Los Angeles' most down-to-earth auto show

The new cars shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show weren't celebrity models, only attainable by the rich and famous, but the kinds of cars real people buy.

One big star of the LA Auto Show was the new Mini Cooper. Josh Miller/CNET

I go to five major auto shows every year, and Los Angeles remains my favorite. Its proximity to San Francisco means our CNET crew can take a road trip down, so I don't have to hassle with airport security. The weather is, at the very least, comfortable, and the Staples Center venue provides two big halls that easily hold the wares of the world's automakers.

This year we drove down in the 2014 Dodge Durango, which proved very comfortable and spacious for the extended freeway cruise and let us carry a bunch of our video team's gear. The Hemi engine wasn't great for fuel economy, but it had the acceleration to deal with just about any traffic situation. I will have a full review of the Durango posted later.

My anticipation for the show was built up by three cars in particular, the Audi A3, the Mini Cooper hatchback, and the Subaru WRX. Once unveiled, those cars did not disappoint.

Audi's E-tron plug-in hybrid was a surprise introduction at the show. Josh Miller/CNET

Audi gave me a tour of the standard A3's connected tech, an impressive leap forward. This little sedan will come with a built-in 4G data connection, a move that puts it at the forefront of connected cars. Cabin tech options will rival those of Audi's biggest cars, giving a compact car a halo spot in the lineup. I was also able to drive the A3 E-tron, a plug-in hybrid hatchback variant of the standard A3. It was a capable driver and its fuel economy should be stellar.

Continuing the small-car love, Mini released a very important update to its Cooper hatchback, the model that set the brand's tone at the beginning of this century. All of the structural, performance, and tech updates should reinvigorate this stylish little car just when it's needed.

And I can't wait to drive the new Subaru WRX. A turbocharged, 2-liter boxer engine with direct injection gives it massive power, and all-wheel drive sets it up for serious handling. The six-speed manual version would be my first choice, but I am intrigued by the available continuously variable transmission. Too bad it's not a hatchback.

Nissan GT-R Nismo
The GT-R Nismo makes an astounding 600 horsepower. Josh Miller/CNET

Nissan obliged my taste for performance with three Nismo cars. I was a bit overwhelmed when I read that the GT-R Nismo would boast 600 horsepower, and it was kind of funny to see that supercar next to the Senta Nismo concept. However, Nissan's Nismo division did an excellent job tuning up the Sentra, taking it from boring runabout to slick sports sedan. My personal favorite, in line with my affection for Nissan's Juke model, was the Juke Nismo RS. With an engine tuned up to 215 horsepower, this one should be a blast.

Kia came to the show with a luxury car, the K900, which looked like a big, comfortable sedan. Following Kia's recent models, I expect the K900 to offer high-end features but undercut the luxury competition.

That Kia also made me realize that many of the new models I was seeing were cars that real people buy. Each had some exciting style, performance, or tech element, yet they weren't out of reach for the average buyer. Despite Los Angeles' celebrity reputation, the new cars at the show were down-to-earth.

Well, most of them. Jaguar brought out its F-Type Coupe and Porsche had its new Macan model. More than just a hard-top version of its F-Type convertible, the F-Type Coupe boasts performance that will best anything in the current Jaguar lineup. On the other hand, Porsche's Macan, sort of a baby Cayenne, is also a bit more accessible than many of its siblings.

Beyond those models, there was quite a bit to see at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show. Check out our mega gallery for a concise look at what was on display, or visit our complete 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show coverage page to get all the goodies.

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