2015 Chicago Auto Show Hits, Misses, and Revelations


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In place of staging big, loud concept car unveilings on stands worthy of Geneva or Frankfurt, Chicago lays claim to being the biggest consumer show in the U.S. So an all-new model like the 2016 Honda Pilot is really a big thing here, even if hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans, Hoosiers, Wisconsinites, and Iowans come here in the next nine days first to line up for a look at two future Le Mans racers: the Ford GT and the Nissan Nismo GT-R LM P1. Here's what we thought of the 2015 Chicago show.

Hit: Honda Pilot

The new Pilot looks just like a CR-V, and that's a good thing. Honda could really make a splash in the three-row crossover market with this sleeker, more efficient Pilot. The outgoing model sells well despite its age, and the new one looks to be significantly more modern than competitors from Toyota, Hyundai, and Nissan. I think Honda is smart to follow the mainstream with this redesign. No one is looking for excitement or standout styling from a family crossover, and the 2016 Pilot has lots of thoughtful details and an advanced new powertrain that should build on its already solid reputation.- Joseph Capparella

Hit: 2016 Honda Pilot, if you're into that sort of thing
It's a 7/5ths-scale CR-V, which is a very good thing, next to the trucky-looking current model. "I guess you could say we're thinking outside the box," chief development engineer Marc Ernst said at the press conference; a pun/clich? you'll hear a lot about this CUV. The new Pilot has plenty of interesting kit, including LED interior lighting, a nine-speed automatic with pushbutton controls, panoramic sunroof, and second-row captain's chairs on the high-trim levels. But what stuck out most is how it has been designed inside to be a rolling PlayStation/computer tablet/infotainment center for second- and third-row passengers. Ernst describes it as "serious plug-and-play functionality for the whole family." - Todd Lassa.

Miss: Ram Laramie Limited

Somebody should have told Ram it already had the classiest looking rig on the market, because the result of this effort to chase "luxury" -- giving the new Laramie Limited a big, chrome "RAM" tramp stamp across the tailgate -- is the tackiest thing Detroit has exported since Kid Rock.- Patrick Hoey

Miss: Mitsubishi GC-PHEV concept

It's all too easy to feel sorry for Mitsubishi, but the company is not really doing that badly in the U.S. market. The new Mirage is a modest hit, and the Outlander Sport crossover continues to sell in consistent volumes. Now they're preparing a new midsize Outlander, and I can only hope the production car looks nothing like the GC-PHEV concept, an awkwardly proportioned mess of an SUV concept.- J.C.

Handicapped Hit: Mitsubishi GC-PHEV
And is that a pulse I feel coming from Mitsubishi? I can't tell. Tucked behind tumbleweeds and irrelevancy, the GC-PHEV is the only reason to visit the Mitsubishi booth. While this concept is no closer to being given life as a production model than any other radical concept, it might suggest Mitsu isn't ready to put its second foot in the grave just yet.- P.H.

Revelation: The Mitsubishi Concept GC-PHEV is not quite a miss
First reaction was, "Those are the oddest proportions I've ever seen on a car or truck," then, "I feel like I've seen those proportions before." This narrow sport/utility concept with a long rear overhang -- which makes the wheelbase look really short -- first premiered at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show. The good news is that the concept's front grille is the new face of Mitsubishi, and we'll see it on the new midsize Outlander launching in late spring 2016 (and to be unveiled at the New York International Auto Show in late March). The Mirage G4 sedan, a three-box version of the cheap Mirage hatchback, is scheduled to come in 12 to 14 months. The compact Lancer is due for a facelift, and the EVO will then be done. Mitsubishi is in talks with potential partners for a next-generation Lancer, but it is designing one of its own in case it can't form a mutually beneficial partnership with another automaker, North American executive vice president Don Swearingen says. Either way, an all-new model is still a few years away. Mitsubishi may find a partner to co-develop a new midsize sedan to replace the Galant, though Swearingen says the business case is not quite as easy to make for such a car. - T.L.

Miss: 2016 Chevrolet Equinox facelift

When it launched not long after General Motors' 2009 bankruptcy, the current Equinox was a ray of hope, with 31 mpg highway mileage (for front-wheel-drive four-cylinder models) and a level of interior quality and features that belied its Chevy price. Now, it's aging far too quickly in the midst of the red-hot compact CUV market, and the more rounded front-end makes it look like it got bigger, when what it needs to be is a smaller, more elegantly detailed CUV. Chevy may be excused, as it's launching five new car models this year, but really it needs to replace the Equinox as soon as practical. --T.L.

Hit: Ford GT

Though it debuted last month in Detroit, I think the Ford GT may be the most exciting thing to see here in Chicago. I know Lassa favors the Detroit GT's Raj Nair Blue over this one's silver-and-black-striped outfit, but what I want to see is Ford spray this thing in a shade of red to match the boiling blood of a man in Modena, who just had his prancing horses spanked by the son of a Dearborn farm boy.- P.H.

Revelation: Mid-cycle refreshes go back to the norm
Lately, automakers have taken to showing mid-cycle refreshes that go beyond the traditional nip and tuck -- see the 2015 Toyota Camry or the 2016 Acura ILX -- but this was not the case in Chicago this year. Facelifts debuting in Chicago for cars like the Acura RDX, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Avalon, and Kia Rio were hardly a blip on the radar, with minimal exterior changes that were barely noticeable. - J.C.

Hit: Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

VW announced pricing numbers for the Golf SportWagen in Chicago, and this wagon is looking more and more enticing as a compact crossover alternative, especially once the all-wheel-drive version joins the mix. For now, $25,000 gets you a well-equipped, 43 mpg diesel version of this nicely packaged compact wagon that packs 30.4 cu-ft of space behind the rear seats. That's more space than in VW's own Tiguan crossover.- J.C.

Miss: Nissan 370Z Nismo Roadster concept

The outdated Nismo 370Z coupe is already priced way too high ($46,315 as tested), and convertible versions of the 370Z are $6,000-$7,000 more than their coupe equivalents. If you do the math, a hypothetical $50,000-plus price for this Nismo roadster means Nissan would be smart to keep this one as just a concept.- J.C.

Revelation: For young drivers, FWD doesn't matter
Jann Mardenborough, a 23-year-old racecar driver from Cardiff, England, was named to Nissan Nismo's LMP1 team racing at 24 Hours of Le Mans and other venues this season. Mardenborough began his racing career by winning Season Three of GT Academy in 2011. It's a series raced on PlayStation consoles. Perhaps he won't be bothered by the steering inputs created by the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6/hybrid powering the front wheels of the front-engine Nissan Nismo GT-R LMP1 racecar. - T.L.

Hit: Kia Trail'ster concept

An all-wheel-drive Kia Soul makes all the sense in the world, and a car like the Trail'ster would give Kia a quick, easy entry into the subcompact crossover market that's quickly gaining ground thanks to new models like the Jeep Renegade and the Honda HR-V. Lookswise, the Trail'ster is a nice variation on the Soul, which I find rather attractive in its current generation, and I'm looking forward to see what happens when Kia inevitably puts this into production. - J.C.

Hit: Ford stand
Ford got a lot of attention at this year's show, not because of any specific reveal -- the police-outfitted Explorer didn't really make waves -- but because of the Ford GT. Yes, it's still a showstopper. The new silver paint helped maintain some momentum, and crowds were still gathering around the sensational supercar like they did in Detroit. Plus, Ford enlisted help from a German shepherd pup to pull the sheets of the Police Interceptor -- kitschy, yes, but entertaining. - J.C.


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Cape Coral
The CRV looks much better. That Mitsubishi is ugly.