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CHICAGO — Ford is debuting a new variant of its popular Ford Explorer at the Chicago Auto Show at the McCormick Place Convention Center, where its newest vehicles will be on display from Feb. 11-20.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker, one of the Calumet Region’s largest employers, is showcasing its 2017 models of the locally made Taurus and Explorer front and center in the convention center's South Hall. Ford has rolled out a new sport appearance package for the top-selling Explorer SUV, but otherwise left it and the Taurus largely the same as the 2016 model year.

Starting at $27,345, the Taurus sedan seats five, gets up to 27 miles per gallon on the highway and has a 288 horsepower engine that can be swapped out for upgrades with more horsepower or better mileage.

“The Taurus continues to be an important part of our portfolio,” Ford spokesman Dan Jones said.

Ford drastically overhauled the Explorer for the first time in years last year, so it left it largely the same this year.

“2016 was a pretty significant freshening,” Ford Utility Vehicle Marketing Manager Craig Patterson said. “We had a new look, a new powertrain; we added the 2.3-liter Ecoboost powertrain, and we added the Platinum series, a top-end series.”

The Explorer continued to be the best-selling SUV on the market last year, as consumers snapped up the luxury Platinum version, which now accounts for about 10 percent of all Explorer sales.

The biggest change in 2017 is that the SUV now has a newer SYNC 3 interface, so people can access their smartphones better while driving, replacing the old MyFord Touch. It’s faster and connects to both Android Auto and Google Car Play, Patterson said.

The new Explorer also has front and rear cameras, and smart-charging USB ports that charge phones twice as fast.

Consumers can spend $1,295 more to get the new XLT Sport Appearance Package, which gives the SUV a sportier look.

“You can take a lot of appearances from the 2016 sport and bring that onto the (new) appearance package without the powertrain and the high-powered performance,” Patterson said. “So people who want that look but don’t need that performance, it’s a great vehicle for them.”

More than 5,500 workers make the Explorer and the Taurus at the Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch and the Chicago Stamping Plant in Portage. Hundreds more work at local parts suppliers, including Lear Corp. in Hammond and Portage.

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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.