Best cars of the 2017 Chicago Auto Show

The Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place is the envy of the nation’s auto dealers: the largest attendance of any US auto show, and enough room for multiple indoor test tracks. What it lacks is the sheer number of new car introductions found at the Detroit (January), New York (April), and Los Angeles (November) auto shows, and somewhat lower media attendance.

Still, Chicago generates its fair share of new car introductions (that is, midlife refreshes) as opposed to “all new” cars (a new model), model variants such as convertibles or off-road versions, and hints of new models. That means there’s still plenty to see. Here’s our take on the most interesting shows from Chicago.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT
A year after updating the compact Elantra, Hyundai brings back the GT, a sporty car that’s midway between hatchback and station wagon. It gets 162 or 201 hp engines with a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch transmission. Amazon Alexa is offered via Hyundai Blue Link telematics. Look for it this summer. Prices TBA.

2018 Subaru Legacy
The 6th generation Legacy, launched 2015, upgrades the Starlink infotainment system with a faster CPU, support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and eight new apps. Subaru worked to improve the suspension and quiet the car, especially engine noise. The CVT returns and headlamps are now steerable.

2018 Ford Expedition
The second-generation Expedition grows longer, as much as 225 inches in the Max version. Unveiled Tuesday in Dallas with the Cowboys then Thursday in Chicago, Ford focused on long-hauling capabilities for up to eight, with built-in telematics, a Wi-Fi hotspot for 10 devices, six USB jacks, and dual DVD players in the middle row. Production starts this fall. Ford loves vehicles like this; the top trim line starts on the high side of $60K.

Chevrolet Redline Edition
It’s a special-edition package of red trim and blacked-out model nameplates, logos, and grilles that was first prototyped at last fall’s SEMA (specialty equipment) show in Las Vegas. By year end, it will be on the Chevrolet Traverse (photo), Silverado, Colorado, Camaro, Cruze sedan hatch, Equinox, Trax, and Malibu. Pricing wasn’t set.

2017 Nissan Titan, Titan XD King Cab
Nissan completed a year-long rollout of its full-size Titan pickup line with king cab versions of the Titan and higher-payload Titan XD. It can be had with bench seats front and rear (carries six) or front buckets; the rear seat can be deleted for more cargo capacity in commercial use. Gas and diesel engines are available.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure
Breathing on the heels of compact SUV sales leader Honda CR-V, Toyota added an outdoorsy edition. Both the front- and all-wheel-drive versions offer a towing package with a 3,500-pound capacity, a lot for a non-premium SUV. It also gets fender flares and black 18-inch alloys. It ships in September.

2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport LE Edition
To gain a little more sales traction, Mitsubishi added a trim line, LE, slotting above the entry ES and below the SE, SEL, and GT. What sets it apart? HID (xenon) headlamps, an alloy fuel filler door, black door mirrors, fog lamps, and black-painted 18-inch alloy wheels.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT
“Does that thing have a Hemi?” helped sell Dodges years ago. Now the seven-passenger Durango SUV is getting the same Hemi engine as the Charger XT: 392 cubic inches (6.4 liters), 475 hp, and 4.4 seconds to 60 mph in the Durango. SRT brand manager Chad Seymour calls it the brand’s “seven-passenger Charger.” It ships this fall.

2018 Toyota Tundra TRD Sport
Toyota refreshed its big pickup (photo) and the full-size (and softly selling) Sequoia SUV with more tech. They get as standard equipment Toyota Safety Sense-P, which includes collision avoidance, lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. To go with that, they get updated instrument panels to show the safety alerts. This in lieu of a full redesign of vehicles that are a decade old.

USA-bound Fiat Toro pickup
The smallish Fiat Toro pickup is already on sale in Latin America. Fiat-Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles showed a photo and said, “You’re going to be seeing more from Fiat on the truck side, especially.” False alarm. Later in the day he tweeted, “I must clear something up … I meant I Love the new 2017 #Fiat Toro sold in Latin America, no plans to sell in the U.S.” Easy come, easy go.

Defending the value of auto shows
The Chicago Auto Show runs through Sunday, February 20. The show itself has been in the news because of an outspoken presentation by David Sloan, president of the Chicago Automotive Trade Association (CATA), at the kickoff breakfast presented by the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), According to Forbes writer Sam Abluelsamid, Sloan told the writers, “A brickbat to those that think the effectiveness of auto shows is on the wane. You may have seen some stories written lately on this premise and to those writers I’d like to point out that you’re missing the most important factor in the equation, that is the auto show itself. The long forgotten part of the show that focuses on the consumer.”

Sloan is right that the major part of the show — the hidden nine-tenths of the iceberg — is the public days. Since the show is sponsored by auto dealers, not automakers, they care about public days. Last year, the Chicago show drew 815,000 attendees. The record attendance was 1.215 million more than a decade ago. Car buyers have more buying resources online now.

At the same time, with the increase in the number of media people covering auto shows, especially online sites, automakers find it’s helpful to generate their own news — convertible, high-performance, off-road, family-friendly variants as well as all-new cars — to feed the hungry maw of the media.


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