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Automakers Flex Their Muscle At The 2015 Chicago Auto Show

By Benjy Lipsman in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 16, 2015 8:00PM

We spent almost six hours Sunday walking the floor of the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, checking out every brand on display.

While previous shows were heavy on the hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles, the hits of this year's show were powerful sports cars. Ford showed off their upcoming supercar, the new GT. The 600-horsepower beast (which could retail for nearly $200,000 when it's finally released) received a new silver paint job for its Chicago appearance. Acura revealed its flagship NSX sports car, with an estimated MSRP of $155,000.

Not all the showstoppers cost as much as a condo and require waiting years for them to hit the market. After a nearly two decade hiatus, Alfa Romeo returned to the U.S. market and displayed its latest offerings. On display were the already available 4C coupe as well as the upcoming 4C cabriolet. At just $54,000 for the regular edition (the current Launch Edition clocks in at $70k), the Alfa coupe will provide a fun-as-hell experience to even those outside the 1 percent. As somebody who learned to drive on an Alfa Romeo sedan in the 90s, we're waiting with bated breath to see what other offerings will come to these shores from Italy. We can't afford or justify a little roadster, but perhaps an entry-luxury mid-size sedan, or even a sporty crossover? The new Jeep Renegade is built in Italy on a platform co-developed for use by Alfa and Jeep, so one may arrive sooner rather than later.

We lusted over the various European offerings from Audi's new entry level Q3 crossover and A3 sedan, to the Lamborghinis, Aston-Martins and Bugatti in the exotics section. We're somewhat confused by the line expansion BMW had on display. How do they expect buyers to choose among the 3-series sedan, the 3-series GT hatchback, 4-series grande coupe (a 4-door with coupe profile & rear hatch), X3 SUV and X4 SUV with a hatchback profile—all four-door vehicles pricing in the mid-$40,000s.

We were also perplexed by what's going on with the Japanese luxury brands design-wise. The NSX excepted, Acura's line-up is bland as can be, yet ugly due to their oversized grill lip. Lexus also suffers from an ugly, puckered corporate face that draws attention from otherwise forgettable sheet metal. Infiniti's models all look alike and none are attractive. Is reliability enough to get consumers to pony up 40 grand or more for a luxury ride from the Land of the Rising Sun? As Korean upstarts Kia and Hyundai move up-market and add some style to their latest offerings, the Japanese had better watch out.

From the domestic makers, perhaps the biggest splash came from Buick who showed off their beautiful Avenir sedan concept. A big, long car with a boat tail, this Buick is a nod to the heyday of American steel. It should also appeal to the new money Chinese who are the reason that Buick even remains a living brand today, even after GM retired Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn.

A number of auto makers used the Chicago show to debut a few upcoming models. Acura showed off their new 2016 RDX SUV, while Honda unveiled their 2016 Pilot SUV. Unfortunately, both are bland-as-can-be soccer mom haulers. Ford debuted a new SUV, too, but not one available to the public. The Police Interceptor, based on the Explorer, will be made at the South Side Torrence Ave. plant and sold to law enforcement agencies.

While low gas prices have, for the moment, weakened demand for alternative fuel vehicles, there were still crowds checking out the re-designed Chevy Volt, Kia Soul EV and BMW i3 and i8. We have a feeling the consumers who choose those vehicles will have the last laugh, because $2 gas can't last forever.