2021 Chicago Auto Show: In-Person Highlights!

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2021 Chicago Auto Show
The first major U.S. auto show taking place since the Chicago Auto Show closed its doors on February 17, 2020, the 2021 Chicago Auto Show moves to July 15–19th this year after missing its traditional February date due to the pandemic. Although smaller than in years past, the 2021 Chicago Auto Show included a media preview prior to the public opening, complete with traditional in-person vehicle debuts and the first opportunity to see cars that had previously been revealed virtually. It was great to be in the Windy City once again, 17 months later — so take a look at highlights from the 2021 Chicago Auto Show media preview, and if you’re near Chicago go to the show!

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Ford F-150 Lightning
The Chicago Auto Show is the first opportunity to see Ford’s F-150 Lightning in person following a virtual unveil in May. The full-electric version of the light-duty F- Series, the 2022 F-150 Lightning will be powered by dual three-phase fixed magnet AC electric motors — one at each axle — so all Lightnings will be all-wheel drive. Total output for the extended-range Lightning is estimated at 563 horsepower and 775 lb-ft of torque — the most torque ever found in a production F-150. Standard-range Lightnings will generate 426 horsepower but maintain the impressive 775 lb-ft of torque. The standard battery will deliver an estimated range of 230 miles, while the extended range is expected to increase that number to 300 miles. A liquid cooling system keeps the batteries at optimal operating temperature even while under extreme load.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Ford F-150 Lightning
This new F-150 Lightning is not the original F-150 Lightning — Lightning struck first in the mid-1990s and again in the early 2000s, when it was a high-performance version of the F150 created by Ford SVT. The original Lightnings were quick, although this new electric version will sprint to 60 mph in the mid-4-second range. Granted the F-150 Lightning is all truck, so speed isn’t the only measure consumers care about. The Lightning will also handle up to 2,000 pounds of cargo or tow up to 10,000 pounds. One of the advantages of an electric pickup truck is the wide open space under the hood, which Ford calls the Mega Power Frunk. The power-operated hood opens to reveal a front trunk (or frunk) spacious enough to hold two full-size golf bags or carry up to 400 pounds.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Ford Maverick
The 2021 Chicago Auto Show also presents the first opportunity to see Ford’s all-new compact truck, the Maverick. A 4-door, 5-seat pickup designed for versatility and efficiency, the 2022 Ford Maverick is powered by a front-wheel-drive hybrid drivetrain, and the automaker set the target of an EPA-estimated rating of 40 mpg city and a range of 500 miles on a full tank of fuel. Featuring an upright, squared-off exterior design, the 2022 Ford Maverick maximizes interior space and pays homage to early Ford trucks. The 2022 Ford Maverick also employs a unibody design with no gap between the cab and the truck bed, and the bed rail caps extend up to the cab on either side of the rear window. The compact Maverick is smaller than other Ford trucks — 11.1 inches shorter than Ranger and 32 inches shorter than F-150.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Ford Maverick
Ford Motor also offers Maverick with a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine producing 250 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. The EcoBoost gets mated with an 8-speed automatic transmission; with this engine the truck has standard front-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive. When equipped with an optional 4K Tow Package, Maverick with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost can tow up to 4,000 pounds. The 2022 Ford Maverick truck bed features the FLEXBED system, which has multiple organization and storage solutions including a multi-position tailgate, slots that use lumber to divide the bed into sections, 12 anchor points, and two 12-volt 20-amp prewired power sources for lighting or other electrical uses. An optional 110-volt 400-watt inverter is available to power a laptop or tailgate power accessories.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceFord F-150 Rocket League Edition Concept
Another staple from auto shows past are wild, fantasy concept vehicles. Ford delivered in Chicago with the F-150 Rocket League Edition Concept. For those not in the know, Rocket League is a popular video game developed by Psyonix — essentially a soccer game played by rocket-powered vehicles. In the game players control rocket-powered vehicles and use them to hit a ball larger than the vehicles toward the other team’s goal to score. While Ford did not provide any performance specs for the F-150 Rocket League Edition Concept, the Blue Oval did claim this concept is the first real-life version of a Rocket League vehicle.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceFord F-150 Rocket League Edition Concept
