Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, also hosts the biggest – in square feet – auto show in the U.S. The Chicago Auto Show runs through Sunday, and among the most notable vehicles on display are the big pickups and SUVs on display.
With gasoline at its lowest price in more than five years ($1.26 mid-week in Brighton) large vehicles are more popular and get big visibility at the Chicago show.
Nissan’s Murano and Pathfinder concepts would easily climb to a ski chalet high on the slopes but be impractical on streets with their tires substituted for tracks; attention-grabbing but not very practical. More sensible may be Jeep’s Wrangler Red Rock concept, customized by Mopar, with electronic locking differentials and the ability to master almost any obstacle. Billed as a concept, a 50-unit edition based on it will be built.
Toyota’s 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro is a realistic option for off-roading or street use. This 3.5-liter, V-6, with 278 hp and 265-lb-ft of torque, midsize pickup arrives next fall. The TRD Pro comes loaded with features for rugged conditions, including the display vehicle’s arrestingly utilitarian cement-gray finish.
Ram’s 2017 2500 Power Wagon also works both on- and off-road, with a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, with 410 hp and 429-lb-ft of torque. It looks wicked – in the best sense – with a blacked-out grille, and other body parts. Not powerful enough? Check out the Shelby F-150 SuperCrow, a limited-edition, 5.0-liter V-8 putting out 700 hp. Equally wicked looking, it has a composite ram-air hood, front-bumper wrap and grilled, fender flares and other decorative touches.
Many manufacturers are signaling continued faith in SUVs and crossovers here with concept and new or refreshed models. The Kia Telluride concept is getting lots of looks. It’s a seven-seat SUV hybrid with a 270-hp, 3.5-liter V6, plus a 130-hp electric motor combined for 400 hp and 30 mpg/highway. Auto reviewers bet this one gets built.
Nissan will produce its newly designed eight-seat 2017 Armada. It looks a lot like the Infiniti QX80 and is equipped with a 390-hp, 5.6-liter V-8.
Hyundai unveiled refreshed versions of the three-row Santa Fe and two-row Santa Fe Sport. Exterior changes are mostly cosmetic – new headlights, taillights and fascia – but there’s an updated infotainment system and upgraded safety features.
Finally, there’s a wheelchair-accessible SUV, a Ford Explorer MXV customized by BraunAbility with a ramp for disabled drivers/passengers. This is targeted at younger disabled consumers who just aren’t into minivans. It’s priced at about $60,000. Ford also announced that it plans to introduce four new SUVs in the next four years.
One of the most eye-catching concepts here actually is a van – sort of – based on Mercedes-Benz’s workhorse Sprinter. This Sprinter Extreme concept is cut down and tricked out as a small-version dump truck with a roof rack and light bar atop the cab, heavy-duty tires and a jungle-style wrap.
Chicago loves muscle cars, and Chevrolet happily obliges with the Chevy Camaro SS 1LE. It’s a suspension/chassis/exhaust package that includes fatter tires and bigger brakes to add to both V-6 and V-8s to make them track-worthy and fast. BMW unveiled its super-fast M4 GTS with 493-hp water-injected engine zooming from zero-60 in 3.7 seconds.
While bigger is most visible in Chicago, federal fuel-efficiency standards keep rising, meaning plenty of small cars and alternative-fuels cars will be built. One head-turning example is Kia’s Niro crossover hybrid, available next year with an expected 50 mpg combined. The Subaru Impreza five-door concept shows off Subie’s new, more aerodynamic styling direction. Mazda brought two ultralight MX-5 concepts – Speedster and Spyder – that look like they could be instant hits with sports car enthusiasts but likely will never be built.
As usual, more to see than space to report from Chicago. Your chance to see new domestic and import cars comes up March 16-20 at the 2016 edition of the Denver Auto Show, bringing more than 600 models to the Colorado Convention Center.