First off this show is huge. 1.6 million sq ft on one level. And with this year the addition of two indoor test tracks has made it even bigger than before. In fact in terms of attendance there’s nothing bigger in the US. Sure Detroit gets more of the world premiers but at Chicago there’s much more accessability. And the new McCormick Place is just a pheonimonal place to see a show.

I’m not going to go into the detail I did last year but I will touch on a few highs and lows as I saw them.

The new Jetta is probably most disappointing new car that I can remember. There is an eerie similarity to the current Toyota Corrolla in it’s overall shape. The photos in the gallery are from the Jetta with full body kit and different taillights. Believe me – you aren’t missing anything by not seeing the standard spec. Elsewhere in the VW display the Beetle Ragster made it’s Chicago debut. It certainly makes a more masculine statement than the current car but I question whether VW has the guts to build something like it. There was no examples of the new Golf or GTI unfortunately.

Ferrari has some prime space at this year’s show. They’re front and center in the newly expanded north hall near the entrance. The F430 is a fantastic evolution of the 360 shape. The overall styling is a bit more taught and purposeful than the previous car. I do question the huge air-vents and the carbon fiber trim throughout the interior. It wasn’t up to the design standards that the rest of the car set. However the steering wheel is just fantastic. The fact that you can play Schummi with the buttons is so choice. I’m also happy to report that I’m still in love with the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti from my experience at last years show. It’s such a regal looking car. The 575 and a 360 Challenge car were also on hand along with full Maserati range.

Porsche’s new 911 and Boxster are supurb. I can’t say enough good things about the improvements to the 911. It has again taken it’s rightful place at the top of my dream coupe catagory. Beyond the exterior changes, both cars have extensive interior upgrades as you can see in the photos. Note to self… if I’m ever in the market for a $400,000 car I must seriously look into the Carrera GT… or at least try to find the MINI equivalent to it’s shift knob.

The Bentley Continental GT isn’t about performance or handling. It’s about motoring on a grand scale. How grand you ask? Just look at the leather headliner or trim on the doors.

The MINI Display was certainly one of the more lively places at the show. They had a good range of cars including a sweet JCW MCS Convertible with the brake kit and JCW 18″ wheels. The Web-spokes, the new armrest, and the Auto MCS were also represented. They also had a cut-away of the frame from a MINI convertible. It looked identical to the one I saw at the factory last March.

BMW had the usual assortment of eye candy. First on that list was the new M5, which, after some persuasion we were able to climb in. Of course like all M cars it’s the drivetrain that is really the star here. 500hp, 8,250 redline, and a 7 speed sequential transmission are just a few of the more impressive stats. As a big fan of BMW wagons I was excited to see the new 5 series touring for the first time. Excited until I learned that BMW won’t be bringing over the lighter, faster and more nimble rear-wheel drive version to the US. Not to mention the fire-breathing 545iT. I don’t think there’s a more frustrating automaker out there in terms of what they won’t sell in the US market. I can only hope that the upcoming US spec 3 series wagon doesn’t suffer the same fate.

Smart had it’s display just across from MINI’s this year. The thing about Smart cars like the FourTwo and the Coupe is that they are not only small but feel very cheap inside. Shutting the doors not only do not inspire confidence… they instill a little bit of fear. I could see the FourFour and the Coupe as viable cars for the US. The FourTwo would probably be nothing but an ultra niche vehicle for larger cities or possibly car restricted areas. I will say this… Smart had the best use of furniture in a display at the show.

Mercedes had the new M-Class on display absolutely noone noticed it. The SLR is impressive in the flesh but a little less impressive when you realize that the only transmission offered is a 5 speed automatic. The CLS55 is a gorgous car and I hope they do very well with it. MB deserves a ton of credit for actually taking it to market. However one thing it isn’t is a 4 door sedan. Four 6-footers will not fit comfortably in the CLS. And once I did manage to squeeze my 6’2″ frame into the back seat I had to immediately deal with the problem of my head butting up against the headliner. But otherwise it’s a great looking design. Now if only it came with a manual transmission…

International was also at the show with the largest consumer production vehicle in the US, the CXT (and other assorted threats to the environment). I can’t stress enough how horrible built these vehicles are. I’ve seen kit cars with better interiors. They interior has all the class of a Rubbermaid trash can. Exposed wires, sharp corners on textured plastic… it’s not a nice place to spend time. Add that to the fact they you have a good chance of either rolling or breaking your ankle trying to climb out of the thing and you have the most ridiculous vehicle on American roads. The funniest thing about this truck is the tailgate that you literally would need a ladder to climb up to.

Audi had the usual display. For me the star was the US spec A3. It’s nice to see Audi taking a chance on a configuration that BMW had deemed unwanted in the US (The current 4 door hatch 1 series). Otherwise the display was what one would expect. The new A6 and A4 were in full force. As was their mammoth front overhangs. Seriously, you’d think VW and Audi are trying to out do each other with these enormous front clips hang out there. One has to question the weight balance of a car that has as much mass ahead of the front wheels as an ’75 Oldsmobile. Of course once inside the car interiors do not disappoint.

The Aston Martin DB9 continues to impress me. Last year it was probably the star of the show in terms of production vehicles. This year it still holds it’s own well. The attention to detail in the interior is possibly only rivaled by Bentley. I can’t imagine a better place to spend time than the interior of the DB9.

I finally got some one on one time with the Maybach 62 (yeah the really big one). Take away the fact that it’s got a Merc drivetrain and body reminiscent to the S-class and you have one of the finest modes of transportation on earth. Wireless internet, color printer, fridge, DVD, 600 watt sound system and sound deadening that will blow you away ( here’s an example. It’s a pretty incredible machine. I was told there’s no truth to the rumor that the engine runs on $100 bills though.

A few other notables at the show: Honda’s new Civic concept looks nice if not lacking a little character. Ditto the small Acura SUV.

The Toyota FJ is pretty sweet looking until you see the rear 3/4 view.

The new Dodge concept SUV us really well styled and looks macho without being a huge brute of an vehicle. It is bigger than the Jeep Liberty on which it’s based.

The Dodge Magnum SRT8 is incredible looking and just what the doctor ordered for those who need space but don’t want to give up ride, handling and huge power.

The Mustang convertible is a great car considering price point.

The Saturn Sky is fantastic for a low to mid-20K car.

The Saturn Vectra… I mean Aura would be a welcome addition to their increasingly embarrassing line-up and finally give them a car worthy of considering.

The new Jaguar Lightweight Coupe Concept is a great Aston Martin. Unfortunately it’s only has a fraction of the style that the R-Coupe concept had from a few years ago. That the car Jaguar needs to be building.

The Range Rover Sport is a study in pointlessness. But it’s still pretty sweet looking.

What, is Suzuki still alive in the US?

The Corvette Z06 is just breathtaking. I haven’t been this impressed by a Corvette in…. ever?

The Hummer H3 is slightly less pointless than the H2 (which is much less pointless than an H1, which in turn, is only slightly less pointless than a Tank).

The Suburu Tribeka is slightly less offensive in Black. It seems darker colors (surprise) hide the grotesque front-end just a bit better. The interior is certainly a nice bit of kit however. And the rear AV outlets are a welcome touch.

The Toyota supercar concept is a stylist mess. It looks eerily similar to a ’70s kit car.

And that is that…. for all those going, enjoy the show!

[ 2005 Chicago Auto Show ]