Chicago 2014: A Good Look

What has this year's Chicago Auto Show brought forth to the world?

One thing Chicago is strong on is trucks and other commercial vehicles. For one introduction, General Motors and Nissan agreed to share a small van together. Nissan sells this as the NV200, whereas Chevrolet debuted the City Express. The collaboration works since the van is made in Mexico and provides an alternative to the Ford Transit Connect and the proposed Fiat-based small van for Ram. While Nissan has the "Taxi of Tomorrow" covered in New York City, Chevrolet's opportunity with the City Express will be more far reaching. The advantage of a larger dealer chain and small town coverage will give small business owners a choice for a smaller, more efficient van. I would also expect fleet buyers to jump on this opportunity for the City Express, as well.

The other big truck debut is a new performance line for Toyota called TRDPro. Toyota Racing Development took the Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner and gave them a steroid injection. The demonstrators were mainly showing off exterior, interior and suspension concepts, which all create an appearance that this trio is serious about off-roading. Toyota always had a strong four-wheel drive system that is proven worldwide. With the presence of Ford’s F-150 SVT Raptor, Toyota’s first approach is to tame places where it wants to go – way off track. There is talk of performance and additional off-road enhancements to be available when this trio is launched.

2015 Kia Soul EV

Kia decided to go electric with the Soul. The full EV system is a match for the popular small crossover/tall hatchback. There are some visual clues of the Soul EV, but one would not distinguish a regular Soul with one from afar. Expect driving range to top out at 100 miles. Not exactly a Tesla, but Kia would rather have you enjoy the fun without putting in any gas their new Soul EV.

Volvo has stepped up their game towards their comeback. The V60 wagon is on track for sale in North America soon. To entice us even further, there is now a Polestar edition with all of its sporting moves to go. This was joined by a revised version of the S60 Polestar, featuring the newer front grille now seen on most Volvo models.

Nissan dropped a salvo to GM on offering a diesel engine in their mid-sized truck. However, the Frontier shown with a 2.8liter Cummins four-cylinder turbocharged diesel was only a one-off. With Nissan's Fred Diaz making the announcement, it signals two things. One, Nissan is serious about their partnership with Cummins for diesel-fueled trucks in North America. They also want to find out whether it would help sales to offer Cummins diesels not only in the upcoming Titan, but in their current midsized offering opposed to the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

2015 Subaru Legacy

However, the big introduction is the all-new 2015 Subaru Legacy. After presenting a styling concept at the Los Angeles Auto Show, no one figured to see a production model so soon. Subaru did take dues from its latest products, the Impreza-based WRX sedan, and expanded on some new lines and shapes onto its mid-sized offering. The overall reactions was fair, since it appeared that Subaru took the concepts main tenets, but dialed back for a more conservative look.

There were other introductions made during the show – mainly motorsport announcements and variants. However, I came to Chicago to catch up on the introductions made at other shows.

For example, I got a good look at the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. From a distance, they would appear to be as large as the current Silverado/Sierra half-ton pickups. Closer examination shows they are indeed at the size frame of the Tacoma and Frontier. Even with the Z71 four-wheel drive package, I was as tall as the truck itself. That denotes an easier step up for the driver and its passengers. There is also an air of solidity about the Colorado/Canyon. There appears to be more integration of body, bumpers and other components – similar to the larger Silverado/Sierra.

One should not confuse the global Colorado sold elsewhere. GM stated that only a few common parts are showed between the North American version with the global one. Yet, the Duramax 2.8liter turbocharged diesel will be available as an option for efficiency with performance to boot.

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe

GM also brought out the heavy-duty pickups and full-sized SUVs. Having been familiar with the half-ton full-sized duo, I noticed they applied a lot of the same improvements to these two groups from the same platform – and then some. The heavy-duty Silverado and Sierra went further on a new rear suspension set to increase ride comfort and leveling for both bed loads and trailering. The big SUVs – both in "short" and "long" wheelbases – include better interiors and greater strides in build/ride quality. The Escalade went further with exclusive touches inside and out – CUE included.

Meanwhile, Chicago yielded the first personal look at both the 2015 Ford Mustang and F-150. The word I will use here in "polarizing." Many of my colleagues will argue the purposeful designs of each vehicle and to further point out the latest EcoBoost plants and the F-150's wider use of aluminum in the cab and bed. I am not fully convinced that either will be as impacting as they appear to be. Then again, I am still surprised that the Lincoln Navigator will continue to be in production for a few more years, despite an attractive front end cap for the 2015 model year.

If you saw the Super Bowl, you noticed that Kia was promoting its new K900 flagship sedan. Known as Quoris in many parts of the world (even known as K9 in Korea), the K900 would appear to be a tough sell for a $60,000-70,000 rear-drive car – even was Laurence Fishburne reprising his "Matrix" role as Morpheus. It is a mixed bag between familiar Peter Schreyer design tenets and a bespoke interior unlike any seen in a Kia before. I am concerned about pushing the badge onto a segment that yields the most discriminating consumer. The question needs to be asked: If Hyundai could do so with the Equus, then why not Kia? That will be interesting to watch…

2015 Porsche Macan

If there were one vehicle that had won me over despite my reservations, it would be the Porsche Macan. At first, I was not convinced that Porsche should sell a vehicle of this type without compromising the brand's image and so forth. I was wrong. The reality of the Cayenne and the sales it yielded so far gave the Macan the green light. It is a very handsome compact crossover with Porsche's signature on it. What convinced of it is a sitting inside of the Boxster next to it. I not only fit inside of Porsche's smallest sports car, I could competently drive it with a huge smile on my face. The Macan could change a few perceptions…that is, if it sells to create a waiting list.

There was one previously introduced vehicle that I wanted to truly look at deeply. I am reserving my impressions in my next dispatch…

All photos by Randy Stern

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