Auto shows are the best way to shop for a car, and oh, how I’ve missed them.
If it seems like car shopping has changed dramatically since the pandemic started, it has. Now, you can shop online, browse the vehicles offered by local dealers, and order up a test drive, all from your computer.
All that screen time blurs my vision and dizzies my brain.
I just want to go shopping. Simple, old school shopping. Hopping from one exhibit to another, dashing back to make comparisons, climbing into the third row, and checking out the view from the driver’s seat. Having a real live person to tell me about the car and answer my questions. And at an auto show, there’s no pressure to buy; you actually can’t buy a car there, so all the better.
For the last year and a half, of course, auto shows were on hold. But with some clever planning, with many people vaccinated and some changes in how the auto show will take place, the Chicago Auto Show is back. And I couldn’t be happier.
Related: Kia’s New Electric EV6 and a New Logo Are Just the Start: This is What Kia Has In Store For You
The New and Improved Chicago Auto Show
I got a peek at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show and was wowed by some of the things I saw. First, the show’s organizers encouraged car companies to take advantage of the warm July weather and move some of the exhibits outside. Then, there are test drives! Usually the show takes place in February when test driving cars is not fun and often, with bad weather and traffic, not possible. This year the show has blocked off some of the streets around McCormick Place to accommodate some very cool test drives and outdoor experiences.
If you’re able to get to the Chicago Auto Show, it runs from July 15-19, 2021 from 9 AM-10PM (9AM – 8PM on July 19th). And if you can’t get to the Chicago show, many of these exhibits will be on display at a car show near you sometime this year or early next year.
This year’s Chicago Auto Show is a smaller version of the huge event that normally takes place each February; it is staged in McCormick Place’s West Building and convenient to the test drives on Indiana Avenue. However, don’t let the size fool you. There are first-ever vehicle displays, engaging and inventive exhibits, owners booths, aftermarket gear booths and other attractions. But the cars are the stars. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show.
Outdoor exhibits: Ride and Drive to Experience Ground Breaking EVs and Raw Power
Volkswagen ID.4 electric vehicle test drive:
Hop in the ID.4 and see for yourself why it was named World Car of the Year for 2021. You’ll notice how it lights up as you get in, how you don’t need to push the start button, and how it silently soars (sort of on tight city streets) as you tap the accelerator. Bring a friend to sit in the back seat; there’s plenty of room.
Mustang Mach E electric vehicle test drive:
Ford reinvented the Mustang as a four-door lifted SUV with an all electric power train. It pairs the silent and smooth performance of an EV with the passion of Mustang. This is a must see.
Ford Bronco off road course:
The Bronco and Bronco Sport are among the biggest news items in the car world in 2021 and you can experience them for yourself at the show. Ford built an outdoor off road course that puts the Bronco to the test; the Bronco Sport and some vintage Bronco models are also on display.
Ford F-150 Lightning augmented reality pavillion:
Most of us saw the delight of President Biden behind the wheel of the new all electric pickup from Ford; now you can see why. While you can’t get in it or drive it, you’ll get all the details about this amazing new pick up in a clever and inventive audio/visual show worthy of Disney.
Indoor Exhibits: The Best New Cars to See and Experience
Inside, the fun continues. Here are the highlights:
Camp Jeep and the Jeep exhibit:
You’ll get to climb into a Wrangler and go for a ride to see just what these SUVs can do. But also check out the badass Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, the electric plug in hybrid Jeep 4xe and the Jeep Grand Cherokee L which now has a third row. Oh, and just for sake of dreaming, take a look at the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. You know, because we all need something to aspire to.
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Toyota Performance Cars, Track Worthy and Street Ready
Toyota has several race cars on display and right next to them, special editions of the Supra and the new GR 86 sports coupe. They distracted me as I made my way to see the Corolla Cross, Toyota’s newest SUV, which is everything we love about the Corolla — small, easy to drive and park, comfortable and affordable — in an SUV with all wheel drive and higher ground clearance. Don’t we all need more fun in our lives these days?
