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Best Cars of the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show: MotorTrend Favorites

From Jeep Gladiator to the Mazda3, editors pick their faves

From Jeep Gladiator to the Mazda3, editors pick their faves

Trucks, SUVs, and electric vehicles were big this year at the Los Angeles auto show, and automakers demonstrated that those categories are in no way mutually exclusive. Not only did Jeep give us a truck version of its SUV of the Year–winning sport ute, but Rivian showed us that trucks and SUVs can be cool, practical, rugged, and also all-electric. Then there’s the new Mazda3, Kia Soul, and Toyota Corolla, which prove small cars aren’t dead just yet. And it wouldn’t be an international auto show without a few sporty cars like the forward-looking, production-bound Audi E-Tron GT concept or the new Porsche 911, which updates the iconic model while staying true to its heritage. The 2018 L.A. auto show had a little something for everybody. Keep reading to find out which debuts most excited the editors of MotorTrend.


2020 Jeep Gladiator

Why has it taken mankind so long to develop a convertible pickup with four removable doors and a flop-down windshield? Also, the name appeals to this devotee of the movie Airplane and the TV show Scandal. –Frank Markus

This is fun on a frame. You cannot look at this midsize pickup with panels removed and windshield folded down and not anticipate the drive ahead. With the looks and capability of a Wrangler, a size that is garageable with a 5-foot bed, two 4×4 systems, hidden storage areas, and the usual Jeep Easter eggs, this is a whole new animal in a growing segment. –Alisa Priddle

It’s a convertible pickup, what else do I need to say? That alone is enough to make the 2020 Jeep Gladiator my favorite out of everything I’ve seen here. The fact that it’s also got all the goods that make our SUV of the Year–winning Wrangler so excellent and an available diesel engine makes this a promising pickup. I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the Gladiator and venturing off the beaten path! –Stefan Ogbac

Things are heating up in the midsize truck segment, and it seems the new Ford Ranger won’t be the new kid on the block for long. The Wrangler-based Jeep Gladiator promises segment-best towing and payload numbers, which combined with the Jeep’s legendary off-road prowess, should make the Gladiator among the most capable adventure vehicles on the road (or off it). –Christian Seabaugh

Pictures don’t do this truck justice. After seeing it in person, the Gladiator is huge and has the DNA that enthusiasts look for in a truck. From the boxy styling to its clean tailgate, the Gladiator is simply stunning. –Miguel Cortina


Rivian R1S and R1T

Despite all the cynicism swirling around so many would-be startup disruptors in the car biz these days, I find myself pulling for Rivian to beat the odds and become “the Tesla of Trucks.” The brand’s strong leadership and engineering team, the impressive powertrain and chassis “skateboard,” and the company’s robust investors give genuine cause for optimism. And they look incredibly cool and capable. –Frank Markus

I’m always skeptical of new vehicle startups. History is littered with new automakers that made lots of noise as they promised to revolutionize the automotive industry, only to go down in flames: Tucker, DeLorean Motor Company, Fisker, Faraday Future (too soon?), and the list goes on. Rivian, it seems, has espoused Teddy Roosevelt’s motto: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

And what a big stick the Rivian R1S and R1T are. After nothing but radio silence from the Michigan-based startup for years, Rivian burst on the scene with an electric pickup (R1T) and SUV (R1S)—and it’s hard not to be impressed by its first two efforts. Sharing the same skateboard platform, the R1T and R1S pack up to 180 kW-hrs of battery capacity (good for a claimed 410 miles (660 km) of range), four electric motors with up to 754 hp, and drive systems that ought to ensure the two Rivians are the most capable electric off-roaders on the trail. Both Rivians are also attractively designed (I promise they look sharper in person) and have unique features such as the truck’s bed-mounted air compressor and its pass-through tunnel.

