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What We Think of The 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Posted in Events on March 2, 2015
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The mythological unicorn is often portrayed as strong, wild and fierce…unable to be tamed by man. But, Lady, the bigger-than-life-sized pink winged unicorn that greeted us at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show rode atop a RAV 4 was a harbinger, of sorts, for this year’s 107th annual show, even though we know this pairing comes from a Toyota ad spot. Really, we said? And, we laughed and shook our heads. It wasn’t the worst of the show.. And iItt wasn’t the only time we said that-- or laughed--during the Press Days of this event that is used as by a number of manufacturers to show off a second round of trucks and SUVs, following the North American International Auto Show, held in Detroit, in January. That’s our business, and that’s why we were here to show you the best and the worst.

The Chi-town show is the world’s longest-running auto exposition and the country’s largest consumer auto show; the doors opened to the public on Valentine’s Day-perfect timing to showcase America’s love affair with automobiles. There are over a thousand vehicles on display from small to tall, in paint schemes that range from vanilla to eye-blinding, from high-octane to hybrid; among them are a cadre of all-new and refreshed models, plus concepts that range from mild to ridiculous. A showcase for new design and technologies, and a bell weather of the future, we were enticed by Kia’s Track’ster and…well, we had to say really again, when the Mitsubishi GC-PHEV took center stage. Yes, we said ‘Gesundheit’. Of note, the Auto Show raises over $2 million each year for Chicago organizations, at its annual First Look for Charity. For more information, go to: chicagoautoshow.com

Here’s our overview of reveals in the light truck market:

2016 Acura RDX:
What Acura Says: The refreshed Acura RDX luxury compact sport-ute made its world debut at the show, dressed in a collection of significant upgrades to performance, luxury accoutrements and looks. Notable are Jewel Eye LED projector headlamps and LED taillights, a new, more powerful 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6 engine with increased horsepower and torque, an expanded list of AcuraWatch safety and driver-assistive technologies, and an assortment of new premium features and technologies; also new is a new top-of-the-line RDX with Advance Package. Variable Cylinder Management deactivates two of the engine's six cylinders under light engine loads, and increases the RDX’s highway EPA fuel-economy ratings by 1 mpg (19/28mpg for AWD models and 20/29mpg for FWD models -city/highway).There are also updates to the steering control system, increased suspension mount stiffness, and new tuning for the all-wheel-drive system. The interior gets new materials, more standard and optional lux features and tech, plus improved collision performance due to improvements to its Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, particularly with better frontal collision performance. It goes on sale this spring.

What We Say: We talked to Acura’s product planner for this small-sized, big fish in the pond and are stoked that the AWD system gets smarter. Of course the planners couldn’t say how the system gets smarter, but somehow it must learn something. Don’t worry, remember it has Jewel Eye LED projector headlamps to make up for it.

2016 Chevy Equinox:
What Chevy Says: The latest version of its sales-popular compact ute goes on sale this fall with more upscale looks outside and in, along with new wheel designs and new available safety features, plus a larger color touchscreen radio and a standard rear-vision camera for entry-level models. The five-passenger runabout has a new trim lineup; a new front fascia and chrome-accented dual-port grille design; new, premium projector-beam headlamps, new daytime running lamps, LED lamps, and fog lamps; revised lower rear fascia; new 17-inch and 18-inch aluminum wheels; new chrome exhaust outlets on V-6 models; available Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert safety features; standard seven-inch-diagonal Color Touch radio (including Bluetooth phone connectivity); and a redesigned instrument panel “center stack” with new storage shelf and updated control graphics. Notable are the new universal tablet holders available from Chevrolet Accessories that mount on the rear of the front seats to provide convenient access for rear-seat riders. Chevrolet MyLink is standard on LT and LTZ models, while OnStar with 4G LTE connectivity and built-in Wi-Fi hotpot is offered on all trims. The new Equinox goes on sale this fall.

What We Say: Americans already love it-they’ll likely love it more. Just don’t try and take it off road without a support crew. Remember that AAA usually won’t go off the highway, even though the MyLink might be able to call them.

