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Chicago Auto Show Top-Ten

MAMA Breakfast

In 1906, no one could have imagined that the Chicago Auto Show would move from the brand new Chicago Expo Center to the immense McCormick Place campus. Surely, there was no hint that one day there would be Driving Simulators, Test Tracks or Product Replicators. In 111 years, the Chicago Auto Show has grown to become one of the world’s premier exhibitions and a major player for car makers in the U.S.

Our coverage didn’t begin with Kia and that is surprising. In the past few years, the company has never failed to draw attention with grand stages, live music and graphic screens. Instead, we chose to do something different. I saw the show from the perspective of a regular attendee. Not a journalist, not a gearhead, not an aficionado, just a guy attending the show who likes cars. I wanted to see what would stand out to me as I wandered the show floor. There are some things that were intriguing, others disheartening and some even uninteresting.

Since I strayed from my normal routine, I chose to continue challenging myself and I attended absolutely no press introductions. I think it was a good idea. I came away unsullied by media pitch and got to look at the cars well after all the smoke had cleared.

As a result, I compiled a list of the ten standouts from the 2017 Chicago Auto Show. They are in no particular order and some even ended up in a draw because they were noteworthy or captivating.

1. The MAMA Media Breakfast

I almost never get to attend the MAMA (Midwest Automotive Media Association) Breakfast, so this was a treat. The program began with president, Jill Ciminillo, newly elected and the first woman ever to hold the office. Her opening speech was filled with promises not to send tweets at odd hours or use alternative facts. After her jovial introduction, her tone quickly turned to one of reverence as she remembered Jim Mateja, Chicago Tribune Automotive Editor and one of the founding organizers of MAMA.

Later, Jill brought on the pièce de résistance and main speaker: Ralph Gilles. When I got the notice in the mail that he was going to be the speaker, my mind was made up that this was going to be ground zero for my coverage of the show. Who wouldn’t want to hear from the car guy’s car guy? I won’t bore you with details of his speech, but the clips below give you all you need to know before I had to leave the breakfast and get to the show floor.

2. The 2018 Ford Expedition

Next, it was over to the Ford stand where I seemed to have some alone time with the new Ford Expedition. The 2018 Expedition is powered by the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 it received for 2015 (365 horsepower and 420 lb-ft. of torque). That may not sound like a lot of power, but it doesn’t have to move as much steel as before. In fact, it is now moving all aluminum. The six-speed automatic has grown four more gears into a new 10-speed, electronically operated dial with pushbuttons for shifting up or down. Other new features include: the third-generation Sync system with an eight-inch touchscreen, in-truck WiFi., a 360-degree camera, and connectivity for up to 10 devices consisting of four 12-volt power points, six USB ports, and a 110-volt outlet. In addition, there’s a sliding second-row seat or seats that provide flexible legroom space and an adjustable parcel shelf. This truck looks amazing. The old one may have been getting long in the tooth, but this one is definitely fresh out of the oven. All the familiar elements are still there, but the Platinum Edition I saw had a feeling of modernity. If you are looking for a full-sized SUV, I recommend giving this one a thorough look.

Oh, yeah, the new GT was on the Ford stand, too…..

3. 2018 Toyota Camry / 2018 Kia Stinger GT

The perennial favorite has been totally redesigned and a new challenger has emerged.

CEO Akio Toyoda has demanded a purge the boring cars from Toyota Motor Corporation’s lineup. It’s lower, sharper, and sleeker in every way both inside and out. Motion duties are done by a 2.5-liter Dynamic Force inline-four and the latest direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6. Toyota says it will have higher power and torque ratings, so we can add faster to the list or adjectives. XSE and SE models sport different front fascia. I prefer the XSE with its sharp angles and rear vents. It looks like Toyota is making a concerted effort to maintain its supremacy as the premier mid-sized sedan.

