Chicago Auto Show:
Has the 2014 Auto Show Season been a bust so far? Well, with the exception of the all new Ford F-150, there has not been much to justify all the fabricated hoopla at either the North American International Auto Show in Detroit or the Chicago Auto Show. You can almost count the significant new news on one hand. In order of importance to the United States market and their manufacturers here are the most significant: Ford F-150, Chrysler 200, Honda Fit, Hyundai Genesis, Mercedes C-Class in Detroit and the Subaru Legacy in Chicago. OK, that is six significant entries. Others that might have made the list are the GMC Canyon mid-size pickup and the Lexus RC-F coupe. The Detroit Show ended up focusing on performance models or concepts like the production-ready Subaru WRX STI, Toyota FT-1 super car, Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 variant, BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupe, Cadillac ATS coupe. The only other vehicles of note at the Chicago Show were the 2015 Lincoln Navigator with new front and rear styling and the Mercedes GLA compact crossover SUV.
Suzuki Goes to Nissan for a Truck
Looking at Suzuki‘s new Equator, introduced at the Chicago auto show, you can see a Nissan Frontier shape. This isn’t an accident or a copycat design, as Nissan will build the Equator for Suzuki. Suzuki has a stronger image among buyers of ATVs, marine engines, and motorcycles than they do with people looking for cars and trucks. A compact pickup seems natural for a brand selling toys that need to be towed, especially as their toys have terrific reputations for quality and value. Suzuki won’t sell enough Equators to justify creating and building a pickup of their own, but partnering gets them a strong product at a price they can afford.
Officially, we haven’t yet seen the production Equator (on sale until fall 2008), as Suzuki presented three concepts in Chicago. Each highlighted another branch of Suzuki’s recreational business, carrying Suzuki ATVs and motorcycles and hauling a boat with Suzuki engines. Supporting the relationship between Suzuki cars and trucks, Suzuki’s Gene Brown drove on stage on their V-Strom motorcycle. And in the Windy City in a February snowstorm, images of warm-weather outdoor activities were all the more compelling. Suzuki linked the two sides of the company and demonstrated why a truck can be a sensible addition.
The concepts should inspire customizers and Suzuki’s planning teams, looking for possible special editions and factory-backed accessories. Suzuki showed the Equator being used to maximizing free time, giving it a fun image from the get-go. Equator has a solid foundation, if a weak name, and a team behind it with a clear sense of what buyer to target and a good road map for getting there.
When I arrived in Chicago night of Feb. 5, forecasters were predicting a nigh-apocalyptic snowfall. But I’m from Detroit, and I was in Chicago, and I like to think that upper Midwesterners are made of sterner stuff than the norm.
Still, I knew I’d need to fortify myself against the coming snow and arctic cold. How does the traveler far from home and operating at the mercy of automakers and their PR departments manage such a feat? The image above should provide a clue, as should the photo after the jump.
I guess Motor Week
‘s getting a reputation for edgy choices when it comes to it’s Drivers’ Choice Awards.
Last year, the weekly auto program’s top choice was the Honda Fit, a zippy little hatchback from the design family evocatively known as “pregnant roller skates.” Edgy choices for 2008 included again holding their press conference in the last slot of the day (4:30 p.m.) — about three inches into the finest snowstorm I’ve seen in years — and draping the Best of the Year mantle on the awkward, boxy frame of the Scion xB.
Editor’s Note: Traverse may be the most significant new vehicle at the Chicago Auto Show. The highest volume of the four General Motors Lambda Large Crossover SUVs, Traverse pickups the positive styling cues of the Enclave’s haunches and adds Chevrolet’s front end styling. GM design definitely did not dumb down the styling of the Traverse. With the Buick so fully-featured and having loads of special enhancements to handle noise vibration and harshness, hopefully Traverse gets more than its fair share.