2015 Chevy Silverado Custom:
What Chevy Says: This new trim package is “aimed at the heart of the pickup market”. The well-equipped, double-cab Silverado Custom is V-8 powered. Noting that the Silverado High Country is positioned for uplevel buyers, Chevy’s marketing director for trucks, explained the Silverado Custom is for the “millions of customers in the heart of the market who want a great looking, well-equipped truck at an affordable price- a truck they can be proud to own and proud to drive.” The Custom package adds 20-inch aluminum wheels, chrome bumpers, a body-colored top cap above the front bumper, and chrome mirror caps and door handles; its four full doors for easier access to the front and rear seats, a 40/20/40 cloth front seat, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power windows and door locks, and Chevy MyLink with 4G LTE WiFi. While most Silverado Custom buyers are expected to choose the 5.3L V-8 (with 355 horsepower and the best fuel economy of any V-8 pickup, up to 23 mpg EPA estimated highway) it will be available with the 4.3L EcoTec3 V-6 (with the most torque of any standard V-6), as well. When equipped with the available 5.3L EcoTec3 V-8 and color-keyed carpeting, a 2WD Silverado Custom starts at $33,820, while the same 4x4 starts at $37,800 and are available starting this month.

What We Say: How many ways can you slice the onion? Apparently many, if you drive your Chevy to the levy! But since when did the 4x4 option cost $4000 more than a 2x4?

2016 Ford Police Interceptor Utility Vehicle:
What They Say: Ford’s newest cop car is an upfit to the all-new 2016 Explorer. The midsized SUV’s update brings unique front and rear styling, new headlamps, a new instrument panel and an enhanced electrical system to distribute electrical loads more efficiently. Law enforcement agencies can choose from up to 25 different light patterns. Among other trick new features is Surveillance Mode technology that warns when someone approaches the rear of the vehicle; the cop’s window automatically raises and all doors lock. Ford says it is the first manufacturer to bring this to the streets. A 3.7-liter V6 is standard; an available 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 makes 365 hp and 350 lb-ft. All-wheel drive is standard as is a six-speed auto with what Ford calls Pursuit Mode, automatically switching from normal/fuel-saving operation to Pursuit Mode for aggressive driving situations, with quicker up and downshifts, and is programmed to return to normal mode when it senses the aggressive driving is done. Heavy-duty bits includes suspension cooling, brakes and powertrain mounts, with ballistic shields in the front doors. Ford says since it came to market in 2012, the Police Interceptor Utility became America’s best-selling police vehicle. The latest Interceptor was developed with input from the Ford Police Advisory Board, created in 2000 to give feedback on future cop cars using a rotating, 25-person panel from the law-enforcement community.

What We Say: Drive it like you stole it- “it’s got a cop motor, it’s got cop tires, it’s got cop suspensions, cop shocks”, it’s got cop tires, …but this Bluesmobile hasn’t got 4WD?! Hello, Ford, are you listening?!

2016 Honda Pilot:
What They Say: This redesigned and reengineered three-row sport utility made its global premiere sporting a new, more powerful engine, 9-speed transmission, and updated AWD. It’s more family-friendly utility, has more advanced tech and more premium attributes and amenities, with class-leading safety, fuel efficiency and better handling. On sale this summer, it’s a tick longer and has more cargo space; it wears a more contemporary, sleek look, but shows a touch of muscle. Exterior lighting is brighter and more efficient; there are available 20-inch wheels and a first-ever panoramic roof option. Interiors get more premium materials; heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, heated second-row seat and available two second-row captain's chairs; five USB ports; an upsized 8-inch capacitive touchscreen Display Audio telematics interface powered by a new Android-based operating system and more powerful processor, along with an available all-new embedded Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System. The new center console features a large-sized storage compartment sized to swallow items as large as a full-size iPad or large purse. The new 3.5-liter V-6 has Variable Cylinder Management for improved fuel efficiency, plus Idle Stop technology. Pilot brings the most comprehensive set of advanced safety and driver-assistive technologies ever offered on a Honda vehicle.

What We Say: De-vanilla-ized, it looks way more like a ute-way less like a white-bread minivan. But hey, with 5 USB ports who cares how it will handle dirt roads!

