Chicago Show: Cars, stars…and deep-dish pizza

February 15, 2018 by · Comments Off on Chicago Show: Cars, stars…and deep-dish pizza
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Jim Belushi, Ford VP Mark LaNeve gave new Transit Connect the Blues Brothers treatment.


      There was a lot of talk about electric cars, hybrids, and autonomous (self-driving) vehicles, but the Chicago Auto Show best told the story of what car life in the U.S. is all about — trucks, SUVs…and more SUVs. One of the most impressive groups of new vehicles are the many midsize and compact crossovers.

    After Toyota got things going with a display of high-performing off-road “TRD” models of its Tacoma and Tundra pickups, and its 4Runner SUV, Ford introduced the new generation of its Transit Connect, a compact, work-oriented mini-truck that fits and maneuvers in tight spaces and can be outfitted however a company or individual may choose.

    To kick it off, Ford pulled a coup by having vice president Mark LaNeve call Jim Belushi to the stage, and Belushi walked out playing a harmonica and leading everyone in a spirited version of “Sweet Home, Chicago.” He intereviewed some in the audience, joked around with LaNeve, then enlisted him to join him in donning sunglasses to do a little Blues Brothers routine.

    The versatility of the Transit Connect is that it could be everything from a foot truck, to a construction workers van, to a mini fun wagon, and while it doesn’t come in all-wheel drive, it does have a couple of new engines, including a 2.0-liter direct-injected 4 and a 1.5 -liter EcoBlue diesel engine with a new 8-speed automatic.   

     The Chicago Auto Show is the largest and longest-running auto show in the country, and in the opinion of everyone who attends, it also is by far the most fun of the major domestice shows. The lively nightlife scene and legendary restaurants help that reputation. The 110th Chicago Auto Show opened with media days in a nasty blizzard that lasted a day and a half and cancelled 600 flights into and out of O’Hare Airport — and it was still fun. It opened to the public on February 10 and anyone looking for a new car can spend hours examining everything offered in showrooms across the country on the 1,000-square-foot halls in McCormick Place, as it runs through Monday, Feb. 19.

Ford never stopped building the Ranger, but this year will reintroduce it to the U.S.

   Because it is definitely a consumer-driven show, Chicago provides an ample number of vehicles that appeal to mainstream, grassroots buyers. Its media survey to pick the Family Car of the Year came in with the Honda Odyssey, the latest generation of the popular and feature-filled minivan, which beat out other valid contenders including the Volvo XC-60 SUV, a midsize version of its SUV-of-the-Year XC-90.

   There were not a lot of new introductions, after most of the debuts were spent on the Los Angeles show in November, and at Detroit in January. But there were definitely still some standouts, for the show, which got a rejuvenated restart in 1950 after the auto industry got rolling again following World War II.

   With special attractions virtually every day, the Chicago show undoubtedly will be the best-attended show, again.

   Consumers, of course, care less about the show-biz schemes than about sitting in and scrutinizing the cars.

Volkswagen is replacing its sleek CC sedan with a super-sleek new sedan called Arteon.

   Among the new vehicles being shown are the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon, a sleek sedan with coupe-like lines that VW helped popularize with the CC model, which will be replaced by the Arteon.

   A new Fiat 500 also was shown, amid an array of cars that leaned toward the exotic sports cars mostly. Hyundai was subtle, showing its just released Veloster sporty coupe, and a new Sonata, which looked a lot like the familiar Sonata, except that it cow comes with hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains that get improved fuel economy. The plug-in hybrid Sonata can go 27 miles on pure electric power, and Hyundai, working with fellow-South Korea electronics giant LG, offers a lifetime warranty on the electrical stuff.

   Polaris displayed its new Slingshot, an intriguing roadster that seems to be the offspring of snowmobiles, ATVs and motorcycles, all of which Polaris builds. It has two wheels up front and retains its low attitude to the narrowed single-wheel rear. As the storm outside was on its way to dropping a dozen inches of snow on the Chicago area, the Slingshot lost a little of its fair-weather appeal.

   Dazzling colors are another huge attraction at the show. Acura introduced its new-generation RDX painted a sultry dark metallic red, which allowed its many curvatures to catch every shred of light in the area. That color will be exclusive to the RDX, at least for the first year.


