Chicago Auto Show, Part I: An ill wind blows some good

City Express2015 Chevrolet City Express

No one needs to be reminded of the bitter rivalry between Chevrolet and Ford. It’s been going on since the caveman invented the wheel, and will continue long after we have all shuffled off this coil. It seems lately the scales are tipping in Ford’s favor. We’re specifically talking about commercial trucks. Ford will be introducing an all-new Transit van that replaces the best-selling E-Series, and also recently has brought to market a completely redesigned Transit Connect, a vehicle that brought the small utility van segment to America, and owns it for now. Nissan saw a missed opportunity, and introduced its NV200 van to compete with Transit Connect. Chevy missed the boat on this one completely, but is attempting to get back into it with the new Chevrolet City Express.

City express badgeNot due to go on sale until fall, the City Express is the fastest response to Ford Chevrolet could make. However, the catch is, this van is a rebadged Nissan NV200. Chevy is purchasing the vans from Nissan and changing up the exterior and interior with Bowties. Chevrolet didn’t have a van like this for the market, so it did the next best thing. Whether Nissan dealers will be happy with this business plan has yet to be seen, but Nissan’s making good coin selling its vans to GM.

City express dashWhat’s the same? The 2.0-liter I4 engine with 131 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, 36.7-foot turning diameter, 1,500-pound payload, 122.7 cubic feet of cargo volume, fold-flat front passenger seat, and many other dimensions.

City express wheelWhat’s different? The Chevy comes in LS and LT trims, the Nissan in S and SV trims, and Chevy’s Complete Care package, which is a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and two-year/24,000-mile scheduled maintenance deal. In addition, Chevrolet has the benefit of a dealership body of 3,200 nationwide, versus about 1,100 for Nissan in America. No prices have been announced yet, but if it comes in under the NV200, expect to hear a lot of screaming from Nissan dealers.

Versa Note SR

2015 Nissan Versa Note SR

The Nissan Versa has been a big seller for Nissan, with a low price and multiple offerings. For 2015, Nissan is dressing up the little Versa Note with an SR edition, designed to add some bad-boy looks to this economical hatchback.

The Versa is offered in sedan and hatchback models, and for 2015, the Note hatchback gets this SR trim, as well as the new, highest-grade SL trim. On sale this spring, the SR features a unique fascia and grille, with dark headlamp surrounds, standard foglamps with black and chrome accents, body-color side spoilers, sideview mirrors with integrated turn signals, and a large rear spoiler. Add the SR badges and machine-finished 16-inch alloy wheels with dark paint accents, and you’ve good a wicked-looking machine.

Note interiorInside, SR trim means a 370Z-type leather-wrapped steering wheel, faux suede seat inserts with orange accents and double stitching, redesigned center console with piano-black finish, chrome knobs, and a triple-gauge instrument cluster.

2015 Nissan Versa Note SRThe SR underpinnings remain the same, as does the 1.6-liter I4 engine that makes 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque, and is mated to a CVT. We admit it would have been nice to see a performance upgrade to go against the Ford Fiesta ST. It’s not like Nissan doesn’t know how to make a car go fast. But fuel economy is the priority, and the SR should generate 40-mpg highway, which is something the Fiesta ST (29 mpg highway) most definitely does not.

The Versa Note SR will be offered in eight colors (this one is Red Brick), with matching interior fabric. Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date really soon.

polestarsVolvo S60/V60 Polestar

For those who think you can’t be good looking, safe, and fast, you haven’t met the Volvo S60 and V60 Polestar vehicles. Volvo and Polestar have a long-standing relationship. Polestar is the official “tuner” for Volvo, and over the years has done a great job providing serious performance to match Volvo’s steadfast pursuit of safety and luxury. While the R-Design models step up performance over the stock vehicles, the Polestar goes more than few steps beyond that. Using the Volvo legacy engine as a starting point (future Drive-E engines can be modified for Polestar as well), the twin-turbocharged and intercooled T6 six-cylinder powerplant has been upgraded to make 345 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque and is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Getting the vehicle moving is no problem, thanks to a Haldex four-wheel-drive system that helps maintain impressive grip, and deliver a zero-to-60-mph time of 4.7 seconds.

Polestar V60Other performance features include 3.5-inch exhaust tips, 80-percent stiffer chassis than the R-Design models, high-performance shocks, and six-puck Brembo brake calipers with massive disc brakes.

polestar badgeStyling mods include new front and rear splitters, Polestar badging, and 20-inch unique Polestar wheels. The vehicles will be available in two colors: subtle Black Sapphire, or look-at-me-now Rebel Blue. If you really want something special, you best hurry, as Volvo will only be selling 120 of them in the U.S. starting in June. Visit nextpolestar.com to get more info and sign up for updates.

Hyundai Veloster REFLEXHyundai Veloster RE:FLEX

It’s hard to keep models fresh if they aren’t getting a redesign soon, but Hyundai always manages to hold our interest. In Chicago, Hyundai unveiled the RE:FLEX special edition Veloster, which ups the ante in looks and features. This limited-edition (3,000 units only) will go on sale this spring, and adds some classy upgrades like projector headlamps with LED accents, illuminated door sills, 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome hood accents and door handles, and unique badging on the body and floormats.

Inside, the RE:FLEX is dressed in red or black leather seats, piano black accent trim, leather shift knob and steering wheel, alloy pedals, and a 450-watt Dimension audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer. The auto show RE:FLEX was dressed in Ice Pearl paint, a light blue that probably looks great in the sun, because it looked pretty nice under the lights on the convention floor. The engine remains the same: Hyundai’s Gamma 1.6-liter I4 engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. Hyundai will announce pricing when it goes on sale in the next few months.

Show coverage continued in Part II.