2015 Chicago Auto Show: All that matters (and some that doesn’t) Part I

More people attend the Chicago Auto Show than any other show in the U.S., including the “big three,” the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Los Angeles Auto Show and the New York International Auto Show, and it’s in Chicago’s bright, fresh and roomy McCormick Place.

So why doesn’t it get more respect? Well, it does, though not necessarily from the smaller manufacturers, and without a contingency of international media, Chicago doesn’t always get the world debuts one might see in the other large shows. Yet there’s still global news, from a new concept from Mitsubishi, to a Nissan race car that will hit the track at Le Mans, to an announcement about a new EV from Chevrolet. Join us for three-part coverage of what’s new in Chicago.

2016 Chevrolet Equinox

2016 Chevrolet Equinox (click to enlarge)

Chevrolet Equinox

Chevy’s mid-size crossover-SUV, the Chevrolet Equinox, is the brand’s second-most popular vehicle—behind only the Silverado pickup—with more than a quarter million sold last year. With that much riding on it as well as to maintain the upwards trend, in sales, Chevrolet gave the Equinox its mid-generational refresh. Or as Chevrolet says, it was “contemporized.” The redo included a new grille and front fascia, with projector beam headlamps standard on all trim levels, as are a backup camera and larger touchscreen radio for base models. Chevrolet simplified and clarified trim lineup. It’s now L, LS, LT and LTZ, with no more LT1 and LT2 confusion. The interior was moved upgrade overall, the new fabrics and a new center stack configuration. The casual observer might not notice the differences, but the changes should make the Chevrolet Equinox even more competitive. The 2016 Chevrolet Equinox goes on sale in fall 2015.

Chevrolet Bolt EV concept at Detroit

Chevrolet Bolt EV concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (click to enlarge)

Chevrolet Volt EV

There’s no change in the model since its debut at the 2015 North American International Auto Show last month, but at the Chicago Auto Show, the battery-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV went from concept to future model. The long-range pure electric, with a price around $30,000 will be available in all 50 states, and is designed for a range of 200 miles, with DC fast charging. The Bolt EV will have selectable driving modes to suit particular driver’s driving styles. The, um, uniquely-styled subcompact four-door will be built in GM’s Orion assembly plant, about 30 miles north of Detroit, which will be powered by gas from two nearby landfills along with a 350-kilowatt solar array.

2015 Nissan GT-R LM

2015 Nissan GT-R LM (click to enlarge)

Nissan GT-R LM NISMO

Nissan was all about performance at the Chicago Auto Show, displaying the Nissan 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept along with the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO race car. While the 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept is purportedly a one-off “design study,” the GT-R LM is designed for the top rank of prototype road racing—including Le Mans. Decidedly unlovely, the GT-R LM is built for speed and optimum aerodynamics, but unlike other race cars in its class, the GT-R LM has its 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 gasoline engine mounted ahead of the driver and powering the front wheels. The engine also juices a hybrid drivetrain for greater acceleration. A Nissan engine has powered the P2 class winner for the past four years, but this is the first time a Nissan car will challenge the big boys.

Nissan 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept

Nissan 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept (click to enlarge)

Nissan 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept

The Nissan 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept, however, is competition-inspired rather than a true race car. The NISMO Roadster, says Nissan, has “GT-R-inspired functional and fully integrated aerodynamic body pieces.” Changes and additions from the standard Nissan 370Z Roadster include a custom carbon-fiber rear spoiler designed specifically for the 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept. Inside, the NISMO-styled has black Recaro seats with off-white Ultrasuede inserts exclusive to the Concept. Nissan says the Nissan Roadster Concept is designed to complement the 370Z NISMO Coupe, if approved for production. We say it’s only a matter of time.

2015 Ram 1500 Laramie Limited grille

New grille of the 2015 Ram 1500 Laramie Limited

Ram Laramie Limited

Ram takes its top pickup to an even higher height with the Ram Laramie Limited pickup. The Laramie Limited, available in 1500, 2500 and 3500 models, borrows luxury touches from the best of luxury automobiles with Black Natura Plus premium leather with model-specific pinstripe stitching and Greystone piping. Ram complements the leather with Black Argento wood, limited as it is to the Limited. Ram 1500 models have the dash-mounted rotary shifter made from machine-spun aluminum with knurled edges. Other touches include Liquid Graphite-faced gauges with diamond knurled Liquid Chrome rings, and saddlebag-style pockets on the backs of the front seats. Outside the Ram Laramie Limited pickups can be identified by a “new billet port grille,” a change from the longstanding crosshair grille styling. Chrome front and rear bumpers… just like bumpers used to be…are optional.

2016 Toyota Avalon

2016 Toyota Avalon (click to enlarge)

Toyota Avalon

Toyota debuted a “refreshed” 2016 Toyota Avalon. The mid-cycle re-do will be identifiable by a wider lower front grille with narrow upper grille design, redesigned turn signals where the fog lights, “refined LED taillights,” and a chrome strip on the rear bumper. The powertrain bits are unchanged but Toyota gives Avalon purchasers two new suspension choices. With the XLE through Limited grades, the suspension is tuned for a softer ride, while with the Touring trim the Avalon gets “a more dynamic and responsive driving experience.” In other words, with the Touring the Avalon gets as sporty as an Avalon gets.