The Competition: 2015 Chicago Auto Show (#CAIS15)

Nissan

To celebrate its entry into LeMans racing, Nissan showed their new GT-R LM NISMO race car and a 370Z NISMO Roadster. You can’t buy either one.

nissan titan truck

nissan van frame

From NAIAS they are also showing the new Titan XD pickup, for folks that need something a bit more than a 1500-class pickup, but not as much as a 2500-class pickup. The Titan XD gets a new Cummins 5.0L V8 turbo-diesel (originally destined for Ram 1500 pickups before the industry crash) which will undoubtedly entice some buyers. Nissan’s Altima is their top seller, followed by the Rogue and the Sentra.

nissan van

under the nissan van

Nissan also had a Leaf featured during the media-only four-hour Concepts and Technology preview in a large room across the street from the main part of the center.

leaf and pursuit

Editor’s addition: Nissan was primary sponsor of the Chicago Auto Show, and did a great deal to promote the show, bringing in journalists and giving them rides to and from the airport. Nissan made no attempt to push coverage of their products and did not take advantage of their sponsorship position. Indeed, Chevrolet, which provided free Internet access and apparently hosted the media breakfast, did more to get their materials into the hands of reporters, giving Nissan the title of “most restrained sponsor.” Their PR reps wore white lab coats made of a rubberized, waterproof, windproof material that was welcomed in the Windy City.

Buick

buick cascada convertible

As shown back in January at the NAIAS in Detroit, Buick was featuring two vehicles – the Buick Avenir Concept (said to be based on the platform of the upcoming Cadillac CT6) and the Buick Cascada Convertible, an Americanized version of the Opel Cascada convertible available outside the US. Both are sharp looking. Perhaps the Cascada will capture former buyers of the Chrysler Sebring and 200 convertibles, along with former Toyota Solara Convertible buyers. Buick’s top seller is the Enclave large crossover, followed by the LaCrosse sedan and the relatively new Encore small crossover.

Cadillac

cadillac

New to Cadillac are the latest versions of the ATS-V and CTS-V. The ATS-V was shown in both coupe and sedan form. The display is rounded out by the remaining Cadillac models; Cadillac’s top seller is the SRX crossover, followed by the CTS and the Escalade/ESV.

Ford

ford police

bubble logosThe new Explorer-based Police Interceptor debuted, with standard AWD and a Surveillance Mode option that warns the driver when someone approaches the rear of the vehicle; the drivers’ window raises and all the doors lock. There’s also a rear camera with washer feeding a 4” screen on the center stack. This was probably the most popular car, after the Charger Hellcat, among the media, in terms of getting in and playing with, or driving during the four-hour “concept and technology garage” display. That even resonated constantly with Hellcat tire chirping — despite the best efforts of Dodge reps — and with the siren of the Explorer police car.

Ford GT front

ford gt

The new Ford GT made an appearance, this time in silver, as well as the Ford (not Shelby) GT350 Mustang. There’s a small area with F-150 “Power Wheels” toys for the kids to ride while the bigger kids are looking at the large assortment of real F-Series pickups, which remain the #1 selling vehicle in the US and Ford’s #1 seller, followed almost neck-and-neck by the Fusion and Escape. There were rows and rows of Ford pickups.

ford mustang gt350

GMC

GMC was focusing its display on the Denali trims of its products (luxury trucks seemed to be somewhat of a theme this year at the show.) The Sienna pickup truck remains GMC’s top seller, followed by the Terrain mid-size crossover and the Acadia large crossover.

Chevrolet

voltThe big news at Chevy was the refreshing of the Equinox mid-size crossover, the Cruze compact car, and the Volt hybrid, along with the new-for-US Trax small crossover.

