5 Cars and Trucks of Note From the Chicago Auto Show

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The Chicago Auto Show is now underway, and where the show in Detroit showcased some truly mental cars like the Toyota (NYSE:TM) FT-1, the Chevrolet (NYSE:GM) Corvette Z06, and others, Chicago has so far proven to be far more docile.

Performance has taken a back seat to alternative fuels and efficiency, and utilities — pickups in particular — are present in force. Nissan’s working on expanding its diesel options, while Chevy has an alternative for your Silverado HD — provided you live near a CNG fill-up. There will be more streaming from the Chicago Auto Show on Friday, but here are a few highlights from the first day that are worth taking stock of.

1. Chevrolet Silverado HD CNG

It’s nearly identical from the outside, but within its interterior, the Chevrolet Silverado HD has had its conventional gasoline-powered guts entirely replaced by a natural gas compatible setup, which promises a “cleaner burning” 6.0 liter engine that “enables” fuel cost savings of up to $2,000 each year. The truck can still move a maximum trailering rating of 13,000 pounds, whether its running on gasoline or natural gas. On CNG, its figures come in at 301 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque, slightly lower than the 360 and 380 when running on conventional gasoline.

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2. Kia Soul EV

What is the Kia Soul EV? It’s different. It’s an EV that’s not a Leaf or a Mi-EV; it offers a different option on the limited menu of electric cars. It’s got 109 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque, saddled with a range of 80-100 miles. All in all, nothing outstanding from the rest of the electric flock.

However, the Soul adds a dash of character and charisma that the EV fleet has lacked — that is, short of Tesla’s all-star Model S. It’s practical, likely fun, unique, and probably offers the same quirky driving experience as its gasoline cousin. Perhaps most importantly, it indicates that Kia is another manufacturer signing on to electric vehicles as being a trend, not a fad, as respected after-market tuner Steve Saleen noted back in October.

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3. Nissan Frontier Diesel Concept

Nissan (NSANY.PK) is testing the water with its Cummins (NYSE:CMI) diesel-powered Frontier pickup, which would conceivably do battle with the upcoming Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. Though it’s only a concept — Nissan says it’s looking for consumer feedback before green lighting it for production — the company says it’s good for 200 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, and a 35 percent improvement in fuel economy over the 4.0 liter V6 that it would be replacing.

Nissan is instead focusing on the new Titan light-duty truck, which will be packing a 5.0 liter Cummins diesel as it goes up the new Ram EcoDiesel and its 28 miles per gallon on the highway rating, but we think there’s enough room for a small diesel pickup, too.

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4. Toyota TRD Pro

In a bid for the rugged, off-road crowd, Toyota (NYSE:TM) has made some special additions to its line of trucks and the 4Runner SUV. The TRD Pro package upgrades the suspension to units from Bilstein, giving the vehicles some skid plates, new bead-lock rims, black accents, and a whole lot more attitude.

The Tundra features a TRD dual exhaust system, 18-inch rims, a decreased spring rate up front, and other goodies; the Tacoma also carries the new exhaust, TRD-tuned springs with 2-inch lift for the front, and so on. The 4Runner, as the only non-truck, gets 1.5 inches of lift for the front, an inch of additional wheel travel, and the same wheel and badge treatment.

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5. Subaru Legacy

It’s clear that Subaru is playing safe with its recent design language — very, very safe. Safer than its fans want, it appears, and the company is boosting its output and seeing the demand for its vehicles skyrocket. The new Legacy follows in tow from the recent 2015 WRX with simple, clean design language that, while it won’t ruffle any feathers for being out there, doesn’t exactly boast a huge degree of character. Regardless of its appearance, Subaru says that the 2015 Legacy boasts the largest passenger cabin in the midsize segment, and is the most fuel efficient all-wheel drive sedan, with 26 miles per gallon city and 36 on the highway.

Perhaps most significantly, the Legacy drops the manual transmission for good, replacing it with Subaru’s CVT. It has an Active Torque Vectoring system that was previously only available on the WRX, and power has been bumped up to 175 with the 2.5 liter, or 256 with the 3.6.

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