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2014 LA motor show preview


Los Angeles motor show: Range Rover gets a gun holder, new Toyota Mirai sedan fuelled by garbage

This year's Los Angeles motor show is an event with two extremes.

In the home city of Pimp My Ride and chrome-covered car bling, gangsta rappers take posh luxury vehicles and modify them as if they were a Holden Gemini.

But LA is also the spiritual home of the hybrid car – even though the technology was pioneered in Japan, the US embraced it in the millions – which is why clean energy shares the spotlight.

With that in mind here are the highlights from both ends of the automotive spectrum – from the super frugal cars of the future that run on garbage to the super lavish cars of today that come with a leather-lined gun case.

Range Rover by Holland and Holland

Guns, fancy cars and LA seem to go hand in hand, or so Range Rover believes. It unveiled a special edition that comes with its own leather-lined gun case, to coincide with Los Angeles motor show.

The Range Rover by Holland and Holland (the name of a famous British gun maker) is just like a regular Range Rover but with every option box ticked and a leather gun case in the boot. Without the guns in it, the maker helpfully points out.

It also gets the gun's branding on the door handles and seats. You know, in case you want to ‘send a message'. Oh, and there are two DVD screens in the back for the kids.

The most expensive Range Rover ever "benefits from a raft of Special Vehicles Operations-designed exclusive features to complement outdoor pursuits", the maker says.

It costs the equivalent of $320,000 but you can put your guns away: it's not coming to Australia. Just 40 are being built globally per year over the next three years.

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Toyota Mirai

It may have a face like a catfish but the Toyota Mirai is genius. It can be fuelled by garbage, generates enough electricity to power your house for a week, and emits only water. Believe it or not, it'll be in showrooms next year.

Almost 20 years after Toyota launched the first Prius – and more than 7 million hybrid sales later – the Japanese company has unveiled what it truly believes is the car of the future.

The Mirai promises to be a hydrogen-powered car for the masses that takes over where the Prius leaves off.

It has an unusual appearance because its hi-tech hydrogen system needs special cooling; sharp creases in the bodywork help it slip through the air more efficiently.

Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company founder, said the Mirai was a "turning point" that "redefines the (car) industry".

"Imagine a world filled with vehicles that diminish our dependence on oil and reduce harm to the environment," said Mr Toyoda.

Unlike pure electric cars, the Mirai can be refueled in less than five minutes and travel 480km on one tank, about the same as a regular car.

"Hydrogen can be made from virtually anything, even garbage," said Mr Toyoda, who added that the Mirai's on-board hydrogen system "creates enough electricity to power a house for about a week".

There is, however, one significant hurdle. Hydrogen refueling stations are few and far between in the US, Japan and Europe – and there are none in Australia after an experiment with buses in West Australia was shut down seven years ago.

The Mirai will go on sale in the US for $57,500 – or on a $499 per month lease deal – but it is not coming to Australia, at least for a few years, because there is nowhere to refuel it.

Honda FCX

While Toyota was unveiling a showroom-ready hydrogen car, Honda took the covers off its latest concept which uses the same technology and looks like a Storm Trooper.

It's unclear whether the production version will share the concept's Star Wars looks when it goes on sale in the US and Japan in March 2016.

Honda says its latest hydrogen car packs 60 per cent more energy into a fuel cell system that's 33 per cent smaller than before. It means it can travel 480km between refills, just like the Toyota.

However, the Honda will be the first hydrogen car to package its entire fuel cell system under the bonnet like a conventional car, the company claims. Other systems take up space under the bonnet, cabin floor and boot.

Honda was first to introduce a hydrogen-powered car in the United States, in 2002, as an experimental model in limited numbers.

To date, though, fewer than 100 have been sold in the United States and Japan.

Mercedes-Benz Maybach

Take a close look at the new Maybach, the Rolls-Royce of Mercedes-Benzes, because we may not ever see one in Australia.

