The Best Trucks and SUVS of the 2020 Chicago Auto Show

February 07, 2020 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

The Chicago Auto Show is known for its trucks and SUVs and the 2020 edition was not a disappointment.

Unusually, Mercedes-Benz revealed the most interesting vehicle at the show, the Weekender pop up camper van. Chrysler made a splash with a dramatic refresh of the Pacifica minivan. Both Jeep and Toyota showed of trail-ready versions of their popular trucks.

Although Nissan’s Frontier is the oldest pickup on the market, the automaker popped a new engine and transmission in the vehicle. They will carry over to the next generation Frontier that comes out next year. And finally, Volkswagen displayed improvements to its popular Atlas three-row SUV.

Here’s a rundown of who did what at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show.


mb van

Based on the Metris cargo van, the Weekender is Mercedes-Benz’s first camper for the U.S. market.

The Weekender’s standard features include an elevating roof with a sleeping area for two, a multipurpose rear bench seat that opens up into a bed for two, swiveling front seats that rotate 180 degrees and a second battery to power devices.

The pop-top works with a spring mechanism. It has a 2-inch memory foam mattress, three windows, and added USB ports for lights and charging.

The multipurpose rear bench seat opens up into a bed for two. Additionally, when folded into the seat configuration, the seat moves along a rail position into four locations, allowing additional room for varying cargo needs. Also inside are swiveling front seats that rotate 180 degrees to turn the cabin into a lounge. There’s also a slide out kitchen option.

The passenger version of the Metris costs about $40,000 with a few options. The Weekender however is expected to price out at about $70,000. Sales start later this year.


Jeep is moving to expand the audience for its Gladiator midsize pickup truck. It is the first Jeep vehicle to carry the brand’s new Desert Rated badge. The automaker will target desert rated trucks and SUVs at people who are seeking high-speed off-road capability and performance in desert and sand environments.

The Gladiator Mojave comes with specially-tuned Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks with external reservoirs, industry-exclusive Fox front hydraulic jounce bumpers, a reinforced frame, a one-inch front suspension lift with a silver front skid plate, stronger axles with cast-iron steering knuckles, aggressive front seats with integrated upper bolsters and standard 33-inch Falken Wildpeak All-terrain tires.

All of these features are designed to create a rugged vehicle that can zip across sand and hard-packed dirt at high speeds.

The Gladiator Mojave is powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that provides 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Jeep said it will offer a broad torque band with a focus on low-end torque, an essential trait needed for extreme off-roading. A six-speed manual transmission is standard but the automaker will offer an optional eight-speed automatic transmission.


Chrysler wants to bring emotion back into the minivan segment, a tall task. But it made some significant styling improvements to its flagship van to give it more of an SUV look and separate it from its budget Chrysler Voyager sibling.

But the biggest change is providing an all-wheel-drive version to make the van a more practical vehicle for the large sections of the U.S. that have rough winter weather. The automaker last offered an all-wheel-drive version in 2004.

Chrysler also improved the interior by adding more covered cargo space. The 2021 Pacifica is the first Fiat Chrysler Automobiles vehicle to get the fifth generation Uconnect infotainment system. The new touchscreen on the dash is 10.1 inches, the largest among minivans. The 2021 model also gets 12 USB Type A and Type C ports.

The automaker also is adding a new upscale trim level to the Pacifica lineup. Called Pinnacle, it nearly competes with the interiors of three-row luxury SUVs. The cabin sports quilted Nappa leather bolstering in the seats. Stitching accents the elegant caramel color leather of the seating and interior panels. The rear seats come with additional stitched leather pillows.


The Nissan Frontier midsize pickup is the oldest light truck sold in the U.S. It last received a full redesign in the 2005 model year. Nissan plans to launch the new Frontier next year. But it took a half step in that direction at the Chicago Autos show by packing a new powertrain into the old truck.

The 2020 Frontier gets an all-new, powerful 3.8-liter direct injection V6 engine and all-new 9-speed automatic transmission. Even as the truck gets more powerful, Nissan said its fuel economy and emissions performance will improve.

The new engine produces 310-horsepower compared with the previous 152-horsepower inline 4-cylinder and 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine choices in the current Frontier. It also will produce 281 pound-feet of torque. A 9-speed automatic transmission replaces the previous 5-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmissions.

“The 2020 Frontier lays the groundwork for the exciting, next-generation Frontier – an all-new pickup truck slated to arrive soon,” said Tiago Castro, director, commercial vehicle business unit for Nissan North America.


With so many drivers thinking they want to go off-road – few actually do – Toyota added a trim level to its trucks that makes them more adventure-ready. The automaker introduced the Tacoma Trail, the Tundra Trail and the 4Runner Trail at the Chicago Auto Show.

The three trail editions are based on Toyota’s SR5 grade models and come in either two-wheel or four-wheel-drive. Toyota added features such as truck bed storage, insulated for those going fishing, camping or tailgating, to make them more useful for outdoor activities. The 4Runner gets a Yakima LoadWarrior rooftop cargo basket. It also comes with a cooler that has a freezer-grade gasket to provide an air-tight seal and keep ice frozen for up to seven days.

The bed of the Tacoma Trail Edition is equipped with a 115-volt power outlet for tools and equipment. It also has 18-inch TRD Off-Road wheels with Kevlar All-Terrain tires.

Many of the other upgrades to the vehicles are cosmetic to make them look and feel more outdoorsy.


The Atlas is the biggest auto VW has ever sold in the U.S. and is helping the brand to finally grow in the region. But it plays in a competitive field, forcing VW to make updates even as it works on the next generation Atlas.

While the refreshed Atlas uses the same platform as the current model it is three inches longer because of new front and rear bumper designs. It has a new three-bar grille and new headlight and taillight designs that include standard LED lighting.

Upgrades inside the cabin include a new steering wheel, an 8-inch infotainment screen that is standard on all but the base model.

The Atlas is the first Volkswagen designed, engineered and produced as part of that automaker’s North American region strategy. It is assembled at VW’s Chattanooga, Tenn. factory.

Jerry Hirsch January 27, 2020
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One Response

  1. Rob S.

    Great rundown on the different vehicles on display at the Chicago Auto Show! I think what makes these vehicles remarkable is that not only do they catch the eye, but they are built to last. Definitely worth looking into for those that are on the go for a living.


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