by Jim Choate • see Jim’s writeup of other brands
First staged in 1901, the Chicago Auto Show is the largest auto show in North America (with 1.2 million square feet of floor space), and has been held more times than any other auto exposition on the continent. Although the show has downsized compared to previous years, there still was plenty to admire and check out.
Ram's display for 2013 seemed larger than last year, with the new “Ram Commercial” division; it turns out that the Ram test track was removed to make that extra room. There was a clear definition between the consumer/retail offerings, in various colors and trims, and the commercial offerings, which were all in white.
The big news for Ram at this show was the new Ram ProMaster cargo van and chassis cab. Based on the Fiat Ducato, the ProMaster is available with different roof heights and wheelbases, extended bodies, a cutaway, chassis cab, and diesel or gasoline engine (both with automatic transmissions). You can get more details at Allpar's Ram ProMaster page.
ProMaster’s chassis will have a steel I-beam overlay for durability. The parking brake has been moved out of the way to the left side of the driver’s seat, and the back-up camera works when the rear doors are opened and closed. Its headlights are positioned above the front impact zone.
Oil changes for ProMaster’s Pentastar V6 are needed every 10,000 miles, while the EcoDiesel will only need oil changes every 18,500 miles.
When sitting inside ProMaster, it feels as though one would be right at home...if they're a bus driver. One does not feel as tall in the Ford Transit vans (also on display), which have less of a view of the road.
Also shown were the Tradesman Ram 1500 models, the 2500/3500 HD trucks, and the Ram C/V Tradesman, which seemed to draw odd looks from some folks — primarily because of the fact that the C/V retains the standard chrome-trimmed Dodge Grand Caravan dash and the cup-holders normally used for rear seat passengers. For the number of C/Vs they sell (a few hundred per month), the cost to engineer and produce separate interior panels and a dash for the C/V is likely too expensive.
At least one of each consumer trim level was represented, including the Power Wagon, the Express, the Outdoorsman, and the Limited (which has a new, much larger badge on the tailgate.)
SRT occupied a rather small sliver of space, and showed only five cars this year, including the new SRT Core cars (300, Charger, and Challenger). The SRT Core cars ditch some features, like leather seating and fog lamps, to provide a lower cost-of-entry for those looking for all the power of an SRT, but not all the trinkets.
[Editor’s note: the “Core” idea followed from the success of the Super Bee, which followed the same formula and, according to sources inside Chrysler, now commands roughly one third of Charger SRT8 sales.]
New badging and markings accompany the new Core models, and they are fairly subtle; I had to look several times for my eyes to register the differences. On the upside, your neighbors will likely never know you bought a “base” SRT unless you tell them.
The Plum Crazy color is back for the Challenger and Charger Super Bee as well. Also on display is the new Grand Cherokee SRT revealed in Detroit in January, and the new Viper GTS.
Chrysler's space was dominated by several editions of the 300. The Turbine Tribute car was on display from Detroit, along with the Varvatos Luxury Edition, the Glacier Edition, and the Motown Edition. (Near the Varvatos Edition on a turntable was a glass case with some worn leather apparel somehow related to designer John Varvatos. My take on this is that if you don't know, or care, who he is, then this new Luxury Edition probably isn't for you.)
The Glacier Edition sports some custom touches along with all-wheel-drive, and the Motown Edition includes some special badging and a USB drive filled with Motown classic songs - which brings back memories of the Frank Sinatra Edition Imperial of the past that included a box of cassettes with music from 'Ol Blue Eyes. All the V6-equipped 300 models featured a large "31MPG" sticker on the windshield.
The Town & Country was well represented with a model featuring customizations from the Mopar catalog, a Braun Entervan handicap conversion, and the new “S,” which used some blacked-out trim which looks great when paired up with the white paint.
The 200 and 200 Convertible were also represented - new this year is that you can now get the “S” trim added to the Touring and Limited models, rather than “S” being a standalone model.
Behind the Chrysler display is the “City Drive” track from last year with several different Chrysler Group models running around for folks to experience.
On the turntable for Dodge is the new Dart GT, which features the new Tigershark 2.4L 4-cylinder engine with MultiAir2. The Dart earned the Motorweek “Best Compact Car of 2013” award at the show. Several other Dart models were also on display, including a silver Dart loaded with Mopar accessories including blacked-out tailight panel, black wheels, and a "duckbill" rear spoiler along with an orange GT with Mopar carbon fiber hood.
The new Blacktop series vehicles were on display - Journey, Grand Caravan, and Avenger (oddly, those were the only examples of the Journey and the Avenger that I saw.)
Durango is also on display as both the R/T and the Citadel models - it's a very handsome vehicle but seems somewhat lost in the marketplace.
Charger featured several different models on display including the new Daytona as well as a Charger that will be featured in the upcoming SyFy series “Defiance” With it's "Mad Max-like" looks and large knobby tires, it's certainly not your normal Charger. While the interior is still standard Charger, it's been dirtied up a bit and has slashes in the seat material repaired with duct tape.
