2019 CHICAGO AUTO SHOW HIGHLIGHTS FROM STEVE PURDY AND THOM CANNELL
The largest—and some claim the oldest, this being the 111th—auto show broke with tradition to begin press preview days with a bit of high-end entertainment. Until now the breakfast event hosted by the Midwest Auto Media Association and a chosen automaker always featured an auto exec touting products and financial performance, usually to a less-than-excited audience. But this year Kia, known for some outside-the-box promotional projects and a substantial presence at the Chicago show, spent just a few minutes on their new three-row crossover, Telluride. They then brought out a troop from the famous Second City improv theater. That was the first time we’d walked out onto the floor for a day of press conferences laughing.
The other tradition at the MAMA breakfast is the naming of the organization’s Family Vehicle of the Year award, thoroughly juried by MAMA members. And the winner is . . . the Subaru Ascent, a new, all-wheel drive, three-row crossover built in nearby Lafayette, Indiana. MAMA also added a new category for Luxury Family Vehicle of the Year. That honor went to the cute, high-tech and functional Volvo XC40 compact crossover.
Subaru hosted the first press conference of the day showing the updated version of their flagship Legacy sedan. Styling is modestly updated and it’s on a new, more rigid, global platform. It gets a tad more power in standard four-cylinder form, still not particularly impressive, but rated at 35 mpg. However, the new turbocharged boxer motor makes 260 horsepower, paired with a CVT transmission and symmetrical all-wheel drive. Interiors are upgraded with a “tablet-inspired vertical 11.6-inch touchscreen and Nappa leather seating.” And, they had puppies. Next to popcorn, that’s one of the best props to get our attention.
Volkswagen presented the newest version of the GLI, a performance (sort of) version of the mainstream Jetta compact sedan. Many of us, this reporter included, perk up when we learn of any car still produced with a manual transmission. You can get a six-speed manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic behind the 228-hp 2.0-liter GLI, or you can have a 260-hp turbo version. Other performance attributes include a VAQ limited-slip differential, Golf R brakes and multi-link independent rear suspension. Cosmetic enhancements make it look much less like the white-bread sedan it starts out as, and they have a 35ttg Anniversary Edition with a red stripe around the wheels. Some of the interior details go downscale instead of up, but it easily retains that well-earned reputation for affordable performance with Teutonic design and handling.
Jaguar Land Rover occupies much of the far end of the South Hall at McCormick Place this year. They built a dirt track where folks can get a challenging ride over rocks, undulations and a pretty good hill during the show. They introduced the new Range Rover Evoque, a sporty and stylish SUV that now comes with a 48-volt mild hybrid powertrain and 9-speed ZF automatic transmission. It all comes together with a standard 246-hp Ingenium engine for a total 296-hp output. While it looks much like the last version, with a few subtle-but-significant design details, the new Evoque rides on an all-new platform. It gets a tad more cargo space, a little extra length. True to its heritage, it offers upgraded off road technology and a 360° camera system that provides visibility under the front of the vehicle. You’ll see it at dealers’ as soon as this spring with a base price of $42,650.
Toyota focused mostly on trucks. Lots more TRD Pro packages on different vehicles and a Heritage version of the long-in-the-tooth Land Cruiser. TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development, a part of the company tasked with supporting their many racing programs and enhancing – in terms of cosmetics and performance – products throughout the company. For instance, the all-new RAV4 now has a true off-road suspension, they say, “inspired by Rally RAV4 Race Team.” So, it comes with all-terrain tires, standard torque-vectoring all wheel drive, and upgrades to wheels and trim. Tacoma now features power-adjustable driver seats (most grades) better infotainment that connects to smart devices through an 8-inch touchscreen, new grill and wheel designs, and the TRD Pro uses sequential LED headlights and uses exterior cameras to view the surrounding terrain for safety and security. Their 2020 Sequoia TRD Pro uses TRD-tuned Fox dampers, plus a variety of off road underpinnings designed to deliver seven-passenger adventures.
Ford’s news was mostly about a huge investment, over $1 billion in products and plant improvements important to Chicago – so important, in fact, they brought in mayor Rahm Emanuel to say thanks and talk about his city’s order for hundreds of Ford police vehicles. Ford makes the Explorer, the Police Interceptor and Lincoln Aviator at the plant on the south side of Chicago, a plant that began making Model Ts in the 1920s. They’ll adapt the factory and the stamping plant along with building a new, state-of-the-art paint shop.
Ford also brought their latest Super Duty trucks, which offer an all-new 7.3-liter V-8 gas engine and third-generation 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel, as well as a carry-over 6.2-liter gas engine. The brutes are mated to a Ford-designed 10-speed transmission. The diesel ups injection pressures and incorporates injectors capable of eight injections per stroke, which helps with quietness, power and emissions.
