Think "vehicles of Southern California," and you'll probably picture convertibles rolling under sunny skies, exotic cars darting through zip codes like Beverly Hills, and wild custom cars, classic and new. You'll certainly find plenty of these at the LA Auto Show, but there's also another side to California dreaming and driving: kicking up desert dust and beach sand with pickup trucks, SUVs and other properly equipped vehicles. This year's LA Auto Show highlighted that side nearly as well as it highlighted fast, flashy cars, and we have the photos to prove it.

Chevy Colorado ZR2

After the 2014 Chevy Colorado ZR2 concept, we were hopeful that Chevy would proceed with a production version of the off-road-centric pickup. Those hopes dwindled as months turned to years, but they were suddenly realized when Chevy revealed the production ZR2 at this year's LA show.

The Chevy ZR2 package gives the Colorado pickup more off-road chops without compromising on-road drivability ... or at least that's how Chevy's selling it. "You can go rock crawling on Saturday, desert running on Sunday, and comfortably drive to work on Monday," Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president, puts it.

Chevy set up an off-site demo course in LA to demonstrate the upgrades on the ZR2, and we took a ride through. Unfortunately, we didn't get to take the wheel, but we did get to see the Multimatic DSSV suspension eat up big bumps and keep the ZR2 pointed forward before delivering a smooth ride on short stretches of flat pavement. We also climbed up the steep grade pictured at the top of this article and witnessed the electronic locking differentials take over when the hill's slip zones sent the tires spinning fruitlessly. A purpose-designed course can't mimic the unpredictability of real off-road driving, but the ZR2 did make a good first impression – hopefully we can put it to real dirt and rock in the future to see what it can do.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio

The most interesting news on the SUV side was the world premiere of the Stelvio, Alfa Romeo's first SUV. Alfa joins the likes of Porsche, Jaguar and Maserati in crafting a high-end SUV with serious performance potential. The Stelvio wears some of the sexiest curves we've ever seen on an SUV and looks more sport hatch than sport utility vehicle. In Quadrifoglio tune, it's powered by a Ferrari-derived 2.9-liter V6 biturbo that puts out 510 hp. That engine works with a ZF 8-speed automatic and a Q4 all-wheel drive system that keeps things lively and rear-driven under normal circumstances, kicking torque to the front wheels when it detects traction issues in back. So the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is basically a sporty hot hatch with AWD crossover capabilities.

There's no pricing on this one yet, but the standard 280-hp 2.0-liter turbo four will give buyers a lower-priced option than the 510-hp Quadrifoglio. For more details, check out our full Stelvio article.

Urban Madness

One factor that helps makes LA a great truck show is that it takes place within a few weeks and 300 miles or so of the SEMA Show. And if you take time to roam down into "The Garage" area of the show, you'll find some of the custom pickups and 4x4s (and cars) that debuted at SEMA making an encore appearance. Our favorite this year was the "Urban Madness" from RMD Garage, a classic utility vehicle updated with a combination of urban and military styling.

Like many a truck guy, we have a soft spot for the Ford Bronco, especially now that Ford will be bringing it back, and this 1969 Bronco looks great thanks to a bumper-to-bumper workup that includes a lift kit and chassis overhaul, handcrafted interior, BASF glasurit satin green and gray paint job, Kicker sound system and Borla exhaust. The 18-in TIS wheels are wrapped cozily in Toyo MT Open Country Tires, and the custom roll cage, safari doors and United Pacific LED lights complete the picture of a wild-fun off-roader.

Check out our gallery for a complete look at all the trucks and SUVs we checked out at the show.

View gallery - 92 images