Chicago isn't the most glamorous place in the world, and its auto show reflects the city's Midwestern character. The Chicago Auto Show generally goes without big money concept car debuts in favor of hands on customer interaction. For instance, you can ride along in what appears to be a "Desperate Housewives" scene in a Chevy Volt. You can pretend to do real construction work by driving a Toyota Tundra around a fake construction site while actors and fake equipment pretend to do construction work. You can even wait a very long time to play video games where hundreds of others smeared their Vienna hot dog hands all over the steering wheel and seats. You won't learn much about the car featured at any of these attractions that focus on “lifestyle” aspects, but at least they get people somewhat excited about cars. Beyond the fantasy land rides though, there were some worthwhile debuts for any car enthusiast to be excited about. Here are the top 6.
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Volkswagen debuted the GLI version of the Jetta in Chicago to inject a little excitement into the much-criticized New Jetta. Unfortunately the dose was a little bit too low. For motivation, the GLI sports the GTI's turbocharged and direct injected four-cylinder engine that has 200 hp, a 30 hp improvement over the stock car. Suspension changes include new springs and shocks and an independent rear suspension, replacing the much maligned torsion beam in the stock car. Visual differences include smoked taillights, new wheels, and new front and rear bumpers. Inside you get new seats, some trim and some badges. However, the new GLI also has a newly cheapened interior and other refinement cuts. For a vehicle that's not only the slowest in its class but also the most expensive as well, the overall value is not impressive. You're better off saving money and buying a Subaru WRX or Mazdaspeed3 if you want a speed fix. Or, if you aren't looking for speed, a comparably equipped GTI is leagues nicer inside and out for the same price.
2012 Dodge Charger SRT8
Pissed off. That's the only way to describe how this car looks. Not mean, not aggressive, but pissed. Maybe it's mad about not getting a slot in Chrysler's Super Bowl ad, or the fact that its cross town rivals are getting all the attention, but either way the new Charger SRT8 marched into Chicago sporting some impressive new changes. First is the newly stroked HEMI motor that delivers 465 hp and TQ. Unfortunately, all this power is filtered through an automatic transmission. At least you have the option to shift for yourself though. The revised suspension receives newly calibrated springs and a lower ride height, but the biggest improvement is in the addition of some massive Brembo brakes. Outside the Charger is the most improved. New bumpers, wheels, and hood make this car look like its going to pop somebody in the mouth at any second, especially cloaked in the thunderstorm cloud silver it was sporting at the show. Inside, it benefits from revised bucket seats, badging, and trim but stays all business. The Charger SRT8 looks even better for the executive that wants some genuine American muscle sedan.
2012 Hyundai Veloster Rally Car
At the North American Auto show last month, Hyundai debuted the Veloster Coupe to showcase its newest fighter in the sport coupe market. The Veloster is positioned to compete directly with the dull as dishwater Honda CR-Z. Luckily, the Veloster shows it's not nearly as boring as the Honda by featuring a race version of the Veloster in Chicago. Outfitted for rally duty, the Veloster will be used in various exhibition events, hillclimb competitions, and the U.S. Rallycross championship at the hands of famed rally driver Rhys Millen. Hopefully its 500 hp 2.0L turbocharged four is up to the task. Let's just pray Hyundai leaves the safety cone colored grin on the racecar off the production car.
2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
It's the ZL1, not the Z28. It might take a little bit of time for the Camaro faithful to remember this new change. The badge itself was last seen on the most powerful Camaros back in the 60's. The ZL1 looks to brawl with the Ford GT500 by using the same supercharged LSA engine found in the Corvette ZRI, slightly detuned to 550 hp. Of course, the ZL1 also sports new brakes and suspension to cope with all these changes. The outside of the ZL1 is plastered with Transformers-inspired bumpers and wheels that are supposed to be functional, but end up looking a bit cartoonish. With the new badge, new bodywork, and new blower, the ZL1 looks to propel the Camaro past its competition. If only it came with t-tops.
2012 Acura TL
Some people say they don't care about looks, only “personality.” If that was the case then the Acura TL would have been the best seller in its class with class leading fit and finish, amazingly smooth powertrain, and physics-defying Super Handling All Wheel Drive system. However, it was terrifyingly ugly. Acura looks to change that for the 2012 model with a facelift. The new bumper, fenders and hood physically lower the front of the car while the newly revised grill gives the front end a more coherent appearance. On the opposite end of the car, newly redesigned taillights now look like they are supposed to be on the car, not merely an afterthought. This toad is still no prince but it is much improved, and I'm interested to see if this effort will reflect with more success on the sales charts.
2012 Audi TT RS
In the 80's, Audi ruled the rallying world with flame spitting, turbocharged 5 cylinder engines and a revolutionary AWD system. 20 years later that spirit returns with the Audi TT-RS debut. The car has already been available in Europe but was green-lighted by Audi for delivery to the U.S. due to extraordinary customer feedback. The TT-RS has a 335 hp turbocharged 5 cylinder under the hood, just like the old rally car, with a six speed manual transmission! All the power goes to the pavement with Audi's legendary Quattro system. No longer has a girl's plaything, this TT sports some serious body modifications for improved downforce and airflow, making the car look both more aggressive and refined. The Camaro ZL1 designers could learn a few things here. Look for it in the third quarter of this year at a price not yet determined. Like other RS products though, it probably won't be cheap.