Chicago 2012: Plenty of Catching Up To Do…

Underneath the 2013 Dodge Dart
Look underneath for the best view! All photos by Randy Stern

Consider how large the Chicago Auto Show's exhibition space is. That is 1.2 million square feet of space that has everything and anything you will need to navigate through the automotive world. Couple that with in-show experiences – ride-alongs, an area celebrating the United States Army, fun areas for the kids, vendors, and so forth – then you understand why one would come to McCormick Place in mid-February.

Between the two auto shows I attend annually, Chicago offers more bang for the buck. The First Look for Charity is considered one of the top events to do for the socially mobile in the Chicagoland Area. The show attracts an entire region to McCormick Place with new vehicles that are currently on sale or coming soon to a dealer near you.

As a member of the working automotive media corps, since I was unable not attend the shows in Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Houston, Washington, or anyplace we are welcome, Chicago is a great place to catch up on what I missed throughout the calendar.

I have plenty of catching up to do…

2013 Dodge Dart 2

2013 DODGE DART: Amongst the vehicles that needed to be seen closer up was the most talked about debut out of the North American International Auto Show. Believe me when I say "it looks better in person." The front end was thought to be sloped similarly to the Hyundai Elantra, but it appears otherwise. The upper grille may have been "flattened," it creates a front silhouette that is aggressive yet stylish at the same time. Also, I thought the Charger-esque rear lamp cluster was to be installed flat on the decklid Not. You will find a bold geometric interpretation of the Charger's rear lamp cluster. There is a depth to the rear treatment that is absolutely entertaining. Inside you'll find a very spacious place behind the wheel. The seats are quite good, too! Chrysler poured a lot of thought into the interior to the point of creating the most robust instrument panel in its class. Under the hood, you have an all-new 2.0litre Tigershark engine, good for 160HP, Fiat's Multi-Air 1.4litre turbocharged unit, also good for 160HP and the Multi-Air 2.4litre Tigershark, topping at 185HP. Three new transmissions join the Dart's lineup – a six-speed manual, a six-speed automatic for the Tigersharks and a dual-clutch six-speeder for the 1.4 Turbo. Before anyone asks whether the 1.4 Turbo is similar to the Fiat 500 Abarth’s motor – yes and no. The difference is in the tuning – the 500 Abarth is designed for high-revving performance in a subcompact hatch while the Dart's tuned for optimal efficiency and high fuel mileage. With a price of entry at $16,000, you will get plenty of kit, but you will have a multitude of options to choose from – including 150 accessory choices from Mopar. To say whether the Dart will be the deal maker for Chrysler and Fiat is too early to tell. All indicators point to its success as a fantastic compact sedan for today's consumer.

2013 FORD ESCAPE: To understand the upcoming Escape, you have to look at the Focus and the Fiesta. Ford's Kinetic design language has transformed an old favorite compact SUV into a handsome competitor amongst a strong field of worthy choices. It is quite an improvement. The design had some favorable reviews – confirmed with an initial look and touch. If you see these on the street, you cannot mistake what they are – advantage, Ford. Even better is the interior, which elevates the same language into a much more usable cabin for the front row. You get larger dials and better placed buttons than in the Fiesta and Focus. Select MyFord Touch and things improve for usability. One may balk at the loss of a V6 or Hybrid option, along with the ability to fuel up with E85. Ford’s EcoBoost engines have been getting all of the raves lately. Having not driven one of these engines, my curiosity is piqued as to how the 1.6 and 2.0litre turbocharged engines will do in this application. You could always get Ford's 2.5litre four if you want to stay "old school." The old Escape was a huge success for Ford – continuously selling at a good clip even today. The new one appears to continue the old one’s leadership in the segment. When I saw the images and read the materials during its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November, I was worried that the 2013 Escape would destroy any of the favorable traits for the old model. So far, the execution seems to trump the old soldier smashingly well.

