The 2019 Chicago Auto Show was one big anniversary celebration. Mazda staged a white NA, a blue NB, and a red NC MX-5 Miata just offstage from the Racing Orange ND convertible and RF coupe 30th Anniversary editions of the sports car. NA design chief Tom Matano and “Father of the Miata” Bob Hall were on hand for the unveiling, and a couple of hours later, the U.S. allotment of 500 Anniversary models was sold out.
Acura’s stand had an original ’90 NSX and a new one, both in red, as John Ikeda, who was Honda R&D of America chief in the late ’80s, waxed nostalgic about the first Japanese supercar’s development and introduction, with spokesman Sage Marie and former Car and Driver editor-in-chief Csaba Csere. There was a big crowd and Acura ran out of bubbly for the champagne toast.
Both the Miata and NSX, as the NS-X concept, made their global premieres at this show in 1989. Elsewhere this year at McCormick Place, Fiat Chrysler celebrated 35 years of the minivan, with a special-edition Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan, and a 1984 Plymouth Voyager on display. Volkswagen unveiled its new Jetta GLI with a 35th anniversary edition of that model.
But it’s the 30th anniversary of the Miata and NSX that got us to wondering whether the 2020 Chicago Auto Show might finally once again have a number of big introductions and grab some important premieres when Detroit moves next year from January to June. Or will those introductions go to Los Angeles in November and CES in January instead? For now, here are the cars and trucks you need to see at the 2019 Chicago show:
HIT: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Sometimes it’s best to do what’s expected. We figured the all-new Jetta GLI would return to being a GTI with a trunk, as it was known for a long time, and that’s exactly how the product manager described it to us. Having started my family at a young age, I’ve always preferred the GLI to the GTI, and this one delivers what I want: subtle sportiness that speaks of security rather than a need to show off. Past GLIs have generally been a bit softer than GTIs, but VW says this won’t be the case for the new car; it has used the GTI’s handling as the benchmark, and given the minor weight differences between the Golf and the GTI, that’s doable. The new Jetta GLI fills me with hope, and there’s little chance it will disappoint.—Aaron Gold
While I find the base Jetta to be uninspired, and figure it’s going to age rather quickly, I’m impressed by the latest GLI. It ditches the regular Jetta’s torsion-beam rear end for a multilink suspension, and 228 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque are numbers many other sport-trim FWD compact sedans would love to have. I’m taken with the ghost gray model on display on the show floor, with its six-speed manual gearbox. I put the over-under on this car at $35,000 (it was $30,000 not long ago). Load up too many options and there are other, more interesting competitors in the $35,000-to-$40,000 range.—Todd Lassa
MISS: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Okay, so, what’s with making the DCC adaptive-damper system exclusive to the limited-run 35th Anniversary Edition? Why does Volkswagen always seem to hobble their performance cars a little bit? Back when the current-gen GTI came out, it charged extra for the most powerful engine tune and a limited-slip diff. It has cut that crap, but now it’s narrowing availability of DCC to a limited-run model which will no doubt demand a price premium. I wouldn’t object to making DCC an optional extra, although if VW really cared about making the right impression, it would fit it as standard to the Jetta GLI. DCC really hones the GTI and Golf R’s edge, letting the driver choose between super-sharp handling and a more comfortable commute. But not even offering it as an option means that buyers who want a GLI with leather—or who don’t want to pay extra for a limited-edition car—have to do with second-rate handling. That’s just silly, and if I were a VW fan, I’d be insulted.—AG
REVELATION: The 2020 Subaru Legacy goes premium.
I can’t call the new Legacy a hit. The sheetmetal is more “anodyne midsize sedan” than “interestingly awkward Subaru.” I can’t call it a miss, because it’s on Subaru’s impressive new global platform, so it’s likely to ride and handle better than it looks. With this new midsize model, Subaru is on board with most of its Japanese brethren and Volkswagen in figuring the midsize sedan segment isn’t going to shrink much more, and so it can pick up market share from the larger players discontinuing their car lines. With its new top trim level, the turbocharged 2.4-liter flat-four-powered Touring XT, Subaru has the opportunity to rake in SUV-sized profit margins with the new Legacy.—TL
REVELATION: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata 30th Anniversary Edition paint.
I thought the Miata would look good in any color. I was wrong. Maybe it was the harsh show lights, but to me, the Miata in “Racing Orange” looks like a molded-in-color plastic model.—AG
HIT: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata 30th Anniversary Edition
I couldn’t take any decent iPhone photos of this car, what with all the harsh show lighting, but when you see the Racing Orange paint in person, you’ll see deep, bright, saturated paint. The color nicely pays homage to the Miata’s racing history, and for me, it works.—TL
HIT: 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD
The ink was still wet on Ram’s “Best-in-Class Towing: 35,100 Pounds” signage when Chevrolet announced that the upcoming Silverado HD will tow 35,500. That was stone cold, yo. (I wonder if Ram will take the signs down—as of press day, it hadn’t.)—AG
MISS: Heavy-duty pickup trucks. All of them . . .