Unique paint is justs one feature of the redesigned Acura RDX.


Volvo’s stunning XC-90 and XC-60 SUVs are now joined by the compact XC-40.

The RDX was one of many midsize SUVs to capture the mood of what has become the largest single segment in the industry.

   Even smaller were a couple of others. At Hyundai, where the Santa Fe, Santa Fe Sport, and Tucson are stalwarts, the new Kona was displayed. It is smaller and could be a huge hit for the company once released.

   Nissan, which also has an array of SUVs big enough for its own show, had a climate-ready Snow Patrol concept of its largest Armada SUV. Moving around the display, you could find the Murano, the Pathfinder, and the Rogue, as well as the downsized Rogue Sport, which is a condensed version of the Rogue itself. Then there was something new — the Kicks, an interestingly named new compact SUV smaller than the Rogue Sport.


Hyundai offers the Kona, more compact than the Tucson.

Nissan wants compact SUV customers to get their “Kicks.”

The good news about such vehicles is that they can run easily at highway speeds and as a small-family hauler and still get outstanding fuel economy, while coming in somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000.

   Another highlight is the Volvo XC-40, the smaller model of the line that includes the larger XC-90 and midsize XC-60, both of which have met with great popularity since their recent introductions. Installing all the amazing creature features of the larger SUVs into the smaller XC-40 is no small task, you should pardon the expression, but makes the mid-$30,000 smallest model a sure hit.

   The Land Rover Discovery has matured from being the company’s entry-level vehicle to a sophisticated compact SUV that appears ready to fulfill the company’s reputation for going anywhere, on or off road.

   Subaru is celebrating its 50th anniversary of selling cars in the U.S. with special edition trim on almost everything in its line of predominately all-wheel-drive compacts. 

   Mercedes has an ever-expanding portfolio, too, with something for every price range and impressive utility vehicles that run from turbo 4-cylinder models to V6 and V8 machines, topped off by the ubiquitous AMG treatment to extract more speed and more power.

    Audi and BMW have maintained their spots in offering new sedans and also numerous utility vehicles to cover every price range and size need. Jaguar also is expanding its presence in the utility field, with several new vehicles that put Jaguar-built engines to good use, even if you don’t stay on the smooth highways.

   There also is some interesting technology, such as the new Nissan-Infiniti variable compression engines, which will be coming out in the new Infiniti Q50 first of all, but will expand as their performance tales become known. The engine doesn’t bother with varying the valve timing of its engines — something it’s already done on its other engines — but actually has the mechanical technique to alter the actual compression of the engine to control the engines. Across the display there also is the 370Zki concept sports car.

Lexus LF-1 Limitless attracted maximum attention as an SUV concept.

   Toyota had more than its TRD trucks, especially at the Lexus display, where it has a stunning blue sports coupe that is such a vibrant color the car has been named after it — the LC Structural Blue. It makes a high-tech partner to the LF-1 Limitless concept SUV-wagon, which is a major attraction. Actually, there are so many flashy Lexus vehicles on display, that a lot of people just seemed to walk by, past the Limitless.

    Battling the blizzard and cold temperature did restrict some of the partying after a long day or two at the show. We still found our way to Gino’s East, for the best deep-dish pizza I’ve ever eaten, as part of the Mazda connection with the gathered media. The crust, for the uninitiated, is made of corn meal, with a gritty, flavorful impact that made me realize I would order a pizza there — at the only place I eat deep-dish — even if they put no cheese, sauce, meats, veggies or other ingredients on it. Just me and the crust.

   Of course, I also mentioned that the Chicago show is so low-key and relaxed that if they ever decided to hold the show and didn’t fill McCormick Place with cars, the media probably would still come, just because it’s Chicago, with its good blues, good foods, and good times. And if you happen to get snowed in…well, you couldn’t pick a better city where you might get snowed in.

Light on new cars, Detroit show features trucks

January 19, 2018 by · Comments Off on Light on new cars, Detroit show features trucks
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Unveiling of 2019 Ram 1500 with much more refined look earned Best in Show from

By John Gilbert

DETROIT, Michigan

    Call it “Auto Show Light,” but the North American International Auto Show, formerly known simply as the Detroit Auto Show, seems to have gone on a diet, as the latest example of how the automotive world is changing. Swamped by the consumer tide of sports-utility vehicles rising above and beyond mere cars, much in the way the nation’s most prestigious auto show has added words in hopes of adding prestige to its name.

