2012 Chicago Auto Show

General Motors: Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac,GMC

Chevy had no less than 4 new 2013 Chevy Sparks on display. 3 of them were behind a plexi-fence. One was on-stage near the CODE130R and TRU140S concepts. All were locked. Moving on…

Sonics and Sparks

The Sonic is a big deal for Chevy. There were 4 Sonic “Concepts” of varying styles, one of which was the Sonic Boom. As one might imagine from the name, it’s got a bit of audio equipment stuffed into it with over 4000 watts of power. It renders the rear seat unusable, and listening with the windows closed is probably a bad idea, but whatever grabs your attention. They have a DJ mixing console hooked up to it for people to play with.

Malibu 30R

There’s also the “Sonic Board” – 4 wipe-off boards and markers for people to express themselves – in hindsight, that will probably be seen as a bad idea. There are also bins and bins of Sonic buttons, and even a button making station for you to make your own. That would have been awesome…when I was 6. I joke; obviously they are targeting the youth with the Sonic. But more interesting is the fact that, out of all the sub-$35000 cars we sat in, the one that was easiest to get in and out of, was the Chevy Sonic.

Corvettes

The 2012 Malibu was also on display. Externally, it’s not all that much different – the rear now features “squircle” tail lamps. Lots of buttons on the center stack that was right up against my leg. Hrody had to contort a lot more than expected to get into the rear seat. With Hrody in the front seat and all dialed in, there was literally only a finger’s width of space between the front of the rear seat cushion and the back of the front seat. Chevy claims 4 more cubic feet of interior volume in the new Malibu – I’m not so sure where they put it, but it wasn’t in the rear seat. Very disappointing.

Chevys

The rest of the Chevy lineup is pretty much all carry-over. In the realm of commercial and fleet vehicles, one could get up close with a Caprice police car (Hrody – who works for an upfitter – says that, even with the security cage installed, there is lots of room in the Caprice, more so than in the Taurus) and you can also see the only Chevrolet sold in the US that you or I cannot buy – the Captiva Sport. It’s essentially the last Saturn Vue and it’s only sold to fleet customers, which allows Chevy to sell more Equinoxes at retail and make more money. Not a bad plan, really.

Caprice squad car

Buick’s lineup consists of 4 vehicles today – the small Verano, the slightly bigger Regal, the mod-size LaCrosse, and the Enclave crossover. To separate the Regal and Verano more, the Regal is pushed as the “sports car” of the line and now gets the eAssist powertrain as standard. The lineup is little changed from last year. The big news is the debut of the 2013 Buick Encore. It’s a “luxury small crossover” – a baby Enclave, if you will. It looks good from what we could see from outside the turntable. Recall my comment on how easy the Sonic was to get in and out? The Encore has some Sonic underneath it and rides on 18” wheels, which could make it even easier to get in and out. I’m keeping an eye on this one.

Acadia

The new 2013 Acadia and Acadia Denali debuted – the first of the 3 big GM crossovers to get a refresh. The front end is squared-off similar to the smaller Terrain, the rear cargo area can now accommodate a 48” wide piece of plywood, and it uses a new front-center air bag system. The Acadia Denali is as close as you can get to a Cadillac version. Everything else is carryover.

Cadillac ATS

The new 2013 ATS is the BMW 3-Series fighter from Cadillac. Yes, you can get a manual. You can even get a turbo 2.0L I4 with 270HP. It’s very nice, and I can imagine more than a few CTS owners will be trading “down” to an ATS. Pay attention, as this is allegedly the same platform that the next Chevy Camaro will use.

Cadillac XTS

The new 2013 XTS replaces the STS and the DTS. Big trunk. Wood trim. It’s the new “old-school” from Cadillac.

With the new ATS on display, the CTS looks positively huge – almost bloated. The SRX and Escalade round out the display.

