NEWS

2021 Chicago Auto Show: Winners and Losers

jeep-compass-2022-01-angle--exterior--front--gray-winners-and-losers.jpg 2022 Jeep Compass | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

It feels strange to be talking about the Chicago Auto Show in July instead of February, but you may have noticed that the world is a lot different than it was in 2020. While this year’s show may not be as large as it has been in previous years, several vehicles made their public debut — particularly electric ones.

Related: More Chicago Auto Show Coverage

Here are our Winners and Losers from the 2021 Chicago Auto Show:

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning

ford-f-150-lightning-2022-01-angle--blue--exterior--front.jpg 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

Brian Normile, News Editor: Winner

Ford hasn’t taken away from most of the F-150’s existing utility, and in some ways it’s actually added to it: There’s a more powerful version of Pro Power Onboard, which turns the truck into a generator, and a power-opening frunk with additional power sources and added storage make the Lightning seem like a smart move. I’m not thrilled with the Sync 4A display’s touch controls, and I’m holding out hope that Ford has figured out how to keep the Lightning’s range from being too impacted by towing or hauling, but with a starting price around $40,000 excluding destination charge but before any potential EV tax credits, I can’t call the Lightning anything but a winner.

Joe Wiesenfelder, Executive Editor: Winner

As I mentioned in my Up Close report, the Lightning doesn’t give you much to look at, but it’s an unquestionable winner. It’s built to work and deliver bonus functionality like backup power. Not everyone will be able to exploit the optional larger battery’s automatic home backup provision due to the current high demand of the 80-amp Ford Charging Station Pro, but at least Ford pays for the hardware if you’re willing to shoulder the installation costs.

Mike Hanley, Senior Research Editor: Winner

The two schools of thought on electric truck design — radical like the Tesla Cybertruck and traditional like the Ford F-150 Lightning — couldn’t be more different, but Ford’s focus on work and new capabilities makes a lot of sense as it seeks full-size truck buyers. I prefer the horizontally oriented 12-inch dashboard touchscreen available in the regular F-150 to the Lightning’s vertically oriented 15.5-inch screen, and even the extended-range battery’s 300-mile targeted range may seem low to truck shoppers (the four-wheel-drive F-150 hybrid has a 734-mile range, according to EPA estimates), but this new electric truck represents a strong opening in a class that’s wide open at the moment. 

2022 Ford Maverick

ford-maverick-2022-07-exterior--rear-angle--red.jpg 2022 Ford Maverick | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

BN: Winner

The other new Ford truck to appear in Chicago, the Maverick, has so much going for it that calling it “the other new truck” immediately felt unfair. A fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain has significant utility that owners are likely to use in the form of the highly configurable Flexbed, plus towing and payload capacities that are more than enough for the average owner. The Maverick’s small size is refreshing, as are the physical controls in its interior. My biggest complaint is that buyers can’t currently get the hybrid powertrain with all-wheel drive, but that doesn’t outweigh the good.

JW: Winner

I didn’t see it coming, but I love the thing. Mid-size pickups have gotten too big, and I don’t think the compact needs to be reinvented — just reintroduced. The hybrid will appeal to some, and the non-hybrid option will cover others. Unibody construction isn’t perfect for all pickup duties, but it’s also why the Mav can be small and still accommodate adults. I’ll even accept the hard interior surfaces because there isn’t a capacitive-touch button anywhere in the truck.

MH: Winner

The Maverick combines attributes you don’t normally see together — things like efficiency, capability and style — at a sub-$22,000 starting price that seems incredibly low in today’s world of high-priced new vehicles (particularly trucks). The unibody construction that the Maverick utilizes has long been one of the knocks on the Honda Ridgeline, which uses a similar type of construction, so it’ll be interesting to see if it’s a hang-up for the Ford. It shouldn’t, as the Maverick gives occupants ample space and comfort without sacrificing capability. 

2022 Jeep Compass

jeep-compass-2021-07-angle--exterior--front--gray.jpg 2022 Jeep Compass | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

BN: Loser

A new, more premium interior is nice, as is the updated 10.1-inch touchscreen display running the latest version of Uconnect that’s one of my favorite multimedia operating systems. But those things don’t improve on my major complaint with the Compass, which has always been its extremely anemic engine and misbehaving transmission. Those haven’t changed, and they needed to.