The Cruze exterior refresh doesn’t apply to the entry-level L and step-up LS trims, showing a willingness to cater to those shopping primarily on price. On the other hand, the Cruze does offer a diesel model – something few other brands in the US can offer. Ironically, the diesel is made by Fiat-owned VM.

camaro

The Equinox gets a minor facelift and a new L model (presumably to make up for the discontinued Captiva Sport fleet-only model, and for price-sensitive consumers.) The Volt gets a new exterior and interior design, a more efficient drivetrain (with an estimated range of 420 miles on a full battery and full fuel tank), rear heated seats, and active grille shutters for the tiny spaces of open grille that do exist. Camaro gets a Commemorative Edition to note the end of production of the fifth generation Camaro, which started in 2009.

chevrolet trax

Silverado gets a Midnight Edition package for the Z71 trims for Spinal Tap fans (none more black.) Chevy’s top seller continues to be the Silverado pickup, followed by the Cruze and the Equinox. Look for the new-for-US Chevy Trax small crossover to make an impact – it’s quite roomy (even for tall people in the back seat), well-sized, and less expensive than the similar Buick Encore (but more expensive than a Jeep Renegade Sport.)

Infiniti

The big news – literally – at Infiniti was the debut of the QX80 large SUV in a new Limited trim, adding even more luxury on top of the existing QX80. The Infiniti line-up continues to confuse consumers with its awkward naming convention (all cars are Q, all trucks are QX, and the numbers don’t mean much of anything.) Be sure to ask for your Infiniti Secret Decoder Ring. Infiniti’s top seller is the entry-level Q50, followed by the QX60 crossover (the old JX), and the old entry-level Q40 (the old G.)

Lexus

lexus

As with last year, every car on display at the Lexus booth is white, save for the blue RC and – new for this er – the Lexus GS F. It’s more aggressive than a standard GS, with loads of carbon fiber, jet-fighter cockpit, 17-speaker sound and a “Sport S+” driving mode for when “Sport” isn’t enough. Oh, and don’t confuse the new Lexus GS F with the existing Lexus GS 350 F Sport – those are two different cars. The RX remains the top-seller for Lexus, followed by the ES and the IS.

Porsche

While most Porsche fans will note the yellow brake calipers on some models, this year the focus goes to the green calipers on the hybrid models on display – the Panamera e-Hybrid, the Cayenne e-Hybrid, and the 918 Spyder. Also showing are the venerable 911, the new Macan crossover, the new Cayman, and the new Boxster. Much to the chagrin of Porsche purists, the Cayenne is Porsche’s top seller, followed by the 911 and the new Macan.

Volvo

Volvo – now owned by Geely, based in China – wants you to know that its cars are built in Sweden (and most of them are.)

volvo xc90

New from Volvo is the new XC90, which among other things features the new “Thor’s Hammer” DRL lights that will become part of the new “face of Volvo.” The new XC90, available as a hybrid, is the first car in the world that will automatically brake if you turn in front of an oncoming car, and can automatically reverse into a parking spot.

The S60 Cross Country is Volvo’s take on Suburu’s old “Legacy Outback/SUS” sedan – it’s an S60 with AWD, increased ride-height, and skid plates. The new S60 Inscription looks to be the Chinese-market S60L with added luxury options for the US market. The S60 is Volvo’s top-seller, followed by the XC60 crossover and the XC70 crossover.

Lincoln

Lincoln is showing off the new MKX crossover. It’s more luxurious than a top-level Ford Edge and has electronic steering programmed to feel more “natural.” The MKX gets the new Lincoln “butterfly wing/horizontal stripe” grille design (which, when paired up with Lincoln’s vertical logo, looks unnatural.) Like the other refreshed models, you get a wide LED rear lighting treatment and wide LINCOLN badging so that you know what you are looking at. Lincoln’s top seller is the mid-size MKZ, followed by the current MKX crossover and the new-for-last year MKC small crossover.

Land Rover

Land Rover is showing the new Discovery Sport, replacing the LR2/Freelander. It looks nothing like the Discovery model many picture in their heads and looks more like a Range Rover Evoque. It uses the same ZF 9HP 9-speed automatic that’s used in the Jeep Renegade and Cherokee. The Range Rover Sport is Land Rover’s top seller, followed by the standard Range Rover, and the Range Rover Evoque.

