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Welcome to the Windy City

The 2016 Chicago Auto Show (CAS) officially opens its doors to the public Saturday, February 13. Unlike the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which saw plenty of new car announcements and radical concepts, the focus in Chicago is on trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUV) and crossover utility vehicles (CUV).

Think of CAS as the chill, cooler little brother of the other auto shows. There were only two major new vehicle announcements, like the Nissan Armada and Kia Niro, but other automakers used the opportunity to unveil mid-cycle refreshes and new trim levels for their trucks and CUVs.

Chevrolet Trax

Chevrolet Trax

Chevy revealed an updated Trax subcompact CUV in Chicago. The cute ute has only been available in the US since the 2015 model year, but was available to the rest of the world for two years prior.

I never liked the look of the Trax, the front end didn’t match the rest of the car’s boxy but flared bodywork, which gave it a dopey look. However, the mid-cycle refresh gives it a friendly face that resembles the Bolt EV, and fits in with the rest of Chevy’s car lineup.

Chevrolet Trax

The Trax gets more than a rhinoplasty, Chevy also tweaked the interior with a more streamlined dashboard. The revised dashboard foregoes the outgoing model’s quirkiness, like the unique analog tachometer with digital speedometer arrangement, for a more conventional analog tachometer and speedometer with a digital display.

A 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system provides the Trax with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and optional 4G LTE hotspot capabilities.

Driver assists are available for the first time, too, including blind spot monitor (BSM), lane departure warning (LDW) and forward collision alert. The driver assists are passive alert systems only, but similar to what the competition, like the Honda HR-V, offers.

Chevy makes no changes to the Trax’s powertrain, the same 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder paired to a six-speed automatic carry over.

Expect the updated Chevy Trax to arrive at dealerships in the fall.

Hyundai Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport

Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai took to the stage to reveal a mid-cycle refresh for the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport CUVs. The front end receives subtle tweaks with new headlights, front fascia and LED running lights. While the updates are minor, it gives the Santa Fe’s previously friendly face a more menacing look.

Inside is where the major changes happen. An optional 8-inch touchscreen navigation infotainment system with Android Auto is available on the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport. The larger Santa Fe receives a standard 7-inch touchscreen with Android Auto support, which is also optional on the shorter Santa Fe Sport. Apple CarPlay support is absent, unfortunately.

Hyundai Santa Fe

The update includes optional new and enhanced driver assist technologies, like a 360-degree camera system, full-speed range adaptive cruise control (ACC), LDW and automatic emergency braking (AEB).

Motivation remains the same, with a standard 3.3-liter V6 in the Santa Fe and 2.4-liter four cylinder in the Santa Fe Sport. The Santa Fe Sport has an optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder for those that desire more power, too. Power is sent to the front wheels or all wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, regardless of motor.

Hyundai Santa Fe

The updated 2017 Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport are already on their way to Hyundai dealerships across the country.

Kia Niro

Kia Niro

Kia debuted the new Niro hybrid utility vehicle (HUV) that’s designed from the ground up for efficiency. The new hybrid promises 50 mpg combined on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s test cycle.

The key to Kia’s 50 mpg is a new 1.6-liter four-cylinder motor joined by an electric motor and a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. A 1.56 kWh battery placed beneath the rear seat powers the electric motor. The powertrain produces a combined 146 horsepower (hp) and 195 pound-feet (lb-ft) of torque.

Kia plans a plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) later in the Niro’s product cycle.

Unfortunately, the Kia Niro will only be available in front wheel drive, so those expecting the traction capabilities of all-wheel drive will have to look elsewhere, like the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.

Kia Niro

Inside, the Niro receives the latest UVO3 infotainment system with a 7-inch capacitive touch screen. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is supported, too.

Kia plans to offer the Niro with a suite of passive driver assists, which include LDW, AEB and blind-spot monitor. ACC rounds out the list of driver assists.

Kia Niro

Expect the Kia Niro to arrive later this year.

Nissan Armada

Nissan Armada

Nissan once again has an off-road SUV with the new Armada. While the last Armada was a humongous beast, it was based off the same platform as the Nissan Titan pickup truck. The last off-road-focused SUV from Nissan was the Xterra, which was put to rest last year.

However, the new Armada is only a beast off-road by coincidence. Based off the international Nissan Patrol, the Armada features a heritage of extreme capability. The Patrol is Nissan’s answer to the Toyota Land Cruiser and used to traverse the toughest terrains. It’s also very popular in the Middle East.

Despite its Patrol heritage, the Armada is targeted as a large luxury SUV with three rows of seating. The interior is lined with plush leather and comfort amenities, like heated seats, steering wheel and plenty of cup-holders for your kid’s entire soccer (football for those on the other side of the Atlantic) team.