In the game, vehicles have the ability to jump to hit the ball in the air and players can pick up a speed boost by moving over marked spaces on the field that will allow them to quickly cross the field, hit the ball or ram another vehicle. Noted features of the Ford F-150 Rocket League Edition Concept include thunder flares, 37-inch tires, taillight rocket vents, a bed-mounted rocket booster and a stance wider than the F-150 Raptor. Visitors to the Chicago Auto Show can have their picture taken with the Ford F-150 Rocket League Edition Concept — a novel way to create F-150 fans at an early age.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Jeep Compass
Jeep launched the 2021 Chicago Auto Show media preview with a traditional show reveal of the 2022 Jeep Compass. The new Compass has a refined exterior design, a modern interior, new technology and semi-autonomous driving. The interior design features a high center console, a wrapped middle pad on the dash, double the storage, a new 10.1-inch Uconnect 5 center-stack display, an available 10.25-inch frameless full-color thin-film transistor digital cluster, and available heated rear seats. Two Jeep 4WD systems and the Select-Terrain traction management system offer traditional Jeep off-road capability.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Jeep Compass
When it arrives at U.S. dealerships this fall, the 2022 Jeep Compass will be available in five trim levels: Sport, Latitude, Latitude LUX, Limited and Trailhawk. A fully disconnecting rear axle improves fuel economy for 4-wheel drive variants. Sport, Latitude and Limited trim levels are available with Jeep Active Drive that instantly engages when needed, and the Compass Trailhawk includes Jeep Active Drive Low for low range and a 20:1 crawl ratio. The Compass Trailhawk includes a 1.0-inch lift for 8.6 inches of ground clearance and water fording up to 19 inches, as well as high-strength steel skidplates, signature red tow hooks, 17-inch aluminum wheels and rugged, all-season performance tires.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceJeep Wrangler Xtreme Recon Package
At the 2021 Chicago Auto Show Jeep also revealed the new Xtreme Recon Package for the perennially popular Wrangler. The off-road oriented package offers — for the first time ever — 35-inch tires from the factory as well as a new Sunrider Flip Top for Wranglers equipped with a hardtop. Priced at $3,995, the Jeep Wrangler Xtreme Recon Package is available on either the Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited 3.6-liter V6 eTorque or the Wrangler Rubicon 392 and includes 35-inch LT315/70R17C BF Goodrich KO2 all-terrain tires, 17-inch by 8-inch beadlock-capable wheels, swing gate reinforcement, a 4.56:1 axle ratio and 1.5-inch factory suspension lift with unique shock tuning.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceJeep Wrangler Xtreme Recon Package
When equipped with the Xtreme Recon Package, Wrangler off-road specs improve to a 47.4-degree approach angle, a 26.7-degree breakover angle, a 40.4-degree departure angle, 12.9 inches of ground clearance and 33.6 inches of water fording. Later in 2021 a new rear axle with a 4.88:1 ratio will be available for Rubicon, and when equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission it will deliver a 100:1 crawl ratio. The new $895 Sunrider Flip Top is available for all Wranglers equipped with the hardtop. Made of premium black twill fabric similar to a luxury convertible top, the Sunrider Flip Top installs in place of the hardtop Freedom panels and offers a front-row soft-top that can be easily flipped back to open the roof above front-seat occupants.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceKia EV6
Chicago affords the first opportunity to see the Kia EV6 — the company’s first all-electric crossover initially revealed in May. The EV6 represents the first vehicle of Kia’s Plan S electrification strategy to deliver 11 all-new electrified models by 2026. Built on the automaker’s new electric-global modular platform, the 2022 Kia EV6 crossover has a 114.2-inch wheelbase equivalent to the Telluride SUV. Expected to have a U.S. EPA-estimated 300-mile range, the EV6 will be offered in both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive with a front electric motor. Kia anticipates the EV6 will go on sale in the U.S. in early 2022. The high-performance EV6 GT is scheduled to arrive in late 2022 with 576 horsepower, and it will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than 3.5 seconds.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceKia EV6