Nissan and Infiniti

Nissan’s big news at the show was the reveal of their new (to us) NV200 cargo van. Some may have seen the passenger model before, as it was chosen by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission as the Taxi of Tomorrow. Powered by a DOHC, 2.0-liter engine with Nissan’s CVT, it has 123 cubic feet of cargo space (Ram C/V is 144.4, Transit Connect is 135.3), and is 68.1 inches wide and 186.2 inches long (Ram C/V is 78.7 wide and 202.8 long); that’s 8 inches longer than the current NV200 that’s currently sold in 40 other countries around the world. The cargo version can fit a standard 40-inch-by-48-inch pallet. NV200 will be made in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Nissan NV200

Also new is the NV3500 Passenger Van. Nissan’s NV2500 and 3500 cargo vans have been trying to jump into the spot that the Dodge Sprinter occupied (and the Mercedes Sprinter occupies today) by offering multiple roof heights and other features. The new NV3500 12-passenger van looks to slot in where the soon-to-be gone Ford Econoline and the aging Chevy Express/GMC Savana still reign. The model at the show looked pretty upscale and might serve a luxury livery service well; they might want to consider something with cloth seats and vinyl flooring for the hotel shuttle and church van crowd.

Featured on a “hands-off” turntable was the new Pathfinder, which debuted last month in Detroit. It’s been, for lack of a better word, “Explorerfied.” Pathfinders have long enjoyed a reputation, along with Toyota 4Runners and Jeeps as being a “tough-to-kill, run-forever” type of vehicle – the new model makes one wonder if it could tackle a parking lot curb without drama. It’s now a 7-passenger vehicle with a CVT, and AWD will likely be optional. If you are looking for “real” 4×4 action, there’s still Xterra and Armada, I guess. Or look at it this way – it’s a Nissan Quest for consumers that wouldn’t been seen dead in a minivan.

Oh, the 370Z gets an updated front and rear fascia with a red reflector in the rear and vertical LED markers in the front. Unless you buy the NISMO model, then you don’t get those changes.

As for Infiniti, they had the JX35, a new 7-passenger crossover that we saw earlier as the Nissan Pathfinder, on the turntable. And now I think I know why the Pathfinder got “Explorerfied” – it was so that they could bring this JX model to life. Along with the JX, there is the EX, FX, and QX crossover/SUVs. Want a car? Infiniti only offers two – the G and the M.

Toyota and Lexus

I don’t have anything against Toyota, but that said I don’t have much interest in their offerings either. They were featuring a couple of NS4 concepts – these are supposed to be the next generation of their “Hybrid Synergy Drive” system along with the styling and future gadgetry that we’ll see soon. They debuted last month in Detroit.

lexus

What did interest me was the new Prius V – a larger Prius wagon. It gets lower mileage than the standard Prius, but has more rear seat room and cargo space. The front seats are fine, but the center instrument panel would take some getting used to. The rear seats are like a park bench, very hard, but the rear seatback adjusts, and there’s some fore/aft adjustment of the rear 50/50 split bench as well. For my own purposes and needs, the Prius V is a more logical choice than a standard Prius. Toyota has a Monopoly-themed test track on the opposite side of the South Hall, where they have their hybrid vehicles available for test rides.

Lexus had their new concept car on display, also launched at the Detroit show. Styling seemed to be a mix-and-match from various cars of the past combined for a moderately unique look, despite the fashionable blacked-out middle bumper (also used by Dodge Dart).

lexus

The new grille design at Lexus is apparently called the “spindle grille.” You can see it on the new GS and LX. They had 4 Lexus LF-A supercars behind a plexi fence – all yours for $375,000 each. The LF-LC concept is also on display – it looks expensive and therefore I moved on.

Ford and Lincoln

The “hot spots” for Ford this year were the new 2013 Fusion, the new 2013 Escape, and the new Shelby GT500 Convertible. The Mustang is one of those cars that sells regardless of what it is or does; there’s no doubt the Shelby GT500 Convertible will sell either. The 2013 Fusion was represented by 3 different models – red, white, and blue – all locked with stickers telling me that they were locked “for my safety.” Really?

