There weren't many high-profile debuts at this year's Chicago Auto Show, but there was plenty to see. From an upscale yet pint-sized Winnebago to a Stanley Cup champion themed Chevy Camaro, show-goers will find plenty to check out. Among the auto show debuts, our editors graded them on their impact at the show and individual merits.
Kia Niro Concept
David Thomas: Winner
In a day and age when true concept cars are few and far between, the Niro (above) is very welcome. I love the outlandish hinged doors, color scheme and wheels, but if you look at some of the design elements, especially in front and back, I can see a future Kia Sportage in a few places.
Aaron Bragman: Winner
I'm a fan of small urban runabouts, and this one ticks all my boxes. I especially love the brushed metal upper surfaces, which will, of course, never make it to production. I also see some old Isuzu Vehicross in the overall shape, and that makes me happy, too. I look forward to seeing how this translates into a production car, which it almost certainly will, in some form.
Joe Bruzek: Winner
Looking nothing like a traditional weak-styled, pastel-painted hybrid concept, the Kia Niro's aggressive appearance and off-road-ready stance sound promising with the indicated powertrain. The 160-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine powering the front wheels and 45-hp electric motor powering the rear could be an interesting competitor to a Nissan Juke NISMO.
Mike Hanley: Winner
The Niro's lifted stance and compact dimensions look great. Tiny crossovers are showing up everywhere these days, and something like the Niro would fit in well with that trend.
2015 Kia Soul EV
The world needs more electric vehicles, and I like that the Soul EV has range that's comparable to Nissan's Leaf without giving up too much in terms of cargo room from a standard gas-powered Soul. Kia also did a good job with the color combinations and light-hued interior of the cars on the show floor.
I'm not crazy about the two-tone paint job, which to me looks like an arbitrary cut-off line on the D-pillar, but the car overall is really well done. Interior space isn't affected too badly by going electric thanks to the flat battery pack, and the interior's changes really do create a much more upscale feel than I've seen in Souls past. The zero to 60 mph in about 12 seconds is rather tepid, especially compared to the Chevy Spark's numbers, but I still look forward to driving this new EV.
The updated gasoline-powered 2014 Soul is an extremely usable small car with plenty of cargo space. The Soul EV carries over much of the same usability despite losing some cargo space and rear legroom while providing range estimates right there with other similarly sized modern electric vehicles.
Automakers face an extra challenge when launching an existing vehicle with a new powertrain, and Kia addressed it with unique paint colors, wheels and some different trim. The problem is it doesn't work — especially the solid panel where the grille used to be. For an all-new electric car, the range estimates need to leapfrog the competition, but that hasn't happened.
2015 Lincoln Navigator
The Navigator may be a decent, pseudo-luxury giant SUV, but it isn't good enough to convince me to pay good money for it. It's especially hard to give it a vote of confidence when the all-new Cadillac Escalade is mere feet away at the auto show, with interior materials that are worlds away in terms of luxury feel.
Journalists are kvetching that the new Navigator isn't aluminum, doesn't look all that different and will get spanked by the sharp-looking new Cadillac Escalade, and they're frankly right. But the redone Navi does exactly what it needs to do for Lincoln: After years of the same product, it gives current owners something new to trade their old models in on when the current lease is up. With a 75 percent owner loyalty rating, the only people buying new Navis are current owners, so for minimal investment Lincoln gets to keep them around for another 36 months or so.
The 2015 Navigator is improved in the right places. The new EcoBoost V-6 is a proven winner in the Ford F-150, and it should complement the hefty Navigator as well. A tweaked interior is plush and comfortable with a third row that's a breeze to get into after folding the cumbersome second row, and the third row is nearly as comfortable as the second row.
I thought Lincoln was on the right track with its grille styling on the MKC small crossover, but the winged design doesn't translate to the much larger Navigator. Ford's full-size SUVs have offered one of the better driving experiences in the class, but I don't see the updated design drawing-in many new buyers.
2015 Nissan Versa Note SR
I like the regular Versa Note a lot — probably more than most of the other editors. And I don't really mind that this is more of a visual upgrade rather than a performance adjustment. I just don't like the visual changes themselves, especially the wheels and grille treatment. I prefer the standard model.
Lipstick on a pig. Nice lipstick, but still.
The regular Versa Note is so far from being sporty or attractive that it's noteworthy the SR add-ons at least make the hatchback seem like it can be a hot hatch. It's too bad the SR lacks performance hardware to match the sport-themed looks. A retuned suspension or even a manual transmission — gasp — would be welcomed.
I like the visual changes, and the SR model on the show floor looked great in its deep red paint job, but I wish Nissan had attempted some performance modifications. Even a few would have been nice.
2015 Subaru Legacy
If the worst thing you can say about the new Legacy is that it is bland in appearance, I'd like to walk you over to the Honda stand to see the Accord, then to the Toyota stand to see the Camry and then Nissan. You get the idea. What sells the Legacy is the 36 mpg highway and standard all-wheel drive that no other automaker can match in the segment. And hey, the Mazda6 is the best-looking sedan out there and no one is buying it.
The reasons to buy a Legacy haven't changed: cheap access to all-wheel drive, good crash-test ratings, decent reliability and that's it. The car went from Best New Interior of 1998 to Best New Interior of 2003 with the redesign, but it's still not competitive with the best in the segment. Exterior styling went from upright and boring to derivative and boring. Unless you live in snowy climes, there's still no compelling reason to buy a Legacy versus the other boring sedans in this segment.
The new Legacy will blend into any Toyota or Ford dealership, but at least it's not ugly like the previous Legacy. That car was you, gee, el, why — ugly. The silver-painted 2015 Legacy on the show floor lacks the definition I've see in some of Subaru's video footage of the car driving down the road. Or maybe the video shows definition that isn't there in real life. Either way, at least we're not looking at the awkward, old Legacy any longer.
Styling may not be the most important reason people choose midsize family sedans, but it's becoming a more important one as models like the Ford Fusion make waves in the segment. Subaru is a practical brand and the new Legacy has a practical look, but it would have been nice to see the automaker take some risks with the design, because there is reward to be had when done right.
2015 Volvo S60 and V60 Polestar
A performance Volvo? Sure, why not. A limited-edition cap of only 120? Why? The upgrades will likely make the well-rounded Volvos unbelievably firm on the road. Maybe we need to just tell folks how incredibly quick the T6 engine is in the cars you can already get at any dealership — at a pretty good price, too.
Ultra-fast, super-powerful sport wagons are cool. The American public doesn't think so, but the Europeans do, and they know a good thing when they see it. All the benefits of a sport sedan with room for more junk in the trunk? Sign me up! Just not in that Blue Man Group blue... I detest that color.
I've never looked at an S60 the way I looked at the S60 and V60 Polestar. The stance, wheels and aero enhancements all look the part of a proper sport sedan. The specs match up, too, with zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, all-wheel drive and 345 hp. I can't wait to see both the sedan and wagon in black.
Volvo has a history of producing performance wagons, and the new V60 Polestar does that tradition proud. I love the look, especially the meaty wheel-and-tire combo, and the car's performance potential looks impressive. For the wagon-averse, there's the S60 Polestar sedan. Nice job, Volvo.