Kia EV6: The Future of Kia and of Driving
This is the first time the Kia EV6 is on display anywhere in the world; it made its debut in May and everyone has been anxious to get a closer look. And when you do, you’ll see why: it’s long and lean, performance focused and inventive in its exterior look and interior features. Kia has redefined itself, moving from a lower-rung “you get what you pay for” value brand to one with distinctive style, a penchant for leading technology and a strong sense of fun – remember they build the performance focused Stinger and the the fun and quirky Soul.
The EV6 is a passion project from Kia’s chief engineer, Albert Biermann, who formerly led performance engineering at BMW, so you know this car has fast and precision-focused driving in its DNA. The EV6 is slated to start production soon and it leads Kia’s next era of electrified cars and SUVs. And if you’re interested in Kia’s current SUVs, they are on display at the Chicago Auto Show, too. Don’t miss the Kia Sorento Hybrid, maybe my favorite hybrid 3-row SUV right now.
Nissan Ariya and Z Proto
You might think of Nissan as the maker of SUVs like the Rogue and Pathfinder, both recently redesigned. But somewhere deep inside the company’s design studio there are creative innovators at work, carefully crafting the future of the brand. It shows in the outward, thrilling sportster, the Z Proto, which is the re-imagined new version of the legendary Z series of sports cars. Z cars have long been the design pinnacle of Nissan, and the coming new Z model will not disappoint. Starting with the elegant, flowing designed powered by a V6 twin turbo engine with a manual transmission option, this car is a show stopper, both at the auto show and when it comes to dealerships, on the street.
The other creative innovation that deserves your time is the Nissan Ariya EV, also on display. An elegant SUV, with flowing muscular lines, inside it’s cool and refined. The interior, which is incredibly open and modern, has been reimagined. It reminds me a bit of how the VW ID.4 and Mustang Mach E completely rethought how the interior should look and function, giving you all you need but not overwhelmingly so.
See the New Era of Lexus in the Lexus NX
The Chicago Auto Show is one of the places to showcase the all new NX, Lexus’ compact SUV. It’s ideal for those who want a luxury car, need an SUV and don’t want a huge vehicle. The outside has only subtle changes; it is anchored by the Lexus ‘spinde’ hourglass shaped grille and on the rear tail gate the name Lexus is spelled out rather than represented by a badge. The magic here is all on the inside, though. The NX is filled with cutting edge technology framed in a driver-focused cabin. There is now a touch screen only option for infotainment; the look and feel is light years more modern and the materials and finishes are elegant and confident. The NX has four engine options including a hybrid and a plug-in electric hybrid, both with powerful engines. This is one car we can’t wait to drive.
Volkswagen Celebrates Its Heritage with Two New Golfs
VW has been on a roll lately with SUVs: from the very popular Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport to the new Taos, the best-selling Tiguan and the award winning ID.4 EV, the company is hitting sales records with their SUVs. So you might think the company would debut another SUV to the show. But nope, this year they are celebrating the heritage of the performance versions of the Golf: the GTI and the Golf R. Both of these small hatchbacks are popular with enthusiast drivers and are loaded with details they love, from powerful engines to manual transmission options to leather seats and roomy hatches that give you lots of flexibility. They made their debut at the Chicago Auto Show and should be on your must-see list, even if only to really understand the DNA of VW, which is deeply rooted in performance and fun driving.
What You Need to Know If You’re Going
The Chicago Auto Show takes place from July 15-19, 2021, at McCormick Place’s West Building on Indiana Avenue. Your smart phone is the key to the show. Tickets must be purchased on line and admission is via a code that you can display on your phone or print (there are no physical tickets and no ticket booths). Smart phones will also be helpful for the ride and drives; you’ll be able to register for the drives and sign waivers while you wait in line. Masks are not required for admission to the show but non-vaccinated visitors are asked to wear masks. Mask may be required for test drives or some exhibits so have one with you just in case. There are lots of hand sanitizer stations through out the show, and lots to see and do, from multiple exhibitors as well as a food concessions both inside and outside.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Chicago Auto Show for this preview; travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own.