2009 Chicago Auto Show Roundup

By Brian Alexander

2010 Ford Taurus SHO

If you think there are too many major auto shows on the annual calendar, congratulations – you’re right. Between Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Geneva, Frankfurt/Paris, Shanghai and Tokyo, manufacturers have had the unenviable task forced upon them of staggering their release schedule to facilitate the unveil of new products at each major show, all the while playing their cards just right so that each model gets adequate press coverage. ‘Adequate press coverage’ for a vehicle meaning the media gawks in awe, issues a car of the year award on the spot and orders everyone in the civilized world to buy three. Needless to say, it’s not an easy formula to master.

Hyundai Genesis Racecar

2010 Nissan Cube

In the past, the rule had been when in doubt, show up with a concept car and a boilerplate speech about future design cues trickling down into production cars so that the media had something to cover. But with the economy running downhill faster than a teenage snowboarder on a Red Bull bender, budgets understandably shrink and fewer press conferences are scheduled. Still, while there weren’t a lot of new products at the Chicago Auto Show, there were a few surprises.

Only two all-new models were debuted in Chicago, ironically making it an excellent show at which to launch a car because media attention was essentially guaranteed.  Fresh off the debut of the 2010 Taurus in Detroit, Ford introduced the much-rumored Taurus SHO (see the video here). While the last SHO used V-8 power, the new car gets all-wheel drive and Ford’s much talked about EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6, making 365 hp.

The other new product introduction came courtesy of Kia in the form of the Forte, which will replace the rapidly aging Spectra. With enough Subaru’s Impreza sedan in its design to nearly warrant a cease and desist order at first sight, the Forte is much more fashionable than Kia’s outgoing econobox, and should be better prepared for the task of battling industry stalwarts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Not an easy task.

Chicago also brought a few surprise updates to current models. Acura surprised show goers with a V-6 version of its popular TSX sport sedan, which puts 280 horsepower to the front wheels. Sounds a tad understeery. The V-6 TSX also gets revised suspension, minor visual tweaks and 18-inch wheels.

More expected was Ford’s unveiling of a new Harley Davidson F-150, which was packing a surprise in the form of a 6.2-liter Boss V-8 under the hood. Like previous Harleys, the truck packs a lot of visual addenda, most notably its gargantuan 22-inch rims.

Over at the Hyundai booth, we were given plenty of reason to believe there is no word for ‘recession’ in the Korean language. While most manufacturers are dropping motorsports programs faster than organic chemistry at a pre-med university, Hyundai is rolling out a Genesis Coupe racecar to compete in Formula Drift, Redline Time Attack and the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Pricing for the upcoming road car was also announced and, talking a cue from its big brother Genesis sedan, the coupe looks to be quite the bargain, with prices beginning at $22,750 for the turbo four and $25,750 for the 300-plus hp V-6. Hyundai also introduced a performance-oriented R-spec Genesis Coupe that should satisfy enthusiasts when it hits the market later in the year.

Finally, there were plenty of cars there just for show. Among them was a Subaru Impreza STI police car donated to the Itasca, Illinois PD (home of – wait for it – a branch of Subaru corporate), a handful of Suzuki Equator show trucks demonstrating their ability to carry Suzuki ATVs, a few GM cars from the upcoming Transformers film, the Nissan Cube, several Ford Transit Connect work vans, Lexus F-Sport performance parts for a range of vehicles, and a slew of Mazda MX-5s commemorating the roadster’s 20th anniversary. Which, of course, made us feel old.

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