Business people who don’t work in the construction industry are buying heavy-duty pickup trucks with luxury-car-sized Monroneys, I’m told, because if it’s used for the business, the full purchase price can be written off a tax return in the first year. So the Chicago show is full of new and updated HD trucks from Ram, Chevrolet, GMC, and Ford. This same tax break drove the popularity of Hummer H1s and H2s in the early ’00s, and the automakers are happy to sell as many as they can make because A.) they have huge profit margins, and B.) they are in a weight class that’s not subject to EPA fuel-mileage testing and therefore don’t affect Corporate Average Fuel Economy. Almost makes one yearn for another oil embargo.—TL
HIT: 2020 Ford Super Duty
I’m a bit cynical about all of the chest-pounding going on among HD truck manufacturers, but I must admit that I really liked what I heard from Ford: a new monster (7.3L) gasoline engine, updates for the Power Stroke diesel, a 10-speed automatic, and, my favorite, the addition of the self-steering trailer-backup program from the F-150. (Yes, I know how to back up a trailer—quite well, actually—but that Pro Trailer Backup Assist system is slick.) The fact that it had no hard numbers (for example, power figures for the new and updated engines and towing capacities) proves they were rushing the announcements just to put the kibosh on Ram’s big show here in Truck City, but still, those are some substantial improvements and more evidence for my notion that no one understands trailer towing like Ford.—AG
MISS(ed opportunity): 2019 Ford/Tuscany F-150 Harley-Davidson Edition
There’s a new F-150 Harley Davidson edition at the Chicago show—except it isn’t coming from Ford, but rather from a third-party company called Tuscany. I couldn’t care less about Harley-Davidson, but I love this truck, with its lifted stance, orange accents, and cool-as-hell 22-inch dish wheels. This F-150 is an ode to the customizer’s art—good looking but not ridiculously over the top. But because it’s coming from a third-party supplier, the price is astronomical: $85K or so for starters, with the potential to option up to nearly six figures. I bet Ford could have delivered this truck for $65K, and I’m sure it would have had a line of buyers miles long. Then again, perhaps it couldn’t have made it as good looking as Tuscany did.—AG
MISS: 2019 Ford/Tuscany F-150 Harley-Davidson Edition
Years ago, Ford did market its own F-150 Harley-Davidson Edition, and this new truck from Tuscany does nothing to advance Ford’s—nor Harley’s—case for finding new, young buyers among their product lineups.—TL
HIT: 2020 Range Rover Evoque
I never minded the Evoque’s mini-wedge exterior styling, but its budget-grade interior didn’t do much for the brand. I figured Range Rover would back away from the old Evoque, but it has doubled down, keeping the styling and the size and lowering the top-end price even further. The company has also done wonders on the inside, with much better materials and nifty video-screen climate and infotainment systems inspired by the Velar and Jaguar I-Pace. I’m still not convinced that a value-priced vehicle is right thing for a high-end aspirational brand like Land Rover, and the Evoque’s small size still contrasts too sharply with the bigger Range Rovers—but at least the new one has a properly luxurious cabin.—AG
MISS: 2020 Range Rover Evoque
Sure, it has a much-upgraded interior, but you can say the same for the 2020 Subaru Legacy. The Evoque is a product of the tail end of Ford Motor Company’s ownership of Jaguar Land Rover, and so to me it always has been the Range Rover equivalent of the Jaguar X-Type. While this CUV’s road manners are better than that AWD Jag-badged Ford Mondeo, to me the best thing about this model was its wacky two-door convertible version. Now that the ragtop SUV is gone, I think it’s time for LR to discontinue the Evoque, which never has sold well despite its entry-premium pricing, and work on a replacement befitting a brand that delivered 2.5 times more Range Rover Sports in the U.S. last year.—TL
Really, Kia? You couldn’t do anything about the Sportage’s vulgar visage? Isn’t that, like, the whole point of a mid-cycle styling refresh? I like most Kias, but it depresses me that we have to look at the Sportage’s ugly mug for another three years.—AG
REVELATION: 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Parkway, D.C.
