• Many updated popular models, some major and some minor
  • Lots of tuner special editions

While other large North American auto shows have portions dedicated to consumers-some more so than others-the Chicago Auto Show is the one that is dependably consumer-oriented year in and year out.

Although it's usually low on big, splashy announcements, the cars that do debut there are the ones consumers like to buy and ogle. With incredible hands-on displays and driving experiences, coupled with a day dedicated to social media, the spectacle surely won't disappoint any showgoers.

This year the show was where some concepts finally became reality and several popular models received updates-both substantial and minor. One of the big winners of the show was the 2013 Acura ILX, which, up until now, had only existed in concept form. As a brand new compact luxury sedan, the ILX joins the growing group of small, fuel-efficient cars that don't skimp on content.

Of the cars to receive updates, the GMC Acadia was perhaps the most transformed. With a much beefier truck-like look and greatly improved interior and infotainment options, this perennially popular crossover seems to be on the right track. Most other updated models at the show had relatively minor changes, some of which, such as the 2013 Nissan 370Z, you could easily miss without seeing last year's model for comparison.

Debuts that got our heads turning included both the Hyundai Elantra GT and Coupe, as well as the new Beetle TDI turbodiesel. While the Elantra received a thorough and gorgeous makeover last year, the functional GT hatchback version was still being sold with the bland old styling. The debut of the 2013 Elantra GT changes all that and brings that same style to one of the most affordable and functional small station wagon-type vehicles in the United States.

Although we're not quite sure how much draw an Elantra Coupe will have-especially given the existence of Hyundai's other, more stylish, small three-door Veloster-it's good to see Hyundai exploring new territory. As another small, sporty coupe it may seem a strange decision to put a diesel drivetrain in the Beetle, but with lots of low-end torque in a small frame, the combination promises to deliver both fun and fuel-efficiency.

Not to let the tuners-a significant portion of the consumer world-feel left out, there were plenty of special and limited editions making their debuts as well, led largely by Chrysler and its brands. From the Mopar Chrysler 300, to the FIAT 500 Stinger, to the Dodge Dart "GTS 210 Tribute," to the Mopar Jeep Compass "True North," the Chrysler booths are a smorgasbord of tuners' dreams. Mazda also had a special edition of the Miata on display that will be available for limited sales this year.

What it means to you: The 2012 Chicago Auto Show is truly a consumer spectacle, and with many notable popular debuts and refreshes it's another good sign the industry is picking back up.

author photo

Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, HybridCars.com and PluginCars.com. In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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