   While spectacular new cars were fewer, there certainly were still some compelling introductions during the annual press previews on Monday and Tuesday, January 15-16, with the public show following through the following two weekends. But trucks had the upper hand.


Ram trades its all-out macho look for refinement for 2019.

Completely redone Ram interior features huge center info screen.

Ram rolled out an impressive new 1500 pickup truck, with the massive, macho facade replaced by a far more refined grille and completely redone interior, with a giant vertical navigation/information screen about the size of a full-size iPad.

    The new rounded-off look is a departure, and it was interesting that the new Ram won “Best in Show” from the respected auto website, and perhaps it was verification of how few new cars there were, since the Los Angeles Show in November, that pickups won several awards.


Reintroduction of the Ford Ranger midsize pickup was a Detroit feature.

Ford offered a hybrid version of its new F150 pickup and made big news affirming the much-rumored return of the midsize Ranger pickup, which not only was a highlight of the show, but was a co-dominating model alongside a couple of new Mustang versions.

   Honda’s Acura luxury division called it a concept, but the new generation of the RDX compact SUV made a strong impression, as trucks and trucklings dominated. Also, there were a number of concept vehicles — including one each from Nissan and its upscale Infiniti brand — and Toyota’s Lexus also showed a concept sporty SUV. Read more

Let’s say you select your own car, truck of the year

January 14, 2018 by · Comments Off on Let’s say you select your own car, truck of the year
Filed under: Features, Autos 

Alfa Giulia is hard to argue with as the 2018 Car of the Year.

By John Gilbert

   One of the highlights of every year, for a media auto fanatic, is to attend the North American International Auto Show at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. Traditionally the largest and most spectacular of the four “major” U.S. shows — along with Los Angeles, Chicago and New York — the Detroit show has the added attraction of being the center of the automotive universe, attracting engineers, designers and the usual overload of promotional types.

   There are bigger shows worldwide, such as the Frankfurt Auto Show, which I’ve attended several times, and probably Tokyo, Paris, or Geneva, which I’ve never attended, but the Detroit show draws the auto company big-shots from all over the world, many of whom have their North American headquarters in or near Detroit, which, of course, is the home base for Ford, General Motors and FCA, or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

   The Detroit show starts January 13th, and after three press conference dates, opens to the public. It has lost some of its luster in recent years, through no fault of its own. The Los Angeles show, held in November, upstages Detroit by attracting a lot of the Asian introductions, which has forced other countries, and the U.S. manufacturers, into also sending a preponderance of their “A” material to L.A. Chicago, meanwhile, is the most fun, because of the assortment of high-end restaurants and music venues in a tight little area accessible to the media and other major hotels. New York is reat fun, but it is scattered around Manhattan and may be completely overlooked by the locals.

The Volvo XC-60 takes all the assets of the exceptional XC-90 and condenses them into the best SUV on the market — our truck of the year.

    Detroit, however, remains the mainstay, and among the major attractions in Detroit is the naming of the North American Car of the Year, Truck of the Year, and Utility of the Year, as voted on by an independent jury of auto media types.

    In the two decades I was part of that jury, I tried to influence all who would listen about improving the stature of the car of the year award. The jury did follow my strong suggestion about having a re-vote after naming the finalists, to encourage more coverage among jury members. I did originally think going to a separate category for utility vehicles made sense, but I reversed myself after some serious thought, when I realized that the rapidly expanding surge of SUVs was about to be accompanied by a reduction in legitimate trucks. Read more

Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018

September 21, 2017 by · Comments Off on Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Thor’s Hammer light design, familiar grille denote new-breed Volvos.

By John Gilbert


   As members of the car-buying public, we’ve spent our lifetimes compromising when it comes to car-buying. We might want something sporty, great looking, and quick, but we also have families who require that our first choice becomes solid, roomy and safe. We’ve also watched as most companies tried to make their cars as attractive as possible, then added stuff on in hopes of making them safer.

   Because of all that, and what we’ve observed, and the small portions that we’ve learned, you’ve got to hand it to Volvo, which seems to have gotten to the sweet spot in the compromise by sticking to safety and letting stuff like luxury, attractiveness and performance come along at its own, leisurely pace. From my vantage point, it appears Volvo has found the hot button. My favorite, for now, is the new 2018 QX60, a compact, midsize SUV that does everything I could ever want in a vehicle.

