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Payne: The Best of the LA Auto Show

Los Angeles — Post-pandemic, Tinseltown is back in full swing and so is the LA Auto Show.

California is the biggest auto market in the U.S., and that, together with the state government’s goal of eliminating the internal combustion engine by 2035, has made it the most important show of the season. Automakers have flooded the LA Convention Center with their latest EVs in hopes of catching customers’ eye.

Significantly, some of the world’s most-ambitious EV makers — BMW, Audi and Mercedes — have bypassed LA, so there is lots of space for startups like Vietnam EV startup VinFast to fill. And though you don’t see mega-million-dollar displays of old, automakers’ new focus on activations is transforming the show floor with towering indoor tracks that you can assault with, say, a Jeep.  

EVs are da bomb, but with a market this big — and EVs' focus on luxury buyers — there is something here for everyone from trucks to supercars to affordable hatchbacks. Here are my top new cars in show.

Toyota Prius. Who knew a Prius could cause so much commotion? For its fifth generation, the ugly duckling hybrid has emerged a swan with media raves about its sculpted looks. But greens who made the Prius a hip icon have turned on their favorite son.

“This ‘hybrid reborn’ relies on a combustion engine, connected to a gas tank, further polluting our communities and atmosphere,” raged Consumer Reports when the sheets came off the new Toyota. “The climate crisis demands real actions to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Prius missed an opportunity to take a fully-electric step toward the future.”

Take a valium, Karen. Yes, the Prius is still a hybrid, but that’s what customers want. EVs are expensive with limited range and extra costs (tried installing a charger in your home?). So successful was the Prius in mainstreaming hybrid technology that it is no longer Toyota’s best-selling hybrid. The RAV4 SUV is. For the new gen, the Prius is not just better looking, but gets 220 horsepower and doubles EV-only range on the plug-in version.

Porsche 911 Dakar. The anti-Prius. The muscle-bound, gas-guzzling, ear-splitting 911 Dakar stole the show just as Mustang did at the Detroit auto show in September. Porsche has built its rep on the back of Le Mans race wins, but did you know they’ve won off road as well?

The 911 Dakar inherits its DNA from 1984 and 1986 racing 911s — the first all-wheel-drive Porsche — that won the famous Paris-Dakar Rallye. Today, all 911s are rear-wheel drive. So the 911 Dakar takes that formula, jacks the car up to 7.4 inches off the ground (same as a Cayenne SUV) arms it with a special steel plate underneath and tow hooks, and goes dirt kickin’.

With its 473-horse engine hanging over the rear, Pirelli Scorpion all-terrain tires, this beast should be a riot when the asphalt ends.

Charge Cars meets Ford Mustang. Speaking of the Mustang, it continues to inspire 57 years after its inception. As automakers try to inspire EV adoption, they are reaching back to the classics. Startup Charge Car — from England — brought its battery-powered ’67 model across the pond.

It’s a dead-ringer for a ’60s fastback Mustang. Except it’s built on a battery-powered chassis with two electric motors under the hood and two in the back. Slip into the modern, digital interior and it’ll silently hit 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds with 550 horsepower and 1,100 pound-feet of torque.

If Charge Cars is successful, expect more retro-EVs. “We want to take certain iconic vehicles and bring them back to life as full EVs,” said product chief Andy Wilby.

Not to be outdone, Ford is showcasing its all-new, digital-interior, gas-powered seventh-gen Mustang. The V8-powered GT looks wicked with quad pipes and sinister front headlights.

Fiat 500e. Speaking of retro, Fiat is bringing its ageless 500 badge back to the U.S., but this time as an EV-only model. When the 500 came to the U.S. a decade ago as part of Fiat’s Chrysler takeover, the wee subcompact split sales 60-40 between budget consumers and trendy lux buyers attracted to its expensive Abarth and EV variants.

This time, the 130-mile range Fiat is going all-lux as a 2024 model. “The EV market is a luxury market,” said Fiat President Olivier François in an interview. The 500e is already on sale in Europe as a premium product duking it out with Tesla. In the U.S. market, Fiat will debut with special editions wrapped by by fashion designers like Gorgio Armani.

Detroit Electric and Czinger 21C. This couple were adorable. To showcase the battery evolution in 100 years, the LA Show brought in a 1915 Detroit Electric car and state-of-the-art, mid-engine Czinger 21C supercar.

With 10 horsepower, the Detroit Electric was an electric gas-power alternative with its smooth power and easy-starter button. But its cost and lack of range got kicked to the curb by Henry Ford’s Model T. A century later, the same problems plague EVs.

Built by the father-son team of Kevin and Lukas Czinger, the 21C is state-of the-art in every respect with 280-mph top speed, 1,350-horsepower hybrid V-8 engine (solving range anxiety), 800-volt platform, and innovations like fighter-jet seats (passenger behind pilot) and extensive 3D-printed chassis pieces. It holds the production lap record at Laguna Sea Raceway, beating the McLaren Senna, for goodness' sake.

Hyundai Ioniq 6. The sleek Ioniq 6 is Hyundai’s latest EV as the Korean brand seeks to dominate if governments outlaw ICE engines. The 6 complements the more angular 5 with the intention of improving range. The Ioniq 6 looks like the VW Beetle and a bar of soap had a baby. The result is sleek aerodynamics that achieve 340 miles of range, handily beating the Ioniq 5. Plug into a 350-kW fast charger, and Hyundai claims it will hit 80% of charge in 18 minutes.Subaru Impreza. Who says American don’t like hatchbacks? Over 70% of Subie’s reliable, affordable, entry-level Imprezas were sold as hatchbacks — so the brand decided to go hatchback-only for the 2024 model. In addition to its standard, 148-horse four-banger, the Impreza will also gain a performance RS model for the first time with 182 horses.

The interior gets a major upgrade as well with a 11-inch screen ripped from big brother Outback. And for a starting price around $24k, you can buy 10 Imprezas for the price of one 911 Dakar.Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.