The Chicago Auto Show is where the auto industry rolls out new vehicles that weren’t quite ready for January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, or cars and SUVs that would have gotten lost in the noise of the bigger show. This year’s Chicago show was heavy on trucks and SUVs.
The 108th Chicago Auto Show is completing its media days and charity benefit events, then runs nine public days, through Sunday, Feb. 21, at McCormick Place. It is the nation’s largest auto show measured in display space, more than 1 million square feet, or 7-8 Home Depots. The Detroit show envies Chicago’s great facility; Chicago envies Detroit’s new model lineup. Journalists don’t like the weather in either place, but Chicago has more blues joints if you do get stuck until the airports re-open. Here are five vehicles of note from Chicago 2016.
Nissan Armada range-tops Nissan’s SUV makeover
The 2017 Nissan Armada is made more sensible by $ 1.50 gasoline. It’s the biggest of Nissan’s SUVs, many of which have been re-engineered and restyled, particularly the swoopy Nissan Murano. The second-generation Armada offers three rows of seats and a beefier 5.6-liter “Endurance” V8 engine and seven-speed automatic with 390 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque, huge improvements over the outgoing powerplant. Two- and four-wheel-drive versions are offered. It will be heavy on driver assists: adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and intervention, lane departure warning and prevention, forward-collision warning, and a surround view (four cameras) monitor with moving object detection.
Nissan skipped a 2016 Armada, and goes straight from the 2015 Armada based on the Nissan Titan pickup to the 2017 based on the global (just not US) Nissan Patrol, an SUV favored by UN peacekeeping forces along with the Toyota Land Cruiser. Either way, Armada remains a separate frame-and-body construction, meaning a) heavier and b) ruggeder in the eyes of enthusiasts. The other way to position the Armada is this way: Infiniti QX80 less $ 20,000.
The Armada is big in every way: nearly 210 inches long, just under 6,000 pounds of curb weight depending on features, and capable towing boats and trailers up to 8,500 pounds. Just not big in every way: It loses some interior space compared with the previous version. The Armada arrives at dealerships this summer; Nissan is hoping to improve on last year’s 12,000 sales out of a market segment (full-size, non-luxury SUVs) of 250,000, led by Chevrolet Tahoe (79,000) and Suburban (45,000). Last year, the QX80 outsold the Armada by almost 50% in the luxury SUV segment half as big.
Refreshed Hyundai Santa Fe, Santa Fe Sport add needed tech
The Hyundai Santa Fe (three rows, photo above) and Santa Fe Sport (two rows, inset right) midsize SUVs get much-needed driver assist technology to keep them competitive with best sellers in the class, some of which lack what Hyundai is now adding: stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and steerable headlamps with automatic high beam. There’s even a third-row USB jack offered in the upscale Santa Fe trim line.
There’s a new version of Hyundai Blue Link (telematics; it has nothing to do with Bluetooth), as well as support for Android Auto phones (but not iPhones and Apple CarPlay). A hands-free, auto-open liftgate is offered: Stand close to the back end with the remote in your pocket and the liftgate opens within three seconds; no under-the-bumper kicking motion as on Fords and BMWs.
Prices for the two-row Santa Fe sport range from $ 26,000 to $ 39,000. Fuel economy is up 1 mpg on the Santa Fe Sport. For the three-row Santa Fe, it ranges from $ 31,000 for front-drive to $ 42,000 for the AWD Santa Fe Limited Ultimate. This is a midlife refresh aimed at improving Santa Fe’s share of the midsize SUV market, 120,000 sales last year out of 1.7 million sold, seventh among midsize two- and three-row vehicles. Hyundai’s market mix is 70% cars, 30% SUVs at a time when SUVs and pickups are more than half the overall market.
Hyundai also used the Chicago Auto Show week to speak out against counterfeit auto parts. They cut into Hyundai and dealer profit margins. More importantly, some of the parts are downright dangerous. A dirt cheap non-Hyundai brake rotor or brake pad might wear out quickly or possibly fail (but quality non-Hyundai-branded parts are sold, too); a fake safety part labeled as genuine Hyundai might be downright dangerous, such as an airbag (counterfeit bag above left). It’s one thing buying a knockoff copy of Windows 10 or the new Adele album, but another thing with a counterfeit syringe (not sterile) or car airbag (dangerous).
2017 Chevrolet Trax gets a 13-month tech refresh
The subcompact crossover Chevrolet Trax and its sibling Buick Encore are two examples of what the new GM is doing right. Only Subaru’s XV Crosstrek outsells them in the emerging subcompact crossover market that doubled in 2015 to 400,000-plus sales. Only 13 months in, the Trax gets a facelift to make the front end look more like the Chevrolet Bolt and Volt, as well as a cockpit upgrade, while keeping the same mechanicals underneath.
The center stack gets a 7-inch touch screen, the better to show off Chevy’s simple-to-use MyLink infotainment system. It’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The OnStar 4G LTE telematics system can provide a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to seven devices, about as many as would reasonably fit in a subcompact. While it was announced in Chicago, the facelifted Trax goes on sale in the fall.
2017 Kia Niro: first dedicated Kia hybrid
Kia says it designed the 2017 Kia Niro to look and drive like a regular car, in this case a compact crossover. Kia’s using the term hybrid utility vehicle, perhaps mimicking BMW’s sports activity vehicle nomenclature. It uses the same drivetrain as the Hyundai Ioniq (think Hyundai Prius). Kia is aiming at 50 mpg combined mpg with an Atkinson cycle 1.4-liter direct injection four-cylinder engine, a 1.6-kWh lithium ion polymer battery, and an electric motor integrated with the transmission. Engine and motor combine to produce 146 hp and 195 pound feet of torque.
The center stack houses a 7-inch LCD, the UVO3 infotainment system, and compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In terms of size, the Niro would be bigger than the Kia Sportage and smaller than the midsize Sorento. The Niro will be a key player in Kia’s plan to triple its green car offerings by 2020.
BMW Alpina B7 xDrive: Think ‘comfortable M7′
Given the choice between a high-end production car you can’t afford and a a lower-volume car tweaked to be even more awesome (and unaffordable), the tweaked car is more fascinating. So it is with Alpina’s B7 modification of the new 7 Series sedan. Alpina is a factory-approved tuner to the brand and the modified cars are sold by BMW dealers. B7 is Alpina’s take on the BMW 7 Series. Visually, they’re most often painted an intense medium blue color, Alpina Blue Metallic, and the signature alloy wheels have 20 spokes.
The point of an Alpina car is to match, sometimes surpass, the power of a BMW M car, with handling more acceptable for daily driving. BMW’s 4.4-liter V8 engine is strengthened inside, then the turbochargers are tweaked to produce 20 pounds of boost (this on top of a 10.0:1 compression ratio) to produce 600 hp, 590 pound-feet of torque: good for 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 193 mph. This is a fall 2016 car. The price is not yet set, but it would help to have a $ 150,000 balance in your checking account plus a line of credit.
Not to be outdone by its tuner, BMW also introduced the 2017 BMW M760i xDrive (above), a V12 car with M car performance components (engine, exhaust, aerodynamic package, badging). This is not the same as a creating a BMW M7; it uses some but not all of the M2 and M4 kinds of tweaks. Like the Alpina B7, the too, the M760 will develop 600 hp, BMW says. The car will be available in 2017. No pricing was set.
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