   The 2018 array of models coming out with Volvo’s vehicles, with their slashed bar over the grille and “Thor’s Hammer” headlight design, come as close as it gets to being all things to all people. For a price, of course. Such quality and built-in safety and technology don’t come cheap. The S90 runs from $49,195 in base T5 Momentum form up to nearly $70,000 in loaded T8 all-wheel-drive top trim. The V90 ranges from $50,000 to $53,000 coming only with front-wheel drive. And the XC60 starts at $42,495 for the Momentum, $45,900 for the R-Design, and $46,300 for the Inscription, and all XC60s come with all-wheel drive.


Lighter and more agile than the larger XC90, Volvo’s new XC60 gets the same drivetrain.

  Once a Swedish company that made rock-solid safe cars, then a Ford affiliate that made safer cars for different reasons, and now a Swedish company owned by a Chinese conglomerate that is making cars that fulfill every angle of every car compromise, Volvo has kept its eye on its own, stubborn target. Under the financial umbrella of Geely, Volvo is still headquartered in Gothenberg, Sweden, but it now makes some vehicles in China — where it is sure to be a huge seller — and is also building a state-of-the-art factory in the U.S. Read more

Volvo’s new XC60 might prove less is more

July 10, 2017 by · Comments Off on Volvo’s new XC60 might prove less is more
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

The midsize Volvo XC60 expands on the successful features of the XC90.

By John Gilbert


     Driving in Spain is a colorful adventure that I had experienced once before, so I felt somewhat familiar during the global auto media’s first opportunity to drive Volvo’s new XC60, the all-new midsize derivative of its superb XC90 SUV.

    Volvo stressed the quick and agile handling of the smaller and lighter vehicle with the same powertrain as the larger XC90, which collaborated with Spain’s freeway exits to  instantly become more concise than words could describe.

    On the North American side of the Atlantic, our freeway exits are usually pretty straightforward — you see the exit and veer onto it, heading for another freeway. In Spain, the freeway system was added to centuries-old cities and rural regions, so it’s a little trickier. Often, you head onto an exit and find it immediately splits right and left. I learned this on my first driving trip to Spain, for the splendid S90 Volvo sedan.

   On this trip, our total test drive route was programmed into the navigation setting of our T6 all-wheel drive XC60, so we were informed of upcoming moves by a “Nav Lady,” whom we shall refer to as a “Nav Seniorita” for the sake of geographic accuracy. I drove first, so my co-driver/passenger — a Californian who shall be called “Billy” — could check out the wonderful scenery along and just inland from the Mediterranean without worrying about directions.

Reduced length eliminates third-row seat, but the XC60 has adequate room inside.

   Our next exit was to the right and our Nav Seniorita said: “Prepare to keep right and take the next exit, then immediately keep left.” As I pulled into the right lane, she said, “Take the next exit.” Smoothly and at about 80 kilometers per hour I eased off onto the exit. Then with what seemed like urgency the Nav Seniorita said: “Now keep left!”

   You don’t want to miss an exit in the Land of Roundabouts, so I abruptly swerved back to the left of the exit barrier, and as the XC60 easily cleared the barrier, but Billy said, “No! Stay right!”

   I swerved very abruptly back to the right, still missing the barrier with ease and getting back onto the exit, as the XC60 held its attitude with more poise than its driver, who might have been reflecting the adrenaline rush rising to max. I spotted the split immediately ahead and stayed left, making it smoothly.

   I was impressed that I had reacted instantaneously twice, with two very abrupt left-right swerves at highway speed, and more impressed that the XC60 got it right-on, even while our Nav Seniorita was a bit premature with her counter-direction. The vehicle carried out my impulses without any squeals of complaint or any hint of body roll.

   Inadvertent or not, it’s always nice to get a real-world example of a vehicle’s features rather than just to accepting marketing claims. We believed them when they talked about the lighter and smaller XC60 having better agility than the XC90, because in totally revising the XC60, Volvo took the XC90’s SPA — Scalable Product Architecture — shortened it, and installed the same high-tech powertrains from the XC90 with all-new suspension stuff. Read more

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