and tires also come standard, with stylish 17-inch wheels, a navigation system, a premium audio system with 10 speakers, and Climatronic automatic climate control listed on the options sheet.
Styling is a blend of crisp, clean lines and VW’s emerging trademark drooping headlights and circular taillamps. The 17-inch wheels look terrific, and the tinted glass roof is cool, but the roofline is boxy and not at all appealing. Like most convertibles, the Eos is more attractive when the top is down, but even then the car’s excessive front overhang, massive grille, and large headlights conspire to create an unbalanced appearance.
Inside, Volkswagen’s traditionally rich materials decorate the cabin. Black is the primary décor color, but contrasting leather seats and door panel inserts, combined with silver trim accents, brighten the interior. The glass roof also helps to lighten what could be a dour driving environment.
The 2007 Volkswagen Eos is set to arrive just in time for the summer of 2006, with prices starting in the high $20,000 range, slotting in just above the New Beetle Cabriolet. With space for four adults and true four-season capability, the Eos is likely to find its fair share of buyers. Especially on Sorority Row.
2007 Volkswagen GTI
Straight-line performance is not a problem with the completely redesigned 2007 Volkswagen GTI, a car that has taken its sweet time coming to America. Running the same mechanicals as the excellent Jetta GLI sedan – a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder delivering 200 horsepower and plenty of low-end torque to the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual or available Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission – the new GTI continues a tradition first started, and frequently mimicked since, the early 1980s.
The 2007 VW GTI is a three-door hatchback, equipped with monochrome paint, big 18-inch wheels and tires, blacked-out trim, larger brakes, and suspension upgrades. Inside, sport-bolstered seating grips front occupants in turns, and the driver faces a meaty flat-bottomed steering wheel that would be right at home in a racing car. Silver trim pieces lighten the gray interior décor, and there metal alloy pedals for your feet. Side-impact, side-curtain, and whiplash-reducing head restraints help to minimize injury in an accident, and standard stability control works to keep a wreck from occurring in the first place.
The 2007 Volkswagen GTI goes on sale this month and starts at around $22,000, continuing the tradition of offering driving enthusiasts practicality in an affordable, fun-to-drive package.
Ford to Start Playing Offense
“It’s time to play offense,” said Fields, though he failed to detail exactly what type of offense Ford will play, aside from emphasizing the importance of brands in an increasingly competitive market. Fields admitted that “we lost our way to our customers,” and went so far as to claim that the days of the Big Three were “long gone” and that US automakers were now looking at a landscape on which a Big Six played, with no assurances of success. “We have to earn our customers every day,” said Fields, though he refused to list just how Ford plans to make the changes needed that will facilitate such earning power, saying that his “Way Forward” plan for Ford will be released on January 23. He did, however, say that domestic automakers could increase their sagging market share, but that first they need to “stabilize.” He also cited the recent success of the Ford Fusion, Ford’s new mid-size sedan, as well as the F-Series truck and the upcoming Ford Edge crossover. And though Ford has no known plans to debut a small production vehicle here in Los Angeles or at the upcoming North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Fields pointed toward small cars, specifically subcompacts, as part of Ford’s strategy for the future, saying that “Small is big in America.”
“Without American Innovation and red white and bold, we would have missed the small car trend,” said Fields. Ford has plans to debut a small concept car named Reflex at next week’s Detroit show, while Toyota, Nissan and Honda have already announced plans for production subcompacts. Fields also took a few veiled shots at Toyota, saying that Toyota “Wants to be an American brand,” and that even though they have made significant strides in appealing to American buyers, “that doesn’t make them an American brand.”
“For Ford, it’s third down and ten,” said Fields. “But we’ve got a pretty good game plan.”
Volkswagen GX3 Concept
The Volkswagen GX3 concept is a motorcycle – like Bernhard’s Tomahawk creation – but with three wheels instead of two. The GX3 Concept is equipped with a double-wishbone independent front suspension and a single rear driven wheel. There’s no windshield, and the headlights are clustered high on the center of the hood. It holds two people, but Volkswagen says it qualifies for use in carpool lanes with just one person aboard because it is technically a bike and not a car. You’d need a helmet to drive this oddity, but VW has installed rather ungainly roll bars above the seats in case the GX3 flips.
Volkswagen’s 1,257-pound G-force (G) Crossover(X) three-wheeler (3) accelerates to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds on the way to a top speed of 125 mph, and gets 46 mpg on the highway while producing up to 1.25 g-forces in tight corners. The GX3 Concept’s 1.6-liter, 125-horsepower four-cylinder engine sits behind the small trunk, propelling a huge 18-inch wheel wearing a 315/30 tire via a six-speed transmission and chain drive. The front tires are sized 215/45R17.
Styling is minimalistic inside and out, patterned after today’s GP motorcycles and F1 racing cars. Surrounded by a steel spaceframe covered with fiberglass panels, the Volkswagen GX3 Concept’s interior contains five-point racing harnesses, “moto”-style instrumentation, and a stainless steel shifter.
With the VW GX3 Concept, Volkswagen once again dares to be different. In the spirit of the original Beetle, the Microbus, and the Thing, the GX3 Concept could be in production by 2007, for a price of about $17,000. And that’s just brilliantly nutty enough to restore some luster to VW somewhat dull brand image in America.
Photos by Ron Perry