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03 December 2012

TopGear.com at the LA motor show

Tiny EVs, lithe sportsters and lots and lots of luxury...

Matthew Jones
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The Californian car market tends to fall into two camps: conspicuous and inconspicuous. Porsche or Prius. Mulsanne or iMiEV. And as if to maintain some karmic universal balance, its residents aren't averse to getting both (Brad Pitt bought a Range Rover Sport the day after arriving at the Oscars in a Toyota Prius).

So no great surprise then that the big news from this year's LA motor show focused on EVs, hybrids, SUVs and sports cars. And in international terms at least, not a tremendous amount inbetween.

But first, a bit of housekeeping. The question of why the state of California accounts for a third of all electric vehicles sold in the USA - and why so many unusual EVs find their way to this show - is worth addressing.

California wants EVs. So much so, it's mandated that manufacturers sell a certain number of them to make up for all that delicious internal combustion, so some carmakers earning them the less-than-appealing moniker of "compliance cars".

And the 500e is one of them. In fact, if you're American you can't even buy it outside of California. Shame, really. It's got 111hp, 200Nm of instant torque, and it'll scurry to 100kph in around 9 seconds, which sniffs around the non-Abarth model benchmark. Range is a reported 128 kilometers, and if you're using a level 2 charger, you can brim it in four hours (eight for normal plugs). Fiat also promised that it'll be the first electric car that's fun to drive. Clearly there's no word for "Tesla" in Italian.

Also propping up the EV corner is the BMW i3 concept, Benz's massive Ener-G-Force truck concept, the Chevy Spark EV and a smattering of other non-UK hybrids.

Then there's the conspicuous end of the market. California's also the world's largest market for sports and performance cars. Which is why the new XFR-S made its debut here, and Jag revealed the F-Type to North America in LA. Not to be outdone, Porsche threw the silk sheets off its new lower, lighter and faster Cayman, while Mercedes showed off its military-grade SLS Black.

There were some interesting performance surprises, too. Volvo dragged its 508bhp S60 Polestar along. And if it makes production, it'll be just as much as an M5 worrier as the XFR-S. Jag and Volvo's previous custodian, Ford, brought along its own sportster, too. And a far more universally relevant effort one - the Fiesta ST. How it'll sit (or if it'll sit at all) in the American market remains to be seen...

So, other exciting stuff to report? Between bouts of laughing at the tuner stuff and being slightly amazed by lowriders, we made it over to the Range Rover stand (it was making its US debut) and chatted with Land Rover's designer Gerry McGovern who gave some very discreet clues about the 2015 Defender's looks. "There's a pair of Hunter wellies, a Barbour jacket and Dyson vacuum cleaner on the mood board."

So, conspicuous, inconspicuous and not a great deal else that we haven't seen before. Which is your car of the show, TopGear.commers?

Tags: cayman, sls amg black series, xfr s, s60, i3, bmw, 500e, mercedes benz, porsche, ford, volvo, jaguar, range rover, fiat, los angeles 12

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