Downtown Chicago. The McCormick Center. It is, as most big-city convention centers are, a massive facility, and this one is especially well-suited to the rigors of being home to the Chicago Auto Show. Despite its daunting square footage, it is laid out quite simply. One can almost glimpse the entirety of the show from a single vantage point, preferably atop a tall ladder, as the curvature of the Earth comes into play.
Thirty-three automakers plied their wares from amongst the 75,000 square feet of space. Some commanded more acreage than others, some were more varied and complex than others, but no display was more impressive overall than the combined effort put forth by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. There was a drag strip for Dodge, and by God they smoked tires on it every few minutes, all day. There was a “work site” for Ram with cranes and cargo. There was a kids’ play area celebrating the shapely Chrysler Pacifica (Did I just call a minivan “shapely”? Yes, I did). Amongst all this marketing fantasy, though, one brand stood out: Jeep.
With some enormous steel bridge-arches, at least a ton of synthetic mulch, a pile of boulders, two flights of stairs, and one big breakover-test ramp, Jeep easily grabbed the show trophy for “Most Indefatigable.” Then they tucked the trophy under one arm, put on a gratuitous spin move that shattered both of Toyota’s ankles, and sprinted out the door toward real adventure. One of the highlights of Toyota’s square footage was a demo of a Highlander auto-sensing and avoiding an oncoming shopping cart in a parking lot—LAME. Jeep’s display, by high contrast, featured Cherokees and Grand Cherokees (in Trailhawk spec) alongside some Wrangler Unlimited Rubicons (roof panels removed) clambering up and over all of the above-mentioned obstacles. For the Wranglers, it was hardly a challenge—their axle articulation is such that the terrain just disappeared beneath the differential hubs and emerged defeated behind the rear bumpers. For the Cherokees and Grand Cherokees, things were a bit more dramatic: one or another wheel would find itself airborne, but then the AWD system would route torque elsewhere and defeat the obstacle. Great fun to watch, certainly—but even more fun to ride along and experience, as I did with my son beside me, both of us giggling madly the whole time.
As American automobile brands go, Ford might be the plucky turbocharging favorite that didn’t need a taxpayer bailout to survive in 2008. Chevrolet might be the full-spectrum heavyweight. And Dodge might be the crazy yet lovable uncle that always asks, “That thing gotta Hemi?” But right now, with a great lineup and sales surging, Jeep feels like the Lewis & Clark expedition, an Iowa-class battleship, Mount Rushmore, and, well, a Jeep. There ain’t much that is more unstoppably American than that.