To be fair, Rivian still has lots of work to do if it’s to ultimately follow the Tesla model rather than the Tucker. But with engineering and design teams sourced from McLaren, Tesla, Chrysler, and others, it seems its MIT-educated founder RJ Scaringe is on the right track. –Christian Seabaugh

Rivian has succeeded at turning the attention away from Tesla with its all-electric truck. It’s impressive that it offers more than 400 miles (644 km) of range and 826 lb-ft of torque with the largest battery option. And it looks the part of a brawny, futuristic pickup. –Kelly Pleskot

Two things make the all-electric Rivian R1T pickup a standout: the engineering and the execution. The hardware, being developed under the direction of former McLaren engineer Mark Vinnels, promises staggering capability. Four motors with a total output of up to 750 hp, a height-adjustable suspension that gives up to 14.2 inches of ground clearance, and a giant 180-kW-hr battery pack that can deliver a 400-mile (644-km) range mean a pickup truck with the off-road chops of a Jeep and the on-road performance of a supercar. But equally clever is Rivian’s innovative take on the full-size pickup truck format. While the proportions are conventional, the way they have been used isn’t. Under the “hood” is a large lockable trunk—something every truck buyer wants—and fold-down panels on the bodysides not only provide access to the bed but reveal a hidden load space that goes right across the truck. You wouldn’t think you could reinvent the pickup. But that’s exactly what Rivian has done. –Angus MacKenzie


2020 Lincoln Aviator

In a week where Cadillac appears to be contracting, it’s great to see Lincoln expanding with an attractive vehicle that appears unmistakably related to the wondrous Navigator without resorting to the “same-hot-dog-different-length” trope. Its spanking-new rear-drive-biased unibody structure and its 3.0-liter twin-turbo PHEV powertrain are just two of the hefty investments the Blue Oval is making in this brand and product that are to be strongly encouraged. Bravo. –Frank Markus

This next step down from a Lincoln Navigator feels just as classy as the American luxury flagship, not a price compromise for those who cannot afford the big dog. The interior is equally elegant. Case in point: The engine-turned aluminum detailing in the center console—normally the provenance of Bentley—is a premium touch in a world filled with (real or fake) burled walnut, or cheesy, played-out carbon fiber. –Mark Rechtin

Lincoln continues its slow roll with the addition of the three-row Aviator that stayed true to the concept we saw earlier in the year. It adopted the choice materials and comfortable cabin of the Navigator but differentiates itself with a sporty body. The base engine, the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6, pumps out 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. The Grand Touring plug-in hybrid brings that performance to 450 hp and 600 lb-ft. American luxury has another signpost. –Alisa Priddle

Car buyers, it seems, reward authenticity. The Lincoln Continental introduced the brand’s idea of American luxury while the Navigator cemented it—becoming arguably the best American luxury vehicle in decades. With the new Lincoln Aviator, Lincoln isn’t letting its foot off the accelerator, as it really seems to be re-establishing itself as a major player in the luxury space. I almost felt bad for the folks at the Cadillac booth as they looked on at the party over at Lincoln. –Christian Seabaugh


2020 Hyundai Palisade

Someone finally made a hulking three-row crossover with character. The 2020 Hyundai Palisade has attitude in spades, and its interior looks super techy with its massive screens. With consumers switching to utility vehicles at a rapid pace, this is the product Hyundai needs to strengthen its crossover/SUV lineup. –Stefan Ogbac


2020 Porsche 911

Biggest surprise of the show? That nobody at MT picked the all-new Porsche 911 (992). I’m not really picking it, either—I just wanted to highlight that our staff panned the vehicle, despite the considerable buzz it generated before and during the show. Here’s the thing: Much of that buzz was whispers of how much bigger it looks—like a 9/7ths Porsche—and not necessarily in a good way. The overhangs have lengthened considerably, and the wheels look comically large (up to 22-inchers are available, apparently). I’d be more supportive of the growth in dimensions if it came with more rear-occupant comfort, but apparently that hasn’t happened. We’ll reserve final judgment for a full test drive—but what do you think? Is bigger really better? –Ed Loh


2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan (and Mazda3)

As consumers skulk away from cars toward the swelling ranks of feature-laden SUVs and CUVs, can we pause for a moment and appreciate the basic goodness of a thoughtfully conceived and well-executed passenger car? Mazda wows with the new Mazda3, which cleanly transitions into production form from the stunning Kai Concept. It’s still a bit tight for rear occupants, but the interior is certainly a charmer. As for Corolla, it has always been basic transportation at its finest—a perennial global hit (third best-selling nameplate of all time last I checked) synonymous with the Toyota name and reliability. The latest iteration seems to be a return to form, and then some. While not as snazzy as the Mazda3, it’s legitimately handsome in a quiet way, with lots of room, competitive features, and modern powertrains. Mazda3 and Corolla are too important to their respective brands globally for either to walk away from the segment the way the Detroit Three have. But let’s hope both remain available in America whether or not this SUV fever abates. –Ed Loh