The Kia Stinger GT is stunning, to say the least. I can’t help but feel like I am the only one who thought: “This is an Optima with a fancy rear end, right?” Wrong. It’s wider than a BMW Gran Coupe and longer than a Lexus GS. Those proportions indicate what Peter Schreyer and his team were shooting for. The GT is Kia’s entry into grand touring. Something sorely lacking in this segment. Available all-wheel drive and a 360 horsepower V-6 bolted to an 8-speed If they get it right, they will be the ones to change the ideals of this segment. While all other competitors appeal to safety, speed and value, Kia can single-handedly offer all those things in a package that also offers an affluence associated with cars of a much higher price range.

4. 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio/ 2017 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

I scurried over to see my new girlfriend. Although she’s a foreigner, I don’t think any Executive Order is going to keep her out. Alfa Romeo’s Giulia was there modeling red and blue dresses, as was the 4C in an amazing shade of gray. I think I was more excited about the Giulia more than any other at the show. 505 horsepower, retractable spoilers, great steering, pinpoint cornering and designed by the man who gave us the Ferrari 458 Italia. Who wouldn’t get excited? On another note, I could not say that the car is pretty. Its proportions are more purposeful than anything. If they were strewn about on separate cars, they would be an eyesore. Here, all together, they look simply perfect.

The love for it has only been strengthened since our meeting last year. I can only hope that the Stelvio garners as much of my affection. The Stelvio made its way to Chicago and I must say, in person, it seems to have perfect performance SUV proportions. Its packaging seems inspired. BMW and Porsche, take note!

So Alfa has a big job on its hands to lift the cloud of suspicious reliability. A great car like this could do it.

5. 2017 Chevrolet Traverse

I actually couldn’t get a glimpse of the interior because the Chevy stand was awash with press doing videos and taking photographs of one of Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year finalists. It wasn’t until I went to the GMC Acadia display that I saw the interior. While waiting, I checked out Chevy’s new Redline Editions of their popular models. Pretty nice looking for the street. I guess Chevy is making sure they don’t lose the younger crowd. With MyLink display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and an available OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection, Traverse offers connectivity that far surpasses its predecessors.

Both seven- and eight-passenger configurations will be offered along with all the modern accoutrements of vehicles in its class. I think it is a fresh start and a more competitive package for Chevy. Shoppers with growing families and after-school duties should check this one out.

Chevy Traverse

6. 2017 Fiat 124 Spider/ 2017 Mazda Miata

I headed over to see the Fiat 124 Spider. Yes, by now everyone knows it is a Mazda Miata underneath, but this car has a presence to it that is truly Italian. A 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, with 160 HP and 184 lb-ft of torque sits under the beautifully sculpted bonnet of the Alfa. The Spider had a nice European feel to is, although I could tell there were Japanese bones underneath. The interior was very nicely upholstered, but also a bit tight – even for little ol’ me. They littered the floor with several iterations of the Spider, including a striking silver one and a white Abarth edition. Mazda did the same thing with the Miata. Every conceivable variation, from racing versions to special editions were on display. Mazda’s naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter with its 155 HP and 148 lb-ft. of torque power is and it can be tuned an infinite number of ways. In the words of Joss Stone, open top sports cars from the 60’s are “Back In Style” with these two.

7. 2018 Lexus LS 500 / 2018 Lexus LC500

Lexus is the No. 3 luxury brand in the U.S. Which means this newcomer took only 28 years to move into a territory that Mercedes and BMW took over a century to create. When I approached the Lexus stand, there it was on a turntable, the “I still can’t believe this isn’t a concept” Lexus LC500 in all its glory. Available in hybrid and gasoline flavors, this car should be as delicious in motion as it is sitting still.

It’s hard to believe but Lexus had a car equally as impressive and totally unexpected: the Lexus LS 500 on a turntable directly across from the LC. The new LS offers up the ultimate expression of the brand’s cow-catcher grille – only in a luxurious, jewel-like way. I’m not saying I hate it, but I’m not saying I like it either – only that it’s interesting. Behind the grille is where the magic happens: a new 10-speed automatic with a V8 gasoline or V6 hybrid variant. I certainly hope it will be as impressive to drive as it is to look at. The interior is drenched in luxury and, in Lexus tradition, has bank vault levels of isolation. Driver and passengers are cosseted in swoops and curves of luxury in a bold interior design. There were so many details in both the cars that one would need quite a bit of time to take it all in.

