Go green or go fast at the 2012 LA Auto Show

At this year’s Los Angeles International Auto Show, automakers revealed two very distinct goals.

First, automakers are working on specialized vehicles just as much as they are trying to create the perfect car for the masses. While a Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry may be the ideal car for many, there is still a demand for specialty performance vehicles and forward-thinking green technologies.

That brings us to the second, and far more pressing goal: Automakers are making good on the promise of green technology as they develop new hybrids and electric vehicles. Moreover, varying forms of these green technologies are making their way into our common, high-volume vehicles. Hybrids, plug-ins, pure electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles are set to hit showrooms in the next year. The LA show gave us an opportunity to see which direction carmakers are taking.

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There were more than 40 debut cars in the LA show. Here is a selection of the most significant unveilings from the Left Coast.

Ener-G-Force Concept: While this Mercedes-Benz may look like a Mars rover, it is actually a statement about the future direction of the G-Class. The rugged SUV has been around with the same basic layout for decades, and the German automaker recognizes it is time for a change. One intriguing detail: The roof apparently features a tray that collects rainwater and converts it into hydrogen energy. The process is purely conceptual, but it is a novel concept regarding future forms of renewable energy.

Fiat 500C Abarth/500e/500L: The Fiat family is growing, both in number of products and size of certain models. The 500e is an all-electric version of the diminutive Italian runabout, while the 500L is a new, larger four-door that should find fans among families living in cities. For performance fans, the real story is the Fiat 500C Abarth. Combining the convertible top of the 500C, and the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine from the 500 Abarth, the 500C Abarth is the best of both worlds. Its 160 horsepower may not seem like a lot, but with a curb weight in the neighborhood of 2,000 pounds, it can really move.

Chevrolet Spark EV: General Motors is betting big on electric in the coming years.The American automaker is aiming for 500,000 vehicles with some form of electric or hybrid propulsion under the hood by 2017. An integral step in that direction is the Chevrolet Spark EV. The completely electric-powered version of the Chevy subcompact hatchback comprises a 130 horsepower coaxial drive unit.That motor receives power from a 20-kilowatt- hour lithium ion battery. GM claims it will have the best range in the EV segment, though the automaker has not yet released figures. When the Spark EV goes on sale in summer 2013, it will carry a base MSRP of $32,000; tax credits will lower the cost to $25,000.

Porsche Cayman: If any impressions from the Boxster convertible can be applied to the closely related Cayman coupe, then the hardtop two-seater will be anything but just the younger sibling to the 911. Named for the islands where some potential owners likely store their earnings, the Cayman comes with a base price of $52,600. It is equipped with a 275-horsepower flat six that will get the Cayman from 0 to 60 in just 5.1 seconds. If that’s not fast enough, the 325-horsepower Cayman S will make it to 60 in just 4.4 seconds, but will set you back nearly $64K.

2013 Honda Civic: Last year’s Civic was largely derided for its substandard interior. In a refreshing moment of candor, Honda was quick to acknowledge the shortcomings of the 2012 Civic, and was just as quick to act. The 2013 Civic boasts a more refined interior and new standard features such as a backup camera and Bluetooth hands-free calling with streaming audio from your smartphone. The price of every trim has gone up $160, but it’s a small sum to pay for the gains made to one of the longtime top-selling small cars on the market.

Kia Forte: Honda may have had a track record to live up to, but Kia’s is far shorter when it comes to the compact Forte sedan. The car was introduced in 2009, but this redesign blows that already capable small car out of the water. Embracing Kia’s current design language—which is to say, terrific—the Forte asserts itself as an instant competitor in the compact market.

2014 Jaguar XFR-S: Alphabet soup aside, this powder blue Jag has a supercharged 5.0-literV8 making 550 horsepower and is the fastest Jaguar ever built. Appropriately, it has a $99,000 price tag to match; the rear spoiler alone costs $3,500. The Jag gets 15/23 mpg, and that powder blue paint is far from subtle. All this points to a car you buy if you can afford to make a bold statement but are finished with the BMW M5.

Ford Fiesta ST: The sporty hatchbacks like the GTI and Mini Cooper S have some new competition in the Ford Fiesta ST.The 120-horsepower, 1.6-liter engine in the standard Fiesta is swapped out in favor of a turbocharged EcoBoost engine of the same size, but making 197 horsepower.That power is sent through a 6-speed manual transmission. The Fiesta ST also features tighter-ratio steering and stiffened suspension.These features plus 34 mpg equate to having your cake and eating it too.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition: The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is to a rocky trail what a Ferrari 458 Italia is to a racetrack: a purpose built machine with few, if any, predators in its natural habitat.The Rubicon has been on the market for a decade, and to commemorate, Jeep has cranked the awesome factor all the way up. Standard equipment includes raised ride height, BF Goodrich KM2 off-road tires, and steel bumpers with removable end caps. The 10th Anniversary Rubicon will also feature a front winch and a unique “Anniversary Red” interior when it goes on sale in the spring.