2016 Chicago Auto Show Hits, Misses & Revelations

CHICAGO– The nation’s biggest public auto show crowd will be treated to some significant new production models (most of them hits!) and a good chance to see many of the big debuts from the Detroit show. If you’re going to the Chicago auto show this weekend or next week, here’s what you need to see first.
2017 Chevrolet Camaro 1LE Front Three Quarters

Hit: Camaro 1LE with the 335-hp V-6

Why not the V-8? First, one has to believe that Al Oppenheiser (Camaro chief engineer) and his always-enthusiastic engineers have put together a proper V-6 performance package with the FE3 suspension, Brembo brakes and the mechanical limited-slip. Second, while the big-motor version of any pony car is a hoot to drive, oftentimes the performance feel and balance of the smaller-engine edition is more fun. Less time keeping it under control, more time playing with it.
–John Lamm

Hit: Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE

I can appreciate why Chevy created a 1LE package for the V-6 Camaro. Why not give a gift to those enthusiasts of a certain stripe who give handling a priority over straight-line performance? But the small block-powered SS 1LE is the one for me. Way I see it, this is the next ZL1, sans supercharger and “Mohawk” hood.
–Christopher Nelson

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Front Three Quarter 02

Hit: Kia Niro

Wish they’d called it Nero and given it a proper Roman emperor hood ornament, but still it is a welcome addition to the hybrid herd. Good to see the hybrid as a proper SUV/CUV rather than a hatchback or station wagon. Packaging looks good and we have the plug-in version to look forward to. Now if only gas prices weren’t so low, right?

Hit: Kia Niro

Kia calls the first vehicle on Hyundai Motor Group’s dedicated hybrid platform a “sport/utility.” But, Chevrolet says the same of its electric Bolt. To my eyes, the Kia Niro looks more like a small station wagon than an SUV. Kia wanted a distinctly hybrid model that doesn’t look funny (see Toyota Prius), and it succeeded. Based on my short drive last fall, Kia also managed to engineer an exceptionally smooth hybrid with seamless electric-to-gas transitions, even with its dry dual clutch transmission. Its DCT could strike a blow against the tyranny of continuously variable transmissions in cars like these.
–Todd Lassa

Nissan Rogue Warrior Concept Front End

Hit: Nissan Winter Warriors

Hey, this is from a guy who had a bicycle paper route as a kid in Wisconsin winters. Love it, heck with the deep snow tracks on this trio–Murano, Pathfinder, Rogue–I might still be tossing Wisconsin State Journals on porches to this day.

Miss(ing): Nissan Titan 1500

Given that it goes on sale shortly before the new Armada, and considering there’s some carryover from the old model, the non-ND Titan should have been ready for its first in-the-sheetmetal appearance at this show. Instead, Nissan projected a photo of the truck, sans interior, on a big screen.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Front Three Quarters

Hit: Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Ever since our videographer, Sandon Voelker, bought the last Tacoma TRD Pro, I’ve been smitten by the Taco. It’s more desirable than ever in its new TRD Pro trim. I look forward to seeing this come through the office so that Voelker and I can bail on work, load up a pair of dirt bikes, and head up to California’s Hungry Valley.

Hit: Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Though I wouldn’t call this truck elegantly subtle, it’s a manageable-sized alternative to the Ford F-150 Raptor and its near-semi truck proportions.

2017 Chevrolet Trax Front Three Quarters

Miss: Chevrolet Trax

Not for its size, packaging or interior, but for that overly aggressive, wide-maw front end. Looks like it should be chasing guppies or salmon or sharks, not taking kids to school, which is its proper place in life.

Hit: Chevrolet Trax

Not a handsome, unqualified hit, but the new nose puts some much-needed creases into the popular b-CUV’s potato-shaped sheetmetal.

Revelation: Moving up from luxury brands

Ford Motor Company’s sales, marketing and service chief, Mark LaNeve, confused me when he explained in his Midwest Automotive Media Association keynote speech here that the Ford Explorer with the Sport Appearance Package is “a huge hit with young, affluent buyers coming out of luxury brands…” Huh? I thought young, affluent buyers came out of Fords and into luxury brands. Then, I read the Monroneys on two Ford Explorer Platinums on the floor. They were both about $50,000. Now LaNeve’s words make sense.

Miss: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Extreme Concept

Mercedes-Benz says the Sprinter Extreme concept is meant to draw attention to the overlooked 3500 cab chassis, to show how versatile the platform is. So they created a dumpy monster truck in Jurassic Park garb that sucks attention away from the stock cab chassis sitting nearby on the show floor? Don’t think this does what they’d hoped it would.

Revelation: Not all Workers are equal

Mercedes-Benz builds a lot of mainstream non-luxury vehicles, including eighteen-wheelers, European A-Class taxicabs, and cargo vans. To build sales in the U.S., it cut the price of its Sprinter Worker van by about $4,000, and claims that with its standard clean diesel and larger cargo capacity, it’s a better value than the competition from Ford, Ram and others. Still, how will you feel when your plumber shows up with a three-pointed star on his work van’s grille?

2017 Nissan Armada Front Three Quarter 02

Hit: Nissan Armada

If for no other reason that it finally replaces its long-aging predecessor. Inside is an example of how luxury interiors are working their way from the Range Rovers of the world into more affordable machines. Outside is something of an outta-my-way exterior, but then doesn’t that apply to most SUVs these days?

Miss: Nissan Armada

The Infiniti QX80 isn’t pretty, but it works. Don’t know why—may be it’s curves, may be it’s sumptuousness—but it does. Whatever Nissan did, transforming the Infiniti into the new Armada, doesn’t. Its face isn’t half bad, but the rest? Gag.

Hit: Hyundai Vision G Concept

By no means a new car, first seen at Pebble Beach last August. And yet walking through a hall at the Chicago Show seeing this car, slowly rotating on stage, it was once again stunning. Stood out from everything around it. If Hyundai doesn’t built this car as a Genesis, little changed from what we see here, it is blowing a chance to move up with the Germans, making a statement that can’t be denied. But will they?

2017 Lincoln Mkz Purple Chicago Auto Show

Miss: Lincoln MKZ in Purple

Purple is pimpin’ on a Cadillac, but on an MKZ? It’s not plum. I so badly want Lincoln to become the brand McConaughey deserves, but that will happen through solid product, not striking paint colors. (Here’s to hoping the new Conti drives better than it looks.)

Hit: Porsche’s Stand

It’s nice to see a Le Mans prototype racer in a sea of small crossovers. A pair of Porsche 919 Hybrids earned first and second at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Porsche took home the FIA World Endurance championship for 2015.

Revelation: I see dead brands

The Scion stand in McCormick Place’s North Hall made me think of the sad Oldsmobile stand in a corner of General Motors’ Detroit show display, circa 2003.

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