Best Cars of the 2018 Chicago Auto Show: Motor Trend Favorites

Bests of a quiet show from VW, Toyota, Ford, and more

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Folks in our line of work enjoy covering the Chicago show because of its unusually rich ratio of after-hours parties to meaningful launches, surprises, and news scoops. This year may have set a new record for this unreported statistic. Traditionally a “truck show,” the million-plus square feet of show-floor carpet was dotted with plenty of lifted and heavily accessorized pickups, but factory new-truck news was lighter than usual thanks in part to GMC pushing the 2019 Sierra launch back to early March. On the car side, the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon headlined by making its official U.S. debut, though we shared our first drive of that car with you more than a year ago.

Keep reading to find out what else made news—albeit with small-font headlines running below the fold.


2019 Volkswagen Arteon

This is the debut of the North American version of the Arteon, a hatch that VW calls a sedan-coupe. There are few cosmetic changes from its European counterpart, but for North America, the only engine is the 268-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo-four with an eight-speed automatic transmission and optional all-wheel drive. The Arteon is much longer and also wider than the CC that it replaces and offers top-shelf features such as heated, ventilated, and massaging seats. But it also has a lot of hard-looking plastic in its bid to be competitive in price with other fully loaded premium sedans—even though its luggage access panel is hinged above the rear window, clearly making it a hatch.


2019 Ford Transit Connect Wagon

“Don’t miss our press conference for a fun surprise,” Ford PR reps teased at the vehicle’s embargoed preview. “Might they show the GT500?” some wondered after the show’s official website briefly mentioned the much-anticipated hot-rod Mustang before pulling it down. Nope. Rather, this van-let was presented with help from Blues Brothers brother and Chicagoan Jim Belushi. He entered channeling the late John’s Joliet Jake singing “Sweet Home Chicago” while accompanying himself on the harmonica. The witty adlib banter that followed between Belushi and Ford marketing veep Mark LaNeve had the press cringing in their seats, but Ford is aiming its “lowest priced minivan” at third-act Baby Boomers, so maybe the Belushi connection was spot on.


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2019 Toyota TRD Pro Models

The next-gen TRD lineup once again gives the off-road treatment to the Tacoma and 4Runner but also marks the return of the Tundra after a year’s hiatus. For the 2019 model year, the engineers at Toyota Racing Development gave them Fox 2.5-inch aluminum-bodied internal bypass shocks to improve damping for everything from rock crawling to high-speed desert running and better on-road performance, as well. In addition to extra lift, there are cool features such as the Tacoma’s intake snorkel—formally the TRD Desert Air Intake—that moves the engine’s air intake away from the dusty wheel well to cleaner air above the windshield. The Tundra has dust boots to keep dirt out of the shocks. And the 4Runner gets a new roof rack and blacked-out grille.


Nissan Titan Lift Kit

Most lift kits add a fixed vertical dimension to a truck, but Nissan’s genuine accessory lift kit adds a permanent inch, and the option of up to two more inches when venturing into the really rough stuff. The external-reservoir adjustable shocks from Icon Vehicle Dynamics do the heavy lifting (har-har!), on a show truck that also features plenty of other genuine Nissan accessories (including the sport-bar and running boards) and accessories from affiliated companies (like the fender flares and bead-lock wheels). The lift goes on sale this spring. The parts price is not yet announced, but dealer installation should only take 3-4 hours.


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2019 Ram 1500 with Mopar Accessories

It’s an indication of the aftermarket parts biz’s importance to Ram that the new 1500 truck is launching with a catalog of 217 available part numbers—a hefty percentage of which are demonstrated on this impressive looking Flame Red Big Horn Sport 4×4. The coolest update are the wheels—which provide the look of a bead-lock, with the option of converting to bead-lock when needed—and the Ram Rack bars for carrying long items above the bed and cab.


Ford F-550 Skeeter Brush Truck

This may be the coolest truck on the show floor, largely because of its elaborate six-wheel-drive drive system. It involves a standard Super Duty transfer case routing torque forward to the front axle and aft into a second gearbox with two outputs—one each for the aft axle (which occupies the factory position) and the intermediate axle (which is added to greatly increase the truck’s GVW rating. Available with V-10 or PowerStroke diesel power, an outfitted truck sells for roughly $250,000—matching the capability of a Class 3 Freightliner fire and rescue chassis for about half the price. Don’t expect it to fly like a Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6×6, though, as this one weighs a LOT more and its tires are only rated for 65 mph.


Subaru 50th Anniversary Editions

In 1968 some 332 tiny, bubbly Subaru 360s cars bobbed ashore for sale through a dealer network established by Malcolm Bricklin and Harvey Lamm. They were as unsafe as they were cute, and the whole business almost flopped, but that deathtrap’s successor was a hit and the rest is history. To celebrate this auspicious event, Subaru probably set a Chicago show single-manufacturer record by introducing nine new 50th Anniversary models (counting the Impreza hatch and sedan separately). Each boasts special badges, Heritage Blue paint, silver seat belts and stitching inside, and logos aplenty. To get in on the celebration, Subaru will make only 1,050 each of the Impreza (there is an anniversary hatch and sedan), Crosstrek, Legacy, Forester, and Outback, and just a total of 1,050 combined examples of the BRZ, WRX, and WRX STI.

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