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2007 Chicago Auto Show : Purdy Report on All Introductions - MULTIPLE VIDEOS


SEE ALSO: All Vehicles at 2007 Chicago Ato Show

By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Detroit Bureau

The annual Chicago Auto Show is way different than Detroit. For one thing it’s in Chicago, one of the most cosmopolitan of US cities. Of course we're always working so hard we have little time to see the city.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The exhibition hall in Chicago, McCormick Place, is nearly twice as large as Detroit’s Cobo Center which means not only room for more cars and trucks but also peripheral displays like the US Army, Bridgestone Firestone Tires, tuner and customizing companies. DaimlerChrysler has room for an indoor test driving course. All that square footage also means it never feels crowded.

Commercial trucks find places throughout the halls complimenting the cars light trucks. International, the local favorite, brought some really slick mid-sized trucks developed to compete for the attention of rich guys with big toys. Ford, Chevy and Dodge dedicate a surprising amount of floor space to their working trucks, including flat beds, delivery trucks and even a few dump trucks.

There is no question that much more news comes from the Detroit show but many manufacturers save some good stuff for introduction in Chicago as well. We were your eyes and ears there this week.

Ford’s handsome and articulate young president of the Americas, Mark Fields, kicked off two days of press conferences with a breakfast speech touting Ford’s progress in remaking the company. His big news, though, was the renaming of the slow-starting bread-and-butter sedan line built in the Chicago plant – Ford 500, Mercury Montego and Ford Freestyle. In a move that brought mixed reviews from jaded journalists, these three will now be called Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable and Ford Taurus X. Those names might be familiar. Fields and the Ford folks, of course, hope that familiarity will jump start sales of these newly improved vehicles. All three now have about 60 more horsepower than last year’s models and freshened styling details.


Next Toyota introduced the second generation Highlander and Highlander Hybrid, a tad bigger, a bit more powerful and lots prettier than generation one. Lots of updated safety and technology not only bring it up to date but set a high standard for competitors – just what we expect from Toyota these days. Even with all that extra power fuel mileage is expected to be the same. Highlander, by the way, is the crossover SUV based on the Camry platform. Safety is a dominate theme with 7 airbags and Toyota’s “STAR” safety system which includes ABS, traction control, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and enhanced vehicle stability control with electronic power steering. With the new Highlander Toyota has become an early adopter of the pedestrian-friendly front end that crumples on impact to minimize damage to the walker.


GM took center stage next with a significant reveal – the new Saturn Astra for 2008. GM sold a half million of these little cars in Europe last year but they are new to the US. Saturn’s small car has needed replacing for some time and, after a false start designing their own, GM decided that Opel’s Astra would be the ideal replacement. So far, I agree. Both the 3-door and 5-door versions look fresh and modern with specifications that put Astra fully in the hunt for the small car customer. With this small car replacement the oldest car in the Saturn lineup is the sexy Sky roadster introduced not much more than a year ago. Jill Lajdziak, Saturn general manager calls Astra “the capstone on Saturn’s revitalization.”


In keeping with Ford and GM’s updated heavy duty light trucks Dodge spent its press conference time talking about updates with its line of heavy haulers and pullers. DaimlerChrysler, they contend, is the largest commercial vehicle maker in the world. Shown in Chicago were the updated Ram 2500 and 3500, Class II and Class III trucks as well as the Sprinter large van. The Ram 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cab trucks can be had with a new Cummins turbo-diesel making 610 lb-ft of torque, a 52-gallon fuel tank and power take off. While the Rams are still plenty competent and look tough and trucky they’re overdue for a styling update, in my view.


Lots of news came from VW’s David Goggins beginning with a first look at the new Golf R32 super hot hatch. With a 240-horsepower V6 and the slick DSG 6-speed transmission it goes on sale in August in very limited quantities. So get your order in quickly. He then revealed that TDI (VW’s respected turbo-diesel) will be upgraded to be certifiable in all 50 states. Goggins also announced a return to racing. VW will host a GTI cup for 2008 through the Sports Car Club of America, sanctioning body for dozens of the best racing series in the US. Another announcement of note is that VW will be introducing a new compact crossover SUV in ’08 called Tiguan.


BMW’s turn came next and they did not disappoint. In collaboration with the storied Alpina specialized engineering company in Germany our Teutonic friends showed a hot 7-Series concept called B7 Alpina with a supercharged, 500-horsepower V8 that will do zero-to-60 in 4.8 seconds and 186-mph top end. The dash is different than the 7-Series and it’s loaded with high-line features. No price or production details were offered.


Back to GM we were pleased to see our favorite auto exec, GM product boss Bob Lutz, busting through the smoke and bright lights in GM’s other new bread-and-butter car, replacement for the popular Pontiac Grand Prix, a sexy new rear-wheel-drive sedan for Pontiac called G8. Arriving in early calendar ’08, G8 will be powered by either a 261-hp V6 or a 362-hp, 6.0-liter V8 that will do zero-to-60 in 5.5 seconds. Wow! Nice of GM to come out with the hot version at the same time as the tepid one, though at 261-hp I guess we souldn’t call it tepid.


With the auto manufacturers’ press conferences wrapped up for the day John Davis, host of MotorWeek, the original TV car show, presented his organization’s “Drivers’ Choice Awards,” naming the Honda Fit “Best of the Year.” Awards were presented in other categories as well.