2013 Cadillac ATS 5

2012 BMW 3-SERIES vs. 2013 CADILLAC ATS: The premium compact sedan market is just about to get extremely competitive. It took one commercial that aired just before Super Bowl XLVI to stoke the fire of this new battle when Cadillac specifically called out BMW’s 3-Series as they showed their new ATS driving around the Nurburgring's "Green Hell." Amid other advertising controversies last weekend, this one sparked a lot of arguments between BMW fans and those defending Cadillac's message. But, will this be a fair fight. On paper, BMW has two twin-turbocharged units on tap – the 2.0litre four for the 328 and a 3.0litre six for the 335. Cadillac counters with three engine choices: A basic 2.5litre four, the 2.0litre turbocharged four from the Buick Regal GS and a 3.6litre V6 from the CTS. Both combatants will offer a multitude of performance and handling features that would be apply too much bandwidth to parse out. Let's just say, both cars are bringing the heavy artillery to this fight. While, I lauded BMW's looks – which were confirmed in person – the Cadillac's styling appears to be a bit more intriguing. The Art&Science theme melded in all the right places to give the ATS some distance in terms of overall design.

2012 BMW 3-Series 1

It is inside where the ballgame gets interesting. As a not-so-small person, I demand my seats to be comfortable and supportive. Cadillac's seats fit and provide enough access to the driver's throne. BMW does the same – except the seats in the Modern model were a bit too narrow between the bolsters. Plus, I was put off by this plastic, rippled faux-wood treatment pervasive in the F30's Modern interior. Cadillac's environment was simply entertaining and quite gorgeous. Having just touched and sat in these two image makers/breakers, I still feel there's going to be more debate ahead as to which one will be more superior. I'd grab a bag of popcorn, sit back, and let the games begin.

2013 LEXUS GS: At first, I wasn't too crazy about the design of the car – at least between the ends. Then, I saw the interior photos. The dashboard alone – specifically that wide LCD screen in the middle – blew me away. To finally touch the car, get in and feel things around – I was very impressed. The GS improved upon the last iteration by miles inside. I get a more mature seating position – well, a selection of several of them. The seats are comfortable inside of the GS 350 and offer up a proper throne behind the wheel. What I love is that the wheel is the same size as the CT 200h I drove a few months back – small enough to induce some reflexive moves on the corners. Once outside, the GS has certainly grown on me. I refer to word "mature" again. The front end may be one for the superheroes, but everything behind the grille onward does not offend or offer any counterpoint to anything styled from a ruler. Though we will miss the V8 model – for now – I'm certain we'll do just fine with the 3.5litre V6 either by itself or with the added bonus of Lexus Hybrid Drive. After driving two Lexuses, I'm sold on what this 22-year-old luxury brand can still accomplish. The execution is coming back because the Germans have raised the game another level. There will be plenty of room at the country club – or, at the club – for the GS.

2013 Acura ILX 2

2013 ACURA ILX: Once upon a time, the Acura Integra was the absolute starting point for all premium brands. It was a Honda Civic-based sporty coupe and hatchback sedan that offered sporting credentials, a larger V-TEC engine and a better sales experience. Then came the RSX – a hardcore re-interpretation of the Integra available only as a coupe. The tuners loved the RSX as much as the old Integra, but families were spurned away. The lament over the Integra four-door (or the earlier five-door) was deep. Acura always offered a badge-engineered Civic for its Canadian customers. Now, they have decided to take the current Civic, sharpen the styling, recreate the interior for Acura tastes and sell it on both sides of the border. The upcoming ILX packs a lot of promise in a package reminiscent of the Integra sedan. When I sat inside the ILX, the ghost of a second-generation Integra sedan tapped me on the shoulder. Perhaps it was a GS model with a sunroof…not sure. It smiled and said, "they've done me right. My soul has been honored." Inside and out, the old Integra was given a fine tribute by a package that will feature both regular and IMA-powered (i.e. hybrid) models. The latter is the first use of the IMA hybrid in an Acura. It's fine inside – more Acura TL and TSX than current Civic. Just like the current Civic space-wise, but a tad tighter. If you had an Integra sedan and want to regain that feeling it gave you back then – the ILX is for you. The starting point vehicle for all premium brands have returned to Acura.

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