After seven Media Days, The Chicago Auto Show still serves up good opportunities to catch debuts of new products, watch revisions of current ones and catch up on vehicles seen at prior auto shows. The latter is important, since it seemed that everyone else had their chance to put their paws on it while I note some interest on said vehicle.
What happened inside McCormick Place? Here's my take on this year's Chicago Auto Show…rather my picks of the show.
2017 TOYOTA TACOMA TRD PRO: It was worth the wait, but it almost did not happen. The business case was there – TRD Pros are hot demand because of its capabilities and off-road performance. We thought that Toyota should have introduced the TRD Pro when they brought out the new version last year. Good news is that the new version is just as rugged and ready as its predecessor. It also puts both the 3.5 liter Atkinson Cycle V6 and the tested and true four-wheel drive system to the test. Rest assured, this is truly going to make the canyons shiver in its wake…again. Snowmobile trails be damned!
2017 CHEVROLET TRAX: I already tested two of these and they both proved their worth as a tough little number that is right for the streets of urbania. There were a couple of things I felt needed to be addressed. One of them was the cabin. The motorcycle-inspired digital/analog instrument binnacle was sometimes hard to decipher. I also wanted some additional comfort in the seats. Chevrolet went to work on the cabin and improved exponentially. It now has analog dials in the binnacle and a more mature touch screen for MyLink. The front end got reconfigured to meet current Chevrolet design DNA, along with changed all around. The biggest news is that by choosing the LTZ model, it will come in all-wheel drive. A win in my book!
2017 LINCOLN CONTINENTAL: I had the chance to get up close and personal with the new big sedan from Ford's luxury brand and found out a bit more about it. My conversation with Sam Locricchio of Lincoln lead to some interesting facts about the new Continental. It will be front-wheel drive standard, but the driveline is designed for all-wheel drive. I will hope that the take rate is higher for AWD, especially with its 400 horsepower 3.0 liter twin-turbocharged V6. The luxury is indeed heightened with the 30-way power front seats, which are quite comfortable to command. The floor model had split rear seats with recline and a huge center console. I came away liking the Continental more, not just for what its intended purpose. It is also a great paean to Continentals past. How Continental is that?
2016 CADILLAC CT6: The counterpoint to the Continental is the new big Cadillac. While the Continental elevates Lincoln design and luxury, the CT6 took what worked for Cadillac and took it to the next level. The interior completely won me over, with its improved switchgear, steering wheel, instrumentation screen and exceptional rear seat space. I did ask Cadillac about the use of the standard turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The key is lighter weight, where the performance of the four will be just fine. The interesting fact is the weight difference between the CTS and the CT6 equipped with similar engines are nominal. Granted, the design is subtle, but one would look at it and immediately know its a Cadillac. Will it be special enough to be considered above similarly priced and powered luxury sedans? A drive might be in order to find out – any V6 with all-wheel drive will do.
LEXUS LC 500: As with most vehicles, photos do not do it justice. This is a "must see" experience. It also helps to have something else for reference – the RC F. Everyone knows I love the grand coupe, yet the LC elevates it to the next level. The design is sharp and stunning. The interior is more intended for luxury cruising than attacking canyons. I would not snooze on this car if you really need to carve out a canyon or an Interstate. As I write about this after its debut in Detroit last month, seeing it is believing. Lexus nailed this one. My eyes can't lie…
2016 CHEVROLET SPARK: The Automotive News' Richard Truett said somewhere on social media on how today's Chevrolet reminds him of Honda back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Honda and Acura were hits based on product, engineering, design execution and quality. This string of new vehicles from Chevrolet is proof of Mr. Truett's observation – the sixth-generation Camaro, new Malibu, Volt, Cruze and the upcoming Bolt EV. Add the new Spark to this list. It began the new instrument binnacle design update to real analog gauges, improved MyLink screen and improved comfort. It will also sport a larger 1.4 liter four-cylinder engine, plus a choice of a manual or a Continuously Variable Transmission. Most of all, it looks better. I'll go further…it looks better than the revised 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage. Not to mention a host of active safety features found on larger cars. This one's going to be good.
2017 VOLVO S90: Before I talk about how stunning the new flagship sedan from Volvo looks, I need to address one thing. You see….haters are going to hate. Yes, I'm talking to you “no five, six or eight-cylinder engine, no care” haters! Drive-E is what Volvo will be selling going forward. This is the reality. Now, this new sedan is absolutely stunning – inside and out. The interior follows the lead from the XC90 and executes in a large space underneath a sexy roof. Of course, we'll expect the latest safety and infotainment tech to go along with its Drive-E performance. The XC90 brought Volvo to the forefront again. The S90 looks like it will continue the momentum in the premium market.
2017 GMC ACADIA: The big question coming out of its debut in Detroit focused on the balance between its newly shortened size and cabin space. Understand that the Lambda platform had to be a conglomeration of three different platforms into one – a minivan, a traditional SUV and a crossover. This next generation mid-sized SUV is tasked to compete with the likes of the Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander and Nissan Pathfinder. To do so, it had to shrink. It is 700 pounds lighter, which now sports the 2.5 liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine with the optional 3.6 liter V6. Inside, the three row space was retained, including improved third-row access. Where the Acadia lost size was in the cargo hold. Still, it retains its competitive edge as being accommodating three rows of human beings.