1. Best Small Car - Honda Fit
2. Best Family Sedan - Saturn Aura
3. Best Minivan - Hyundai Entourage / Kia Sedona
4. Best Convertible - Volkswagen Eos
5. Best Luxury Sedan - Lexus LS
6. Best Sport Sedan - Infiniti G35
7. Best Performance Car - Ford Shelby GT500
8. Best Small Utility - Honda CR-V
9. Best Large Utility - Chevrolet Tahoe / GMC Yukon
10. Best Crossover Utility - GMC Acadia / Saturn Outlook
11. Best Pickup Truck - Chevrolet Silverado / GMC Sierra
12. Best Eco-Friendly - Toyota Motor Corporation
13. Best Dream Machine - Jaguar XKR, Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, Porsche 911 Turbo

Capping off day one of press events Bridgestone Firestone showed the assembled press some creative new ads featuring cars without tires. “It’s Bridgestone or Nothing,” goes the tag line. By the way, who names these tires anyway? How do they come up with names like Teranza Serenity, Blizzak WS60 and Duravis R500HD. Guess which one is the winter tire.

For a brief interlude within our intensive coverage of the Chicago Auto show allow me to take you along for the annual Cars, Stars and Bars party put on by a variety of sponsors to court the press and put us all in a good mood for the rest of the show. After the first full day of press conferences we have just enough time to collect our thoughts, get back to the hotel for a change of clothes and a bit of freshening up and onto the bus for the short ride to the House of Blues, this year’s party venue. Tables full of exotic food, trays of unusual snacks and an open bar softened us up well before the show started about 9 PM. My favorite snack was the tuna tar tar with wasabi. The curtain opened and Jim Belushi, backed up by the official House of Blues house band, performed for nearly two hours. Belushi was on the dance floor and in the crowd more than on stage putting on a fantastic, high-energy blues show. “When you’re drinking the water, don’t forget the guy who dug the well,” he said as he launched into a Blues Brothers set made famous by his late, great brother John.

Back at the show early on day two we breakfasted with Porsche who introduced a fresh RS Spyder race car, successor to the full-on race car that took honors in the American LeMans Series season in ’06. Also on the Porsche plate is the second-generation Cayenne with up to 500 horsepower putting “the sport into sport-utility.” With a modest facelift and more significant subdermal enhancements the new Cayenne features direct injection for more efficient aspiration. Cayennes come in three iterations and are priced from $43,400 for the basic V6 to $93,700 for the V8 Turbo.

The next important introduction was at Scion where Toyota’s youth division is getting a redesigned xB (the boxy one) and an all new model called xD. The xA has gone away and the tC continues unchanged. All the Scion models are particularly popular with young customers who like to personalize their economical transportation. The xB is significantly updated with more room, more power and a choice of transmissions along with a more sophisticated design. The new xD is derived from Toyota’s Yaris platform and resembles other small 5-door econo-cars but with a bit more pizzazz. Of course, since Toyota is courting a select group of trend-setting youngsters with Scion all models come equipped with all the audio and electronic toys and connectability.


Maserati used the Chicago show to announce a “Certified Pre-Owned” program. There was a time when any of the exotic Italian cars really needed to come with its own mechanic but in these modern times a car could not exist in the US market without a substantial degree of dependability. No one would buy it. Maserati will now “certify” cars up to 5-years-old with less than 90,000 miles on the odo. Maserati is trying very hard to bridge that gap between dependable every-day cars and exotics. They’re doing a pretty good job. Maserati is also back in racing after five decades on the sidelines with a race car called MC12, a 12-cylinder car that goes from zero-to-60 in an amazing 3.8 seconds. Watch for them in the American LeMans Series and European GT racing.

Over at the Nissan stand the news was mostly about updates for Armada Titan and Pathfinder. All have been freshened and enhanced but no major redesigns. Pathfinder gets a V8 engine, 7,000 pounds of towing capacity and a more refined interior. Armada’s front and rear fascias are freshened as is the interior. Titan gets a longer (7-foot) bed, new King and Crew cabs, and an off-road edition.


Last but not least, Kia showed a sport version of the new crossover SUV called Rondo that was introduced in Los Angeles just a few months ago to unusually positive reviews. Here in Chicago the Rondo SX with dual exhaust, tuned suspension, drilled brake rotors, 18-inch Michelin Pilots, sitting 3-inches lower than the standard Rondo was shown to the press for the first time. Kia continues to be a hot contender in the US car market. In Detroit a few weeks ago Kia’s Kue, also on display here in Chicago, won the respected Eyes On Design award for best concept.


And, that’s all the news that’s fit to print, but there is lots more to see at the Chicago show. Because McCormick Center is huge – 1.3-million square feet – you’ll see more than just clumps of cars. The US Army has a display featuring a helicopter, a tank and other vehicles surrounding a climbing wall. Toyota has an interactive display describing environmental issues and their Synergy Hybrid power system. Continental has a simulator you can get into for a three-D demonstration of chassis dynamics. Dodge has an actual indoor driving course. Scion has the best display with a literal wall of cars – eight pods above the floor with a customized car in each one. And, if you like excitement don’t miss the rally racing video at Subaru - real fast cars flying through the air and four-wheel-drifting through dirt banked desert roads.

Enjoy the show.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved