One million square feet of automotive excellence showcased in Chicago

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Chicagoans may still smart from the New York World Trade Center’s dethroning of Willis Tower as “America’s Tallest Building,” but they can claim America’s largest auto show. The Chicago Auto Show – open through Monday – covers more than a million square feet at McCormick Place, and features three indoor test tracks, including Jeep’s off-road course and Toyota’s truck test track with a seesaw, water crossing and a 15-foot hill climb.

The Chicago Auto Show may not draw as many new concept or production models as similar extravaganzas in New York and Detroit, but still offers an expected million Windy City auto enthusiasts about a thousand examples of gleaming sheet metal plus a few notable debuts and concepts.

Chicago is cold, but Kia warms it up with a couple of hot models. The new electric Kia Soul EV – appropriately accompanied by a hamster in a tuxedo – made its global debut here. Kia says its 109-hp equivalent engine will deliver zero to 60 mph in less than 12 seconds with a range of 80-100 miles on a charge. It goes on sale later this year (but not in Colorado). The Kia Niro concept is a hipster’s dream city car. It’s a small all-wheel-drive hybrid that Kia says targets “active lifestyle” drivers. Its 160-hp turbocharged engine pairs with a rear-wheel electric hybrid system powered by regenerative braking.

Diesel continues to make inroads into the U.S. market. BMW is showing off the 740Ld xDrive, a diesel version of its largest sedan with a 255-hp 3-liter turbodiesel in-line six, eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. It flies zero-60 mph in 6.1 seconds and rolls into showrooms this spring. BMW also unveiled an updated X3 that will also come in a diesel version.

Meanwhile, Nissan revealed the Frontier Diesel Runner concept mid-size pickup with a 2.8-liter, 4-cylinder Cummins turbodiesel. Touted as 35 percent more efficient than the current V6 Frontier it still has almost 200-hp. The Frontier Diesel may be available next year.

Another alternative-fuels debut is Chevy’s 2015 Silverado HD CNG Bi-Fuel that runs on both gasoline and compressed natural gas. Its advantage is that CNG is currently 62 percent less expensive than gas and with heavy work use could save a business big-time. Coming soon.

Also in the “rugged” category is a trio of off-road-capable Toyota trucks. The TRD Pro Series Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runners will have heavy shocks and front skid plates. Count Fiat in, too, with the 500L Adventurer Concept, modified to handle tougher terrain. It certainly looks more rugged with a roof basket to hold gear and aggressive interior and exterior styling.

Subaru is earning major props for the redesigned Legacy with better fuel-efficiency. Continuously variable transmissions and all-wheel drive are standard. The lower-end 2.5i has a 175-hp 4-cylinder boxer engine that gets 30 mpg combined. The 256-hp 3.6-liter 6-cylinder achieves 23 mpg combined. It also has impressive new safety and infotainment features. On sale this summer.

Volvo is spotlighting two showstoppers it developed with racing partner Polestar: the S60 and V60 wagon. They’re not your suburban-mom Volvos with high-performing 350-hp turbocharged engines that will sprint from zero – 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. Car & Driver says they “drip with aggression” and are “unbelievably hot.” Fewer than 200 will be available.

Two other high-performance head-turners are the Cadillac Elmiraj concept and Maserati Ghibli. Maserati’s four-door sport sedan has a twin-turbo V-6 and gets more than 400-hp for about $70k. The Elmiraj is a two-door hardtop with a 4.5-liter V-8 that gets an estimated 500-hp. Long and lean outside, it features luxury interior touches like Brazilian rosewood veneer. No word on whether it will ever be produced.

We’ll see some of these vehicles – and much more – soon at the Denver Auto Show, April 9-13 at the Colorado Convention Center. From fuel-efficient hybrids and electrics to supercar standouts and everything in between, be sure to come preview your next vehicle. 

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About timwjackson

Working every day for a better Colorado.
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