Chicago Auto Show – February 2009

During the course of the year, every major city in America hosts a Motor Show. These are generally all large events with an extensive display of vehicles from all the major manufacturers on show. But most of them get little or no publicity beyond their immediate geography. Detroit, of course, is different, gathering much media attention, and typically is the launchpad for many of the new models which will appear on the market during the ensuing months. There are then a “second tier” of shows, just as large, but where only a small number of new models debut. Of these, the Los Angeles show, now held in late November/early December is the most notable, but New York (held around Easter) and Chicago are also significant. Despite making many trips to the Chicago area over the years, I’d never manage to get my visit to coincide with the annual show, until this year.

The show takes place at the McCormack Place, a purpose built facility, located south of the Downtown area, on Lake Shore Drive, and just a few yards off the point where the I90/I94 east/west freeways intersect with the I55. There is ample car-parking – although at $17, it cost far more than the $10 entry fee to the show itself, and there is also a Metra station, and shuttle buses run from the centre to other points of the city. So, it is certainly easy to get to. The venue is large, as only half of it was used for the Auto Show, with a Dog Show occupying the rest of the site, on the day I was there. The difficulties faced by the US Auto industry have barely been out of the headlines for months now, so I was unsure what sort of ambience I would find, and also how many show-goers would be in attendance. Whilst there few truly new debuts, I am pleased to report that all the makers put up a good effort, with plenty to see, including a number of recent concept cars, and the crowds were there en masse to enjoy it all. Indeed, the show remained pretty busy for most of the day, with quite a lot of visitors still there when it was closed at 8pm (it was the last day of a 10 day run). So, on to the cars:

I still cannot come to terms with the truly hideous styling that now afflicts every model in this range. To listen to the comments on the stand, it would seem that I am far from alone! A show debut was the V6 version of the TSX, itself a close relative of the European Honda Accord.
I refused to take any pictures of the truly horrid TL, and I did baulk at the recent facelift of the RL (Legend), but here it is
Pride of place went to the R8 V10, and deservedly so too. What a splendid car!

The new S4 is just as discrete as the old one, and seemed to attract little attention.
The facelifted S6, though, had throngs around it, as did the S5. All the Audis were locked, but this did no deter people from tugging at the door handles and expressing general approbation for the range of cars
Sharing stand space with Rolls-Royce, as the cars were provided from a local dealer with the Speed versions of the GTC and the Flying Spur

With a stand right next to Audi, and of similar size, it was interesting to compare reactions, and general busy-ness. I’d say it was about honours even. The new Z4 was on show, and I had to do a double take to start with to reassure myself it was the new model. It is very obvious from the back, but less so from the front. Generally a good looking effort, I think.

My first sighting of the new LaCrosse, Buick’s vitally important entry level car and likely biggest seller. Very different from the outgoing car – which was also on show – the 2 stand cars were locked up, but they looked good in an anonymous Lexus like way.

Several examples of the highly praised Enclave were on show.
The Converj Concept was tucked away in the middle of the stand, and seemed to be meeting with general approval.

More prominent was the CTS Tourer, which goes into production in the summer
The new SRX will beat it to market by a few weeks. Smaller than its predecessor, it looks a bit dumpy to me.
This was by far the busiest stand all day, In fact, it was packed almost of the time. And no wonder, when you review the items of special interest.

Of the production vehicles, it was the new Camaro – finally ready for the road – that took pride of place. There were several cars on the floor, at which you had to queue up patiently, to get to sit inside, and there were a couple of display vehicles. In my opinion, the outside looks are great, combining a strong reference to the original 67 model with some modern styling cues. I am less convinced about the interior, which tries to do the same thing and does it with some predictably cheap plastics. It’s no worse than the Challenger in this respect, but the latest Mustang is definitely better. A definite 2 = 2, I would struggle with one of these as a rental car, purely because the slot for the boot is so narrow and I doubt I would be able to get my suitcase through i, even though the space is decent enough. Whether this car finds its way into the rental fleets remains to be seen.

