Chicago Auto Show Blog

The Windy City Winter Warmer: Surprises Abound at the Chicago Auto Show

Posted by: Jennifer Morand

Toes cold, Chicago? Dreaming of the summer, when festivals, events and chances to get outside and be a part of something abound? While winter in the Windy City doesn't offer the kind of outdoor fun and camaraderie of a Pitchfork or Lollapalooza, the Chicago Auto Show is the Windy City's winter hot spot, offering all manner of welcome surprises (even if cars aren't your thing).

The auto show is North America's longest-running and largest, founded in 1901 and today covering more than 1 million square feet of McCormick Place. And it's not just static exhibits and shiny new cars: The show brings a little of everything, from a black-tie gala to interactive displays of the latest and coolest tech.

If you're tired of sitting at home next to the radiator, here are some things that will have you braving the weather and heading down Lake Shore Drive.

A charitable endeavor: Since its 1992 debut, First Look for Charity, a gala at McCormick Place the evening before the Chicago Auto Show opens to the public, has raised $42 million for Chicago-area charities, including the Boys & Girls Clubs and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital. This glamorous formal event combines food and drink with live entertainment. Because this is an auto show event, cars have their place on the main stage. In fact, you'll get to see them before the public does. But they aren't just sitting there. Attendees will have the chance to win one of two brand new vehicles - a Lincoln MKX and a Jeep Renegade. First Look for Charity will be held on Friday, Feb. 12, from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $250.

Something for everyone: Let's face it -- not everyone shares an undying passion for things on four wheels. But there is no shortage of fun at the Chicago Auto Show even if you're not there to spy the latest sports car or SUV. 2015's event featured concert ticket and cash giveaways, pinball machines, robots, video games, a photo booth and kiosk, spin-to-win prizes, a swag machine and even a Wheel of Fortune game with touch screens. Expect more of the same this year, with plenty of added surprises and fun discoveries along the way.

If you're feeling a bit peckish after all that walking around or just want to wet your whistle, food and beverages (including the grown-up kind) will be available. Sup on treats from some of Chicago's well-known eateries on the show floor while taking all the action in. If you're looking for grab-and-go, McCormick Place has several food courts for a quick bite or a hot cup of coffee.

The show also keeps you connected and “sharing” with free Wi-Fi and convenient charging stations.

The world of tech: If you're reading this, you're probably doing so on a smartphone, and you're probably addicted to the latest tech (it's OK, we all are). The Chicago Auto Show will have no shortage of displays demonstrating the latest innovations in technology.

Car companies go all out to give consumers a full experience with the latest devices and innovations in safety. Interactive attractions at the 2015 show were everywhere, and this year will feature even more. Last year, Chevrolet asked attendees to make their own "selfie stick" videos; Infiniti partnered with MakerBot, giving guests a chance to use a 3-D printer; the Dodge Charger Challenge video game let racers go head-to-head; and Volvo's Pedestrian Detection Safety demonstration showed how the company's latest innovations are keeping people safe even outside of their vehicles.

A day for you and yours: The auto show holds a number of special days with events unique to that day. These include Family Day on Monday, Feb. 15. On Tuesday, Feb. 16, Women's Day features special discounts for female attendees and fun presentations and seminars for women who are either just getting into automobiles or already love to talk shop and wrench.

On Friday, Feb. 19, Hispanic Heritage Day will celebrate Chicago's Latino population and provide plenty of opportunities for family fun.

An inside drive: Let's face it: It's going to be cold and wet and icy and unpleasant this winter. But why should that stop you from having a blast behind the wheel of a new car? The Chicago Auto Show's got you covered with indoor test drives. The show will boast three indoor test tracks: the Jeep Test Track, where a professional driver takes guests through an exhilarating obstacle course; Chrysler's multi-brand track, which will allow drivers to test the latest offerings from Dodge and Fiat as well; and Toyota’s new track, connected to their exhibit displays to showcase the action inside their vehicles.

And if you're willing to brave the cold or want to see how a car performs in the real world, six outdoor test drives will be available too. Just crank up the heat!

Know before you go: 2016 Chicago Auto Show

  • Weekday discounts: Special rates for Monday-Friday visitors
  • $10 Parking: Arrive post 6 p.m. for a special parking rate
  • Integrated app: Download the Chicago Auto Show app for more information
  • Advance purchase: Buy tickets online for convenience
  • Indoor/outdoor drives: Try out the latest vehicles


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