• The auto show circus comes to Chicago.
  • This time it's personable.
  • And it's a truly interactive car show.

The great thing about the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, like many of the Chicago shows before it, is the hands-on aspect. This is the people's car show.

There's plenty of room for people -- around 1,000,000 square feet -- along with something like 1,000 vehicles to check out. There are a few indoor tracks too, which is where the hands-on dimension comes in.

To celebrate the world debut of the 2014 Toyota Tundra -- a new generation of this full-size pickup -- there's going to be what looks like a construction area where show-goers can climb into the cabs of various Toyota trucks and go scooting over the strategically placed ramps and piles of dirt. Bring your plaid shirt.

Incidentally, the previous generation of Tundra was also launched at the Chicago show (in 2006), which illustrates how important this event is for manufacturers. Sure, the big one is Detroit (and Los Angeles is making a similar splash these days), but Chi-town is no provincial dog-and-pony show.

Although the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee was already introduced at Detroit last month, Chicagoans will still want to congregate around the Jeep stand and try their hand at tackling the simulated off-road course.

Cadillac is running an on-road program, offering test drives of the 2013 ATS, XTS and SRX. Chevrolet's indoor circuit is small and big at the same time. It's a plastic track for Hot Wheels cars, but it does include the world's longest jump for these ever-popular toys.

Another world debut here is the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze diesel. This compact sedan will run a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine sourced from Opel, General Motors' European division. No one's talking numbers yet, but highway fuel consumption in the high 40s is a real possibility. This is one of 22 diesel-powered cars slated to reach the North American market within the next 12 months.

Going from family runabout to commercial consideration, RAM (the Chrysler group's truck arm) is launching its 2014 ProMaster full-size van -- based on a FIAT vehicle. The Italian company is, of course, the majority shareholder in Chrysler.

If pickups, vans and diesel cars all seem a bit utilitarian, there's a spoonful of glitz to help the utilitarianism go down. And it comes from what might have been considered an unusual source even a couple of years ago. Chicago will be the first city to witness the new direction of Kia's design philosophy, as evidenced by the company's Cross GT concept.

The clue's in the name. This study is a crossover SUV hinting at a model larger than the midsize 2014 Kia Sorento. The company also uses the term "premium" in its description, despite Kia's roots as a budget brand. Perhaps style and luxury are inevitable when you hire one of the men who helped design the original Audi TT: Peter Schreyer.

And this is not Kia's only star in the Midwest. Following a pattern from previous shows, such as last year's SEMA and Los Angeles events, there will be a special car with a superhero theme. This time it's a bird. No, a plane. No, it's the man of steel himself: Superman.

A paint job of blue and red, with that famed red-and-yellow "S" logo on the hood, has been applied to a 2013 Optima Hybrid, along with a body kit and a special wheel/tire combination. Like the Batman, Green Lantern, Flash and Aquaman models, the Superman Optima raises awareness of the We Can Be Heroes charity (www.wecanbeheroes.org) that combats hunger in the Horn of Africa.

A few heroes from the Detroit show will also be in attendance, such as the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and the Ford Atlas pickup concept.

The 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Redline and R/T Plus Redline are making their debuts in Chicago. Essentially a cosmetic package, the Redline also has the option of a Super Track Pak for sharper handling.

AutoTrader.com is reporting from the 2013 Chicago Auto Show press days on Feb. 7 and 8. After that, it's open to the public from Feb. 9 to Feb. 18. As usual, the venue is McCormick Place and there's more information on www.chicagoautoshow.com. If Windy City locals needed further persuasion, Chicagoland Toyota Dealers (a group of 30 Toyota dealers in the region) are offering the chance to win a brand-new 2013 Toyota RAV4.

What it means to you: For Chicago residents and visitors, it means a fun day out and the chance to get some new car ideas. For the rest of the nation, it reminds us that a healthy auto industry is a good thing.

See all Chicago Auto Show news

author photo

Colin Ryan has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.

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