Chicago Auto Show 2017 Posted on 14 Feb 12:57
Once again the annual beacon of hope for warmer days and cleaner cars has arrived in Chicago, in the form of the Chicago Auto Show. As an enthusiast and fan of cars that generally fall into less practical and more fun status, it may seem a large industry show is a bit lacking. However, even though the Chicago Auto Show is a giant dealer show room, intent on selling a multitude of SUV's, CUV's, and whatever-else-UV's, there are still some fun things to see. Even with our unseasonably warm winter, the dreary and cold months make it incredibly refreshing just seeing cars with fresh, clean paint again. The Chicago Auto Show never gets the same kind of press, or wow factor of many other shows. It is, like Chicago, a meat and potatoes kind of show, intended more for actual selling of cars, rather than entertaining wide eyed fan boys and girls. Having been born and raised in Chicago, it is a yearly tradition, and there are many like me who can recall early childhood memories walking the plush carpeted aisles filled with all manner of shiny new wares. Whether driven by nostalgia, the need to buy a new car, or just a love of new cars, the massive Chicago Auto Show is sure to have something for you.
For me, this show has become my yearly opportunity to gawk and drool over the latest Alfa Romeo's. This year was no different. Although it lacked the heavy appeal to Alfa's heritage with no vintage models or paraphernalia on display, it's because they now have more current cars to show! The newest being the Stelvio crossover, which might be the sexiest SUV anyone has made yet. Picture the Giulia Qaudrifoglio in a slightly raised hatchback form, and that's the Stelvio. Also new, is an expanded line up of Giulia models, the Ti and the Lusso. These offer the same incredible styling and feel, even if they do not have the same Nurburgring bragging rights. With a 2.0 liter turbo four cylinder delivering 280hp, the Ti and Lusso models are still quite capable of brisk acceleration. In these trims, the Giulia can also be equipped with AWD giving an edge in winter conditions. Did I mention they look just as drop dead gorgeous? It is no small undertaking for Alfa Romeo to re-enter the U.S. market after decades of absence, but with the new "Giorgio" platform underpinning the expanding line up, it is about as good a start as anyone could imagine.
KIA has been an incredible rags to riches story within the automotive industry. The company has enjoyed some incredible sales growth since it's inception. Whatever your opinion on the cars, there is no question they have built something quite impressive. This year, the headline grabber is the new KIA Stinger, a sport sedan born of the Stinger GT4 concept KIA unveiled a couple years ago. KIA is taking aim at the high performance segment, with the Stinger packing some impressive muscle. Styling is subjective, but to me it is a bit lacking. The overall package seems a bit disharmonious, I see nice elements of several different cars within it, but it seems to lack it's own real identity. I imagine designers listing favorites; favorite fender and doors; M4, favorite tail lights; Maserati Quattroporte, favorite wheels; Alfa Romeo, and so on. I am not saying they are just copying style, but the various elements do not seem to meld together as one, prompting this kind of mental check list when you look at the car. It is a good start though for a first foray into what is an extremely competitive segment, it will be fun to watch evolve over the next few years.
The new Acura NSX is still quite a draw, even if reception is still a little mixed. I think people are still trying to figure out what this car is about, lots of questions about price, performance and complexity. People want to naturally compare it to the original NSX which bloodied the nose of exotics like Ferrari. The original NSX was a blind spot sucker punch of a car that, exotic car peformance from a car maker that specialized in utilitarian vehicles for the masses. This new NSX does not have the same element of surprise the original did, to the contrary it was met with fairly lofty expectations. Thing is, on paper at least, it seems Acura have repeated history, competing with the likes of a Ferrari 488 for around $50,000 less cost. What makes the new NSX even more impressive, is if you consider you are getting a hypercar style powertrain for less than 200 grand! I don't think it is emphasized enough, but the only other super cars that implement electric power the way the new NSX does, will cost you well over 1 million dollars! The only unanswered question, is the reliability, will it be able to deliver that Swiss watch level of craftsmanship people have come to expect from Acura/Honda.
