Gaywheels Picks: Chicago Auto Show’s Top 5

Chicago’s auto show may play a distant second to Detroit when it comes to new cars and trucks. But in the Windy City this year, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler brought new family haulers–and one ass-hauler–while Volkswagen finally rejoined the minivan market after years of absence. The highlights from this year’s Chicago show, in no particular order:
Chevrolet Traverse


Chevrolet is the last of GM’s mass-market car brands to get a big crossover vehicle. But with the Traverse, Chevy might have one of the best-looking of GM’s foursome, which includes the Saturn Outlook, Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia. The Traverse shares some styling cues with the new Chevy Malibu, inside and out, with a smart front end and smallish taillamps giving it a distinct style. Under the hood there’s a 3.6-liter V-6 with 281 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission. Standard safety features include six airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction and stability control. All-wheel drive will be an option, as will 20-inch rims and Bluetooth.
Ford Transit Connect


It’s taken a long time for any car company to take on Dodge’s commercial Sprinter van, but Ford is doing it now with the Turkish-build Transit Connect. Think of it as a Honda Element with even more utility; the Transit stands 6’ 8”, and its customizable cargo area means it’s a perfect work/play vehicle for dog walkers to caterers to locksmiths. Available with a four-cylinder engine and a manual transmission, the Transit promises to be a fuel-efficient trailblazer that can also double as a mobile billboard. Ford says for now it will import the vehicle from Europe, but it might eventually build the Transit Connect in the United States, if enough entrepreneurs step forward for its practical package.
Dodge Challenger


Musclecars might seem odd in the days of the Toyota Prius, but Dodge’s HEMI-powered, tire-shredding Challenger SRT8 couldn’t care less about what the Prius thinks. Not with a 425-hp V-8 under the hood, big 20-inch tires in its wheel wells, and a 0-60 time of 4.9 seconds. Top speed for the reborn musclecar is 170 miles per hour, Dodge says, and the Challenger grips the road on massive Goodyear tires. A five-speed automatic is the only reminder that this is 2008, not 1970. The Challenger SRT8 is the high-powered version on display now; Chrysler will eventually offer a V-6 version of the big two-door coupe as well, and a convertible has been rumored but not confirmed.
Volkswagen Routan


Volkswagen’s been missing a real minivan since the Microbus left in a hazy green cloud in the early 1970s. But everything about the new Routan minivan is modern, because under its lightly reskinned exterior, it’s a rebadged Chrysler minivan sold under a new agreement between the two companies. The Routan gets a unique interior too, with seating for seven and an available power third-row bench. Chrysler’s 3.8-liter, 197-horsepower V-6 is the standard engine in the Routan. A six-speed automatic transmission is the sole gearbox offered. Volkswagen also will offer Chrysler’s 4.0-liter V-6, with 251 horsepower and 259 pound-feet, as an option. Standard safety gear will include revised suspension tuning, stability and traction control, and curtain airbags. Other features included in all Routans are a conversation mirror; a rear-seat DVD entertainment system; dual power sliding doors; a touchscreen navigation system with a 20GB music hard drive; a power liftgate; and 13 cupholders.


HUMMER’s future seems to be getting smaller: first the GM brand dropped the military-derived H1, then it introduced the compact H3 off-roader. Now the H3 loses its cargo cover in favor of a real cargo bed as it becomes the H3T, T for truck. The almost five-foot bed gets an accessory mounting system and a removeable tailgate, giving it flexibility if not a huge amount of cargo carrying room. Powertrains include the standard 3.7-liter in-line five-cylinder that produces 242 horsepower with either a five-speed manual or an old-school four-speed automatic. The Alpha-level 5.3-liter V-8 with 300 horsepower is optional.