After 20+ years of reporting the repetitious cycle that is the new product launch, the process has morphed from delicious Tex-Mex (to use one well-known example) to perhaps too much Tex-Mex. Until, of course, the lights went down and the music came up at Nissan’s preview of its all-new Armada, immediately prior to this year’s Chicago Auto Show.
Of all the automotive OEMs selling cars and trucks in Middle America, Nissan is taking one of the most proactive approaches to the marketing of its metal. In Chicago it begins with bringing only Carlos Ghosn-knows-how-many members of the automotive media to Chicago annually. Of course, if you’re having a party you need a menu, and for this party it was a heaping helping of SUV. And the Nissan SUV most in need of a hearty party was the Armada, last redesigned – we think – when Bush 41 was still wondering how-the-h*ll he lost to Clinton. In that the current/1st gen Armada is sharing a platform with the old Titan, as Nissan’s full-size pickup receives a reboot so, too – we’d assume – would its Armada sibling. And it has (or will), with plans to assemble the new Armada in Japan on a modified Patrol platform, which also underpins Infiniti’s QX80.
With what is modestly termed a ‘fresh exterior design’, the new Armada looks as all-new as that tired descriptive should suggest – but seldom does.
With its debut set in an edgy event space somewhere near downtown Chicago, the new Armada represents a Chicago-worthy combination of Big Shoulders and Daley Driver. The exterior offers generous proportions for the long haul, along with a footprint just slightly longer than a Tahoe’s and, notably, more urban-friendly than a Suburban’s. You’ll be instantly reminded of today’s Armada, while knowing the 2nd-gen is completely updated.
The display example was the fully-loaded Platinum, which is more proof (if proof was needed) of growing income inequality. For those at the short end of that economic stick, Nissan also supplies the more value-oriented SV and SL, in both 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive. A navigation system is now standard, as is an 8-inch color display, heated front seats and 13-speaker Bose audio. Under the hood is an updated version of Nissan’s 5.6 liter V8, offering 390 horsepower and connected to a new 7-speed automatic. No word yet on a Cummins V8 diesel, but you can always hope.
Next up – at the show’s first media day – was Kia’s opening act, a compelling performance by Chicago’s School of Rock. The school offers a performing arts campus where the emphasis is split between performing the arts and – presumably – rocking the charts. The main act, however, was Kia’s all-new Niro, a production version of its crossover concept first seen at Frankfurt in 2013. While slightly larger than the current Sportage, it also looks lower, appearing more like a tall wagon than a compact SUV. With a dedicated hybrid platform and, according to product planning chief Orth Hedrick, a goal of 50 miles per gallon, Kia looks to build on the product goodness exemplified by today’s Soul, Optima, Sorento and K900. And if looking for a production version of Kia’s Telluride SUV concept, keep your fingers crossed; if gas prices remain low, this 3-row sport utility could be an out-of-the-park homerun.
Beyond the above, the day was spent considering a refreshed Hyundai Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport, updates on Chevy’s well-received Trax, a more offroad-capable variant of Ram’s Power Wagon and, still in the dirt, a TRD Pro Tacoma. FCA supplied an overview of its 1941 anniversary-edition Jeeps, as if a live axle-equipped Wrangler isn’t enough of a remembrance. For families, this was my first chance to receive an overview of GMC’s redesigned Acadia and Mazda’s all-new, 3-row CX-9, while – at the same time – wishing Mazda would build their Miata Spyder and Fiat might give us the 500X Chicane concept. And only then did we go for deep dish pizza…
WHAT: 2016 CHICAGO AUTO SHOW
WHERE: McCormick Place, Chicago
WHEN: February 13th thru 21st