Ford Mustangs

Since I couldn’t sit in it, I spent little time looking at it. Looks nice; still getting used to the “Aston Martin-like” grille. The 2013 Escape was of particular interest to me. As one of the top-selling small SUVs, it – along with the Honda CR-V, were apparently pegged as targets for the new vehicle that will replace the Jeep Liberty. Again, vehicles were locked, but I took advantage of a young Ford rep talking to a lovely female media person to get inside one. Got in, got the seat into position, and my right foot fell right into place…on the brake pedal.

Ford C-Max

Puzzled, I looked down and found that – much like on a Pontiac Fiero, the pedals are shifted a bit to the right and the gas pedal is in a spot where one needs to angle their foot behind the center stack to reach it. At this point, it didn’t matter if the new Escape could meet my every need in a car – the pedal placement alone killed it for me. I tried on a nearby C-Max, which is built on the same platform as the new Escape – and found the same pedal configuration and placement problem – not to mention the same dash and instrument panel and center stack. To compare, I got into a current Escape. Pedals were just fine. My take? There will be a good number of Escape buyers that will also be disappointed in the new Escape. Jeep, listen up – make sure you guys or girls go look closely at a Ford Escape so you know what not to do on the Liberty replacement.

Lincoln is in flux, with models that have little to differentiate them from the high-trim-level Fords they came from. The newly revised grille design won’t be enough to keep people interested, and the alphabet soup naming (save for the “kid-with-heavy-braces” Navigator) doesn’t help either.

Ford Flex

Volkswagen

I sat in a Jetta; it’s decently sized, but the materials are cheap-looking and not pleasant to touch. Golf was much nicer, but the Golf R that I sat in stickered at $35,000 – it had better be nice for that price. The new Beetle (that replaces the New Beetle – kids, this is where capitalization is important) looks good to me, too. They did a nice job of displaying their TDI (diesel) line-up – and that’s the one niche they own right now. Kudos to them for making it happen.

Mini

In the “how many variations on the same basic premise can we make” category, there’s MINI. Cooper. Coupe. Clubman. Countryman. It’s impractical for my needs, even in the large Countryman. But I like the standard MINI Cooper for being fun to drive.

Subaru

The new Impreza is quite nice, roomy for a compact car. But what lots of folks are talking about is the new BR-Z – a 2+2 coupe (shared with Scion as the FR-S). Plenty will complain that it only comes with 200HP/150TQ; my guess is that the STi group will get their hands on it soon enough. Fans of past sport compact coupes like the Mitsubishi Eclipse (and clones like the Eagle Talon, Plymouth Laser, Dodge Avenger/Stratus, and Chrysler Sebring) and similar cars might like the new BR-Z. I thought it looked better than the Scion FR-S, but it’s impractical for me in either form. No seat time in this one either.

Mazda

Without Ford, Mazda is said to be looking for a partner to work with. With their SKY-ACTIV powertrains, someone might find some interest. The CX5 is a new small crossover that appeared last month in Detroit – behind the velvet rope, so no seat time here either. Most everything is carryover, and I couldn’t get excited about anything in particular here. The model that interests me most is the Mazda5 minivan, but not with the goofy “Nagare” smiley face that thankfully is on its way out.

Suzuki

The Kizashi has been called the best-reviewed car that no one is buying today. It’s small on the mid-size scale, but I can’t find much else to complain about. Maybe folks are turned off by the CVT as the only automatic choice? The Suzuki SX4 (also sold outside North America as the Fiat Sedici) now comes as a SportBack model without AWD, but the entry price is around $17K which seems kind of high. The Equator is a rebadged and regrilled Nissan Frontier, and the Grand Vitara is still available for those that want it.

Mitsubishi

The Endeavor SUV/crossover is dead. The Eclipse is being killed off after the 2012 model year, so there’s an “SE Special Edition” available. (Once dead, perhaps Chevy will get to use the silhouette for the Code 40S concept without issue.)

