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2020 Chicago Auto Show: Winners and Losers

2021 Genesis GV80

With the North American International Auto Show in Detroit now relinquishing its traditional January date for the (hopefully) warmer month of June, it now falls to the Chicago Auto Show to kick off the auto show season. The 2020 edition had a number of debuts, from a supercar to a super family hauler — not to mention all the new vehicles in between those two categories.

Related: More Chicago Auto Show Coverage

Here’s our take on the 2020 Chicago Auto Show Winners and Losers.

Audi Q7

2020 Audi Q7

Aaron Bragman, Detroit bureau chief: Loser

Friggin’ touch controls. The new Audi Q7 interior is lousy with touch-sensitive, blank plastic panels. Even the headlight controls have been complicated with multitouch flat plastic panels. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: An immovable, flat, black plastic panel does not convey a sense of luxury. The ones I’ve tried in the A8 confirm that sentiment for me; they frustrate the driving experience more than they simplify it.

Mike Hanley, senior research editor: Winner

I agree that touch-sensitive controls usually degrade the user experience, but touchscreens often make it better, and Audi’s move to give the Q7 a touchscreen multimedia system, which replaces the knob-based control system used previously, is a smart one that improves usability. The lower touchscreen for the air-conditioning controls, however, makes less sense. This generation of the Audi Q7 has had a bit of a wagonlike profile and that doesn’t change with this update, but the new front end with its wider grille works well with the rest of the design.

Brian Normile, production editor: Loser

The Q7’s touch controls look cool, and that’s probably enough for image-conscious buyers more concerned with appearance than functionality. But not only do the controls not work as well, one hour of driving the car leaves every screen covered in fingerprint smudges that makes it look gross.

Cadillac CT4

2020 Cadillac CT4

AB: Winner

This was another hard one. On one hand, it looks like a really well-executed compact sports sedan with all of the goods it needs to ensure a solidly entertaining driving experience. On the other hand, like the Kia Cadenza, it’s being born into a segment that no longer has many interested buyers. What makes me tick the Cadillac CT4 into the winner column is how it’s targeted at a very specific niche in the market (the enthusiast sports sedan buyer) instead of a large, vague demographic. Here’s hoping enough of them respond.

MH: Loser

The Cadillac ATS, which the CT4 replaces, was an entertaining, engaging sports sedan. It’ll be great if the CT4 drives as well as the ATS, but it didn’t stand out on the show floor, and I was disappointed by the CT4’s cabin space and materials quality; the interior didn’t seem that luxurious and it’s snug like the old ATS, especially in the backseat. This was Cadillac’s chance to make its entry-level sedan a bit bigger to better take on the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, but it didn’t take it.

BN: Loser

It’s too small and not nearly nice enough on the inside. The CT4 may be a sedan that’s enjoyable to drive, but if it’s not enjoyable even to sit inside, what’s the point? Cadillac went the way of a major upgrade to its Escalade flagship, but the CT4 is an incremental improvement over the ATS when a full overhaul was needed.

Chrysler Pacifica

2021 Chrysler Pacifica

AB: Winner

Minivans may not be nearly as popular as they once were, but Chrysler is keeping the dream alive, introducing what may be the best minivan it’s ever made. The van is still enormously versatile, and now it has an even better multimedia system, optional all-wheel drive, a new super-luxurious top trim level in the Pinnacle, and styling meant to try and fool people into thinking maybe this is a new crossover instead of a sliding-door minivan (nobody’s fooled).

MH: Winner

I prefer the current Pacifica’s exterior design to the updated 2021 model’s, but if there’s a category where styling isn’t an important factor, it’s the minivan class. The other changes the Pacifica sees, like its new multimedia system, improve what was already a classy, comfortable and practical family hauler.

BN: Winner

I’m with Mike on the 2021 Pacifica’s exterior looks compared to the last generation, but the rest of what was already an excellent (if not class-leading) minivan has been improved upon with the newly available all-wheel drive, upgraded multimedia and a luxurious Pinnacle trim that should (but won’t) become an ideal choice for livery drivers instead of the near-ubiquitous black Chevrolet Suburbans on the road today. Most importantly for me: The dual-screen rear entertainment system is still available.

