The Windy City Welcomes You
The Chicago Auto Show is a celebration of the automobile. Held each February at Chicago’s McCormick Place, it is the largest auto show in North America with more than 1.3 million square feet of space and almost 1000 vehicles on hand. 1.2 million people pass through the turnstiles annually, and with all those eyes on their cars, the automakers take advantage of the show each year to announce some new product news. We were on hand during the media days February 10 and 11 to take in the new cars.
2011 Ford Edge
What it is: A midcycle replacement for Ford’s five-passenger family hauler, now with two new engines and a cool new control interface.
What’s New: The Edge is restyled inside and out, but the big news is the debut of the Ecotec 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The Edge Sport also adds a 305-horsepower 3.7-liter V6. Inside, the Edge gets the MyFord Touch control interface, as well as improved materials and craftsmanship. Underneath, the suspension is tweaked for tighter handling.
Bottom Line: crossovers like the Edge have pushed out truck-type SUVs as spacious and convenient family transportation. The 2011 changes should make the Edge more versatile and better to drive.
2012 Ford Transit Connect Electric
What it is: A small but spacious work vehicle that can be driven up to 80 miles on a full electrical charge.
What’s New: The Transit Connect Electric replaces the base vehicle’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with an Azure Dynamics Force Drive electric powertrain featuring a Johnson Controls-Saft 28 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It can be charged in six-to-eight hours on a 240-watt outlet and has a top speed of 75 mph.
Bottom Line: The Transit Connect Battery Electric just makes sense. Fleet managers will be better prepared than families to charge and maintain electric vehicles, and they can save money on gas by sending these worker drones out on short deliveries.
2011 Toyota Avalon
What it is: A spacious and smooth full-size sedan that bridges the gap between family car and luxury cruiser.
What’s New: The 2011 Toyota Avalon is restyled inside and out. Even more conservatively styled than it was, the new body won’t inspire passion. Owners will love the interior, though. It adds a class-exclusive reclining rear seat, plus additional standard equipment that includes Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, XM satellite radio and an iPod interface.
Bottom Line: The next Avalon will certainly be a pleasant car when it arrives this spring, but it won’t be the product hit Toyota needs to help consumers forget about the company’s recall woes.
Honda Odyssey Concept
What it is: A suspiciously close to production-ready version of Honda’s next minivan, now with sportier looks.
What’s New: Aside from the fresh look, Honda promises the Odyssey will have more room inside, enough to fit three car seats across the second row. Fuel economy will also be improved to an estimated 19 mpg city/28 mpg on the highway when the production version debuts late this year.
Bottom Line: Honda is trying to make the minivan cool with new wedge-shaped styling. This may be the best-looking minivan ever, but few will find it anything more than what it is: practical family transportation.
2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD pickup
What it is: A heavy duty version of Chevy’s full-size pickup, capable of carrying 6335 pounds and towing up to 20,000 pounds with a fifth wheel or 16,000 pounds with a tow hitch, both class bests.
What’s New: The 2011 Chevy Silverado’s Duramax 6.6-liter turbodiesel is now capable of running on B20, a blend of 80 percent conventional diesel fuel and 20 percent biodiesel. It also gets a revised interior, a new grille, an all-new frame, and a smart exhaust trailer brake that varies resistance based on load and grade.
Bottom Line: Despite a trend toward downsizing, heavy duty pickups will always be needed as work vehicles. The 2011 Chevy Silverado HD offers more capability than ever before.
2011 Chevrolet Suburban 75th Anniversary Diamond Edition
What it is: A special edition package to celebrate the longest running single nameplate in the U.S. auto market.
What’s New: The 2011 Chevrolet Suburban 75th Anniversary Diamond Edition is based on the well-equipped LTZ model. It comes with a White Diamond Tricoat paint scheme, a Cashmere interior, unique 20-inch chromed wheels, new roof rack rails, and special badges and lettering inside and out. Limited to 2570 units, the 75th Anniversary Suburban goes on sale early this summer.
Bottom Line: Love ’em or hate ’em, full-size SUVs serve a purpose. They’re excellent tow vehicles and they can carry a lot of cargo. The Chevy Suburban is one of the best of the breed, accounting for its longevity.
Kia Ray Concept
What it is: A plug-in hybrid four-seat sedan that embodies a possible future for Kia’s new environmentally-conscious EcoDynamics sub-brand.
Cool features: The Ray’s exterior is designed like an airplane fuselage, with no unnecessary bulges or bumps like door handles and side mirrors. The roof glass uses solar cells to help power the climate system. A plug-in hybrid with a lithium-polymer battery pack, Kia says the Ray has a range of 50 miles on electricity and a total range of 746 miles.
Bottom Line: Hybrid and plug-in hybrid models are soon to come from Kia, and the Ray shows the way. More radical elements like the glass roof and shaved doors are likely to give way to more practical features should a version of this car come to market.
2011 Nissan 370Z 40th Anniversary Edition
What it is: A limited-edition model to commemorate the original Z’s arrival in North America on October 22, 1969.
What’s New: The 370Z 40th Anniversary Edition starts out as a 370Z coupe Touring model equipped with a manual transmission. It adds all the equipment of the Sport Package, plus premium “40th Graphite” paint and a red leather-upholstered interior. Other notable features include red brake calipers, red interior accent stitching, 40th Anniversary logos inside and out, and a satin car cover.
Bottom Line: With production limited to 1000 units and a price of $38,860 when it goes on sale in February, the 40th Anniversary Edition 370Z will be a minor collectible. More importantly, it will be a blast to drive.
2011 BMW Alpina B7
What it is: A BMW 7 Series sedan turned up to 500 horsepower and tweaked for performance by the German tuner Alpina.
Cool features: To the supremely capable 7 Series, Alpina adds a 500-horsepower version of the twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter BMW V8, 21-inch wheels, front and rear spoilers, an adjustable suspension with active roll stabilization, and shorter springs that lower the ride height. Inside, the Alpina B7 gets a Lavalina leather steering wheel, Myrtle Burl wood trim, and Alpina emblems.
Bottom Line: If you you’d like an M version of the 7 Series and have more than $100,000 burning a hole in your pocket, give the Alpina B7 a look.
2011 Ford Shelby GT500
What it is: The king of the Mustangs, now with an all-aluminum 5.4-liter V8 that weighs 102 pounds less and makes 10 more horses.
What’s New: With 550 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque, the 2011 Shelby GT500 is the most potent production Mustang ever. Fuel economy is also up one mpg both city and highway, doing away with the gas guzzler tax. The convertible is stiffer thanks to additional body bracing. An SVT Performance Package improves the handling even more.
Bottom Line: Adding power and reducing weight are two of the best ways to improve performance. If the new electric power steering works as well as Ford says it does, this will be the best Mustang yet.