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LA show highlights – Italian flair for MX-5; Volkswagen’s sandbox duo; Honda’s Civic Coupe, Mercedes tweaks SL-Class drop-top

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 19 November 2015

MAZDA’S evergreen MX-5 has got the Italian touch with Fiat unveiling its new 124 Spider, a two-seat convertible that shares DNA with the latest version of Japan’s best-selling convertible.

The Los Angeles Motor Show begins tomorrow.

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Designed in Italy but built in Japan with an Italian engine, there are two key differences separating the 124 Spider from Mazda’s offering.

Mazda’s pair of 96kW (128hp) and 118kW 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engines have made way for a compact and turbocharged motor shared with Fiat’s Abarth 595 hot hatch.

Retuned and adapted to suit the Mazda’s rear-wheel-drive layout, the 1.4-litre four-cylinder motor makes a handy 119kW and 250Nm mated to a six-speed manual or auto transmission should make it punchier on the road than the MX-5.

Styled in Turin, the 124 Spider features design details intended to separate the model from its Japanese cousin, such as LED lamps at the front and rear and a new bonnet with twin “power domes”.

The Spider features a silver windscreen frame as opposed to Mazda’s black-painted version, and the rear numberplate is mounted high, between the tail lamps and not low on the bumper.

The redesigned rear hides an extra 10 litres of boot space over the Mazda, helped by a larger body that is nearly 140mm longer and 47 kilograms heavier than the car it is based on.

Like the MX-5, it has a manually operated soft top which can be opened and closed easily in just a few seconds.

On the inside, Fiat promises “Italian craftsmanship and premium materials throughout”, with a touch of colour and quality materials to enhance occupant comfort.

Featuring the same double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear as the Mazda, Fiat’s entry-level 124 Spider Classica has the same-sized 16-inch wheels and 195mm-wide tyres as Mazda’s 1.5-litre offering, while the more expensive Lusso shares its 17-inch wheels and 205mm-wide rubber dimensions with the 2.0-litre MX-5.

VOLKSWAGEN

Volkswagen has revealed the definitive production version of the Beetle Dune in both coupe and cabriolet bodystyles on the eve of the Los Angeles motor show.

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Originally unveiled as a concept at the 2014 Detroit motor show, the Beetle Dune receives more rugged looking styling, greater ride height as well as larger wheels and tyres than standard versions of the second-generation modern day Beetle in a move aimed at providing it with similar appeal to Volkswagen’s dedicated off-road models.

Yet despite the off-roader inspired design touches, the new model will be sold exclusively with front-wheel drive.

The production version of the Beetle Dune adheres closely to the earlier concept styled by Volkswagen brand design boss, Klaus Bischoff.

Beyond the more rugged look, Volkswagen has also introduced respective 6mm and 7mm increases to the front and rear tracks. Ride height is also bumped up by 10mm, providing the Dune with greater ground clearance than the standard Beetle.

The Beetle Dune will be produced with five engines. Included are 77kW 1.2-, 110kW 1.4- and 162kW 2.0-litre petrol units, together with 81kW 1.6- and 110kW 2.0-litre diesels – all carried over from the standard Beetle. Gearbox choices include standard a six-speed manual and an optional six- or seven-speed dual clutch automatic.

HONDA

HONDA has brought its more powerful coupe version of its restyled Civic compact for the show.

The sporty coupe is aimed at generating renewed enthusiasm among the Honda Civic faithful and drive demand for the line.

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About 10 per cent to 15 percent of Civic buyers are expected to opt for the coupe, a percentage that Honda hopes to increase when the new one comes to showrooms in March, Jeff Conrad, the head of the Honda division in the US said.

Coupe buyers will have a choice of two engines, one of them being the first-ever turbocharged powerplant for the model.

The base is a 2-litre, 158-horsepower engine that has 15 more horsepower than the one it replaces. The fancier engine is the 1.5-litre turbo that will spit out 174 horses, 31 horsepower more than the 1.8-litre engine in the old coupe.

“This is the sportiest, most tech-savvy coupe we’ve ever made,” said Honda designer Guy Melville Brown at the unveiling in Honda’s design studio in Los Angeles.

MERCEDES

MERCEDES-BENZ has taken the wraps off the freshly updated R231 SL-Class drop-top range at the Los Angeles motor show, revealing styling tweaks that are in line with the AMG GT sportscar.

A comprehensive front end cosmetic makeover is accompanied by mild tweaks to the cabin, along with upgrades to the base car’s powertrain numbers.

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The range also benefits from upgrades to electronic chassis and safety systems.

On the outside, the SL runs new adaptive, camera-equipped LED headlights that are fitted to a revised front end. The lower bumper valance is redesigned to incorporate larger side air intakes, while the bonnet scores a pair of so-called power bulges down its length.

The rear end receives a new bootlid spoiler, bumper and solid red tail-lights, while new alloy rim designs in both 19- and 20-inch are available.

The roadster’s Vario Roof can now be operated at speeds up to 40km/h; previously, the car had to be stationary for the mechanism to work.

Available in four variants, the SL400 benefits from a power-up, with a retune of its 3.0-litre V6 netting an extra 25kW and 20Nm for a total output of 270kW and 500Nm. It will consume 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres, according to Merc.

The SL500’s 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8, meanwhile, gains 15kW for an impressive 335kW/700Nm output, and use 9.0L/100km. Both cars feature Benz’s latest nine-speed automatic transmission as standard.

The two big hitters remain unchanged, with the SL63’s 5.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 making 430kW and 900Nm, and the SL65’s monstrous 6.0-litre quad-turbo V12 churning out 463kW and a limited 1000Nm.

Underneath, the SL’s chassis has been tweaked, with all variants able to be optioned with the Active Body Control system, complete with ‘curve tilting’ functionality.

In combination with adaptive dampers, plunger cylinders fitted to the car’s spring struts do the job of anti-roll bars, freeing up the dampers to be more comfortably valved.

The curve tilt function can be activated over and above the adaptive damper operation, reducing the feel of lateral (or sideways) load on the SL’s driver and passenger.

Images: Manufacturers