The Maybach may be the preferred ride of US gangsta rappers, Middle East oil tycoons, and super-rich Chinese businessmen and women but, with a $1million price tag, just 13 were sold in Australia in the seven years from 2004.

The Maybach brand was withdrawn from sale locally three years before it was axed globally.

But now it's back as a stretched, super-long S-Class limousine powered by a 6.0-litre V12 (390kW/830Nm).

The extra 200mm of leg room, unique styling, and hush-quiet interior will cost about $700,000 in Australia – $300,000 more than the dearest S-Class – but it's an order-only proposition. You'll have to fly overseas if you want to test drive one.

Bentley Grand Convertible

British brand Bentley has chopped the roof off its flagship Mulsanne sedan, added wood paneling to cover the convertible roof when it's stowed, and given it the price tag of a cruise boat whose styling inspired it.

The new Bentley Grand Convertible is expected to cost close to $800,000 when it goes on sale in Australia next year.

In the US, though, it costs roughly half as much, which is why LA's music stars and rich hangers-on can so easily afford to paint them fluro pink, slam the suspension and fit oversized chrome wheels.

Or they could be buying it for the epic twin-turbo 6.75-litre V8 (for the tech geeks it has 395kW of power and 1100Nm of torque).

BMW X5M /X6M

SUVs are stealing sales away from sports-cars, says BMW. So it has an answer for that: a super-fast SUV.

The X5M is BMW's answer to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and promises blistering performance from a family-sized SUV, presumably to get the kids to school on time.

The turtle-shaped X6M is an answer to a question no-one asked, but BMW says it designed it to appeal to younger buyers who don't like the look of the family-sized SUV.

According to BMW marketing experts the X6M says "I'm single and don't have kids". With an X6M you may be single for longer than you think. Prices are yet to be confirmed but bank on them being close to $200,000.

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Ford Shelby Mustang GT350

Ford has taken the covers off a road-legal, race-ready, 500 horsepower Mustang named after the late great racer Carroll Shelby.

The exact power figures are still under wraps but Ford says the new 5.2-litre V8 (up from the Mustang's 5.0-litre) will pump out "more than 500 horsepower", or 373kW in modern terms, an extra 50kW on top of the standard V8.

It also gets magnetically controlled suspension (the same technology used by Ferrari, Audi, Corvette, and Holden Special Vehicles), massive brakes and super-wide tyres.

But Australians shouldn't get too excited about this one; a still-secret supercharged Shelby Mustang is due Down Under in about two years.

In the meantime, the regular Mustang is due in Australian showrooms with a choice of four-cylinder and V8 power in coupe and convertible form in the second half of 2015 priced between $50,000 and $70,000.

It's the first time in the 50-year history of the nameplate a right-hand-drive Mustang has been made on a Ford production line.

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Mazda CX-3

And finally, something affordable that will be in showrooms soon. Pint-sized SUVs for the city are about to spread like wildfire.

Japanese car maker Mazda released its long awaited CX-3 soft-roader, the smallest SUV in its line-up – and Australia will be crawling with them from early next year.

The CX-3 is expected to fit between the top-selling Mazda3 hatch and CX-5 SUV in size and price, starting at about $25,000.

It will join recently released five-seaters such as the Holden Trax, Ford EcoSport, and Suzuki S-Cross in the booming baby SUV market.

There is not much detail about the new model except that it has "human-centric packaging". In other words, it's designed for humans.

Translated this means Mazda has positioned the front wheels further forward than usual to give the driver extra legroom and a more natural seating position.

Meanwhile, the rear seat is set taller than the front so back seat passengers have a better view and are less likely to get car sick.

As expected, the CX-3 adopts the latest Mazda design language with sharp creases and a pointy nose.

Perhaps torturing the design language, however, Mazda's media blurb says: "The front grille stacks seven fins with silver-painted front edges to create an expression of concentrated energy that flows horizontally. The signature wing is stout and three-dimensional. It forms the starting point for a powerful sense of speed that flows across the entire body."

In other words: "we designed it to look fun and sporty".