Kia showed us the mid-cycle update for their popular Sportage compact crossover. Those changes are external and internal, but they won’t jump out at you. Sportage gets a bit more panache with more dramatic front and rear styling, and they’ve added some standard and optional equipment an 8-inch touchscreen, new steering wheel and revised A/C vents. They’re a necessity to keep up with the competition. No changes needed in the powertrain, they decided. Kia also built an indoor riding experience for their new large Telluride crossover. Both the new Sportage and the Telluride go on sale this spring or summer.
Of course, everything is always about trucks at Ram, FCA’s light- and heavy-duty truck brand. Having recently introduced the new Ram 1500 to overwhelmingly positive reviews, they showed us the Heavy Duty line here in Chicago – the 3500, 4500 and 5500 - with emphasis on the chassis cab versions used to underpin a nearly infinite variety of specialty configurations. This is the first HD truck for Ram to get a new Cummins 6.7-liter diesel with 800 pound-feet of torque and an 8-speed automatic transmission. One version of that legendary engine develops 1,000 foot-pounds of torque.
Among the notable features of the Class 3-4-5 Heavy Duty vehicles is that eight-speed transmission for the Ram 3500.The 97-percent high strength steel frame reduces the chassis weight, and a class-exclusive 12-inch reconfigurable touchscreen is offered as well. Ram also debuted a new ‘Limited’ iteration that provides luxury interiors and extra features for those who work out of their trucks. Frankly, for the horsey set, this is a slam-dunk! Among the trucks shown were a dump truck, cherry picker and fifth wheel.
Mazda made a big orange splash with its most significant product, the iconic MX5 Miata sports car, showing the 30th Anniversary version. Limited to 500 deliveries in the United States (60-percent soft top) and 3,000 worldwide, all were reserved within four hours. It is priced at $34,995, excluding destination charges, and the only color is a way-cool Racing Orange. It comes with 17-inch Rays ZE40 RS30 wheels, Brembo front calipers and Nissin rear calipers in matching orange, Bilstein dampers for manual-transmission vehicles and Recaro seats featuring Alcantara trim inside. It was at the Chicago show that the Miata first came to our part of the world.
Nissan, as usual, does more than any other automaker in supporting the media at the Chicago Auto Show. Thanks Nissan! Their news featured an update of the small crossover Rogue Sport that gets upgrades in equipment and freshened styling. Rogue Sport adds Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist and Nissan Safety Shield technology. Together, they provide automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, high beam assist and radar-based smart cruise control. ProPILOT “is a single-lane “hands-on” driving assistance technology that eases driver workload by reducing the amount of driver acceleration, steering and braking input under certain driving conditions, such as single-lane highway driving,” or semi-autonomy.
The flashy Rock Creek Edition package for Pathfinder includes big 18” wheels and cosmetics that are eye-catching and functional, including black mesh grille and black roof rails, black door handles and exterior mirrors. Black overfenders accent its wheelwells. Inside we find two-tone seating and high contrast stitching. Functionally, the Rock Creek Edition offers best-in-class 6,000-pound towing capability.
Not to be outdone by the competitors, Chevrolet presented its freshly redesigned Heavy Duty truck lineup – Silverado 2500 and 3500. Diesel powertrains get updated and use an Allison-produced 10-speed automatic transmission, meaning more capability like 35,000 pounds of towing capacity for the turbodiesel-equipped version. Chevrolet also introduced a small-block variant with 6.2-liter displacement and 401 horsepower mated to an up-graded six-speed automatic. The Silverado HDs get the entire advanced trailering tech including the optional, novel “transparent” trailer. Using cameras on the mirrors and trailer, the center infotainment display shows a no-trailer view. Together, the cameras deliver over a dozen different views.
Alfa-Romeo celebrated their heritage with a version of the 4C two-seat coupe. It is so special that only 15 cars with the trim and performance package will be available in North America.
John Davis of MotorWeek has presented his team’s Drivers’ Choice Awards at the Chicago show for decades. In addition to more than a dozen categories within which they chose a winner, they honor one special vehicle for “Best of the Year.” We could see from the contours of the silky car cover over the winner, as John made the case for its selection, that it was a Jaguar. And, the winner is . . . the new Jaguar I-Pace full-electric crossover. It won its category of “Luxury Utility” as well. See all the MotorWeek Drivers’ Choice winners at www.motorweek.org. (And, by the way, the proper pronunciation for Jaguar has three syllables, Jag-u-er.)
With dwindling participation by automakers auto shows all over the country and the world are facing drastic, irreversible change – whether we’re talking about the foreign car Mecca of Los Angles, domestic car capital of Detroit, Euro-centric New York, or the major European motor shows of Paris, Geneva or Frankfurt. How this will change the face of what is, after all, always a combination of dealer and automaker marketing, remains unclear. Detroit and the North American International Auto Show may have the better vision, combining tradition with pop-up organic marketing events throughout the city. Surely, we won’t know the future until some vast and expensive changes have been attempted, some succeeding, and some failing. Whether cars, trucks and SUVs, or autonomous pods, there will be a market for transportation, And many, hopefully most, will want to explore their automobile options hands-on rather than finger tapping on an electronic pad.
© Shunpiker Productions and Cannell & Associates