Ford GT

2020 Ford GT

AB: Winner

There really isn’t much that’s new here, just a little additional power, a new exhaust and a version that removes all the paint so all you see is the carbon fiber. But that is what’s most impressive: the skill and artistry it takes to form carbon-fiber body panels. When you can’t cover up any imperfections or seams with paint, the process must be utterly flawless. Multimatic, the contractor that builds the GT for Ford, has apparently gotten it absolutely right.

MH: Loser

It pains me a little to call the GT a loser, but even though it’s just as stunning today as when it debuted — and the visible carbon fiber is a cool touch — there’s just not a lot of newness here. It remains one of the coolest supercars around, but that’s what it’s been for a while now.

BN: Loser

Aren’t these all already sold? The carbon fiber is gorgeous, extra power in a supercar is always welcome … but it’s not like you can even win the lottery and place an order. While I’m sure there’s a way to justify the added cost of the Liquid Carbon color, reports of a price increase of almost $250,000 not to paint it make me want to sing “Ca Ira.”

Genesis GV80

2021 Genesis GV80

AB: Winner

I liked this thing more than I thought I would. The styling works in person, and the GV80 doesn’t seem quite as big as it does in pictures. There’s a definite Lincoln Aviator vibe to the vehicle in packaging and internal space. And there’s some obvious parts sharing between the GV80 and its Hyundai-Kia corporate relatives — some buttons and switches, in particular, are familiar. Still, it definitely looks distinctive.

MH: Winner

Genesis has crafted a compelling three-row luxury SUV in the GV80. The exterior is distinctive without being overdone; the interior is richly appointed and incorporates unique colors, and there’s good space in the first and second rows of seats. The third row is small, but that’s not uncommon in the class. Genesis’ sedan-heavy lineup was desperately in need of an SUV, and it’s gotten a good one in the GV80.

BN: Winner

Hoo boy, I’m really excited for the GV80. It looks even better in person than in photos, which seems to be a thing with Korean cars of late (see also: the 2020 Hyundai Sonata). And it has a real chance to push Genesis into the luxury vehicle conversation it’s deserved to be a part of for a while. Yeah, the third row is small, but it’s also optional. And unlike the Audi Q7, when Genesis simplified its physical controls layout for the GV80, it still left in the ones that matter.

GMC Yukon

2021 GMC Yukon

AB: Winner

Finally, finally an interior worthy of separating out the Denali nameplate from the rest of the GMC lineup. There’s more than a little Land Rover design in the instrument panel, console and controls of the new 2021 Yukon Denali, and it’s more than a little surprising to see given that all other GMC Yukons use a dash design that’s shared with the redesigned Chevrolet Tahoe. The seating improvements and space efficiency of the cabin is exceptional, too, thanks to the new independent rear suspension and the interior layout benefits it has created.

MH: Winner

It’s great to see the practical improvements GM has made to the GMC Yukon full-size SUV. The new sliding second-row bucket seats let rear passengers share legroom as needed, and the third row is considerably more comfortable than before. The Denali’s interior quality is impressive, but the regular Yukon’s cabin is nice, too. The Ford Expedition has been a favorite in the full-size class, but the Yukon and its Chevrolet sibling, the Tahoe, are now positioned to seriously challenge it.

BN: Winner

The interior upgrades are impressive, for sure, but the best part is that I can finally fit in the third row! That might not seem like much for a giant full-size SUV, but it was far and away the weak point of the Yukon’s Chevrolet Tahoe sibling the last time we tested a group of these behemoths. And that was, frankly, unacceptable in such a large vehicle.

Jaguar F-Type

2021 Jaguar F-Type

AB: Winner

It’s not easy to update a gorgeous shape, but Jaguar has done it while updating the interior from “nice but dated” to “nice all around.” I’m just happy Jaguar still has a sexy two-door coupe and convertible to enjoy in its lineup when so many other automakers seem to be abandoning the segment.