‘s 2008 Chicago auto show
star, the Traverse, is the brand’s answer to changing consumer demands, as buyers gravitate toward car-based SUVs and more and more prioritize fuel efficiency over SUV image. If you need the towing or off-road capability of a traditional truck-based SUV, Chevy will still offer Tahoe, Suburban, and Avalanche. If you need a comfortable, stylish, and relatively efficient non-minivan family car, Chevy will offer the Traverse late in 2008. The Traverse Vehicle Line Executive enlisted the help of her four kids and husband in introducing the vehicle, proving the people and stuff-hauling benefits of Traverse. Chevrolet will eventually give up on the mid-size, truck-based TrailBlazer, as buyers are already doing.
Based on the same platform as the Buick Enclave
, GMC Acadia
, and Saturn Outlook
, the Traverse is quite large. It offers a longer wheelbase than the latest Tahoe and is wider and nearly as long. The size pays off in plenty of space, but it feels small on the road, offers more in terms of family comfort, and is cheaper to fuel than TrailBlazer or Tahoe. Though GM never quite got competitive with minivans, Traverse will be a satisfying family product. The Traverse and its siblings are the right products at the right time. Still, while giving up the TrailBlazer for the Traverse was a bold move when the decision was taken, by time the Traverse arrives on market, Chevy doesn’t look so much brave as keeping up.
No matter how it got here, Chevrolet is adding a good-looking product. The Traverse sports a clearly Chevrolet face and a profile more like the Enclave than Acadia and Outlook, to Chevrolet’s benefit. As a follow-up to the latest Malibu, Chevrolet is proving they are going to provide us with more stylish, as well as affordable and practical, family transportation going forward. With recent introductions of the Tahoe and Silverado hybrids, Corvette ZR1, and upcoming Camaro, there’s also no doubt Chevrolet will remain a full-line make and more dedicated to getting products right than ever before.
Limited Edition SRT8 Arrives First
Ford launched the latest Mustang to a resounding critical and sales success, and its retro theme got GM and Chrysler thinking fast about a new-century take on the pony car wars. At the 2006 Detroit auto show, the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro concepts tested the waters for a full pony-car revival. Both companies were inspired by both pride and the success of the latest Mustang, and both the Challenger and Camaro will arrive on market. Eventually. Really. Both companies hope that the initial enthusiasm for these projects survives the gestation period. In Chicago, Dodge launched the Challenger, jumping the generation gap between by enlisting the help of the father-son Orange County Choppers team. And while the HEMI Orange paint scheme was front and center, the SRT8 Challenger looks mean and sinister in black, a look that matches the 425HP engine’s burble better.
‘s Challenger arrives this spring as a late 2008MY product, while the Camaro doesn’t arrive for another year or so. The catch is that the first Challengers are in limited edition $37,995 SRT8 form, introduced at the 2008 Chicago auto show
, assisted by the father-son team at Orange County Choppers and Jim Press. The first units are specially numbers and available in Hemi Orange, black, or silver. By fall, for the typical 2009MY start, a more substantial range including V6 and 5.7L HEMI options will be available. Contributing to the hype and (hopefully) fueling demand, the first Challenger SRT8 was auctioned at the 2008 Barrett-Jackson auction. The winning $400,000 bid, of which all proceeds go to a charity called notMYkid
, was posted by Craig Jackson, Chairman/CEO of the Barrett-Jackson Auction Company.
For an image car, launching with the hottest version first can contribute to the hype. Following that strategy, the news from Chicago is the first production reveal of the Challenger SRT8. As promised, the Challenger looks pretty much like the historic pony car, updated for a modern context. The SRT8 sports the same 425HP 6.1L HEMI that helps make Charger, Magnum, and Chrysler 300 SRT8s so much fun to drive. Because of the SRT team, the power is backed up by refinements to the brakes, chassis, and looks, compared with the standard Challenger, as well as some specific interior and exterior cues.
Trucks Get New Interiors and Features
For the 2004 model year, Nissan introduced its first full-size truck and SUV, following up for 2005 with the mid-size Pathfinder and Frontier. For 2008MY, introduced around the 2007 Chicago auto show, Nissan freshened Armada, Titan, and Pathfinder where each needed it most. All three sport better-looking and higher-quality interiors with more convenience features for the SUVs and subtle exterior updates, as Nissan took the opportunity of a normal mid-cycle update to address some areas of criticism.
