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Dispatches from the 2016 Chicago Auto Show

The Chicago Auto Show is the largest in North America in terms of square footage. While the number of vehicle debuts doesn’t rival the North American International Auto Show in Detroit or the Los Angeles International Auto Show, 2016 still brought significant introductions in the windy city, including a few that set a new direction for a growing brand.

Kia Niro, Optima Hybrid and Optima Plug-in Hybrid

Kia Niro (CARFAX, Inc.)
Kia Niro (CARFAX, Inc.)

Kia’s three Chicago announcements signaled a shift in strategy toward high fuel economy. Leading the pack is the company’s first car built from the ground up as an alternative fuel vehicle. The 2017 Niro is a compact gasoline-electric hybrid four-door wagon. Kia’s calling the car a Hybrid Utility Vehicle, or HUV, and is positioning the Niro between the compact SUV and traditional hybrid segments.

Scheduled to arrive in early 2017, the Niro is expected to achieve fuel economy of up to 50 mpg. An advanced 146-horsepower hybrid powertrain will coach the driver on when to coast and when to brake. Predictive information from the navigation and cruise control will manage energy flow based on the topography of the road ahead.

It’s the first car to arrive on the brand’s new, dedicated eco-car platform and a plug-in hybrid version is planned for later in the Niro’s life cycle.

Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid (CARFAX, Inc.)
Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid (CARFAX, Inc.)

Joining the Niro on stage were the Optima Hybrid and Optima Plug-in Hybrid. The Optima Hybrid employs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a hybrid motor to produce an ample 193-horsepower. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, and Kia says the Optima Hybrid should earn up to an estimated 42 mpg.

The Optima Hybrid’s compact lithium-polymer battery pack is fit under the trunk floor so it’s not encroaching into the vehicle’s cargo space. An advanced suite of driver assistance and safety systems will be available, including autonomous emergency braking, blind spot and lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

Taking efficiency to the next level is the Optima Plug-in Hybrid. The plug-in model can travel up to 27 miles in full EV mode when fully charged from an external charger. When the battery pack is depleted, the Optima Plug-in Hybrid reverts to acting at as a traditional gasoline-electric vehicle.

Nissan Armada and Titan

On the eve of the show’s media day, Nissan debuted an all-new Armada full-size SUV. Based upon the same Nissan Patrol body-on-frame platform that underpins the Infiniti QX80, the new Armada goes decidedly upscale in comfort, style and technology. It’s more athletic in its stance, losing 2.2 inches in height, but gaining 1.2 inches in length and .6 inches in width.

In order to open up manufacturing capacity in the United States for Nissan’s growing array of pickups, production of the Armada will move to Japan, though its 390-horsepower, 5.6-liter V8 will come from America. Depending on interior configuration, the 2017 Armada can carry up to eight people.

Though it wasn’t on the show floor, Nissan released photos and details on their 2017 Titan pickup. Following on the heels of the Titan XD, the half-ton Titan embraces the rugged persona of its more capable big brother with a nearly identical exterior. The Titan’s chassis is, however, completely different than the XD, and the Titan is 14.7 inches shorter.

The Titan is expected in dealers this summer, and will be equipped with a 5.6-liter, 390-horsepower V8 gasoline engine. A V6 engine choice will be announced at a later date.

Hyundai Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport

Hyundai Santa Fe/Santa Fe Sport (CARFAX, Inc.)
Hyundai Santa Fe/Santa Fe Sport (CARFAX, Inc.)

For 2017, Hyundai’s three-row Santa Fe and two-row Santa Fe Sport crossovers receive a minor exterior freshening, plus a raft of technology and safety features. Arriving at dealers now, the updated models feature revised front and rear fascias with new headlight and taillight designs.

The powertrains remain the same, except for the addition of a Drive Mode Selector with Sport, Eco and Normal setups. Displays have been upgraded across the board with a 5-inch display audio system at the low end, a 7-inch touch screen capable of displaying Android Auto included on many models and an 8-inch navigation system with Android Auto topping the range.