The 2022 Kia EV6 features a low-mounted, underfloor nickel-cobalt-manganese battery pack available in either 58.0 kWh or 77.4 kWh sizes. The 58.0 kWh battery gets paired with a 160 kW rear motor for a total output of 157 horsepower, or 218 horsepower when paired with the larger 77.4 kWh battery. The all-wheel-drive version combines the 77.4 kWh battery with a 70 kW motor at the front axle and a 160 kW motor at the rear axle for a total output of 313 horsepower. The top-of-the-line EV6 GT pairs the 77.4 kWh battery with a 160 kW front motor and a 270 kW rear motor for a total output of 576 horsepower.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceLexus NX
Lexus showcased the 2022 NX compact luxury crossover at the Chicago show, with the NX 450h+ on display. The new NX will be offered in four trim levels: NX 250, NX 350, NX 350h and NX 450h+. The NX 250 is powered by a normally aspirated 2.5-liter engine producing 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, while the NX 350 receives a turbocharged 2.4-liter engine producing 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. The NX 350h hybrid combines a 2.5-liter gasoline engine with tow high-torque electric motor generators for a combined output of 239 horsepower with estimated 36 mpg combined. The NX 450h+ plug-in hybrid offers an estimated 36 miles of range in electric-only mode.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceLexus NX
The new Lexus NX design features a refined spindle grille, new full-width blade taillights and distinctive LEXUS rear badging. Inside, the instrument panel features a 7-inch Multi Instrument Display and an optional 10-inch Head Up Display. In the center stack, the infotainment system features a standard 9.8-inch touchscreen with an optional 14-inch touchscreen. With the redesign, the touchpad in the center console has been eliminated and interaction will be exclusively through the touchscreen. Dials are still included for climate control and media volume.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Nissan Frontier
Nissan revealed the new Frontier pickup in February — it likely would have been at the Chicago Auto Show if it had occurred on the original dates, although this summery 2021 Chicago show was our first chance to see the new truck. The 2022 Nissan Frontier competes in the popular midsize pickup segment with a bold new look, powerful engine and the latest technology. The front end of Frontier has a large, upright rectangular grille flanked by what Nissan calls “precision interlocking headlights,” as well as upper and lower daytime running lights that wrap into the front fenders. The Frontier boasts a high beltline and upright fenders that appear more flared than the previous model as well as integrated overfenders. At the rear, the sculpted tailgate flows toward vertical taillights that wrap into the fenders

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Nissan Frontier
The 2022 Nissan Frontier is offered as a King Cab or Crew Cab with 2WD or 4WD in S and SV trim levels. A 6-foot bed is standard for King Cab and a 5-foot bed is standard for Crew Cab. The 2022 Nissan Frontier draws power from a 3.8-liter direct-injection V6 engine producing 310 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque, combined with a 9-speed automatic transmission. When equipped with 4WD, the Frontier features a shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel-drive system with 2WD / 4HI / 4LO modes and an electronically controlled transfer case. Hill Descent Control is standard on all models with 4WD, and a 4-wheel limited-slip system is available to help transfer power to wheels with more grip. The Frontier PRO-4X adds an electronic locking differential, Bilstein off-road shocks and underbody skidplates.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceNissan Z Proto
Nissan has announced that the all-new Z sports car will debut on August 17 in New York, although the Chicago media preview was our first chance to see the Z Proto revealed last fall that Nissan describes as the design intent for the new Z. The Z Proto is instantly recognizable as a Z car thanks to its long hood and roofline that flows smoothly from the top of the windshield to the squared-off rear end — much like the silhouette of the first-generation Z. The bright yellow paint is also a tribute to the past; the color was part of a popular paint scheme on the first-generation 240Z. Rumor has it that the production version premiering in August features styling similar to the Z Proto.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceNissan Z Proto
