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2011 Chicago Auto Show

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Winter is the right time to hold an auto show. When it’s freezing out, people like to dream. And the automobile industry is right there to help them. Chicago’s Auto Show is one of the oldest, and is the second of North America’s four big auto shows. While there wasn’t a lot of new product, what was introduced is worth looking at.

The show began with the announcement of the Midwest Automotive Media Association for the Family Car of the Year. 120 automotive journalist members chose the winner. After initial voting, the three finalists were the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Honda Odyssey and the Hyundai Sonata. The winner was the Hyundai Sonata, which was also a runner up in Detroit’s North American Car of the Year contest.

Chevrolet kicked off the press conferences, introducing the 2011 Camaro Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500 race. They’ll be selling replicas of the vehicle later this year. They also showed the 2012 Camaro ZL1, a high performance version of the Camaro. This is much like the legendary Z28 from previous generations. The ZL1 will feature a supercharged 550 horsepower version of the LSA 6.2-liter V8 engine, coupled to a six-speed transmission and limited slip differential to keep the power on the road. It’s not just about straight-line speed for the Camaro, as the ZL1 also features the latest iteration of the Magnetic Ride Control, a GM system that causes the suspension to react to the way the vehicle is being driven. It uses the electro-magnetic system to stiffen the shocks, making the suspension more responsive when necessary. Or when things are calmer, it relaxes the setting for a smoother ride. If it works as well as it does on other GM products, it is a welcome addition. The brakes are also upgraded to Brembo 14-in. brakes, giving the car as much stopping capability as go-juice. There are also some subtle design changes to the looks and 20” wheels. It will go on sale in early 2012.

Hyundai wasn’t to be left out of the power chase, showing their 500 horsepower racing Genesis Coupe, introducing its driver, Reese Millen. But more to the point, showing off the 2012 Genesis 5.0 sedan, which will feature a 429 horsepower version of their V8 now with 376 lbs.-ft of torque. The engine is 5.0-liters in displacement with direct gasoline injection. This “R-Spec” version of the car will also have 19” wheels and will show up in dealers next spring. There will also be an eight-speed transmission, which will be used on both the V6 and V8 engines.

The performance theme continued with Ford showing the 2012 Shelby GT350 convertible. This is the first convertible Shelby has produced since 1970, so of course there will be much interests in the car. They will build 350 in 2012 with a choice of one of three engines, a 430 horsepower V8 or either a 525 horsepower or 634 horsepower version of the supercharged engine. The prices don’t sound bad – $26,995 for the naturally aspirated version, with the supercharged models starting at $33,995. Unfortunately this doesn’t include the price of the Mustang, only the Shelby modifications.

Chrysler’s Ralph V. Gilles spent some time explaining that the R/T editions of Dodge products would now return to having V8 power in cars that offer that engine. So you won’t have to go all-out price-wise to get a car with some panache. They also showed the “ManVan,” the Grand Caravan R/T. Yes, really. The interior will be all black, a good sound system, with the minivan lowered a bit and a 20 percent stiffer setting for the suspension. They hope manly styling and fun to drive additions will overcome some objections to owning a minivan. But most of us were more interested in the Dodge Charger SRT-8. That’s the designation for the performance model, and this Charger gets a 900-watt stereo. That’s impressive power, as is the 465 horsepower 6.4-liter version of the Hemi, which also produces 465 lbs.-ft of torque. That power, plus the new wheels, tires and suspension setup gives the Charger SRT-8 a top speed of 175 mph. Ram, which is what Chrysler has named its truck division, showed the Ram 1500 Tradesman. This pickup truck aims specifically at the small-business customer and fleet sales. It is Hemi V8-powered comes with a standard cab and either a short or long truck bed. In addition, it comes with all the heavy-duty cooling bits necessary for towing, with a tow hitch already installed. The Tradesman will come in both two and four-wheel drive. The two-wheel version has a 10,400-lb. towing capacity. Starting price will be $22,780.

Acura showed their “newly refined” Acura TL, which modifies the less-than-popular looks of the current TL. Designers did this by reducing the impact of the front grill and smoothing the lines for a more sophisticated look. The model’s two engines get a six-speed automatic transmission, and a six-speed manual is still available on the all-wheel drive performance model. Acura officials feel that the changes in the luxury market in the past two years help them. By this they mean the move away from luxury “bling” to a more rational desire for quality and value among luxury buyers. Acura marketers see this as an advantage for the first Japanese luxury brand. Acura was introduced in the North American market 25 years ago.

In spite of a limited number of model introductions, there was plenty to see at the show. All the electric cars from last month’s Detroit show were on display. While the new cars, the concepts and the sexy cars get the limelight, the Chicago show was filled with the most brands and models, something for everyone to dream about on a cold winter’s day.


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