CHICAGO — People who go to this year’s Chicago Auto Show can drive up and down Mercedes Benz’s new dizzyingly steep Iron Schöckl Mountain, race in a simulation of the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance course, or check out a painstakingly constructed Lego Batmobile, complete with a roving Chevy bat signal.

There’s a talking Ford robot, a Lego version of the Detroit skyline, a giant inflatable Death Star, and a beeping R2-D2 in a Nissan SUV that’s been customized to look like a ship from the "Rogue One" Star Wars movie. There are customized Blackhawks, White Sox and Cubs cars, including a Toyota Tundra World Series pickup truck hauling an oversized replica trophy.

Now in its 109th year, the Chicago Auto Show is back and bigger than ever. More than 1,000 vehicles will be on display at McCormick Place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday to Feb. 20. Media, including The Times, were given the traditional sneak preview on Thursday.

More than 30 automakers showcase their newest cars at the largest auto show in the United States, which occupies more than 1 million square feet in the convention center on the lakeshore south of the Loop.

Visitors can see gaudy super cars that cost more than most homes in Northwest Indiana, like the $248,295 Lamborghini Huracan Coupe, or the $461,575 Lamborghini Aventador, which can reach a speed of up to 217 mph and go from 0 mph to 60 mph in 2.7 seconds.

Anyone looking for a more affordable ride can kick the tires or sit inside a slew of new vehicles, including new models like the 2018 Ford Expedition, the 2017 Ram 1500 Copper Sport, the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure and the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Limited Edition.

Attendees also can get behind the wheel, and not just in simulators like one that let people experience what it’s like to drive a Ford F-150 Raptor through the jungle. The Chicago Auto Show added two new indoor test tracks, where people can drive actual vehicles, bringing the total to five this year. Ram’s new proving ground, for instance, includes a high-wedge turn, a torque pull and a towing demonstration.

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"With two additional test track opportunities, we think more than 80,000 attendees will take rides on the show floor this year," said Mike McGrath, 2017 Chicago Auto Show chairman.

"Our indoor test tracks combine with our outdoor test drive opportunities to create a show experience unlike any other in the nation."

Steelworkers from Northwest Indiana mills should get an extra kick walking around McCormick Place and seeing such a vast display of cars made largely with steel, said Jody Hall, vice president of the automotive market for the Steel Market Development Institute, one of the auto show’s sponsors. The new Chrysler Pacifica, for example, is made with 72 percent advanced high-strength steel.

“These auto shows are some of the biggest steel shows on earth,” she said.

“You can come to one place and see so many great steel products. Steelworkers should be proud to come here and look around, even with aluminum vehicles like the Ford F-150. It may have an aluminum outer shell, but underneath there’s a high-strength steel frame that’s making all that happen.”

Tickets cost $13 for adults and $7 for seniors and children. The South Shore Line has added weekday stops to McCormick Place.

For more information, visit chicagoautoshow.com.


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.