Big Wheel, Keep On Turning–Chicago Auto Show Returns to McCormick Place for Slightly Altered 2021 Show

Chicago Auto Show 2021 @McCormick Place. Photo: Marielle Bokor The Chicago Auto Show was one of the last events we covered in 2020 before the pandemic hit, and the new July edition of the Chicago Auto Show that opens tomorrow will be our first time back to the megalopolis that is McCormick Place. Like so many other things, CAS 2021 looks a little different this year--and this was true for us at Wednesday’s media preview too, as much of the show was still being set up with plenty of cars still being parked and polished at the end of our day on the show floor. This July show is smaller, and shorter, running only tomorrow through July 19th, but still features some old favorites and some exciting new attractions, including a lot more outdoor content, like an entire giant test track that rivals the ever popular Camp Jeep’s and an evening street festival full of food trucks, music and more. While no industry was spared from the effects of Covid on the economy, it certainly didn’t stop progress or even, in some cases, record sales for some automakers, and it seems the societal changes we’ve seen during 2020 have made their impact on what’s trending in the auto world too, with classic color stories, homages to flagship lines, lots of connectivity and a whole bunch of crossovers and SUVs ready and willing to take the place of planes, trains and taxis and whisk you and your family away to the hills should we hit a second wave. Chicago Auto Show 2021 @McCormick Place. Photo: Marielle Bokor Adventure seems to be a key component, as we all spent a lot of time indoors hoping to get out in the world again, and that’s translated into a sales boom for Jeep especially, who not only celebrates their 80th anniversary as doors open for CAS 2021 tomorrow, but also saw sales of their Wrangler reach historic new heights. As in years past, Jeep brought the thunder, too, with a slew of new additions sure to help that historic streak keep running--everything from OEM wheels that come in at a whopping 35 inches in a brand new “Xtreme Recon Package” for the higher end Wranglers to spiffy sunroofs and an extremely sexy electric Wrangler called the 4xe, which comes loaded with everything you’d expect from a Wrangler, including the offroad performance metrics, with the awesome addition of electric power. And as offroad performance goes, they’ve reached for even higher heights, with the 392’s torque and horsepower proving dually impressive and perhaps most impressively, its available Xtreme Recon Package having a ridiculous 100:1 crawl ratio, meaning it’s maxxed out for crawling and tearing up tough terrain right out of the box.  As for design, we were delighted to see a real hearkening back to an almost 50s aesthetic, with long lines, creamy colors and specialized/particularly glossy paints, from beautiful pearls and creamy pastels to high gloss sparkle coats in some cases. It seems an array of cloudy greys, intense cobalts, sunny oranges and coppers and a world of interesting blues were everywhere, creating a sort of desertlike palette that would in some cases nicely complement the current iPhone generation’s lineup. Here too were big details, like extremely sculpted grilles, prominent logos and "aerodynamic" details like scoops and channels that really made even big SUVs look sleek and sculpted. Chicago Auto Show 2021 @McCormick Place. Photo: Marielle Bokor As homes get smarter so do cars, and the demand for connectivity was seen everywhere, with 7 to 10 inch main screens standard even for some lower tier models in nearly every automaker’s lineup, and plenty of other bells and whistles like driver side wireless charging cozies and extremely intelligent collision warning systems. Nissan, back with plenty of zest and a brand new Z model, even teamed up with Bandai Namco (yes, the same folks who made Pac-Man) to create a zesty new soundtrack for inside their ever popular Pathfinder.  Meanwhile, in a lot of cases, especially for Lexus, Toyota and Jeep, it was all about crossovers, with a brand new Corolla Cross made the center of attention in Toyota’s media hype session. It comes in a classic pearly white and rests on the same ever sturdy and faithful Corolla frame that’s made it one of the best selling nameplates in car history, now with an elegantly designed small SUV silhouette and a bit more space that manages to keep up with its sedan family in both performance and mpg--making it a pretty attractive option if you want something a little more spacious without giving up the smaller gas bill. Chicago Auto Show 2021 @McCormick Place. Photo: Marielle Bokor Lexus, meanwhile, has made sure their SUVs scream comfort and luxury, and enters this year’s SUV frackas with a gorgeous sunset orange offering that had a lot of eyes on it. Even Jeep decided to go bigger, with the reintroduction of the old Wagoneer coming soon and a 7 seater version of the Grand Cherokee, the Grand Cherokee L, available to order now. If you’re into smaller and sportier, Volkswagen’s done a lot with both their Golf GTI and R models, both receiving incredibly powerful performance updates that made their own staff giddy even in the presentation, and will appeal to fans of the classics as well as those who want something speedy, stylish and impeccably designed. Chicago Auto Show 2021 @McCormick Place. Photo: Marielle Bokor As always there were also tons of neat concept cars, including a carbon fiber Supra that one show floor worker called excessive but awesome--and we couldn’t help but agree, and a brand new Nissan Z that’s full of class and pays homage to the classic lines at once. And though we didn’t get the chance to hear from all the usual suspects as far as big names in autos, we did sneak peeks at everything from new Corvettes and Mustangs to Rams, Chargers and more.  At the end of the day, we even got to see 6 classic Corvettes presented to 6 military family members and veterans on behalf of The Lost Corvettes, who donated the proceeds and a giant 250K check to Stand For the Troops, a national not-for-profit dedicated to helping veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries and Post Traumatic Stress by providing safe, effective treatments that are potentially otherwise unavailable to them at no cost to them in an effort to improve their lives, the lives of their families, and hopefully save many lives. Chicago Auto Show 2021 @McCormick Place. Photo: Marielle Bokor Lucky for you, by the time the show opens tomorrow, there’ll be no limit to what you can see, with all the hard work still going on during today’s media preview finished and plenty of eye candy to dream about test driving, and a world of things to explore. Sure, the new show’s not quite as big, and July means it’ll be hotter than normal, but with a whole new street festival and some truly interesting test drives in and out doors, as well as some sincerely sweet and stylish new models ready for their closeup, we’re sure it’ll be worth the trip.
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Marielle Bokor