Jaguar

Jaguar is showing its carryover lineup, led in sales by the XF, the XJ, and the F-Type.

BMW

Showing that there is no product niche they won’t fill, BMW debuts the new X4 Sport Activity Coupe – what we would have called an “AMC Eagle SX/4” way back when. Its big brother, the X6, now gets an M-variant, as does its big sister the X5. Topping the sales charts for BMW is the 3/4-Series, followed by the 5-Series and the X5.

Audi

audiWith no new models to show, the big news out of Audi is that they have engine badging on the front fenders, like “V8T” and “V6T” – but only on some of the models. The Q5 mid-size crossover is Audi’s best seller, followed by the A4 and the A6.

Mercedes

What do you do when an S-Class is just too boring and small and an AMG S-Class isn’t subtle enough? You get a Mercedes-Maybach S-Class instead. Now a sub-brand like AMG, Maybach represents the ultimate in S-Classness, including thermo-cup holders that cool or warm drinks (an option first seen on the 2007 Chrysler Sebring).

maybach

Also new is the AMG GT, essentially replacing the old AMG SLS but without the gullwing doors. The C-Class leads the brand in sales, followed by E-Class and the (soon-to-be-renamed GLE-Class) M-Class SUV. Oh, and there are still Smart fortwos being sold (in very small numbers) with really big Smart logo badges in the grille.

Acura

NSX

A refresh wave is washing over Acura, with changes made to the ILX, MDX, RDX, and the return of the NSX supercar. The recent TLX is too new to refresh. Thankfully the odd “silver beak” styling has been toned down a bit. The MDX is the Acura sales leader, followed by the RDX and the new TLX.

Hyundai

The Veloster Rally Edition uses the Veloster Turbo engine and you can start it (presumably from a fairly close distance) from your Bluetooth-linked smartphone. The Elantra GT is refreshed, but the non-GT models aren’t. The SantaCruz concept truck from NAIAS is also on display – it falls somewhere between Honda Ridgeline and Subaru Baja.

hyundai

Genesis Coupe drops the 2.0L Turbo engine and now has just the 348HP 3.8L V6, while the Genesis sedan gets a new optional AWD system called HTRAC (just when the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger no longer offer AWD with their V8 powertrains — though they are still available with the V6.)

airplay

The Sonata gets a significant refresh on both standard and Hybrid models, and the current model is the #2 seller for the brand, behind the Elantra and ahead of the Santa Fe.

Toyota

Toyota showed several refreshed vehicles. The refreshed Avalon looks like a larger Corolla and comes in five trims, XLE, XLE Plus, XLE Premium, Limited, and Touring (the Department of Redundancy Department might want their XLEs back.)

camry

The refreshed Camry, still Toyota’s #1 seller, and the top-selling car for 2014, has “more aggressive styling that represents Toyota’s desire for a new emotional direction” – meaning they don’t want people to call the Camry “boring.” Every panel on the Camry except the roof is new, and there is now an “XSE” trim that gets an even more firm suspension than the “SE” trim has. On top of that, there’s a Special Edition version of the SE (making it the Special Edition Special Edition?) that comes white or blue, with smoked taillamps, blue stitching and inserts in the interior, and a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine (making it the automotive equivalent of having a fridge with blue racing stripes and both water AND ice in the door.)

corolla

The Corolla (Toyota’s #2 seller) isn’t left out – it gets its own Special Edition in black, red, or white, with logoed floor mats, a Special Edition badge on the trunk, red stitching on black interior, push-button start, and – wait for it – paddle shifters to control the 140HP 1.8L 4-cylider engine, which is mated to a CVT (presumably with simulated gears, as the late Dodge Caliber CVTs were). Get in line now – only 8000 units will be built.

toyota unicornThe Tacoma gets a refresh, too – with lots of creases in the body work and an Atkinson-cycle V6 with both direct and port fuel injection. Also at the show you’ll also see a very ugly Sienna Spongebob minivan, a giant pink unicorn on top of a RAV4 (Toyota’s #3 seller), a locked Prius V and Prius C with “PROTOTYPE” decals in the windows that look just like the ones you can buy today, and an indoor driving course featuring “the BOLD NEW CAMRY” and its exciting safety features, like automatic braking and rear view camera — both available on Dodges and Chryslers, which also have rear cross path detection.