8. 2018 Lincoln Continental / 2017 Genesis lineup

The new Genesis brand sat front and center amongst the big boys. Their very posh stand had an array of models in several colors. There is no denying that the target was the Germans. Every ounce of the G90 car speaks luxury in engineering and execution. Korea is doing what Japan did two decades ago by attempting to out-German the Germans. Simply think about the G80 and G90 as the mid-sized sport (G80) and full-sized flagship (G90). Much like Infiniti did with the Q and M sedans many moons ago. It is amazing how much of a competent product lineup the parent company has developed in such a short time. The G90, especially offers equipment and luxury that should make the establishment sit up and take notice.

In a surprising turn of events, the idea of Lincoln turning into an old man’s brand is changing. My 21 year-old brother is absolutely head-over-heels in love with the new Continental and as you can tell by my previous article on the car, so am I. Visiting the show on two separate occasions, he and I came away with the exact same verdict: This new Continental is a tremendous value and a true luxury car.

9. (tie because of shock!)  Mitsubishi…..PERIOD!

No, not any particular model, not any specific trim level, just Mitsubishi. The whole kit-n-caboodle amazed me. Once the home of the Starion and Montero, then iconic Evo came along and changed the game. Most recently, we have seen Mitsu languish in the red and wallow in scandal. Its lackluster product lineup did nothing to offer any relief. Last year, they weren’t even present at the show. This year, they made a statement by putting everything they have on display. I was shocked at the effort. Every product, every trim level, every model was in view. This is why they made the list… sheer amazement at their boldness. I guess Ghosn’s money gave them confidence. After all, he turned Nissan and Renault around. I hope this is an indication of a new start.

Mitsubishi

9. (tie because of awe!)  Honda NSX

I finally made my peace with this car. After hearing everyone else rave about its looks and handling, I finally got the chance to see it in the metal. No crowds, no flashing lights, no pressure. I must concur with my colleagues; this car is beautiful, not because of scoops and creases, but despite them. When you look at the car, you see function and you get the idea that every element in the design has a job to do. It looks like a sophisticate machine, a regal performance tool – and it is.

10. 2017 Tuscany F-150

It has Shelby Blue paint, special badges and stripes. It has bespoke floor mats, plaques and interior features. It has an exclusive Shelby Engineered FOX Shock System that allows one to tune his truck from being luxury car smooth to being a hard core off-roader. It has 18-inch engraved alloy wheels and Baja-proven BFGoodrich K02 tires. It also has five distinct color choices and is lifted well beyond what my 5-foot frame could manage without some slightly embarrassing hoisting maneuvers.

Once we tell you about the engine, none of these other details will matter, so here we go: the F-150’s 5.0L V8 engine has been endowed with 355 more horsepower than normal up to a jaw-dropping supercharged 750 horsepower. I will allow the photos to do the talking. This truck, which was just past the Ford F-150 stand, has incredible presence. The Shelby name adds to an already notable look. In addition, I one of the Ford representatives took me to meet Ron Bender, top exec at Tuscany (SCA Performance), who was more than happy to show me the ins and outs of the vehicle. One-hundred-and-one-thousand dollars and nerves of steel to rocket along in something this large grants entry into this elite level of truck

All in all, the Chicago Auto Show was an exciting time. I will probably go back to my regular routine of gathering my rag-tag group of young men who help with photographs and attend the countless press previews next year. However, it was good to take time and break from the norm. In reflection, I did get to see some jewels and special attractions that I usually don’t get to take the time to see. I am sure that it was worth the 100+ year gestation.

 

What was your favorite vehicle at the 2017 Chicago Auto Show?

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