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February 11, 2013

2013 Chicago Auto Show  

Monsters, Models, Superheroes & SuperCars


by John Miller & Susan Prince

images by J. Miller and Jack White

The 2013, 105th edition of the Chicago Auto Show opened February 9th to a wanting and willing public. Spanning more than more than 1 million square feet, major auto manufacturers were showing supercars, superheroes, eye-popping models (of both the human and auto variety) and a few monsters.

While higher efficiency vehichles---both in terms of hybrids and some newly introduced diesels were big draws, the supercars and concepts still bring crowds to the displays. Lexus again brought it's LF-LC Hybrid concept vehicle, while Chevrolet was showing off it's concept Camaro Turbo. Honda brought it's spartan 2-seat EV-STER concept and KIA debuted it's slick CrossGT concept.

In the way of production debuts, Cadillac used the Chicago Auto Show to introduce the new 2014 ELR --an an extended-range electric- hybrid conversion based on a Cadillac CTS. Kia quietly debuted it's new Cadenza (see TEST DRIVE, below) and Porsche and Jaguar brought new attention-grabbing sportscars to Chicago with the 2014 Porsche Cayman and the stunning Jaguar F-Type.The runaway debut winners however, were a pair of monsters. Chrysler (SRT division) quietly put out it latest edition of the VIPER and Chevrolet stole the show with the 2014 Corvette Stingray.

The Corvette-Viper battle is no longer a beauty versus beast fight. Both cars have matured and where the Viper gained in civility, the Corvette ramped up in the performance and looks departments. The Viper (a 2013 model) sports a massive all-aluminum 8.4 liter, V-10 overhead-valve engine, pumping out an ungodly 640 horsepower and 600 lb.-ft. of torque (the most torque of any non-turbo/super charged production engine in the world). That translates to a 0-60 time in the area of 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 206 mph .Wisely, Viper buyers receive a one-day driving school to maximize driving skills to handle this monster.

The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette won't be available for at least 6 months. And that mattered not one bit to the crush of people trying to get a look at it. The 2014 Corvette's new look -- sculptured, aerodynamic, aggressive and functional, sports a logo that goes back 50 years: The STINGRAY. This seventh-generation Vette (the C7), offers dramatic styling in the now traditional two-door hatchback format. It packs a new 6.2 liter (376 cubic inch) V-8 engine (LT1) that puts out 450 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque and will be offered with a choice of a six-speed paddle-shift automatic or seven-speed manual gearbox (with an "Active Rev Match" function for improved shifts). Zero-to-60 mph performance is 'less than four seconds'....forthcoming tests will no doubt prove that to be A LOT LESS than four seconds....which is approximately the same amount of time the cars are expected to remain on dealer lots before being sold.

Elsewhere in the Chevy display, the Volt, a perennial crowd favorite in the past was pushed somewhat aside this year in favor of Chevrolet's 21014 Cruze Diesel. GM hopes to banish it's poor history with diesels once and for all with this offering. The compact Cruze TD comes with a 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder direct-injection engine (assembled in Germany). The diesel engine is said to return up to 42 mpg (highway) through a six-speed automatic transmission. With availability in June, at an MSRP of $25,695, the Cruze Diesel stands to take some of the market share away from the high-mileage and high priced hybrids and electrics.

Hyundai and subsidiary KIA continued their relentless (and well earned) climb upward in the ranks of manufacturers with a slew of new model introductions and several eye-catching concepts. Nearly every manufacturer offered something in the way of a Hybrid vehicle with dual emphasis --- combating the leap in gasoline prices and 'doing right' for the environment, and the KIA brand stepped up with it's Optima Hybrid. While officially a 'concept' car---the SUPERMAN edition was shown on the show floor, KIA had the courage to include a pre-production version in it's test-drive fleet and let consumers drive it on the streets of Chicago. KIA (and Subaru) exceeded all expectations by staging outdoor test-drives of their various models. Chicago weather and Chicago street conditions barely pass for tolerable in February, but these manufactures had faith in their cars to set up test drives for consumers willing to brave the elements(see TEST DRIVE, below).

Once again, Acura seemed to have misstepped with it's display. While it's been more than a year since Acura introduced (in mock-up form), the new Acura NSX sportscar, no mention of it was made at the Chicago show. Instead, Acura debuted the RLX four-door luxury sedan. While certainly competent, packing a 3.5 liter VTEC V-6 engine generating 310 horsepower and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, as well as employing a "Precision All-Wheel Steer" system designed to improve cornering control and steering accuracy, the 2014 RLX was hardly an attention-getter. And again, there was no concern for crowding at the Acura display.

Sinking deeper into the overlooked-unloved category is the Mitsubishi MIEV Electric microcar. This $29,000, 5-door hatchback is a 100% Electric vehicle has been available for over a year now. Sadly, the two copies were tucked into the middle of the Mitsubishi display without a hint of advertising support. A casual survey of passers-by indicated the majority thought it was a concept vehicle and 99% thought it was some sort of hybrid. The MIEV achieves an MPG-e rating of 112, comes with an 8 year warranty covering the drive-train AND Li-ion batteries, and standard equipment includes front+side airbags, ABS brakes, traction control and an anti-theft system. With only three other models in the lineup at present, Mitsubishi might be headed for the same fate as Suzuki Cars here in the USA.

The Chicago Auto Show has a website loaded with info at www.chicagoautoshow.com. Parking info (always a challenge in Chicago) can be found at www.mccormickplace.com/maps_direct/maps_dir.html. Lot rates vary, and there's always a chance to find a street spot, but Lot A ($16) is ideal. Drive up to Level 4--it has a direct, enclosed skybridge to the main show building and, for those driving an electric vehicle, special designated spots near the door are available. Continuing this year on the website are links to Social Media (Twitter, Facebook,You Tube, etc) and (under the MultiMedia tab) 'Live' webcams --you can see the show with out actually going to the show ---but do go, virtual show-going is incomplete compared to touching, smelling and actually seeing the real deal.


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