Chicago 2012: The Picks of The Show

2012 RAM 1500 Laramie Limited
All photos by Randy Stern

In case you're wondering, yes, I do have some favorites amongst what I have experienced at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show.

I am certain that this would turn into another Five Favorites article where I bold the names of five specific automobiles, go into a brief explanation why they're significant, and so forth. No. There were many vehicles I spend time checking out inside and out that only four stood out amongst the multitude in the North and South Halls of McCormick Place.

Four. That's it. And, they are…

2012 RAM 1500 Laramie Limited

RAM 1500 LARAMIE LIMITED: As you noticed last spring, there was a truck person that came out thanks to a heavy duty, three-quarter ton, four-door, four-wheel-drive, diesel-powered Chevrolet pickup. One could excuse this as being part of a hometown's middle/working class DNA (without Tom Petty's fantasy of the flatland neighborhood in the middle of the San Fernando Valley), but I've always been fascinated about them. I owned one briefly – enough said! Prior to truly experiencing Chrysler's latest exercise in interior excellence, I got in a demo ride of a similarly equipped RAM 1500 Laramie Longhorn – 5.7litre HEMI V8 powered, four-wheel-drive, crew cab, etc. Yet, I was put off by the Southwestern motif inside and out – it's not my cup of tea in terms of exuding luxury and class in a pickup. The Laramie Limited's subtle approach luxury is more my style. It is business-like with contrast stitching, perfectly weighted touch points and all of the good qualities that make the RAM's interior amongst the best in the market. When you just sit behind the wheel, you forget you are in a pickup. Certainly, there are (and were) other luxury trucks – the Lincoln Blackwood, the Lincoln Mark LT, the Cadillac Escalade EXT, the GMC Sierra Denali and the Ford F-150 Platinum. If it comes down to the cabin, the Laramie Limited is better executed compared to the Sierra Denali, Escalade EXT and F-150 Platinum. The trim will be available in the 1500, as well as the Heavy Duty versions (2500 and 3500).

2012 Buick Verano 6

BUICK VERANO: Last year, I first met the Verano as a prototype for domestic production, as it was announced it would be sold by the end of 2011. Now that they're in production, the market has responded. One particular gentleman in the Chicago area bought his – with a very familiar name. A guy named Buick, a distant relative to the founder of this namesake company, just took delivery of his Verano. The press release stated that this was his first vehicle he owned of his namesake brand ever. That speaks volumes as to how well executed the production model has turned out. Compared to the pre-production model I crawled all over in a year ago, the Verano just seemed right for our times. It was spacious where it needed to be. It was easy to comprehend and use – as I expected it from recent turns in General Motors cars over the past year. As much as I love the Regal (which I handed over the 2011 VOTY award to at the show – more on that later), the Verano appears more open for passengers and accessible for more leisurely driving. In my case, I'll take the 220HP 2.0litre turbocharged unit with the automatic. You can get the good ol' 2.4litre ECOTEC (non-eAssist and soon to be replaced by a new generation of ECOTECs) as standard, if you wish. An encounter with the production Verano confirmed my original summation that it will bring new upwardly mobile consumers as well as pleasing its traditional consumer base. Buick has another hit on its hands. This has the potential for leading a serious growth in sales at the tri-shield brand.

2013 Buick Encore 1

BUICK ENCORE: Another upcoming vehicle that will expand the tri-shield's growth in North America will be a very small crossover to augment the big Enclave and the three sedan lineup. There was plenty of doubt whether this concept would fly in this country, but I've found it to be a real possibility. The vehicle may not be as refined and lovely as the LaCrosse, Regal and Verano, but it is practical. That is all you need really to stand out in a crowd – let alone a crowded street where one would most likely be parked. It does offer a degree of room. Up front is where I enjoyed the mixture of international design elements ranging from familiar Buick/General Motors dials and switches to the fixed touch screen in the upper part of the instrument panel. The seats are very nice – something you'd expect after driving a Regal or Verano. However, the rear seats aren't made for people my size – even for a small hop from the condo to the club. "Normal" sized adults and children will find the rear seat more to their liking. Which brings me to the notion as to why the Encore will find a niche in the marketplace. If you lived in an upwardly mobile urban community – Chicago's Lakeview East or Andersonville, Uptown Minneapolis, almost anywhere in San Francisco and Boston, Seattle's Capitol Hill, and so forth – the Encore makes perfect sense. Starter families, same-gender couples, and urban empty nesters can make do with the 1.4litre turbo and the six-speed automatic transporting them from the on-street parking spot to the local supermarket, Crate & Barrel, Target, daycare or the pet groomer. It is going to be a lifestyle vehicle that may see a long trip to the country – perhaps where the Encore will find friends. Outside of that, it's quite a nice little vehicle GM has created for a global audience (it will be sold as an Opel and Vauxhall later this year in Europe).

2012 McLaren MP4-12C 2

McLAREN MP4-12C: If there were one word to describe this intersection of supercar superlatives, it would be "perfection." The MP4-12C had its knocks already for being bland outside, too easy to drive and lacking any soul compared to a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche. But, what if you want to a supercar to do everything right – to hit the apex of a curve without over-correcting, to take on a straight at full speed without fear and to ensure that all of this is done comfortably – then, the MP4-12C is justified. To see it for the first time in the flesh made me enjoy the car even more. It's not about design drama as it is about the execution of airflow management inside and out. It is a handsome supercar – my kind, to be honest. Inside looks comfortable. I'd love to get in to see exactly if it does fit, but they had it roped off for good measure. Probably best considering I am not a coordinated person when entering and exiting supercars (I stop at the Porsche 911 in this regard). The cabin is very businesslike – the way I'd like my supercars to be. I don't need any multitude of switches to confuse me, or over-technical instrumentation to make me lose concentration on the road. Of course, you get close to 600HP (DIN) from an in-house developed 3.8litre turbocharged V8 connected to a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox and all the electronic driving aids one needs to keep the car on the road and away from everyone else. The McLaren is for those of us who just want to get on the road. It is for serious drivers only.

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