Challenger still draws stares from the crowd, and the Redline edition won't stop that any time soon. In white with black and red accents, along with white trim about the grille, the Challenger Redline is indeed a looker.
Dodge revealed they donated $1 million to the Future Farmers of America after receiving enough views on their Super Bowl commercials on Youtube.
“Camp Jeep” — in this case, the indoor Jeep driving course — was in full effect again this year, with Wrangler Unlimiteds and Grand Cherokees making the rounds. On display are the new Grand Cherokee revealed in Detroit, last year's Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, several special edition Wranglers (Oscar Mike, Moab, and Dragon Edition), and several standard Compasses (Compii?). New (to me — I've never seen it before) is an Oscar Mike Edition Patriot, with the star logo not only on the badges but also embroidered in the front seats and on the hood as well. (See “test tracks,” below.)
The Mopar Garage featured not only the hundreds of accessories available from Mopar for your vehicle, but also those for your garage. Flooring, tool chests, furniture are also part of the Mopar accessories catalog. Parked in the display was a new yellow SRT Viper and the new Mopar ’13 Dart.
The primary model for Fiat, the 500, was well represented by the variations on a theme - the standard 500, the 500c convertible, the Abarth 500, the Abarth 500c, the 500 Turbo, the "500 by Gucci" and the new battery-powered 500e. New for 2013 is the Fiat 500L - a larger vehicle that, despite it's name, is not built on the 500 platform or architecture. Initially, the two 500L models were behind fences and not accessible. Thankfully they were later uncaged and the red example was opened for viewing. It may look small on the outside, but there is a huge amount of room on the inside with seating for 5 and decent space in the hatch. The hatch space also features a shelf that reminded me of the one found on the PT Cruiser. Visibility is surprisingly good; the glass in the "split A-pillar" is helpful, too.
The Fiat 500L is definitely more spacious than the 500. The interior is still round, yet not as round as the 500 is (and definitely not as round inside as the Minis). Even with the seat jacked up in height, there was still loads of headroom for me. Put sliding doors on it and it’s a mini-minivan. It was very easy for me to get in and out of both the front and rear seats, the overall ergonomics were good, about the only issue might be the "split A-pillar," but I would imagine it wouldn't take long to get used to that. It has decent space in the cargo area that includes a PT-like shelf.
The interior of the Fiat 500L is “huge” despite the small footprint — perhaps because it has similar proportions to the original minivan, which was also based on a compact. Extra-tall driver Jim Hordy said he fit well into the back of the 500L, — far better than into the Impala.
by Jennifer Harrington
Chrysler has two ride-along experiences available at the Chicago Auto Show.
One of the experiences is for Jeep, which includes Wrangler Rubicon and Grand Cherokee. The course goes through ground clearance and a 30-degree stability tilt first, showing off Wrangler’s stability and clearance.
The Wrangler then went over the suspension portion of the track, where it traveled over rough terrain and rocks. The ride was surprisingly smooth considering the roughness of the terrain. The sway bar disconnect allowed the Rubicon have all four wheels on the ground through the articulation test’s uneven surface.
The Wrangler then went up a 35-degree ramp, about 24 feet high. On the other side, going down at 35 degrees, the hill descent mode was demonstrated. Accessible only in 4-Low, it allows the driver to let off the brakes and let the computer take over.
The other ride-along experience, the “City Drive,” provided the choice of a Dodge Charger, Fiat 500, Dodge Durango, and Chrysler 300C. During the first part of the course, the driver talked about the quality of the vehicle, followed by a slight weaving demonstrating agility.
Next was a discussion of gas mileage and a demonstration on how well the windows isolate sounds from the outside. Outside, music was playing at about 85 decibels, while with the windows rolled up, inside it was in the low 70s. The performance part of the course was next, where the vehicle accelerated to a certain speed and immediately braked at a particular point. That’s where, in the video (coming next week), the camera suddenly jerks upward.
The 105th Chicago Auto Show is held in the North and South buildings of McCormick Place, located in Chicago, Illinois and runs from Saturday, February 9th through Monday, February 18th. There's a myriad of potential ways to get to the show - from the western suburbs I took Roosevelt Road east all the way into the city, turning right/south on Indiana and then left/east on Cermak. Cermak turns right/south and becomes King Drive, and the exit for parking lot "A" is on the right. Cost to park in the parking lot "A" garage is $21 for the day, and there is a covered walkway that leads from the 4th level of the garage directly to McCormick Place. Other parking lots are available and some distant lots offer shuttle buses to the show.
Metra electric trains make stops at the station at McCormick Place, and CTA buses are available from the Ogilvie and Union Station train terminals. Tickets for the show can be purchased online and discount tickets are available from various area banks and car dealers. Food at McCormick Place can be expensive - a Chicago-style hot dog or slice of pizza and a drink can easily run $10 per person. Restrooms can be found all around the perimiter of the North Hall and are kept reasonably clean; there are also options below the cafes in the South Hall.
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