Los Angeles' hits & mehs

Mercedes SL

Like any auto show, Los Angeles was supposed to be chockablock with astonishing, flabbergasting production models, honey-will-you-look-at-that concepts -- and maybe even a few hybrids or green cars with mind-bending technology.

Something like that anyway.

Instead, we were treated to the likes of a lightly freshened Mitsubishi Mirage. Painted purplish.

Maybe the exciting stuff got stuck in L.A. traffic. Maybe the handlers were taking a van tour to Justin Bieber's house. Maybe Kobe Bryant bought it all. Regardless of what happened, the L.A. show wasn't really a matter of hits and misses, cuz even the misses weren't that bad. It was more like a show of hits and meh.

Here's what we saw. Shrug.

Thumbs upHIT: Mercedes SL (above)

Mercedes did the world a solid and got rid of the SL's previous bug-eyed, flat-nose face, replacing it with this tasteful midlife update. Good riddance. While Merc design chief Gorden Wagener's style crew has done good things to nearly everything else in its lineup, the SL missed out on the new look. It stood out like a sore Daumen. Toss in a new nine-speed transmission and a more powerful base V-6 engine, and the SL (we're legally permitted to call this car "iconic") is finally reclaiming some of its lost mojo.

Meh!MEH: Hyundai Elantra

OK, there's a lot to like here. The caboose has the same sultry styling as the larger Genesis sedan. And buyers can pile on advanced safety tech such as automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection. What's more, the headlights bend themselves around a turn for better visibility. But the front of this car? The very definition of "meh." Way too generic and tepid. When Honda's new Civic looks as good/drives as well as it does, the rest of the compact segment had better bring its A game. This is C+ at best.

Thumbs upHIT: Lincoln MKZ

Lincoln is finally splitting with its split-wing grille. From the windshield back, the freshened MK-hang-on-while-I-look-up-the-final-letter sedan looks identical. But the new face echoes the look of the Continental Concept. And the production version expected in January at the Detroit auto show probably will, too. It's a safe but appealing play. But also a risky one. The MKX and MKC crossovers still have the split-wing and they're both pretty new. So it will be a while before the whole Lincoln family shares an identity. Should make for interesting Thanksgiving dinners.

Meh!MEH: Buick LaCrosse

Buick has worked for years to shed its stodgy image of grandpa-gadabouts and has made decent progress: Think Cascada convertible or stout Regal GS. And, sure, the new LaCrosse is a con-ventionally handsome, leaner interpretation of its predecessor. But it's not enough. The nameplate needs something with the chutzpah of the Avenir concept that wowed crowds at the 2015 Detroit auto show. (The Avenir has no shot at production, the company says).

Thumbs upHIT: Volkswagen Beetle Dune

Essentially a production version of the long-promised Dune concept, the coupe and convertible evoke the spirit of the old-school VW Baja Bugs. A wider stance and slightly higher ride height give the car a nice dose of virility, if not quite as much as the concept had promised.

Thumbs upHIT: Fiat 124

Look at that face. What kind of scrooge wouldn't like such an eager face? Fiat's new 124 -- based largely on Mazda's Miata -- wasn't exactly the show-stopper L.A. needed, but it was an encouraging sign. The style does away with the Miata's Japanese angles in favor of a softer, cleaner look. Fiat also tucked its 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the newly scalloped hood for more power than the Mazda. The interior feels virtually unchanged save for a Fiat logo glued to the steering wheel, but that's a good thing because Mazda is killing it right now in interior fit and finish.

Thumbs upHIT: Scion C-HR

Let's be honest. While the new iA and iM are good for Scion dealers' blood pressure because they finally mean new products for the store, they're repurposed vehicles from other markets. No one is putting a poster of them on the wall. The C-HR however, is all-new and all-awesome. Sure, some of the design details will be watered down when the production C-HR shows up next year. But at its core, this style-over-substance five-door thing is the perfect competitor to the Nissan Juke and brings some funkiness back to Scion's image.

Thumbs upHIT: Mazda CX-9

Turbocharged engine. High-end refinement. Segment-busting design. What's not to like? This new seven-seater ditches the Ford-derived V-6 in favor of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder Mazda uses throughout its lineup. The company then turbocharges it for a cool 250 hp (on the 93 octane fuel rarely found in California) and 310 pounds-feet of torque. If Lexus isn't careful, this new Mazda could easily snag a few potential RX buyers who aren't badge conscious.

Meh!MEH: Subaru Impreza

It's not that we didn't like the styling on this snazzy Sube: We actually loved it and would rank this as one of the best-looking things at the show. But alas, this probably doesn't say much about what the next-generation Impreza will look like when the production version debuts next year. This Japanese automaker has gotten into the naughty habit of luring us in with hot-damn styling and then watering it all down for production.

You can reach David Undercoffler at undercoffler@crain.com -- Follow David on Twitter: @autonews_west

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