The Chicago Auto Show returned this year in full force, engaging attendees from February 11 to 20. Expanding back to its usual two halls, the show hit pre-pandemic attendance across the 10 days.
With six indoor test tracks and three test drives, the show gave visitors the experience behind the wheel and in the cab of all the best new automotive innovations. The number of vehicles on the showroom floor was enough to make you wonder deeply about all the logistics of such an event—and wind up reassured that at least the emissions in the closed space are nothing to worry about, as almost all of the vehicles doing test drives were electric.
We saw a lot at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show. Here are some of the highlights from the first look at this year in automotive design.
The Future of Electric Trucks
Electric truck is almost oxymoronic. Somehow brands are making it make sense, like Ford with the electric F-150 Lighting. Launched in April 2022, the 2023 upgrades include a slightly increased battery range of 240 miles, two new colors, and Pro Trailer Hitch Assist technology for easier hitching. Drivers zipped the truck around Ford’s test track next to the Broncos. Trucks are most useful for their cargo space, and the Lightning’s Mega Power “frunk” (front trunk) offers 14.1 cubic feet of space. In this instance, we can see why “electric” and “truck” are actually a great match.
But perhaps nothing is more convincing of the capabilities of an electric truck than the new Ram 1500 Revolution Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) Concept truck, which debuted at CES before reaching the 2023 Chicago Auto Show with a sleek interior and exterior design so full of tricks and innovations it would be impossible to write all of them here. Some favorites:
- “Tuning fork” design LED headlights and saloon doors make an eye-catching exterior.
- A spacious interior grows with rotating and removable seats, a removable midgate, and third row jump seats.
- A pass through from front to back offers storage for items 18 feet long with the tailgate closed, plus the segmented “Ram box” is like a toolbox in your truck.
- A projector and 3D scanner allows you to project CAD files onto worksites—or gather for an outdoor movie night.
- Apple leather and Greyslate Nanostone veneer details are sustainable and beautiful.
- All kinds of cutting-edge cameras and adjustable screen displays for safety
- All-wheel drive powered by two electric drive modules and four-wheel steering with 15 degrees of articulation for maneuverability
The real-life Ram 1500 BEV debuted during the Super Bowl and will be on the market at the end of 2024—admittedly with a lot fewer gadgets and gizmos. You can always just get a $70 projector from Amazon.
The Best New SUVs at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show
Volkswagen Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport
Volkswagen debuted the all-new 2024 Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport. On the larger side of the SUV game, the Atlas was designed specifically for American buyers. The new Atlas (7-seat) and Atlas Cross Sport (5-seat, more compact) get a revamped interior, sleeker profile, and new engine.
- Premium materials throughout include a leatherette-trimmed soft-touch dash and center console, seamless decor from the dash to the backseat, and quilted leather seats (in top-of-range models).
- A 12-inch infotainment display is fixed alongside the heated steering wheel with shift paddles.
- IQ.DRIVE® driver assistance technology, featuring hands-on semi-automatic capability, is now standard.
- Both cars get a wide chrome four-bar grille framed by LED headlights with the newly standard Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS). An illuminated light bar sits above an illuminated VW logo (also appearing on the rear of the cars).
- The Atlases will be powered by a four-cylinder turbocharged and direct-injection TSI® engine that provides similar power to the outgoing VR6, better torque, and increased fuel economy.
Further details, specifications, and pricing will be announced ahead of the launch later this year.
The EV6 isn’t all-new, but it is a big player in the EV world. Smaller and sportier than the Atlas, the EV6 was named North American Utility Vehicle of the Year™ by the North American Car of the Year last month and is a competitor to Tesla. The car is a critical part of Kia’s “Plan S”—an aim to launch two BEVs per year, hitting 14 BEVs by 2027.
- The EV6 catches eyes immediately with a sophisticated light bar across the back and a profile that’s much cooler than your average EV.
- The EV6 GT performs shockingly well. With 576 hp and 545 lb.-ft. of torque, the 2023 EV6 GT accelerates faster from 0-60 mph than the Ferrari Roma—in 3.4 seconds according to Kia.
- Ultra-fast DC charging compatibility, available onboard power, and a flat-floor interior that utilizes innovative materials throughout the cabin.
- The EV6 offers an array of advanced driver assistance systems as well as Kia’s latest-generation energy-efficient heat pump.
Toyota Grand Highlander
Who would have thought it would be possible to emerge from an SUV’s third row without bruised knees and back pain? The all-new 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander’s adult-sized third row actually looks comfortable, with 33.5 inches of legroom! Although it’s not all-electric, it is available with hybrid powertrains. The car, ideal for road trips, fulfills Toyota’s “no boring cars” rule.
- The Grand Highlander has three available powertrains: the 2.4L turbo gas engine, the efficiency-leading 2.5L hybrid with a manufacturer-estimated 34 combined MPG, and the performance-seeking 362 horsepower Hybrid MAX.
- The Grand Highlander is offered in three grades across the powertrains–XLE, Limited, and Platinum grades.
- The interior is designed for comfort during family trips of any length with room for seven carry-on suitcases behind the third row and a total of around 98 cubic feet of space with the seats folded down.
- Noteworthy standard features include digital key and a 12.3-Inch multimedia display.
- Technology like traffic jam assist, head-up display, and digital rearview mirror are also available.
Great New Upgrades to Old Favorite Cars
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 20th Anniversary 392 and 4xe
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon celebrates its 20th anniversary with two editions appealing to the so-called “lunatic fringe:” the 392 and the electrified 4xe. The 20th Anniversary editions both feature a new seven-slot grille, beadlock-capable wheels, an 83-piece tool kit, a triple hoop grille guard, steel bumpers, half-inch suspension lift, distinctive 20th Anniversary decals, and the return of the original Wrangler red seat belts.
Subaru’s all-new 2024 Crosstrek gets slightly more rough-and-ready and makes improvements for safety in its third generation. Its U.S. Debut at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show took place on an immersive stage made to look (and smell, and sound) like a national park, just out of sight of a fenced area with puppies for adoption.
Oh right, the Crosstrek, I almost forgot! It has a 10% stiffer chassis for improved dynamic performance and ride quality, an 11.6-inch SUBARU STARLINK® center information display available, standard EyeSight® Driver Assist Technology, and available wireless Apple CarPlay® and wireless Android Auto™.
Honda brought a plane to the car show, and also a Pilot. Seriously, Honda brought a wingless HondaJet Elite II mockup to the showroom floor, and also the 2023 Honda Pilot. The fourth-generation Pilot is available in six trim levels: LX, Sport, EX-L, TrailSport, Touring, and the top-of-the-line Elite. The largest and most powerful Honda SUV, the 2023 Pilot has a modern, upscale cabin with sophisticated materials, premium touches, flexible seating, and more spacious second and third rows. The adventure-ready Pilot TrailSport has standard all-terrain tires, steel skid plates, higher ground clearance, off-road tuned suspension, and more.