Up front, the squared-off grille of the Z Proto is similar to the current 370Z, while teardrop-shaped LED headlights look much like those on the original 240Z. In a nod to the future, side skirts, a front lip spoiler and rear valence are constructed from carbon fiber. At the rear of the Z Proto, LED taillights take inspiration from the 300ZX. A thoroughly modern vehicle, the Z Proto puts a 12.3-inch digital display in front of the driver, making all vital information available at a glance. Although exact details about the upcoming Z’s powertrain have not been released, the Proto boasts an enhanced twin-turbo V6 engine with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Given that the most powerful version of the current Z car produces 350 horsepower, we expect the new model to have at least that much.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Ram 1500 Limited 10th Anniversary
Ram announced three new editions for the Ram 1500 at the Chicago Auto Show, starting with the Ram 1500 Limited 10th Anniversary. To commemorate a decade of luxury truck production, Ram offers the 2022 Ram 1500 Limited 10th Anniversary Edition with an interior filled with premium materials including leather, wood and metal trim. “The new 2022 Ram 1500 Limited 10th Anniversary Edition celebrates 10 years of luxury pickup truck leadership, featuring the ultimate combination of capability, luxury and refinement,” said Ram Brand CEO at Stellantis Mike Koval Jr.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Ram 1500 Limited 10th Anniversary
Available in an exclusive Blue Shade exterior color, the Ram 1500 Limited 10th Anniversary also includes a multifunction tailgate, a Mopar center-mounted bed step and adjustable cargo tie-down hooks. Inside, the Limited 10th Anniversary includes quilted leather seats and door inserts as well as suede headliner, A-pillars and visors. The Indigo / Sea Salt Grey interior includes Aluminum Litho bezels, a unique shifter, metal pedals and 19-speaker premium audio. Additional interior details include a 10th Anniversary badge on the console and unique graphics on the startup screen.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Ram G/T
For 2022 Ram will offer both the Ram 1500 Laramie G/T and the Rebel G/T with performance features directly from the factory. The Ram G/T version features a console-mounted performance shifter, paddle shifters, a cold-end exhaust, a cold-air intake, performance pages and metal pedals. “Ram has a strong history of performance trucks and the Laramie G/T and Rebel G/T models add to that while expanding the light-duty lineup with the segment’s best combination of performance, capability, luxury and technology,” said Ram Brand CEO at Stellantis Mike Koval Jr.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Ram G/T
The Ram 1500 Laramie G/T and Rebel G/T are distinguished from the standard models with a sport performance hood and G/T decals. Inside, the G/T features bucket seats with the G/T logo and Mopar all-weather floormats. The 2022 Ram 1500 Laramie G/T and Rebel G/T are available as a Crew Cab with the 5.7-liter V-8 with eTorque mild-hybrid assist. The Ram 1500 Laramie G/T has a starting MSRP of $55,480 and the 2022 Ram 1500 Rebel G/T starts at $55,375. Both exclude a $1,695 destination fee. The 2022 Ram 1500 Laramie G/T and Rebel G/T go on sale in the third quarter of 2021.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Ram BackCountry
Ram also introduced the BackCountry package in Chicago — available for Ram 1500 Big Horn and Lone Star — that adds off-road features including off-road calibrated shocks, all-terrain tires, skidplates, an electronic rear differential and hill-descent control. The BackCountry is distinguished by a two-tone exterior with black lower body panels, as well as black 18-inch wheels, badging, exhaust tips, headlight bezels, mirrors and running boards.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Ram BackCountry
BackCountry standard equipment also includes a 4WD Off-Road Group that features tow hooks; skidplates for the front suspension, transfer case, power steering and fuel tank; a rear electronic locking axle; off-road calibrated shocks; hill-descent control and all-terrain tires. The BackCountry also includes the Bed Utility Group, which has upper adjustable tie-downs, a bed extender, a deployable bed step, bed lighting and a spray-in bedliner. Inside, the black interior features include bucket seats, BackCountry badge and Mopar all-weather mats.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Toyota Corolla Cross
The Chicago media preview was also the first opportunity to see the Corolla Cross, a brand-new compact SUV from Toyota based on the popular Corolla sedan. Available in front- or all-wheel drive, the Corolla Cross is powered by a 2.0-liter engine producing 169 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque combined with a Direct Shift CVT. When equipped with all-wheel drive, Dynamic Torque Control can direct up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels as necessary.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Toyota Corolla Cross