JW: Loser

I have no problem with the upgraded interior or newly standard safety features, but when automakers update models, you want to see them fix what’s broken. Since the Compass’ past full redesign in 2017, what’s broken has included the vehicle’s sluggish powertrain and sloppy handling. Is it possible Jeep addressed these problems and just didn’t mention it? Yes. Is that likely? No.

MH: Loser

The new dashboard design and tech features give the Compass’ cabin a premium feel, and it comes at the right time with competing compact SUVs adding more tech to their interiors. The interior quality of the current Compass was already a highlight, however, and like Brian and Joe said, its drivetrain was not. It’s like Jeep fixed what wasn’t broken and left what was, which is unfortunate. 

2022 Kia EV6

kia-ev6-2022-07-angle--exterior--rear--silver.jpg 2022 Kia EV6 | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

BN: Loser

I’ve grown to love the “Is it a wagon or is it an SUV?” body shapes that have become common among new electric vehicles, and the EV6’s looks — particularly in its GT guise — really caught my eye in person. Inside, the cabin feels spacious up front and very modern, though there is an overreliance on capacitive-touch controls. A more-cramped-than-expected backseat (EVs are supposed to be roomier than gas-powered cars, right?) is disappointing, too, but it’s not a deal breaker for me. What really gives me pause is the lack of an official maximum range. If Kia can hit 300 miles with at least one version of the EV6, I say a winner; if not, its looks won’t save it.

JW: Loser

It pains me that Kia forced me to call this slick ride a loser, but the responsibility is the brand’s, not mine. Despite the cool design inside and out, I’m getting to a point where I won’t recommend or award any vehicle with a preponderance of touch-sensitive controls in place of real buttons, and I’m hoping my colleagues will join me. I also found that the floor was high in the backseat, resulting in elevated knees and likely discomfort over anything but a shorter trip. The 300-mile target exists to convince uninitiated consumers to buy EVs, but this kind of range isn’t necessary for most owners most of the time if they’re charging at home, which is the only reasonable way to own an EV. The EV6 doesn’t win or lose based on its final range estimate.

MH: Winner

The presence of touch-sensitive controls isn’t great, but they seem to be mostly confined to climate-related controls, and even then, you still get physical knobs for adjusting cabin temperature. I was really impressed with the EV6’s overall interior design as well as the spaciousness of the front seating area, and I thought the backseat was passable for adults. I liked the exterior styling, too, with its sporty-looking front end and distinctive shape. 

2023 Nissan Ariya

nissan-ariya-2023-01-angle-exterior-front.jpg 2023 Nissan Ariya | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

BN: Loser

Another EV-shaped EV without official range estimates, the Ariya is also lacking in official power figures. So while the interior is delightfully spacious and the addition of hands-free semi-autonomous driving via ProPilot Assist 2.0 are big pluses in my book, the lack of range and power figures means I can’t call this a winner, either. The plague of capacitive-touch controls has infected the Ariya, as well, but their integration with the paneling is nice to the eye (if not the touch), and there are still physical controls for volume and tuning.

JW: Loser 

We’ve been waiting for the Ariya for quite a while. Unfortunately, that didn’t get us a fleshed-out prototype. The liftgate was stuck closed, and the interior displays were inoperable (when I visited, at least). The backseat legroom was better than the EV6’s. But none of that matters because this model, too, has an interior blanketed with touch-sensitive controls (see my Kia entry above). Some of these controls seem to be incorporated into the faux wood trim, which is certainly novel. Irrelevant. Still a loser. 

MH: Winner

The Ariya photos I’d seen before had left me thinking it was a mid-size vehicle, so when I saw it on the show floor for the first time, I was surprised by its compact dimensions. It’s a tidy little electric SUV, though, with the four-door coupe look that’s become increasingly popular among automakers despite its detrimental effect on interior utility. I agree that there are too many touch-sensitive controls in the cabin, but I nonetheless like where Nissan is taking its electric vehicle aspirations with the Ariya.

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