Outfitting car-based SUVs with North Face–style gear has been standard operating procedure at auto shows for years. I’m sure someone in Nissan’s marketing department had a rocky, woodsy campground in mind (like the one depicted in the big photo displayed behind the show car) when it named this special-edition model, but for me, the name evokes Rock Creek Parkway in Washington, D.C. Its four-lane roadway moves traffic in one direction for the morning rush hour and in the opposite direction for its evening rush hour. (At least, it did when I lived there in the ’90s.) So “Rock Creek” seems the perfect name for this Nissan Pathfinder spin-off.—TL
MISS: 2020 Toyota Tacoma
I’d be willing to bet $10,000 of editor-in-chief Mike Floyd’s money that absolutely no one says “I wasn’t going to buy a Tacoma, but now that it has a new grille and headlights, sign me up!” The Tacoma earned its reputation the old-fashioned way: It’s a tough-as-shoe-leather truck that does the job and lasts forever, and that’s why people buy it. I’m all for improving the mechanism, something Toyota did relatively little of with this 2020 refresh. It’s nice that the new stereo has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the panoramic camera in the Limited will be great for off-roading but a new front fascia is wasted money—the Tacoma was fine the way it was. This is a refresh for refreshing’s sake, and it irks me.—AG
HIT: Jack Hollis
The ebullient group vice president and general manager of the Toyota division for North America has stopped referring to the marque’s customers as guests in his new product unveilings.—TL
MISS: Ram Multifunction Tailgate
I know how eager the truck manufacturers are to pee on each others’ picnics, but Ram’s Multifunction Tailgate—which splits as well as lowers—has more than a whiff of desperation about it. This is clearly a swipe at the GMC Sierra’s MultiPro Tailgate, which, while fun to play with, really doesn’t have much real-world use that I can see. Still, it’s pretty much everything the new Sierra has going for it. Come on, Ram—your top-of-the-line 1500 Limited has it all over the Sierra Denali in every way that counts. There’s really no need to rehash the two-way tailgate from a 1969 Plymouth Fury station wagon. No one likes a sore winner.—AG
HIT: Recon Campers Envy Camper Van
It’s about time the tiny-house movement gets its can’t-take-it-all-with-you recreational-vehicle equivalent.—TL
I didn’t think I’d ever have anything nice to say about the Nissan NV200, but Recon’s pop-top camper van looks perfect—just the right size for adventurers who don’t want to drive around in a giant RV. It’s kind of funny—Nissan vans have all but taken over in places that relied on old VW buses, like Mexico, and now we have this thing, which totally captures the spirit of those old Volkswagen Westfalias. And you gotta love the name—Envy, like NV. Cute!—AG
HIT: Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition
The Land Cruiser, for me, has always been Toyota’s Chevrolet Corvette, an icon priced well above the brand’s mainstream models. A previous generation became a major character on the three television networks’ nightly newscasts of the Reagan and Bush 41 era, when they were used as United Nations Third World rescue vehicles—always painted white, with black “UN” letters on the front doors. Back then, they were the alt-Land Rovers that could start up everywhere, every time. The Lexus LX is the Land Cruiser’s Cadillac XLR, much cheesier for a few dollars more. So this limited-edition Toyota Land Cruiser, for me, is just that much more of the real thing, even if it strips off the running boards and third-row seat, adding BBS bronze forged aluminum wheels and retro “heritage” badges, probably for more money.—TL
HIT: Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro
There’s no reason for me to fall in love with a big Toyota SUV painted fridge-white with black wheels, but I did. This thing strikes me as super cool for reasons I cannot properly articulate. Maybe it’s auto show fever… get me away from all these new-car fumes and let me breathe some pure Chicago air, and I might start to feel better.—AG
HIT: 2020 Ford Explorer ST
I’m not a huge fan of the Ford Edge ST, in no small part because I’ve driven it. Not that it drives badly; I just don’t think it will resonate with Fiesta ST and Focus ST customers. But when I saw the new Explorer ST—which debuted at the Detroit auto show—resplendent in electric-blue paint and sitting low on its big black wheels, every synapse in my brain flashed “YES!” I bet a lot of current ST owners were carted to school in Explorers as kids, so unlike the Edge, this is a car they can relate to—like the big-block station wagons of my childhood, writ modern. And with the 400-ish-hp EcoBoost V-6 from the Continental driving all four wheels, I have no doubt the Explorer ST will be an absolute monster. The Edge ST may have been a bit of a false start, but the Explorer ST is something I can get behind.—AG
REVELATION: Ford’s second HQ in far-west Dearborn.
At the 2018 Chicago Auto Show, Ford brought out the late John Belushi’s brother, Jim, to help introduce its redesigned Transit Connect wagon. This year, Ford Motor Company’s executive VP and president of global operations, Joe Hinrichs, announced a $1 billion investment to upgrade its two Chicagoland plants for the new Explorer, Lincoln Aviator, and cop SUV, with the help of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The second-term, lame-duck mayor cheered Ford for announcing that the investment would also add 500 jobs to the assembly plants.—TL
HIT: 2019 Subaru Forester Sport
Forester + white paint + black trim + red accents = WINNER.—AG