The annual arrival of the Chicago Auto Show typically brings a slew of refreshed trucks and SUVs and a flock of special edition models. This year’s show, which opened last week, still lacked wacky concepts and brand-new vehicles, but the 2020 event saw several facelifts revealed from a more diverse range of body styles, from minivans to full-size sedans.
Sales of the Chrysler Pacifica were 17% lower in 2019 than the year prior, dropping it from second to third place among the five minivans still on sale in the U.S. At the 2020 Chicago Auto Show, Chrysler introduced a facelift for the 2021 Pacifica, aiming to return the minivan to its former position by stealing back sales from the crossovers that have replaced the minivan as the default family hauler. To that end, the Pacifica will now offer all-wheel-drive, without having to sacrifice the practical Stow ‘N Go seating (where the rear seats can fold flat into the floor). This means the Pacifica sits 0.8 inches higher, giving the minivan a more SUV-like stance. A more chiseled front fascia and a fresh full-width LED taillight help the Pacifica shed the dowdy minivan image, while a new Pinnacle model tops the lineup with opulent interior materials. With this facelift, Chrysler has positioned the Pacifica to better compete with the seemingly-endless array of crossovers and hopefully claw back market share. Verdict: Hit.
The Chevy Equinox is one of the most popular compact crossovers in the U.S., so Chevy kept the changes light for a mid-cycle facelift revealed at the Chicago show. The Equinox sports updated styling that echoes the look of its handsome big brother, the Blazer, with the headlights now split by a chrome prong extending from the grille. The Equinox also follows the Blazer by adding an RS trim, which turns the grille, logos, badging, roof rails, window trim, and exhaust tips a glossy black. It also brings 19-inch black alloy wheels, and the interior gains contrasting red stitching. The Equinox’s oily bits are unchanged though, with all engine, transmission, and drivetrain permutations carrying over, meaning the weak base four-cylinder remains. While the sharper styling and addition of the athletic-looking RS trim will help the Equinox remain a hit among shoppers, Chevy could have done more to upgrade the Equinox under the hood. Verdict: Miss.
Hyundai is on a roll. After debuting the radical eighth generation Sonata at last year’s New York show, the South Korean automaker used the Windy City event to add a new Hybrid model to the Sonata range. A new front bumper and wheels improve aerodynamics, creating a sleek 0.24 drag coefficient, but the real headline is the four-cylinder engine and electric motor, which return an impressive 50 mpg in the city and 54 mpg on the highway. The Sonata Hybrid also features a neat trick: solar panels integrated into the roof help recharge the batteries and can add around 3 miles of driving range per day. With stand-out styling and admirable fuel economy performance, the Sonata Hybrid will be a strong challenger to the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Honda Accord Hybrid. Verdict: Hit.
Kia gave the full-size Cadenza a facelift at the Chicago Auto Show, hoping to reverse the 64% nosedive that sales took in 2019. The smooth V6 engine remains untouched, but exterior changes abound: the grille has been enlarged and its concavity has been awkwardly exaggerated, an unorthodox LED strip now lines the bottom of the headlights, and the taillights have morphed into a singular full-width unit. While the interior has been improved with bigger screens and more USB ports, the new fascias make the Cadenza anonymous from the back while giving the sedan a face that only a mother could love. The Cadenza has never been a big seller, and this facelift is unlikely to change that. Verdict: Miss.
The current Nissan Frontier has been on sale since 2004, an eternity in the car world. While a redesigned version will arrive for 2021, Nissan took the unusual approach of debuting a brand-new 3.8-liter V6 for 2020, the final year of the current design. This engine produces 310 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque, up from 261 hp in the 4.0-liter V6 it replaces. Nissan also claims that the new V6 will return 10% better fuel economy than the 2.5-liter inline-4 used in the base 2019 Frontier. This new 3.8-liter unit is guaranteed to make its way into 2021 redesign, making the 2020 Frontier a promising sneak-peak at what the future holds for Nissan’s mid-size truck. Verdict: Hit.
The Atlas has been a solid performer for Volkswagen, with sales jumping by 37% in 2019, its third year in production. Nonetheless, VW showed off a mid-cycle refresh at the Chicago Auto Show that will likely help sales remain strong in the early 2020s. New headlights are more smoothly integrated with the grille, a new front bumper adds some tenacity to the Atlas’ face, and there are fresh LED taillights out back. The interior is markedly improved with a new steering wheel and optional contrast stitching to give the Atlas a more upscale feel. However, VW didn’t fiddle under the hood, with the turbocharged four-cylinder and V6 engines carrying over (although the four-pot is available in more trims now). The original Atlas looked a bit dull, and while the refresh hasn’t invigorated the crossover with much in the way of excitement, VW has done a good job to improve on an already solid product. Verdict: Hit.