Italy’s Return and Autonomous Technology: The 5 Cars To See at the LA Auto Show 2015

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In 1995, Alfa Romeo packed up its remaining few dealerships in the United States. Fiat closed shop here in 1983. Both companies have returned, but until now, it’s either been with razor’s edge two-seat sports cars or odd, cheap, Beetle-like economy cars. Neither has come through with the kind of car that hits America right in the breadbasket. At the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, that all gets fixed. Three other manufacturers also came through, not with high-end exotics, but with the kind of cars that Americans are going to buy in massive numbers.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider

Depending on your age, you either have no idea what a Fiat 124 Spider, or you had one and experienced the polarizing pain and pleasure of owning an Italian car. Instead of a car with wildly unreliable electrics and a body prone to rust in Phoenix, Arizona, the updated 124 Spider uses the gold standard for two-seat sports cars — the Mazda Miata — as its basis.


Why would you buy one over a Miata? Three reasons, hopes Fiat:

  • The Drivetrain: The new 124 Spider doesn’t just rebadge a Miata. It incorporates a really, really good engine. Fiat’s 1.4-liter Multiair four cylinder gets what Miata fans have always asked for: a turbocharger, which boosts power to 160hp and 184-lb.ft. of torque.
  • The Styling: As always, styling is subjective. The Fiat 124 Spider is less “zoom-zoom,” more “bling-bling” with a slightly longer nose, a hint of the original 124 Spider’s beautifully rendered tail and hood details.
  • The Interior: The passenger compartment definitely has an upscale feel, splitting the difference between the spartan Miata and Italian luggage. It has a true “Lusso” feel with a leather wrapped dash and upscale leather seats.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Cloverleaf

Alfa Romeo sedans in the 1980s and 1990s had incredible promise. The 164 was a logical, more luxurious and sportier step up from the other car it shared a platform with, the Saab 9000. (The 164 was on the Type Four platform that spawned the Fiat Croma and Lancia Thema in Europe, too). The Alfa Romeo Milano was an underappreciated automobile that shared the front-engine, rear-drive, near-50/50-weight distribution of the Alfa Romeo GTV and Alfetta. But it wasn’t enough to save the brand in the United States from the onslaught of terrific luxury cars from Germany that appealed to enthusiasts, and the plain vanilla luxury cars from Japan that appealed to people who liked cars that ran every day.

150915_Alfa-Romeo_Francoforte_03The 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Cloverleaf should be exactly what Italian car enthusiasts — who have been forced into buying BMW, Mercedes and Audi cars — have been looking for. With a 276hp base model, a 505hp upgrade, available all-wheel drive and a price tag between $40,000 and $70,000, it’s a shot right across Germany’s bow, and England’s too.

2017 Hyundai Elantra

Here’s one of those “everybody’s going to be driving one” cars we mentioned in the introduction. The Hyundai Elantra might not be the kind of shock-and-awe introduction you’re used to out of a major auto show, but this car is going to show up in hundreds of thousands of American driveways in the next few years, displacing a lot of Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics along the way.

44502_2017_Elantra_SedanWhat it lacks in dramatic styling, it more than makes up for in the kind of technology that is setting the stage for fully autonomous vehicles. Technologies like Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist, Smart Cruise Control and a rearview camera with dynamic guidance have filtered down from extreme luxury cars to everyday commuters in the blink of an eye, and they’re in this car for one purpose: to score a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS.

2016 Mazda CX-9

Cars don’t hang around for 10 years without a major redesign very often anymore, but the CX-9 has. Mazda’s reinvented itself completely over the last four years, and the CX-9 is the last of the vehicles to undergo a complete transformation. While most of America was buying the Toyota Highlander and Ford Edge, people who bought the CX-9 are devoted to them, and it will be interesting to see if Mazda can pull new fans over from the other brands, now that it seems a lot more healthy and viable than it did during the economic crisis.

CX9_008Like the rest of its lineup, Mazda wants consumers to equate the CX-9 with driving dynamics, something that isn’t typically on the checklist for crossover buyers. Mazda hopes to make that connection with a 2.5-liter Dynamic Pressure Turbocharged four-cylinder, and a weight loss program that shaves almost 300 pounds off the all-wheel drive version. And like the balance of the Mazda lineup, designers spent a lot of money and effort on the interior, which takes the CX-9 out of “boring 1990s Japanese car” territory into something wholly unique.

2017 Ford Escape

Whether you realize it or not, Ford sells a ton of Escapes. Last year was its best year ever, with 300,000 finding their way into American garages. So it doesn’t undertake a redesign lightly, even if it’s more of a facelift.


Look for new EcoBoost engine availability, with a 1.5-liter version on SE and Titanium trims, and a 2.0-liter version as optional equipment.

Like all of the cars introduced at the LA Auto Show this year, driver assist technologies are flooding into the Escape. Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings and even driver fatigue alerts are going to be commonplace features in the next few years, but they’re available in the 2017 Ford Escape from the moment it arrives in dealerships next summer.


Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at