Most important car of the stand was the Volt, and it was attracting the crowds as well. There was a cut-away to show the location of the lithium batteries most of which are packed into the transmission tunnel. The stand staff were cagey about final pricing, but quick to point out the $7500 tax rebate the car would attract when it goes on sale in mid to late 2010.
Also due on sale around then will be the Cruze. This car debuted at Paris, and is really a Daewoo. It was being positioned to sit above the Cobalt in the range, though whether the US market will take to the 1.4 turbo engine is an open question. I suspect they will deem it simply too small. I thought the car looks quite neat from the back, but that split-level grille does the front no favours. The interior is a definite improvement over the Cobalt, though. Be in no doubt about the global significance of this car, as they were talking about it being sold in over 100 countries.
Still at the concept stage is the Orlando. Also a Daewoo design, this will replace the Tacuma/Rezza in Europe, and is due on sale for the 2011 model year.
A more exotic concept was the Stingray, and the crowds around this one never abated all day.
They did seem to be quickly noticing – and then moving on – from the gawky Spark. A replacement for the unloved Matiz, this styling horror deserves the cold shoulder, just based on its looks. I suspect it will be deemed to be far too small for the US market, though there are serious plans to try to sell it there.
The new Equinox was also on show. Revealed in production guise at Detroit, this SUV will go on sale in a couple of months time. Said to be a big improvement over the outgoing model, it does not physically look all that different.
A series of 4 very brightly coloured cars appeared – in advance of a movie starring appearance they will make later in the year………… JoltVolt anyone? Yes, the other names were just as bad!
The 200C Concept was on show. An elegant looking car, this is what the Sebring should have looked like!

The venerable PT Cruiser
Latest concept car is the Circuit, an eco version of the Lotus Europa, and now with a more obvious Dodge grille to it.

The crowds were still all over the Challenger models. Looking good, this is cursed with a Chrysler Corporate low rent interior. I suppose it’s one way to keep the price down, but it will also keep the appeal in check somewhat.
Plenty of the more familiar models to see, too, with a full range of Charger, Journey, Grand Caravan and Avenger to inspect.
A lone car on show, presented by the local dealer.

The big news at Detroit was the all new Taurus. Brand new for this show was the SHO version. A far cry from the rental fleet horror of the same name that lived way beyond its sell-by date, this large sedan looks very unlike anything Ford have produced before, and could do very well for those looking to buy a domestic car.
A mix of old and new shape Mustangs were on show. I think that the styling tweaks are not an improvement, but the new inside certainly is.
The KR500 version, with even more power than its predecessor was just tucked in among the regular cars.
Ford are making lots of publicity with their Fusion Hybrid, claiming it to be the greenest car in its class, with some impressive mpg figures. It has had good writeups from the US press, but again, the styling tweaks are not, in my opinion, an improvement.
All the current range were represented. There were several Flex models on show, mostly customised, some with more dubious taste than others.
Something of a surprise were the row of Transit Connect models. Whether there is a ready market for something quite so small in the US remains to be seen.
Ford also displayed a number of their larger commercial vehicles. These ranged from big, to bigger, to huge, to this, the F750. Gigantic!
Still very much a part of GM’s plans, it would seem, this brand offers larger vehicles, such as these:

The new Insight was on show in production ready form. Much interest surrounds this car, and especially its pricing, as everyone expects it to undercut the Prius by a couple of thousand dollars. It goes on sale on April 22nd, Earth Day.

The second generation Fit recently went on sale in the US, and looks set to repeat the success of its predecessor.
More familiar were the latest Accord models
The cladding has been removed from the funky Element. You either love this car or hate it, I guess.
Buoyed by the declaration that the Genesis is the North American “Car of the Year”, a coupe version has been launched. It was so popular that I did not get a clear enough view of it to get any pictures, but I did sit in it, and thought it a pleasant place to be, and certainly with a higher quality interior than the Mustang and Camaro

There was a concept car at the centre of the stand, though.

A large stand here, with the only newcomer being the Convertible version of the G37.

The new XF-R featured here, and I was really impressed. Subtle changes, without going over the top have produced a stunning looking car that it would appear is also an absolute belter to drive. Bravo, Jaguar.

The latest XK range was also on show
And this could be one of the last major shows for the current XJ, before a new model appears towards the end of the year.
Nothing new here, but a huge stand, showcasing all the current range. The interior finish of these cars is still truly dire.

Kia’s new production car is the very neatly styled Forte, and three of these were on the stand.

The Soulster concept car was getting a lot of attention, and people seemed to approve……… but Kia still has a long way to go to change people’s prejudice against them, even if the cars are now pretty competitive.
Notable for their absence were the Amanti and Sorento. both of which will be replaced during 2009.

A small stand, but with three cars packed in. Two in a matt blue finish.

Of the three newcomers on the stand, it was the latest RX that occupied the greatest amount of space, with several cars to see. This has just gone on sale, and I followed one on the road, eventually realising it was indeed the latest model, as externally, little appears to have changed, until you get to the real details.