Key design elements of the Corolla Cross include a black grille flanked by slim LED headlights and an integrated rear spoiler. Three trim levels will be offered: L, LE and XLE. Available technology includes a 7-inch Multi-Information Display with digital instrumentation and an available 8-inch multimedia touchscreen. The Toyota Safety Sense suite of advanced active safety systems is standard, with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert standard on LE and XLE, and front and rear parking assist with automatic braking standard on XLE.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Toyota GR 86
The 2021 Chicago Auto Show media preview was our first opportunity to see the all-new second generation Toyota GR 86 sports coupe. The new 2022 Toyota GR 86 is a 2+2 rear-wheel-drive coupe features a wide stance, low center of gravity and functional vents in the front fenders. With a more rigid chassis, improved handling, new aerodynamics and increased power, the 2022 GR 86 earns the Gazoo Racing badge alongside the GR Supra.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Toyota GR 86
Power for the GR 86 comes from a new 2.4-liter 4-cylinder boxer engine that redlines at 7000 rpm and produces 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque — an increase of 23 horsepower and 33 lb-ft of torque over the outgoing model. The new engine gets paired with a 6-speed manual transmission or optional 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters and a new Sport mode. The new GR 86 is available in Standard and Premium trim levels with a new 8-inch multimedia touchscreen with six speakers for the Standard trim and an eight-speaker system standard on the Premium, as well as available Connected Services, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility with NFC pairing.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen also presented a traditional auto show reveal in Chicago, pulling the drapes off a new U.S.-spec 2022 Golf GTI and Golf R at the show’s media preview. The original hot hatch, the Golf GTI is in its eighth generation powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine producing 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, paired with either a standard 6-speed manual transmission or an available 7-speed DSG. The new GTI comes with an electronically controlled torque-sensing limited-slip VAQ differential that optimizes grip and handling in fast corners to enhance performance and decrease understeer.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI
The new GTI features a fresh face with a more sharply raked hood, new LED headlights and an available light bar in the grille on either side of the revised VW logo. Slightly longer and sportier than the previous version, the Golf GTI design is evolutionary and still carries traditional styling such as the distinctive C-pillar. Inside, the 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro is standard and allows the driver to complete a custom display. Offered in three trim levels, the GTI S starts at $29,545 with manual and $30,345 with DSG, followed by the GTI SE at $34,295 for the manual and $35,095 with DSG. The top-of-the-line Autobahn is $37,995 for the manual and $38,795 for the DSG. Prices do not include a $995 destination fee. The 2022 Golf GTI is expected to arrive in the fourth quarter of 2021.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Volkswagen Golf R
Also revealed in Chicago, the U.S.-spec 2022 Golf R features a blue grille line, blue brake calipers, more aggressive bumpers, larger diffusers, a large 2-piece rear spoiler, body-colored side sill extensions and a quad-tipped exhaust. The Golf R pulls power from a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine producing 315 horsepower and gets paired with either a standard 6-speed manual transmission or an available 7-speed DSG. The engine torque rating is 295 lb-ft with the DSG or 280 lb-ft with the 6-speed manual.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience2022 Volkswagen Golf R
The Golf R features a new 4Motion all-wheel-drive system with rear-axle torque vectoring to deliver a new level of performance. The system in the previous Golf R could send up to 50 percent of the total torque to the rear axle via a multi-plate clutch, and the new torque-vectoring system includes a rear differential with two multiplate clutches that can distribute up to 100 percent of the rear torque to an individual rear wheel depending on the conditions. In a typical corner, the system will direct more power to the outside wheel to push the car into the corner and reduce the cornering radius.

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