Honda Ridgeline
What They Say: A preview sketch of the next-generation Ridgeline pickup flashed the screen during the Honda press conference. They say the all-new ‘truck’ will take the “original's award-winning performance, comfort and utility to new levels with completely new styling that communicates unmistakably that it's a pickup, yet with a uniquely Honda flair”.

What We Say: Hmmmm…now that’s a tease! Of course they can’t really call it a truck, much less a pickup. Ford tried that unibody idea way back when- a real pickup demands a real bed. nuff said.

Kia Trail’ster Concept:
What They Say: This “hot” AWD concept is designed for city-dwellers-turned-outdoor-adventurers and for higher-elevation playgrounds where snow, mud, streams and trails abound. The Soul-based off-roader is two and a half inches higher, wears Polar Pearl Snowdrift/Terra Bronze Metallic paint, a bold design, fully retractable canvas roof, armored aluminum skid plates, and has a smartly integrated rear electric all-wheel drive system, along with a turbocharged engine. Rugged and functional, efficient and lightweight, it can carry adventurers and their gear- for skiing and snowboarding to camping, hiking and mountain biking, with integrated roof rack fittings and aluminum cross rails. Anodized fire-red wheel accents and polished billet aluminum sections take inspiration from high-tech, high-performance outdoor sporting gear. Advanced LED technology gives a strong and unique lighting identity from top to bottom, front to back. Primarily power comes from a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine outputting 185 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. It sports Pirelli Winter Carving R245/45-19 snow tires for enhanced traction and utilizes KSport coil-over shocks to soak up the impact of rough, uneven ground and rocky surfaces.

What We Say: Wowza! We like it- the Hamsters are playa’s in the backcountry! There was real mud in the video too. We are surprised no one else has really attacked this market segment. A little more lift and a low range would make the Trail’ster a fun little runabout in the backcountry, and give Suburu a run for their money.

Mitsubishi Concept GC-PHEV:
What They Say: Mitsu took the wraps off its full-size SVU concept that gives a glimpse at the brand's newest design language applied to a large vehicle. It has bold, brawny styling, a powerful yet highly efficient 335 horsepower supercharged MIVEC V-6 engine/electric motor plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) drivetrain, an 8-speed auto tranny, Mitsubishi's Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) full-time all-wheel drive and advanced next-generation high-tech features. A new Tactical Table is an innovative information system that brings connected car technology as an interactive experience available to one and all onboard. When the driver or a passenger places their smartphone on the Tactical Table, they can create, collect, exchange and share information with others using the Concept GC-PHEV's communication system. Additional tech features include advanced safety systems such as "Connected Car" Technology, AR Windshield, Pedestrian Collision Mitigating Auto-braking, Rearward Blind Spot Vehicle Warning, Unintentional Vehicle Move Off Control, Driver Monitor and “more”.

What We Say: We’re so happy Mitsu is back; we thought they fell into a sinkhole after ruling the Dakar and fielding a true off-roader in their Montero that once had three locking diffs! But, holy bat guano! This concept has a lot goin’ on and looks a bit scary. And Unintentional Vehicle Move Off Control? That’s just another electronic nannie so you can’t purposely drive over your enemies standing in front of you. Who really needs that?

2015 Ram Laramie Limited:
What They Say: Ram says it has pushed “the benchmark in truck opulence to an even higher level of sophistication and attention to detail”, with the unveiling of the new Laramie Limited. Designed with a flashy updates outside and in, an all-new grille is one of the most prominent changes of the exterior-in fact, its new billet port grille breaks from the long tradition of a crosshair styling with bold “RAM” lettering. Premium materials, such as an all-black, full-leather seating, real wood interior components and unique badges, are intended to make the Limited a “black-tie” luxury alternative to the southwestern-themed Laramie Longhorn edition. The trim will be available in Ram 1500, Ram 2500 and Ram 3500 single- and dual-rear-wheel; Crew Cab and Mega Cab (Heavy Duty); four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive; and short- and long-wheelbase trucks. On sale in the second quarter of 2015 as a 2015 model, 2500 and 3500 versions arrive in the third quarter as a 2016 model.

What We Say: Holy pig cow nostrils, what were they thinking?! Really?! Borrowing a lettering page from Raptor too? Really?! The forums on our website weren’t as kind as we were, but Ram executives swear it will be a big seller in Texas. We shall see.

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