While the Chicago Auto Show is always eager to advertise its claim of being the largest auto show in the United States (by square footage), it usually takes a back seat to the likes of Detroit, New York and LA when it comes to important, exciting product and concept debuts. This year's show holds its own, however, hosting a variety of interesting new production cars, concepts and special editions. Take a look at the new cars and trucks that have Chicagoland talking.
The Ford GT goes silver
Although it isn't new in design or spec, having had its debut at last month's North American International Auto Show (Detroit), the Ford GT at the Chicago Auto Show does wear a new "liquid silver" paint job and racing stripes. As such, it's easily one of the most visually exciting concepts of the show, "old" news or not. The 600-hp+ twin-turbo EcoBoost V6-powered Ford GT will hit production sometime in 2016.
Concept cars and special editions show new possibilities
Among the Chicago debuts that we looked at in more depth, the AWD, off-road-ready hybrid Soul that Kia calls the Trail'ster is an easy show favorite. The small, nimble SUV pairs a rear electric drive with a 1.6-liter turbo up front, offering "through the road" all-wheel drive that delivers traction, acceleration and all-electric driving whenever conditions warrant.
A few other other concepts and special editions showcase new performance and aesthetic possibilities.
Nissan 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept
Nissan's performance arm has its hands full in Chicago, revealing both the GT-R LM NISMO race car and the 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept. The latter tests the waters for a high-performance version of Nissan's sporty convertible, dialing things up with a tuned 350-hp version of the standard Roadster's 332-hp 3.7-liter V6 engine. The concept does meticulous road work with help from a NISMO-tuned suspension system. Billed as a one-off design study, the 370Z NISMO Roadster could join the hard-topped 370Z NISMO Coupe on the market, if there proves to be demand.
Dodge Viper "1 of 1"
With a colorful show car, Dodge shows the near-limitless possibilities of its new Viper "1 of 1" program, which lets Viper owners customize their sports cars into one-of-a-kind creations. We'd personally prefer classic red brushstrokes over the bright Easter basket of colors on the Chicago car, but it does convey the open-ended possibilities of the program quite effectively. Dodge announced the program last month, calling it an industry first and stating that Viper customers have up to 25 million different build combinations to choose from, including 8,000 hand-painted exterior colors, 24,000 hand-painted custom stripes, 10 wheel options, 16 interior trims and six aero packages.
Mazda previews accessories on MX-5 concept
We don't think that 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata customers will have a whopping 25 million build combinations to choose from when the new roadster goes on sale this summer, but Mazda is previewing possible personalization options with the MX-5 accessories concept. The Chicago Auto Show served as the venue where Mazda revealed the very first MX-5 Miata in 1989, and this year's show is the backdrop for the reveal of the new 2016 model upgraded with aero kit, BBS wheels, Brembo brakes and luggage rack. The customized concept wears Ceramic Metallic paint.
"The concept parts and accessories we have showcased at the Chicago Auto Show were developed to give customers a look at what is possible for the new cars to make them truly one-of-a-kind," explains Jim O'Sullivan, president and CEO, Mazda North American Operations.
Chevy delivers a Bolt of reality
Though much of GM's focus in introducing the all-new Chevy Bolt at NAIAS 2015 was affordability, there was no word out of the show about whether such affordability would be extended to actual customers or just discussed and forgotten, concept-car style. GM waited until Chicago to confirm its intentions to build the small electric car, which is projected to travel around 200 miles (322 km) per charge and cost around US$30,000. It is investing $200 million in its Orion Assembly facility and Pontiac Metal Center to support Bolt production and plans to announce a production timeline and other details at a later date.
"The message from consumers about the Bolt EV concept was clear and unequivocal: Build it,” says GM North America President Alan Batey. “We are moving quickly because of its potential to completely shake up the status quo for electric vehicles.”
Trucks get new options and special edition packages
It's only fitting that an auto show in the heartland of a country that's best-selling car is a truck (Ford F-Series) would have a few interesting trucks to its name. Ram is showing the new Laramie Limited trim and Chevy has a pair of special Silverado packages in the form of the Midnight Edition and Custom. It's another Chevy that's the most interesting of the new trucks on display, though.
The special edition Chevy Colorado GearOn Edition adds versatility with a basic GearOn accessory kit, which can be used as the basis of a versatile mounting system for hauling gear like kayaks, bikes, boards and even a bed-mounted tent. The Colarado GearOn Special Edition will go on sale within the next few months for a starting price of $31,250.
There is plenty more eye candy at the Chicago Auto Show. Step into our gallery and check it out for yourself.