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2016 Chicago Auto Show Preview

  • If it’s winter in Chicago, it’s show time
  • Get the inside line on indoor tracks
  • The auto show gets math appeal

The 2016 Chicago Auto Show comes hot on the heels of Detroit. Previous years have never been short of news, and there’s no reason to think this one will. Around 15 to 20 debuts are expected, from eco-conscious hybrids to pumped-up pony cars. Traditionally, Chicago has been the show where manufacturers will unveil trucks and SUVs, since they are a major part of automotive life in this region. No doubt we’ll see a few of those, but it also looks like things are becoming more sophisticated.

Midwestern Debuts

A new wave of vehicles is being introduced by the Kia Niro hybrid crossover. This is the first model based on a new platform developed especially for eco-friendly vehicles, which the company says has been “engineered in isolation from existing Kia models,” so it won’t be a hybrid version of, say, a Sportage, but a model in its own right.

Also from Korea comes the revised 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport midsize crossovers, in 3-row and 2-row form respectively. The updated 2017 Chevrolet Trax subcompact crossover is another vehicle anticipated to make a big debut.

Less practical, but probably way more fun, is the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro 1LE performance package that General Motors is unveiling. It involves a set of track-focused upgrades for the fresh and fantastic sixth-generation Camaro.

Only in Chicago

As usual, the event is held at McCormick Place. This means it can claim to be the largest car show in the United States, as it offers a massive 2.7 million square feet of exhibition space. Some manufacturers use this as a chance to stretch out.

Toyota often arrives with an indoor track. This year has an intriguing twist with the RAV4 Blizzard to Beach Drive. It starts outdoors, in what will no doubt be a frigid midwest winter. Drivers have to deal with ice and a snow bank, then a climb, a slow drop, a log walk and a sandy path to a beach area with palm trees and a volleyball net. Visitors will be able to drive the regular RAV4 or the new 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.

Jeep is another manufacturer that regularly brings an indoor track to challenge its all-wheel-drive vehicles and the company has confirmed this year will be no different.

There are dimensions to car shows that can only be appreciated in a tactile way — how a driver’s seat conforms to the contours of one’s body, how rich the leather upholstery feels and the classiness of the soft-touch plastics in the dashboard. In Chicago, there’s enough room to display a few trim levels of the same model, so people can delve into the differences.

A new technical development is available: the 2016 Chicago Auto Show app. It has a map of the show, what’s happening each day, a full list of display vehicles, videos, news and a Bluetooth location-based function that allows the user to get information on whatever vehicle he or she may be looking at in real time. There is even a chance to win a Buick Encore.

Chicago also plays host to a different kind of mpg this year: Math Power Game. It’s an initiative from the MIND Research Institute where showgoers are challenged to solve puzzles and answer questions that “entice the whole family to explore geometry, algebra and proportional reasoning.” If that sounds scary, don’t worry. “Many parents have math anxiety, but we don’t have to pass that on to our children,” says Beth Garrow, philanthropic partnership director for MIND Research Institute. “Something as simple as playing games together or noticing how math is part of a car company’s logo can help change attitudes.”

Autotrader will be covering all of the launches during the show’s press days of February 11 and 12, so be sure to visit the site regularly and often. The show opens to the public on February 13 and goes through February 21.

Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan specializes in writing about new cars. But he has also covered trucks, vans, 3-wheelers, even the occasional motorbike. That’s the kind of thing that happens while contributing to the Los Angeles Times, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Popular Mechanics, Variety, Mazda and Lexus customer magazines, as well as many enthusiast sites and publications. He was also a staff writer at BBC Top... Read More about Colin Ryan

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