Nissan Armada

The NissanConnect 8-inch infotainment system provides navigation and music functions while a Bose premium sound system provides the tunes.

The Armada offers a full suite of driver assist technologies, including ACC, BSM, back-up collision intervention, lane departure prevention, AEB and a 360-degree camera system.

Powering the Armada is Nissan’s 5.6-liter V8 mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission, to tow up to 8,500 pounds. Rear wheel drive and four-wheel drive (4WD) configurations are available. The intelligent All-Mode 4WD system dynamically adjusts power to the front and rear axles as necessary, but experienced drivers can switch to a lower gear range, 4WD mode to slowly take on the toughest terrain.

Nissan Armada

Expect the all-new Nissan Armada to hit dealerships later this year.

Nissan Titan

Nissan Titan

Nissan launched the half-ton-plus Titan XD last year, which offered more capability than a half-ton but not quite as much as a three-quarter ton pickup. But, Nissan remained silent about its plans for the regular half-ton Titan, until now.

The details aren’t too exciting, however. The Titan half-ton is 14.7-inches shorter than the XD, but shares the same look and cab. There’s a completely different chassis beneath the half-ton Titan’s cab, and the two do not share any chassis components.

Powering the Titan is the same 5.6-liter V8 and seven-speed automatic as the Armada and Titan XD, so no surprises there.

Expect the Titan to reach dealerships this summer.

RAM Power Wagon

RAM Power Wagon

RAM gave its Power Wagon, an extreme off-road pickup truck, a new front-end makeover. The new front end ditches the previous cross-hair grille design for a blacked out look with “RAM” in giant letters.

The Power Wagon begins life as a three-quarter ton pickup heavy duty pickup. The suspension is raised two-inches, locking differentials and Articulink front suspension provides the Power Wagon with extreme off-road capabilities.

The Articulink front suspension features sway bars that can disconnect for greater axle articulation capabilities. A 12,000-pound winch lets the Power Wagon pull out anything, really.

Ram Power Wagon

I’ve driven the previous Power Wagon through an extreme off-road course and found the capabilities simply amazing. However, the truck is massive and takes some time and patience to navigate through tight off-road areas.

Powering the Power Wagon is the same 6.4-liter Hemi V8 as before. The monstrous powertrain puts out 410 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque, bolted to a heavy duty six-speed automatic transmission. There isn’t much available in terms of driver assist technologies, but the Power Wagon does have hill-descent control, which makes driving down steep hills and terrain much easier, since it limits the speed the travels.

Ram Power Wagon

Inside, the Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system returns. The QNX-based system doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto support, unfortunately. However, there’s an optional cargo-view camera that lets you keep an eye on items in the truck bed.

Expect the updated RAM Power Wagon to hit dealerships in Q4 of this year.

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Toyota used Chicago to introduce the serious off-road capable Tacoma TRD Pro trim. The TRD Pro takes a Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road and beefs it up with more off-road goodies.

At quick glance, the most notable difference is the grille with the classic Toyota script, which was used in the ’80s. I know it’s such a little detail, but I absolutely love the retro-throwback grille. It reminds me of Marty McFly’s Toyota pickup from Back to the Future.

Other visual changes are quite subtle, like aluminum skid plates, blacked out headlights, LED fog lights, 16-inch TRD black alloy wheels and subtle TRD Pro badging. But the Tacoma TRD Pro is more than just looks.

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

The suspension receives major upgrades for greater off-road capabilities. The Tacoma TRD Pro sports a 1-inch lift with Fox 2.5 internal bypass shocks and a TRD-tuned exhaust.

Inside, the Tacoma TRD Pro features some additional badging and exclusive trim for a unique look. Toyota’s Entune infotainment system powers audio and navigation functions. A preinstalled GoPro mount on the windshield makes it easier for off-roaders to record their shenanigans.

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Powering the TRD Pro is the same 3.5-liter V6 as the regular Tacoma, with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Exclusive to the TRD Pro with automatic transmission is a multi-terrain select system with 5 drive modes optimized for specific environments.

Expect the Tacoma TRD Pro to hit dealerships in the fall.

That’s a wrap

Nissan Armada

The Chicago Auto Show was quite tame this year. The Kia Niro and Nissan Armada were the only all-new car debuts. The rest were mid-cycle refreshes. If I had to pick a favorite production car, I’d have to go for the Nissan Armada.

While the refreshed Santa Fe looks sharp, the Tacoma TRD Pro is amazingly capable and the RAM Power Wagon epitomizes America, the Nissan Armada speaks to me. I’m a sucker for luxury vehicles that are extremely capable off-road, even if I don’t need it.

The thought of driving through Death Valley in comfort, with plenty of room for my wife and kids, sounds like the perfect vacation for me. Just add a roof-top tent, and I’d be set.

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