2012 Chicago Auto Show Review:
CHICAGO, ILL. — The 2012 Chicago Auto Show is not the site of a lot of strikingly new vehicles, but it easily maintains its position as the most casual and most fun of the four major U.S. auto shows. The setting was a good opportunity for Ford and Chrysler to show off future stars, with Ford’s 2013 Fusion and the 2013 Dodge Dart both being built in the Chicago area, within shouting distance of McCormick Place.
This is the 100th Chicago Auto Show, and it runs through the February 18-19 weekend, presenting a wide array of the newest and hottest products in the auto world. In that category are Hyundai, from South Korea, by way of Montgomery, Ala., and Volkswagen, from Germany, by way of Chattanooga,Tenn., which have evidence of rising to the top of the industry by winning awards even while promising to win more.
Just when it seems that Hyundai might pause to reflect on the North American Car of the Year award presented to its compact Elantra in January at the Detroit show, Hyundai instead stole much of the media-day show by unveiling two new models of the new Elantra — a flashy 2-door sporty coupe, and a 5-door hatchback Elantra GT, with a special sporty stance, suspension and flavor.
Top Hyundai executives John Krafcik and Michael O’Brien took turns at the podium. Krafcik said while enjoying the awards, the Elantra added an achievement in a Popular Mechanics comparison of cars that can reach 40 miles per gallon in real-world driving. “Compared to the Ford Focus, it was pretty close,” said Krafcik. “The Elantra got 47.6 mpg in the test, and the Focus got 47.5, at 55 miles per hour. But at 70 mph, the Elantra got 39.3 mpg, and the Focus 33.5. Our biggest problem is we can’t build enough of them at our Montgomery plant.”
With that, out came the new coupe and the GT, rolling on-stage simultaneously from opposite ends to flank the award-winning sedan. O’Brien said: “The Elantra now is the only compact with three styles — the sedan, coupe, and [5-door] GT.”
O’Brien also stretched things a bit when he brought out Miles Johnson, Hyundai’s new Midwest media relations director, to demonstrate the Elantra GT’s weight advantage against rival 5-door hatches, such as the Mazda3, Focus and Golf. Wearing different black t-shirts, with the weight differential emblazoned, Johnson came onstage repeatedly, carrying weights to match the varying weight advantages the Elantra GT has against the Mazda3, Golf and Focus. The difference ranged from 150 to 250 pounds, so in conclusion, O’Brien said it was evident the Elantra GT is the lightest in the segment “by a Miles.”
Volkswagen’s Passat, which was runner-up to the Elantra in Car of the Year voting, was named the Midwest Auto Media Association Family Car of the Year, in voting of MAMA members for new or restyled vehicles with four doors, and which were available for test drives at the annual MAMA spring or fall rallies. Most news media focused on the news that the Beetle, restyled for 2012, would now be available with the familiar VW-Audi 2.0-liter turbo-diesel.
The Beetle TDI has been anticipated as coming, but the big news was more subtle, nestled back among the Passats and Beetles at the VW display. It was a Jetta Hybrid, and only after closer inspection was the startling news unearthed that when the Jetta Hybrid reaches U.S. showrooms, it will be powered by a smaller and even more fuel-efficient 1.6-liter turbo-diesel, coupled with a high-tech battery pack — which could reach astronomical fuel economy figures.
Detroit’s Big Three automakers spent most of their energy on the Los Angeles and Detroit shows this year. General Motors unveiled a revised 2013 GMC Acadia SUVat Chicago, along with previously introduced Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick models. Long-time rivals Chevrolet and Ford continued their sporty power push, with the Camaro getting up to 600 horsepower with the Corvette engine under the hood, and Ford, with its potently high-powered Boss 302 already introduced, flashed a convertible version of the Shelby Mustang, with 650 supercharged horsepower.