Highlander Evolves with More Size and Power
Ahead of sales in July 2007, Toyota used its traditional opening press conference of the 2007 Chicago auto show to launch the 2008 Highlander. Toyota’s new Highlander keeps its personality as a car-based crossover SUV, updated to the latest Camry/Avalon platform. The new Highlander is bigger and heavier, but Toyota gives it more power, with both the Hybrid and new standard 3.5L V6 estimated to deliver 270HP. The Hybrid goes on sale shortly after the standard model.
Highlander already offered a third-row seat, but the extra three inches in wheelbase and four inches in length should make for a more comfortable interior. The new size is a bit bigger than the Honda Pilot and the same length as the Chevrolet Equinox. It is bigger than the Mazda CX-7 and Ford Edge, but smaller than Mazda’s CX-9 or the newly renamed Ford Taurus X (the XSUV formerly known as the Ford Freestyle). Highlander is better sized for those using the third row as occasional-use seating, instead of emergency seats.
So, the question is whether or not the new 2008 out-Pilots the excellent Honda Pilot?
Pontiac Joins the Rear-Wheel-Drive Revolution
In early 2008, Pontiac gets a new top-range entry with an aggressively styled, performance-oriented rear-drive large sedan. The G8 GT concept was introduced this week at the Chicago auto show to an eager crowd, and VehicleVoice contributors were on hand. Yeah, they called it a concept, but there is very little that will change between now and next year’s sales launch. As we walked the show after the introduction, the car was clearly a star. We heard people gushing, enthusiastic, and hungry for more information on the car. The car was continually surrounded.
So why is G8 causing so much a stir? Because under the go-fast, I’ll-take-on-the-world looks is a platform and powertrain that really can help you get there. Unlike the short-lived GTO revival that had the goods but not the looks, the G8 has both. The rear-drive setup includes an independent rear suspension, promising solid handling, and the powertrain lineup includes a base V6 with about 261HP and an 362HP small-block 6.0L V8.
The G8 will be Pontiac’s flagship, using the global RWD Architecture of the upcoming new-century Camaro. Initial production will be in Australia, where the car is sold as the Commodore SS. Eventually, GM would like to build it in the States, along with the Camaro. The G8 is a Holden Commodore with a Pontiac nose, effectively. Though the standard transmission is an automatic (five speeds for the V6 and six for the V8), a six-speed manual for the V8 will be added. (The concept held the manual, though that transmission will be a late launch.) And by using GM’s version of cylinder deactivation, Active Fuel Management, when the V8 takes the automatic, you’ll be able to get this V8 with as little fuel-cost hit as possible.
Order Mine Now, Please
One of my favorite drives over the past few years was the first Volkswagen Golf R32, a 2004 limited-edition version of the last Golf. With a 250HP 3.2L V6, AWD, and a six-speed manual in a small, five-door hatchback, it was a blast to drive. VW imported only 5000 units.
At the 2007 Chicago auto show
introduced a new R32, this time using the latest Rabbit. The engine is the same 250HP 3.2L VR6, but instead of the six-speed manual it takes the six-speed DSG system, which means faster shifts than I can accomplish manually. To set it apart from regular Rabbits, the R32 takes standard eighteen-inch wheels and tires, R32 badging, a rear roof spoiler and body-color bumpers, side bump strips, door handles and mirrors. Standard equipment includes ESP, ABS, brake assist, and electronic brake distribution. The standard convenience feature list is more extensive than on regular Rabbits, including automatic climate control, heated seats, heated windshield wiper nozzles, a ten-speaker CD stereo, rain-sensing wipers, and cruise control.
On Line Order Placement
As before, VW will bring over 5000 R32s. Of those, 2000 will be brought over in 2007 and 3000 in 2008. The only sticking point is the price, which will be just over $32,000. For the performance and equipment level, it is a very reasonable price, but it still can seem like a big ticket for a Rabbit. If you want yours, you can go to an R32 microsite at www.vw.com and get in line to order one; the site will refer you to a dealer. The first 832 people to put money down on an order will get theirs in August 2007.