MH: Winner

The F-Type’s new front-end design significantly changes the sports car’s appearance — more so than the typical refresh — without diminishing the car’s graceful lines. The interior, meanwhile, still has its familiar driver-focused layout, but it gets an updated color palette that includes a striking red interior. The F-Type has long rewarded sports car enthusiasts with impressive power and handling, and it looks like that will continue.

BN: Winner

It’s still as beautiful as it ever was on the outside, and the interior is now appropriate for this new decade. My one (bitter) complaint is that the full-bore F-Type R and its 575 horsepower is only available with all-wheel drive. The rear-wheel-drive F-Types were a blast to drive, and I miss that.

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave

AB: Winner

Finally, something that seems to be a fun competitor to the Ford F-150 Raptor for people who enjoy higher-speed off-roading. I’m not sure it can handle the same kinds of abuse that a Raptor can, but it’s also nowhere near as big as one of those Ford behemoths, so that may work more in its favor. My only worry about this model: Jeep hasn’t announced pricing, but given that it’s meant to be an alternative to the Trail Rated Rubicon trim level, it’s likely going to be eye-wateringly expensive.

MH: Winner

I’m kind of surprised that Jeep, a brand synonymous with off-roading, hasn’t had a desert-running vehicle until now; its off-road offerings have historically been focused on low-speed trail driving. As a general-purpose mid-size pickup truck, the Gladiator has its share of shortcomings, but it makes more sense in Mojave guise.

BN: Loser

I’m too worried about the price to put this in the winner’s column just yet, and I can’t recall driving the Gladiator Rubicon through deep sand at high speeds and going, “Man, this sucks.” Was the Rubicon built for the deep sand? No. Could it handle it? Yes, with some effort. The under-the-skin upgrades that differentiate the Mojave from the Rubicon are impressive, but without driving them back-to-back, I can’t help but wonder if the change is really that dramatic. And with no added power under the hood, “high-speed” desert running feels like a bit of a stretch.

Kia Cadenza

2020 Kia Cadenza

AB: Loser

It’s a lovely big sedan, wonderfully executed, comfortable and spacious, with lots of leather and a decidedly premium vibe — but who cares? It’s a dying segment and Kia’s presence in it is minuscule — the automaker has sold fewer than 10,000 Cadenzas a year since 2013. And the new one — nice though it is — isn’t likely to move that needle at all. Kia already has two other big sedans, the K900 and the Stinger. Did it really need this one back in the market too?

MH: Winner

Aaron’s got a point, but if you are in the market for a large sedan and aren’t interested in paying a lot of money for a luxury one, the Cadenza does a decent luxury impression with its premium cabin finishes and roomy backseat. The front grille even has a bit of Maserati in it.

BN: Loser

I just don’t see who would choose this over a Stinger, which actually offers a bit more practicality on top of its increased performance, without the Cadenza being significantly cheaper. I don’t want to encourage the trend of manufacturers abandoning sedans for SUVs, but the Cadenza doesn’t really make much of a case for its existence.

Volkswagen Atlas

2021 Volkswagen Atlas

AB: Loser

I had to really wrestle with this one, but it came down to the insufficiently updated interior that still needs a thorough dose of materials quality improvement if the Atlas wants to regain its top spot as our favorite three-row SUV. The Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade threw down a big challenge to the Atlas in our 2020 3-Row SUV Challenge, and this refresh hasn’t answered the call. Thankfully, it still has a versatile, cleverly packaged interior and excellent powertrains, and it’s going to need them to fend off the Korean competition.

MH: Loser

Aaron’s right: The interior materials in the refreshed Atlas aren’t significantly better than the ones in the current Atlas — and they needed to be if this SUV hoped to keep pace with the competition. The cabin is still roomy and comfortable, but VW missed an opportunity here.

BN: Loser

Let me join the chorus: The upgrades to the 2021 Atlas weren’t enough for it to keep pace with the Palisade and Telluride, and now it’s in danger of falling further behind. Nothing about the 2021 model takes away from what made the 2020 Atlas our 2020 Family Car of the Year, thankfully, but it’s a forgettable update that doesn’t do nearly enough.

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

 
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