Honda

Honda showed off the next-generation Pilot, which is the best looking Honda Odyssey I’ve seen. Visually it’s much nicer than the current “brick”-style Pilot. Also featured is the new Fit-based HR-V crossover (which, like the Corolla Special Edition, has paddle shifters for its CVT transmission.) HR-V is essentially a Fit that’s been lifted off the ground a bit more, similar to the Subaru Legacy Wagon vs the Subaru Outback, but less so.

The Accord, the CR-V, and the Civic are Honda’s top 3 sellers.

Volkswagen

The newest car from VW isn’t new, just renamed – the Golf Sportwagen replaces the Jetta Sportwagen. The Jetta remains VW’s top seller, followed by the Passat and the Golf.

Mini

There’s a revised Countryman and a John Cooper Works Hardtop, the rest of the lineup is unchanged, and it’s doubtful that anyone but the Mini-faithful can match the name to the vehicle in the Mini-lineup off the top of their head – mainly because the “Mini Cooper” includes the hardtop, convertible, Clubman, Roadster, and Coupe, and is the #1 seller for Mini. The Countryman and the Paceman round out the top 3.

Subaru

Way back when, the Outback was just a Legacy wagon. Today, it’s a “mid-size crossover SUV” and Subaru’s #2 seller. The Forester gets #1, while the Impreza/WRX gets #3.

Kia

kia soul

With Peter Schreyer at the design helm, Kia’s products have gone from faceless and uninspired to eye-catching and distinctive. Kia showed the Trail’ster concept, which is a Soul with an electric motor on the rear axle. The new Rio loses its manual transmission on the 5-door model.

kia sedona

kia sedona seatsThe new Sedona minivan lacks some of the refined features of the Chrysler and Dodge minivans (no folding second row seats, third row doesn’t fold into a flat load floor), but does mimic the Toyota Sienna’s high end second row seating, and the exterior design is impressive. Don’t think it’s cheap and entry-level; it’s not, and it starts at $26K (above the low-end Dodge). Kia’s Optima is the new #1 for the brand, having unseated the Kia Soul and pushing it back to #2. The Sorento SUV, also refreshed for 2015, was the #3 seller.

Mazda

mazda

The new compact CUV, the CX-3, is on display as well as the latest MX-5 Miata. Most of the other Mazda models get refreshed next year, except for the Mazda5 minivan, which gets the axe. Often given rave reviews by the auto magazine writers, Mazdas are often seen on lists as “the best cars no one buys.” The Mazda3 is the best seller they have, followed by the CX-5 and the Mazda6.

Scion

The little quirky 3-seat iQ is here, but grab one if you want one; it’ll be gone next year. The FR-S is one of those cars that people would always say “if they would just build it, I’d buy one” – so they did, and they didn’t. Well, some did – it’s the #3 seller. The xB long moved away from its roots – still practical but not cute any more – but enough to be #2 in sales. The tC is still around despite the FR-S and is actually Scion’s #1 seller. Word has it that Scion will get a 4-door sedan soon

Mitsubishi

mitsubishi

The GC-PHEV Concept was inspired by the Montero/Pajero — but as a PHEV. It’s got seats that swivel (like Chrysler’s now-dead Swivel’N’Go seats) and an interactive “table” down the center of the cabin that will likely never see production. Neither of those features were ever present in a rally-run Montero or Majero.

mitsu launch

Sales in 2014 were up big for Mitsubishi, but that’s only because sales were so low in 2013 and prior. The Outlander Sport leads the way, while the Mirage and the Lancer are in a near tie. Mitsubishi said it has big plans for U.S. expansion but whether they can carry through without former sales-partner Chrysler remains a question.

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