Walking up to the third floor of the McCormick Place Convention Center has never felt more American as the Chicago Auto Show opened its doors for the 108th time.
The national anthem echoes through the building, as thousands of patrons stand patiently in solitude. The anticipation in the air cannot be ignored, as gear heads and car enthusiast from around the country wait to see what new additions have been made to their favorite automotive.
“Every year is a spectacle,” Ray Garden, a visitor to the 2016 Chicago Auto Show said as he mozzied around a brand new 2017 Jeep SRT with his wife.
The Orland Park couple was making their 15th visit to the show over the last 32 years and noted that they’re always impressed with what’s on display.
“The SUVs this year seem to be an emphasis for most dealers and brands, especially American-made ones like Jeep and Dodge. With gas dropping, and efficient energy becoming more and more significant, it makes sense that the Sports Utility Vehicle is a big part of the show.”
The American brand’s presence is bold, with Chrysler and Ford housing the biggest and most interactive exhibits on the show floor.
Chrysler, which oversees Jeep, Dodge, Fiat and RAM, boasts one of the more impressive exhibits in the history of the show.
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of 4×4 drive, as well as the inception of the all-popular Jeep Wrangler, they built a playground of sorts for Jeep junkies.
“This place is freaking awesome, man,” Tad Wright, another visitor, said as he stood in line at the 4×4 obstacle track in the South Hall of McCormick place.
“I’ve had Jeeps the last 7 to 8 years, and the off-roading factor has never come into play for me. Today I’ve got a chance to roam some different surfaces and I’m excited as all hell,” Wright said.
These surfaces that Wright referred to were quite realistic.
A sandy, soot surface kicks up as the 2016 Jeep Wrangler tires establish themselves. Rolling over 15 to 20 foot strip, the Jeep gears up towards a steep 75-foot hill on a slight angle, surrounded by rocks and mountain-esque fixtures.
Meant to display versatility, strength and balance, the SUV powers its way down the hill and around the rocky, jagged turn before heading over a make-shift body of water.
The track takes just under three minutes to complete, and gives show-goers a true feel of everything this particular vehicle has to offer.
This sense of interaction and fan involvement doesn’t stop with Jeep, however.
The Dodge racetrack was also buzzing with excitement, as the new Durango and Charger models were under the consumer microscope.
Flexing pure American muscle, the 2016 model boasts a hemi V-8 on the RT — which is all stock.
The Durango, which has shifted toward more a performance vehicle, expects big things in 2016. Introducing stop-start technology, this SUV doesn’t require a key.
This make is offering not one, but two All-Wheel-Drive systems. One supports the 360 horsepower V-8 engine, and the other for the smaller 290 horsepower V-6 engine model.
All Durango models will sport a Chrysler Group’s new eight-speed automatic transmission with rotary shifter and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
One Dodge rep, who chose to keep his identity undisclosed, said that the performance in this year’s Durango is tough to rival. And the 20 combined highway/city miles per gallon add to appeal.
The SUV, while popular in America, aren’t always produced in America.
Part-time Toyota representative, Terrell Williams of Chicago, said the 2016 Toyota RAV 4 tops all in terms of efficiency and bang for you buck.
“In this city, with the fluctuating gas prices and style of travel that we have, there’re few better Sports Utility options,” Williams said.
“This bad boy gets 29 highway miles per gallon. In today’s SUV market, that’s excellent.”
He’s correct. Only the Audi Q5 boasted a higher highway mileage per gallon in 2015 according to fueleconomy.gov.
Toyota also features an interactive track of its own, flaunting the versatility of the newly designed vehicle for consumers to test drive on sight.
The luxury department wasn’t shy in getting their hand in the SUV cookie jar, either.
Range Rover/Land Rover has new compact SUV models in 2016. The Evoque and the Sport blend luxury with performance to create these lightweight, four-cylinder engines vehicles. Coming in a whopping 13 color options, these smaller SUV’s appeal to the on-the-go Mom who makes a few too many trips the grocery store every week.
Porsche also intrigued with their two Sports Utility models, the Cayenne and the Macan. The Macan being the compact, is the more efficient vehicle of the two.
The resurgence of the SUV is fascinating.
In a city like Chicago, however, with gas prices hovering around a price that’s lower than all of us are accustomed to.
The technology and performance of the SUV is changing in America, and the lower the gas prices stay, the more these versatile vehicles will flourish.