2021 Chicago Auto Show: Best in Show

We had no idea that the 2020 Chicago Auto Show would be the last big U.S. auto show before the COVID-19 epidemic, but the 2021 Chicago Auto Show opened today, bringing things full circle. It’s the first major auto show in the United States since the outbreak, and it’s a little different than previously. For one thing, it’s taking place in July rather than February, and while its indoor footprint at the McCormick Place convention center is less than in previous years, the show has been able to host both inside and outdoor exhibitions and test tracks thanks to the high summer temps.

Many of the new and redesigned vehicles that have made virtual debuts online over the past year, as well as some vehicles launching for the first time, will be on display for the first time during the exhibition. Mike Hanley, Joe Wiesenfelder, and Brian Normile of Cars.com visited the exhibition floor to see them all, and the 2022 Ford Maverick wowed them the most. Here’s why Ford’s all-new small pickup truck is our Best in Show winner for the 2021 Chicago Auto Show.

Hanley: The Maverick’s numbers are amazing on their own — up to 40 mpg city with the standard hybrid motor, 1,500 pounds of payload capacity, and a starting price of $21,490, including the $1,495 destination charge — but in person, Ford’s new truck is just as striking. The cabin has a number of distinctive, utilitarian design elements, and the front and rear sitting sections are just as comfortable as the larger Ranger’s. From the driver’s seat, the Maverick feels more like a tiny crossover, which isn’t surprising given its unibody construction, and although that won’t appeal to everyone, it will to those who haven’t had any small pickups to consider before.

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Wiesenfelder: I was pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic I became about the Maverick. I can’t speak for Mike, but I found the Ranger’s backseat less comfy than the Maverick’s. I’ve already said a lot about the Maverick in my Up Close, so I won’t say it again, but this long-awaited tiny pickup stands out for what it doesn’t accomplish as much as it does. It does not, perhaps unnecessarily, strive to redefine a genre like the forthcoming Hyundai Santa Cruz. It also has none of the dreadful touch-sensitive controls that appear to be sprouting like a weed among the other vehicles we examined for Best in Show. It also appears to be near to completion; not to disparage the Mav, but a few of the frontrunners were so crude in a prototype that we weren’t sure if we were getting the full image — or how that picture would change by the time the production models arrived.

Normile: I won’t repeat Mike’s statistics, but they’re important to me because they make this compact pickup truck — a vehicle class that hasn’t been in a long time — a feasible option for purchasers of all types of vehicles, not just those looking for a true compact pickup. Are you looking for a compact SUV? Is this a tiny sedan? Here’s a pickup truck with better (or at least equivalent) fuel economy and a slew of extra features. While new automobiles with capacitive-touch controls appear to be everywhere at this auto show, the Maverick’s conventional buttons are a welcome respite. Because of everything the Maverick has going for it, I could have forgiven a smaller inside than the Maverick’s, but Ford went ahead and made it as comfy as a mid-size pickup.

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