Otherwise, though, fuel economy was the central theme for most, with electric and hybrid cars increasing in number and efficiency. With gas approaching $4 a gallon, inexpensive cars with good fuel economy were everywhere. Ford, which has a hybrid version of the Fusion show-stealer in Detroit, also has a pair of C-Max subcompacts with hybrid and plug-in hybrid power designed to challenge the Toyota Prius models that have been the standards for hybrid technology, and Chevrolet’s Volt.
Mostly, though, the city of Chicago has a lot to do with the show’s congeniality. McCormick Place, located between the downtown loop and Lake Michigan, is the ideal size to house the vast wealth of car and truck variations, and, bristling with hotels and outstanding restaurants, Chicago is a friendly city, even in the chill of February. And the show has a much more casual air, thriving without the sprawl of Los Angeles, the pressure-filled tedium of Detroit, or the breathless bustle of New York.
Most of the new products were hurried to the November slate at Los Angeles or the January display of Detroit. It was at Detroit that Ford unveiled the totally redesigned and dazzling Fusion, and Dodge broke out the first view of the Dart, which puts a familiar name from the past on a completely new compact sedan which is the newest evidence of how well Chrysler LLC can advance under the new guidance of Italy’s Fiat. The Dart puts a sleek body with obvious Dodge cues on an expanded Alfa Romeo Giuletta structure and powers it with a Chrysler engine modified with Fiat’s MultiAir technology, which uses an innovative method of the exhaust valvetrain operating the intake valves, and eliminating the intake camshaft. The first view of those cars has been widely circulated, so presenting them for further scrutiny by the masses in the city where they’ll be assembled seemed more than just appropriate.
Kia, Hyundai’s Korean partner, unveiled a concept Soul Trackster, an interesting 2-door version of its popular Soul 4-door, only less boxy, and powered by a turbocharged 2.0 engine with 250 horsepower and all-wheel drive.
The continued advancement of the Korean pair has put considerable pressure on the Japanese companies, and while Mazda’s impressive new Skyactiv engine system on the Mazda3 and soon to be released in the new downsized CX-5 was prominently shown, Acura took the next step by showing production versions of the NSX, RSX and a new ILX sedan, all of which were shown as concept cars at Detroit a month earlier.
Nissan showed off a slightly revised 2013 370Z sports car, with its 3.7-liter V6 now turning out 332 horsepower, through either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic, and it will be available in coupe, roadster, or high-performing Nizmo versions, with 350 horsepower. Nissan also unveiled a new NV200 van, designed for businesses and hauling, but with a compact size and Nissan’s 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with a continuously variable transmission, and it will come in either cargo or passenger styles.
Nissan also was a major player in support of the Chicago show. Along with being one of the numerous manufacturers who staged dinner parties at assorted restaurants, Nissan offered air transportation and hotel accommodations to help distant media representatives attend the show’s press preview days.
The city of Chicago has a lot to do with the show’s congenial atmosphere. McCormick Place, located between the downtown loop and Lake Michigan, is the ideal size to house the vast wealth of car and truck variations, and downtown Chicago bristles with hotels and outstanding restaurants, making Chicago a friendly city, even in the chill of February, and its casual air thrives without the sprawl of Los Angeles, the self-imposed pressure of Detroit, or the built-in bustle of New York.
New York remains on the calendar in April, and this year, most of the new products hurried to get onto the November slate at Los Angeles or the January display of Detroit. It was at Detroit that Ford unveiled the totally redesigned and dazzling Fusion, and Dodge broke out the first view of the Dart, which puts a familiar name from the past on a completely new compact sedan which is the newest evidence of how well Chrysler LLC can advance under the new guidance of Italy’s Fiat. The Dart puts a sleek body with obvious Dodge cues on an expanded Alfa Romeo Giuletta structure and powers it with a Chrysler engine modified with Fiat’s MultiAir technology, which uses an innovative method of the exhaust valvetrain operating the intake valves, and eliminating the intake camshaft.
The first view of those cars has been widely circulated, so presenting them for further scrutiny by the masses in the city where they’ll be assembled seemed more than just appropriate.