Chicago Auto Show preview: SUVs, crossovers in spotlight
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Do crossovers rule? Will electric cars disrupt driving as we know it in a few years? Are mid-size trucks really back?
Our experts answer those questions as we preview the 2018 Auto Show that returns to Chicago's McCormick Place this Saturday through Feb. 19.
Chicago Auto Show Chairman John Hennessy thinks it's time for crossovers, SUVs and mid-size trucks to shine after lying in the weeds too long.
The days of $5 a gallon gas, when "people couldn't get out of their SUVS fast enough," are long forgotten, said Hennessy, owner of River View Ford in Oswego.
Now "SUVs and crossovers are lighter, more fuel-efficient, more flexible and they've got better safety features," he said. "They're better suited to today's society."
Standouts will include Ford's 2019 Ranger, a mid-size truck that both "fits 4-by-8 sheets of plywood and can fit in the garage," Hyundai's crossover Kona and Volkswagen's new Atlas, a mid-size SUV with three rows of seats.
Fresh from touring Washington D.C.'s auto show, Argonne National Laboratory's Don Hillebrand was struck by the plethora of electric and hybrid electric vehicles there, a trend gear heads at McCormick Place will notice too, he predicts.
After a blockbuster start in the 2010s, electrics became ho-hums, Hillebrand said. But as manufacturers grapple with new federal fuel-economy standards coming in the 2020s, everyone's talking about "disruption," or the actual phaseout of the internal combustion engine.
"GM has announced 1 million electrics by 2023," Hillebrand said. In the manufacturing world where there's a five-year development time, that means "they're building the factories" now, he explained.
GM's rival Ford is talking about going for full electrification, meaning every car will have a hybrid or electrical option in the 2020s, Hillebrand noted.
"The question is -- are we really going to do a disruption or step back and go with the slower, more prudent path forward with increasing levels of hybridization?"
You can ponder that and check out electrics that are actually affordable at the auto show. Nissan is offering a new Leaf with a range of up to 150 miles and starting around $30,000, while Chevrolet's Bolt powers through 200 miles on a single charge and costs about $37,000. Both qualify for a federal tax credit.
Andrew Krok, who grew up in Glen Ellyn and blogs about cars on consumer website CNET.com, is looking toward some "atypical" releases when he visits the show.
"Nissan has something interesting up its sleeve with its new 370Zki (convertible sports car) concept, which I believe will be a Nissan 370Z with snow tracks attached," Krok said. "Toyota will have some interesting updates to its off-road-ready TRD Pro lineup, too."
Volkswagen could be making some news, Krok hinted, and "at the least, the 2019 Jetta is definitely worth your time."
Other vehicles turning heads include Jaguar's XF five-seater, Jeep's redesigned Wrangler truck and Kia's Stinger sedan, Hennessy said. Finally, when it comes to the kind of horsepower that makes grown men cry, Hillebrand's must-sees are BMW's plug-in i8 Roadster, Corvette's ZR1 Convertible and Mercedes-AMG's sporty GT C.
"It's such a lovely car," he said.
What are you looking for at the auto show? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org saying what vehicle you want to see and why -- and you could win two free tickets.
You should know
What else is new at the auto show in 2018?
Consumers can try out their future vehicles at three indoor test tracks hosted by Jeep, Toyota and Kia.
Outdoor tracks are offered by Cadillac, Ford, Kia, Mazda, Subaru and Volkswagen.
Kids will enjoy the Blackhawks play zone, Ford's Hank the Robot interactive games and Lego Batman with Chevrolet.
For kids at heart, Hyundai and Dodge offer racetrack simulation units, Kia's got a booth where you can interact with dancing hamsters, and Nissan's pushing "Star Wars" virtual reality experiences.
To learn more, go to chicagoautoshow.
One more thing
Pace holds an open house on its Pulse Dempster Line, a rapid transit bus that will serve Chicago, O'Hare International Airport and the suburbs, including Des Plaines. The forum is 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, at the Des Plaines Public Library, 1501 Ellinwood St.