40S

The Galant is also set to be dropped soon, despite its “sublime 2.4L engine and “smooth-shifting 4-speed Sportronic automatic”, the new .5” ride height reduction for improved aerodynamics, and the ability to hold 13.3 cu. ft. of groceries, including long loaves of French bread, due to an access pass-through from the rear seating.” (Seriously – someone else actually wrote that. It wasn’t me.)

mitsubishi MiEV

That leaves the current model line-up with the Lancer, the Outlander Sport, and the Outlander. All are competent vehicles – a friend recently picked up a used Outlander and likes it a lot. Oh, wait – there’s a new model. The i. Or the MiEV. Or the i-MiEV. I’ve seen it listed all three ways. To the untrained eye it looks like a wider/longer Smart fortwo. To me, it’s the cheapest-feeling, tinniest-door-sounding, hardest-seat, fully electric car you can buy for $30,000. There’s a market for such a car somewhere, just not sure where. I had to double check and make sure GEM wasn’t displaying at the show this year.

Kia

Kia’s doing it right, it would seem. They can’t build enough Optimas, so they decided to fix that by offering an Optima SX Limited model – an even more top-of-the-line Optima. If the styling of the Hyundai Sonata doesn’t thrill you, the Optima is a bit more understated both inside and out. Lots of powertain options, including turbo and hybrid. Soul is doing gangbusters – over 100,000 units sold last year – and is a pretty nice and fun-to-drive car if you can get past the styling (I just don’t care for the “Soul” logo all over the seats.)

Kia debuted the “Trackster” concept which is supposed to be a preview of the next-gen Soul, and it is my pick for the “best debut of the show” this year. All their offerings seem to be solid in terms of looks and features, and they’ve come a long way from the Spectras and Sephias of the past. The new Sportage is one of my favorites. But then again, I liked the Rondo, too.

Hyundai

Hot off the heels of the Elantra winning the 2012 North American Car Of The Year award, Hyundai showed off the new Elantra Coupe and Elantra GT. The coupe is like the 2-doors of yore, where the rear doors are gone and the front doors are lengthened. Not a hatchback, and the interior appears to be the same as the sedan. The GT is more of a “5-door hatchback” that replaces the Elantra Touring wagon. Hyundai’s having no trouble selling Elantras, so these are just gravy on the potatoes.

Hyundai

The Genesis Coupe has been refreshed and the engines get a bit of a bump in power, too. Those looking for a rear-wheel-drive 2-door might find what they want here. The Veloster now has a Turbo model which, in my opinion, it should have had from the start. And the new Accent 5-door hatchback looks quite sharp, in my opinion. The Accent sedan, not so much. Externally it’s a sub-compact, internally it’s a compact, and the “Gamma” engine uses GDI and gets 30/40MPG.

Mercedes

Somewhere I heard that the SLS has some Dodge Viper in it, the CLS has some Chrysler 300 in it, and the ML has some Jeep Grand Cherokee in it. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter; Mercedes does make some good looking vehicles. But pricey. I did like the looks of the E-Class Coupe, for what that’s worth. [Editor’s note: one wonders what Mercedes was thinking with the name “F125!” which is bound to make people think of Ford pickups.]

Acura

Acura’s big reveal was the new 2012 ILX, the new entry-level Acura. While it’s based on the Honda Civic but shares no sheetmetal with it, the first thing I thought was I saw it was “Acura Civic.” If you want the reputed reliability of a Honda Civic, but can’t be caught dead driving one, get an ILX instead. Should only be about $9K more.

The RDX crossover gets refreshed for 2013 as well. It looks much better than the current model, at least.

The TSX will eventually go away – for this year it’s got a new Special Edition. The wagon model is still available. If you want the V6, it’s only available on the standard TSX sedan – everything else gets a “spirited” 2.4L I4. Everything else carries over.

Other brands

With price tags way out of reach, I pretty much ignored Jaguar and Land Rover. The deep red paint on the Range Rover Evoque was nice, though. And Jaguar taillights reminded me of those on a Chrysler 200.

Porsche: They are fast. And expensive. And out of my reach.

BMW: I won’t argue – BMW makes some nice stuff. The Z4 is kind of goofy, though (I liked the old Z3 breadtruck better.) There must be a reason that BMWs tend to be the targets that other automakers shoot for.

Aside from the R8, I can’t help but look at Audis and think “more expensive Volskwagens.” It’s odd that in the A3 you can get the Quattro AWD system, but not if you go with the TDI powertrain. Good stuff if you have the money.

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