Little did we know that the 2020 Chicago Auto Show would be the last major U.S. auto show before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but things have come full-circle with the opening of the 2021 Chicago Auto Show today. It’s the first major U.S. auto show since the onset of the pandemic, and it looks a little different than it did before. It’s taking place in July, for one, rather than February, and while its indoor footprint at the McCormick Place convention center is smaller than in years past, warm summer temperatures have allowed the show to stage both indoor and outdoor exhibits and test tracks.
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The show is also the first chance for car shoppers and enthusiasts to see, in person, many of the new and redesigned vehicles that have made virtual debuts online over the past year, as well as some vehicles debuting for the first time. Cars.com reviewers Mike Hanley, Joe Wiesenfelder and Brian Normile trekked the show floor to see them all, and came away most impressed with the 2022 Ford Maverick. Here’s why Ford’s all-new compact pickup truck is our 2021 Chicago Auto Show Best in Show winner.
Hanley: The Maverick’s stats alone are impressive — up to 40 mpg city with the standard hybrid drivetrain, 1,500 pounds of payload capacity and a starting price of $21,490, including the $1,495 destination charge — but Ford’s new truck is just as impressive in person. The interior features lots of unique, functional design details, and both the front and rear seating areas are as comfortable as what’s offered in the larger Ranger. The Maverick feels more like a small crossover from the driver’s seat, which isn’t surprising considering its unibody construction, and while that won’t appeal to some truck shoppers, it will for others who haven’t had any small pickups to consider until now.
Wiesenfelder: I ended up more enthused about the Maverick than I would have expected. I can’t speak for Mike, but I sat in the Ranger’s backseat and found its knees-raised position less comfortable than the Maverick. I’ve already written a fair amount about the Maverick in my Up Close that needn’t be repeated, but it bears stating that this long-awaited compact pickup stands out as much for what it doesn’t do as what it does. It doesn’t attempt to redefine a genre like the coming Hyundai Santa Cruz does, perhaps unnecessarily. And versus the other vehicles present that we considered for Best in Show, it has literally none of the dreaded touch-sensitive controls that seem to be spreading like a weed. It also seems pretty close to finished; not to take anything away from the Mav, but a few frontrunners were so rough in prototype that we weren’t sure if we were getting the whole picture — or how that picture might change by the time the production versions appeared.
Normile: Mike listed the stats, so I won’t repeat them, but they matter to me because they make this compact pickup truck — a class of vehicle that hasn’t existed in a long while — a viable choice for shoppers of many different types of vehicles, not just those who have been waiting around for a true compact pickup. Looking for a small SUV? A compact sedan? Here’s a pickup truck with better, or at least comparable, fuel economy and a truckload of additional utility. And while this auto show has new vehicles with capacitive-touch controls seemingly everywhere you turn, the Maverick’s physical controls are a relief. I would’ve even forgiven a smaller interior than the one in the Maverick because of everything it’s got going for it, but Ford went ahead and made it as comfortable as a mid-size pickup.
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