It was interesting to see the HS250h, as the last one I saw was the taped up prototype that I chased up and down the Angeles Crest Highway in December. It does look surprisingly small for a car that is positioned above the IS model in the range.
The IS Convertible was also on show. Its slightly bulbous looks have not grown on me, and I prefer the Infiniti that was on a nearby stand.
Two sport models, in a rather bold shade of copper were on show: the IS350F-Sport and the GS450F-Sport. Hmm………
The latest production model is the MKT, a crossover based on the Ford Flex. That huge grille – a Lincoln styling motif of the current era – does rather dominate.

The C Concept was also on show. Much smaller than anything in the current range, this one seemed to be meeting with general approval
Just one example of the new 3 was on show, and it was the hatchback version. Visually quite similar to the outgoing car, I am not sure that the detail changes have improved the looks.

There was also a 2009 model MX5, which incorporates some more subtle changes
Centre piece of the stand was a McLaren SLR, lurking inside a set of rather flimsy barriers, and a bossy stand attendant spent the entire day yelling at people not to sit on the barriers.

The reason why there were doing so was not to look at the McLaren, but rather the SL Black Series, which remains a very purposeful looking device.

No sign of the latest E Class, so it was left to the GLK to show case recent production debuts.
The Blue Zero Concept was centrepiece of a display around Bluetec technology.

Still very popular in the US, a full range of Minis were on show, from the JCW, through the Convertible to the Clubman.

There were three cars on the main podium: an iMEV, the latest Lancer Sportback and a reminder of the long and illustrious rallying career of this struggling Japanese marque.

Three examples of the US-bound Cube were on show, and attracting much attention. Clearly aimed at the Scion range, it seems that this car will be marketed with a wide range of customisation options, some more tasteful than others

A big stand for this brand that faces a very uncertain future. The G8 occupied pride of place. Much praised by the press, this is still a rare sighting on the roads.

A turntable showing for the Solstice Coupe, too.
The Vibe – joint venture with Toyota
A Phantom and a Coupe were the 2 display cars here.

The 9-X Concept car was on show again here. I like this car a lot, but am pretty sure that SAAB will never build it.

The US market only 9.7 was on show, even though its Trailblazer begetter ceased production at the end of 2008 with the closure of the plant that builds it.
Among a sea of familiar material was the Vue Plug in Hybrid

Another outing for the Flextreme Concept car that started out in Europe as an Opel (painted silver), and which appeared first at Los Angeles and then Detroit and now Chicago.
The distinctive “racking” at the centre of this stand meant that you could not miss it. When you looked at the cars on ground level, most of which were tastelessly customised, I rather wished I had missed the stand out completely.

A couple of these rather brash cars to see:

Nothing new here, but I did notice the Outback treatment had been given to the latest Impreza. Oh dear!

Definitely a niche player in the US market, now that the badge-engineered Daewoo models are no longer o sale, only the sedan version of the SX4 caught my eye, and only very briefly.

Highlight here is the new Prius. Looking little different from the outgoing model, apart from the rather oddly shaped front lights.

A light facelift to the Camry is so subtle that you would be hard pressed to spot the difference, and both new and old models were on show.
New last year was the latest Sequoia. Huge!
The Venza, a gawky crossover, based on the Camry, is just going on sale. I’ve yet to see one on the road.
Other production cars included the Yaris, the Corolla, the Matrix and the latest Highlander
No new models here, with no sign of Golf VI, but a full display of the varied range sold by VW in the USA. Only the Routan, VW’s lightly modified version of the Chrysler Group minivans is unfamiliar to a European public.

The Tiguan was looking all lonely. This car has been decried as far too small by the US press, who have also remarked on just how costly it is. I still don’t think I have seen one on the roads of America.
An example of how it all began was also on show, with an 1950 Beetle on one corner of the stand.
Tucked away in the area of the show which is filled with accessory stands, a recruitment drive for the US Army, the blood donor service, people making dubious claims about magic unctions and cloths was a small display of cars from the nearby Volo Auto Museum.

I was interested to see that they included a Shelby GT-H Convertible, as some of these are still active in the Hertz fleet. The stand poster referenced the fact that one of these sold at auction for $180,000. It did make me wonder where all the coupes ended up, as I have never seen any on the road after their Hertz era finished.
And finally………….. when I returned to my car, I found this parked up next to it!
2009-12-03 01:36:29

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