I’ve lived in Chicago for 25 years, yet I’ve never seriously thought of attending the Chicago Auto Show, the USA’s largest and longest-running car show. I mean, why would I go to a car show, when I could just go to a nearby car dealer? What I realized after attending my first car show this year is that they’re not about buying cars. Nope, that’s way too practical. Car shows blend the practical reality of cars with our fantasies.
The most interesting part of the 109th Chicago Auto Show for me is getting up to speed on the technological developments that are out there. I’m not talking far-off concept cars. I’m talking about cars that are actually on the market. I checked out a couple of the new cars Hyundai’s rolling out this year.
I’m told that remote engine starts via an app are nothing new (although it sure is new to me). However, the Hyundai Elantra is the first non-luxury car where you can heat up your rear window and side mirrors. As a street-parking Chicago family, this little improvement feels revolutionary! Are you telling me I‘ll no longer have to scrape the ice and snow off my window? Hallelujah!
The Elantra also has Apple CarPlay. It’s basically a smarter, safer way to use your phone in the car. Although we’re not supposed to, most moms can’t resist checking that text at a red light. Apple CarPlay allows you to check that text quickly on your dashboard. Apple CarPlay also allows you to wirelessly connect to your music library, your garage door opener and even allows you keyless car entry via an app. Now if you lock your keys in the car, you can open the car via an app.
Another standout for me was the Hyundai Ionic. It’s the only car that comes in three different platforms… hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and EV (electric vehicle). The EV, which uses no gas, currently comes with a $7,500 federal tax deduction and a variety of rebates, depending on what state you live in. In green states, like California, you’ll get a $1,500 rebate.
Smart Cruise Control
I’m impressed by the smart cruise control technology. Cameras and censors make it nearly impossible to get in an accident. About to change lanes, but missed that car speeding up next to you? The Ionic won’t let you move into the other lane. Someone brakes quickly in front of you? The automatic brake will kick in. I would definitely feel much better about my two teenage drivers being on the road in this car.
Family Fun at Chicago Auto Show
So maybe your kids won’t be as dazzled by the 1,000 plus cars as Mom and Dad. Luckily, there are plenty of games and other attractions. Here are a few:
Hyundai has a Playstation Driver, Ford has Hank the talking robot and Nissan’s displaying a Star Wars Rogue-inspired vehicle, complete with storm troopers guarding it. And don’t forget to check out Chevy’s life-size Lego Batmobile, made with more than 350,000 Lego bricks.
What to Do with Kids Outside the Auto Show
While the 1 million square foot Auto Show is awesome, you’ll need to occasionally get the kids outside of McCormick Place, North America’s largest convention center. Here are a few nearby kid-friendly activities.
Soldier Field Sledding Hill
On the north side of McCormick Place is a free 35 foot tall sledding hill. Even if there’s no snow, the city will make fake snow for sledding. The hill has stairs with a railing and once you’ve climbed to the top, you’ll have a nice view of the city, lakefront and Burnham Harbor.
Occasionally Chicago has February days in the 50’s. If you get lucky, hop on one of the city’s Divvy bikes, located on the north side of the convention building. It’s $10 for a 24 hours pass. That gives you an unlimited number of trips, up to 30 minutes each. With thousands of bikes and some 500 stations across the city, Divvy’s a fun, affordable way to get around.
Chicago Children’s Theatre
Chicago’s Loop will have pricey Broadway style productions, but just west of the Loop is the brand new home of the Chicago Children’s Theater. They put on imaginative, world class productions for kids, that are just as enjoyable for adults. They just finished a multi-million dollar renovation of an old police station, turning it into their new home.
Where to Stay in Chicago
Yes, there’s a Hyatt connected to McCormick Place, but with so many historic and architecturally interesting choices, why go with a standard business hotel? Two great options are the Radisson Blu and JW Marriott, both opened in 2011.
Raddison Blu Aqua was designed by the MacArthur genius award-winning architect, Jeanne Gang. This lakefront hotel is a standout in a city known throughout the world for its architecture. JW Marriott is in a historic building designed by the famed architect Daniel Burnham. Formerly a bank, it was repurposed and opened in 2011 as the new JW Marriott.