The New Year in Southern California is marked by two routine events: The parties and the L.A. Auto Show. Sometimes the two roll right into each other. Normally, L.A. is not the premier show for manufacturers to make product debuts, but because of the sheer size and influence of the automotive market in this region, we're starting to see a lot of first looks aimed at snaring some of the public's hard earned cash and earning brand recognition.

The theme for 2005 was "Design Los Angeles." Almost every major auto manufacturer has a design house in the Southern California area to take advantage of the trend-setting atmosphere. Along with the Art Center College of Design, all these establishments hold huge sway over L.A.'s car culture and vice versa. Eleven design teams representing each manufacturer's design house entered a concept for its vision of the Ultimate L.A. Machine.

This year saw yet another flurry of alternative powered concepts and production vehicles as more and more manufacturers seek to appease the minority buyer. Most are concepts used to show the public the companies that don't offer alternative fuel vehicles have the technical expertise to build non-Otto-cycle-powered vehicles. The importance of power was not lost either as several top of the line and specialty models were also introduced.

Audi's new four-door A3 was a big attraction, along with the facelifted A4 and S4. The A3 will be powered by Audi's new 2.0-liter turbocharged Fuel Straight Injection (FSI) engine slated to replace the current 1.8T. A 3.2-liter DSG variant will also be available. The 2005 A4 features a 97% design makeover and will be powered by the new 2.0-liter turbocharged and 3.2-liter FSI engines. The S4 retains its 4.2-liter V8.

Volkswagen was busy with the debut of the new Mk V Jetta, a radical departure from the Volkswagen norm. Though not outstanding in appearance, the new Jetta features an independent rear suspension and a 2.5-liter five-cylinder gasoline engine developed specifically for the North American market. Later models will also use a 2.0-liter turbocharged powerplant.

Bentley Motors unveiled the Arnage Drophead Coup as successor to the Azure. In continuation of the Bentley convertible heritage, the new Drophead seats four adults in complete open-air comfort and features a fully automatic top that completely retracts in 25 seconds. This car shares platforms with the Arnage sedan and is powered by the same 6.75-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 engine producing 450 bhp and 645 lb-ft torque.

Porsche's display, which occupied a room to itself, was busy with L.A.'s first look at the new Boxster. Typical of the Stuttgart engineering philosophy, this car is a refinement of the old 986 Boxster with slightly more power and better aerodynamics and overall balance.

BMW brought out its H2R record setting hydrogen concept, which is powered by a 285 bhp 760i-derived 6.0-liter V12. This car holds the record for zero to 100 kph acceleration and the top speed record for a hydrogen-propelled vehicle. On the commercial side, the M3 Competition Package was unveiled for North America. This car is retuned for the most aggressive driver, with upgraded wheels, brakes, suspension, steering and Dynamic Stability Control.

Ferrari boasted more California style with the surprise unveiling of the Superamerica, a 575M Maranello-based convertible concept designed specifically for the U.S. market, featuring a patented folding hard top. This is the first time electrochromic technology is employed on a production car, allowing the transparent roof to be dynamically tinted as well as being retractable. Five hundred fifty-nine units will be available for sale.

Topping off the horsepower wars, Mercedes-Benz presented several new AMG models, including the new CLS 55. The sleek four-door coupe is powered by the same supercharged 5.5-liter V8 found in the E 55. The AMG-powered SLK and E 55 were also present.

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