Porsche is rolling out their new Panamera for 2018, which retains familiar styling cues with minor adjustments, refinements and evolutions in the way that Porsche does. To Porsche's credit, styling changes seem to move at a glacial pace, but yet the company manages to deliver a product that never seems to look old. The new interior of the Panamera presents a step up in quality, becoming even more posh than the previous generations. Also on display, the 718 in both Boxster and Cayman guise. Everything on display wore muted, formal paint, silvers and grays, like suited up Formula 1 drivers enjoying a banquet. The only shouty thing on display, still in it's race jump suit, was the 911 RSR GT car. This is the much talked about mid engine 911, that indeed draws the eye upon arrival. This loud, brash hooligan has a striking contrast to it's more serious peers in the exhibit. "Didn't you tell RSR to wear the tux?" "Seems he's been drinking too much of the high octane again, what a scene he's making, how dreadful!" How delightful!
Dodge has been on a campaign to reshape the brand and regain the glory days when it was part of "the Big Three" and U.S. car makers were dominant. Over the last few years, it has undoubtedly been one of the most fun corners of the Chicago Auto Show. The Scat Packs, Hellcats and everything in between, are some of the best looking cars today with plenty of rubber-smoking fun on tap. This year was no different, and the addition of a special edition Viper ACR 1:28 was a welcome treat. What is the 1:28 designation? It is the Laguna Seca lap time set by the car, one minute and twenty eight seconds. The Viper is a bittersweet goodbye to the now discontinued Viper, with this ACR 1:28 edition being a limited run of only 100 examples. The one at the show is number 001, and for such a rare car, it is perhaps a 001 in a lifetime chance to see one.
It is hard to say that BMW's display this year was a let down, but...well...yeah, I was let down. They did have an i8 in Protonic Red which I suppose is a cool car, everyone does seem to love it, it just doesn't really do it for me. BMW explained that they wanted to focus on promoting their electric and hybrid models. This means there were no "M" cars on display, not one. Poor effort BMW, everyone at the show was more than capable of displaying both eco/green options and performance vehicles just fine. I get that electric is the future, but when it seems there are more M division models than ever, it still felt odd to see none of them represented. From an enthusiasts view, this is a brutal let down, how can you have a booth dedicated to the "ultimate driving machine", without the ultimate driving machines? While Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce and Lotus do not have their own manufacturer based displays, they do always find a place in the Super Car Gallery at the Chicago Auto Show. Never a disappointment, this collection is full of some of the best examples of high performance, opulent machines that push the boundaries of speed, decadence and comfort. They are the upper echelon of the automotive world. Looking over the spec sheet makes it clear to the mind, but sitting in them and feeling the supple leather, the controls like jewelry, the deep gloss carbon fiber, the way everything is made to be pleasing to the eye and to the touch, is quite another. It really drives the point home, these cars are special. Local custom and auto body shop Auto Art set up their own exhibit as well, showcasing the incredible work they do to make such special machines even more unique. Auto Art ups the ante with custom wheels, wide body kits and jaw dropping paint jobs, you simply must see in person. If you've been following previous blog posts, you've probably caught on that I am quite the fan of Mazda's. While they aren't the fastest, most luxurious, or exclusive cars you can get, the little car company keeps chugging along with reasonably priced offerings that are reliable and still a joy to drive. This year Mazda has continued their quest for more refinement, as each new model seems to be adapting the same kind of interior quality Mazda showcased last year in the newly redesigned CX-9. The new MX-5 RF is so good, it seems silly they had not thought of it with previous generations. The styling is not harmed by the addition of a retractable hard top, and I would even say it looks better. They also brought along some MX-5 concept cars, that have been making the rounds for a while, but were still nice to see. The Speedster concept is the minimalist, no windshield attention getter, and is always worth a look. However, the Spyder concept I found especially intriguing. The "Mercury Silver" paint and the sensual bikini slung top, create a striking visual. The interior is fantastic as well, with two-tone tan leather designed in a way that Mazda say is meant to invoke a vintage feel. I would say the design worked, it really does have the feel of a 1960's roadster. The blending of modern touches like carbon fiber accents, beautiful Advan wheels and the vintage sytling of the interior and canvas top, is done to perfection. Mazda say they strive to create vehicles imparted with spirit or soul, something the Spyder and Speedster concepts display with success. All this is just a small sample of what is at the show this year, so make a point to head over to McCormick Place this week to see it all for yourself. Even if you aren't in the market for a new car, or not really that into cars; the Chicago Auto Show is a nice escape from cold grey landscape. So take the opportunity to walk around a pleasant space filled with lots of color, eat overpriced churros, and settle in next to a nice warm camp fire.
photos by: Hector Hernandez and Robert Sixto
writing: Robert Sixto