Backup cameras are now standard on all models, and a multi-view camera system is available. Top safety ratings are expected, and both variants can now be fitted with a plethora of advanced safety electronic systems.

Ram Power Wagon

Ram 2500 Power Wagon (CARFAX, Inc.)
Ram 2500 Power Wagon (CARFAX, Inc.)

Ram provided the most dramatic entrance of a vehicle in the show. The bold, in-your-face 2017 Ram Power Wagon adds a bit of future design with grille from the lighter-duty Ram Rebel, and a bit of its past with graphics inspired by the 1979-80 “Macho Power Wagon.”

It debuted on a moving hydraulic stage designed to highlight its massive amount of wheel and axle articulation. It then crawled its way down steep, uneven stairs onto the show floor. The Power Wagon features 17-inch wheels and 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires. Front and rear electronic locking differentials are included, and the front sway bar can be disconnected for maximum suspension travel.

A winch is fitted behind the front bumper and offers a 12,000-pound pulling capacity. The Power Wagon will be available in a lower cost Tradesman model for use as a work truck.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Worker

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Worker (CARFAX, Inc.)
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Worker (CARFAX, Inc.)

In an effort to compete with a strong group of cargo-hauling vans, Mercedes-Benz introduced the Sprinter Worker, a minimally equipped cargo van designed for commercial work. Its $32,495 price tag comes in about $4,000 lower than the next-lowest price Sprinter model.

The Sprinter Worker is only available as a 144-inch wheelbase model with a standard-height roof. Unlike the gasoline-powered vans in its new price class, the Worker will feature an efficient diesel engine and a seven-speed automatic transmission. Though Mercedes is not required to publish fuel economy estimates for the vans, customer history shows reported mileage in excess of 23 mpg. The vans feature service intervals of as long as 20,000 miles.

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro (CARFAX, Inc.)
Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro (CARFAX, Inc.)

Toyota has applied their most capable off-road setup to the new Tacoma pickup with the 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro. In addition to a group of appearance upgrades, including a non-metallic gray color called “Cement,” the Tacoma TRD Pro adds LED fog lights, 16-inch TRD black alloy wheels and Kevlar-reinforced Goodyear Wrangler tires.

Upgraded front and rear shocks with remote reservoirs are teamed with TRD springs. Four-wheel drive with an automatic limited-slip differential is standard, as is electronic crawl control and multi-terrain select. A quarter-inch thick skid plate defends the bottom of the engine.

Chevrolet Trax and Camaro 1LE

Chevrolet Trax (CARFAX, Inc.)
Chevrolet Trax (CARFAX, Inc.)

Chevrolet rolled out a quick refresh of their subcompact Trax SUV. The new front end looks more upscale than the original model, and the interior gains a number of welcome improvements, in both materials and design. A new infotainment system embraces Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, while 4G LTE connectivity is available.

Surprisingly, Chevrolet is offering advanced safety sensing systems on the Trax, including forward collision and lane departure warning, plus blind spot and rear cross traffic alerts.

The highly acclaimed Camaro adds a newly available 1LE package, which will be available for the first time with the V6-powered Camaro. Visually, a matte black hood and unique wheels identify cars with the 1LE packages. Both bundles are designed to enhance the car’s handling and track performance by including upgraded suspension, brake, exhaust and cooling systems. Goodyear Eagle F1 tires and 20-inch wheels are included for both the V6 and V8 Camaro 1LE. Magnetic Ride Control is included in the V8’s 1LE package.

Infiniti Q50

Infiniti Q50 (CARFAX, Inc.)
Infiniti Q50 (CARFAX, Inc.)

Infiniti didn’t roll a new car out in Chicago. Instead, they showed the full family of engine choices for the Q50 sports sedan. A twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 that’s capable of 300 horsepower in the Q50 3.0t or 400 horsepower in the Q50 Red Sport 400 will be available. A 208-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder is also available, and a hybrid powertrain is expected in the future.

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