2019 Mazda3

As a previous Mazda3 hatchback owner, I was happy to see the new 3’s fresh styling with elegant lines and a swoopy profile. I’m a little uncertain about the way the rear quarter window is cut and the thickness of the C-pillar, but I’m sure it will grow on me. With a look that’s close to the Kai concept, the Mazda3 is back as one of the best-looking compact cars. –Miguel Cortina


Audi E-Tron GT Concept

Audi calls it a concept, but apart from the 22-inch wheels, glowing E-Tron logos, and a couple of other pieces of showcar eye-candy, it’s the production version of the all-electric Audi sports car that will go on sale in 2020. The E-Tron GT shares its BEV hardware with Porsche’s forthcoming Taycan, but apart from the windshield and the HD screens inside, everything else is the work of Audi design chief Marc Lichte’s team. It’s low—the roof is 2 inches lower than that of an A7—and the superbly proportioned sheetmetal is a move away from the sharp-edged look of the current Audi lineup. And just look at the specs: 590 hp, 0–60 in less than 3.5 seconds, 149-mph (240-km/h) top speed, 250-mile (402-km) range, and an 800-volt charging system that’ll bring the battery back to 80 percent charge in 20 minutes. Things just got real, Tesla. –Angus MacKenzie

All it needs is a more evocative name. It’s sexy, it’s fast, and it’s platform sharing done right. Nothing about it says “rebadged Porsche” (not that that’s a bad thing). It’s its own car, and more important, not another science-experiment-looking EV. Audi nailed it. –Scott Evans


2019 Honda Passport

A good friend of mine used to own a first-generation Honda Passport. I have mostly fond memories of the impromptu four-wheeling adventures we had in that trusty (and rusty) rig, and a few less fond memories of getting it stuck thanks to our inexperience. So the return of the Passport is bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I’m happy the nameplate lives on. But on the other, I’m sad it’s not a true SUV like the original. Still, the midsizer’s substantial lift (in all-wheel-drive trim) and relatively short overhangs could make it a decent soft-roading crossover. I’m not expecting the same capability as the rebadged Isuzu I remember, but I’m curious to see what it can do. Hopefully no one gets stuck this time around. –Alex Nishimoto


Toyota TJ Cruiser Concept

Although it was unveiled at last year’s Tokyo show, the TJ Cruiser is still one of the noteworthy cars of the L.A. show for one reason: It shows Toyota can do clean, crisp, cool design. The TJ Cruiser’s taut surfaces, minimalist linework, and muscular stance are a complete contrast to the fussy, messy, overwrought excess that blights most current Toyota production cars. More like this, please, Toyota. –Angus MacKenzie


Life-Size Lego Porsche 911 Turbo

The 992 may have stolen the Porsche spotlight in L.A., but there was another eye-catching 911 on display in the Convention Center. First shown at Rennsport Reunion VI this past September, this life-size Lego Speed Champions–series 911 Turbo somehow made it from that massive Porsche gathering in Northern California to the food court outside of South Hall. It may not have the fidelity of the Lego Technic 911 GT3 RS, but this human-scale Lego kit is still clearly identifiable as a Porsche 930 thanks to its frog-eye headlights, flared fenders covering deep-dish wheels, and characteristic whale-tail rear spoiler. How is it better than the new 992? I can take this Porsche home for $23.99 USD (though in a much smaller size). –Alex Nishimoto


2020 Kia Soul Taillights

The 2020 Kia Soul is the latest car to prove you don’t need to pay big bucks to get striking styling. Just take a look at the Soul hatchback’s rear design—even on the X-Line model that lacked the GT-Line’s crisper LEDs, the Soul’s rear lighting is distinctive and charming. And for an over-the-top look, don’t miss the GT-Line’s center exhaust outlets. Let’s hope the new Soul greatly improves on the outgoing model’s fuel economy. –Zach Gale