Nestled between the Detroit Auto Show and Geneva Motor Show, the Chicago Auto Show is often only visited by automakers for introducing new trim levels or mild vehicle updates. As I rushed around the sprawling McCormick Place last week going from presentation to presentation, I saw that while this is still an obvious trend, there was also evidence of how the show has grown in recent years.

Sure, most of the major announcements revolved around facelifts like the 2016 Chevrolet Equinox or new trim packages like the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado GearOn Special Edition but there were still some big introductions on hand, including a surprising number of concept vehicles and even some important global debuts. The good news, though, is that without show-stealing debuts like the 2017 Ford GT and 2016 Acura NSX to contend with, it’s definitely easier for cars to make a bigger impact, and that’s just what one car, in particular, did.

Click past the jump to learn which car I chose as best in show this year.

Best In Show

2015 Kia Trail’ster Concept

2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept Exterior
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At auto shows, I try not to get too excited about concept vehicles because there is a good chance they’ll never make it to production, but in the case of the 2015 Kia Trail’ster Concept, it almost seems like Kia is looking for an excuse to build the more rugged version of the Soul. During the presentation, Kia reps said that they will be listening to consumer and media feedback to determine whether or not to go ahead with production. In concept form, the Trail’ster utilizes a turbocharged engine to power the front wheels while an electric drive system powers the rear wheels in what Kia calls an electric all-wheel-drive system or e-AWD. The real gem of this concept is its meaty tires and taller ride height, which could put the Soul in a new market against the likes of the Nissan Juke and Jeep Renegade. If you like what you see, be sure to let Kia know, and maybe (just maybe) we might see such a Soul variant pop up in the future.

Honorable Mentions

2016 Honda Pilot

2016 - 2019 Honda Pilot Exterior
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If not for the Kia Trail’ster Concept, the 2016 Honda Pilot may have easily stolen the show. I’m not fully on board with Honda ditching the boxy styling of the previous two generations of the Pilot, but judging by recent design trends, customers don’t really want boxy crossovers any more. Instead, the next-gen Pilot, which goes on sale this summer, sports a more modern design shared with the upcoming HR-V subcompact crossover and the recently updated 2015 CR-V. With three rows of seats, the 2016 Honda Pilot will continue to be an alternative for larger SUVs and minivans, and Honda promises improved fuel economy with its Earth Dreams direct-injected V-6, stop-start technology, optional nine-speed automatic and new all-wheel drive system.

2015 Nissan 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Roadster Concept Exterior
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Over at the Nissan booth, it seemed that there was always a big crowd hanging out near the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO, but as much as I love checking out Le Mans Prototype race cars (especially of the P1 variety that we no longer get to see in the U.S.), the 2015 Nissan 370Z NISMO Roadster Concept drew most of my attention. That was mostly due to the fact that I’ll never (I know… never say never) get to drive a Le Mans race car, but also because the current generation of the 350Z NISMO is an incredibly entertaining little sports car. Chopping the roof off should only help to make the car even more enjoyable, adding to the NISMO Z’s 350-horsepower V-6 and sport-tuned suspension. As of right now, the NISMO Z Roadster is just a “concept,” but from the looks of the car, it is ready for production.

2016 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Rally Edition

2016 Hyundai Veloster Rally Edition Exterior
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If for no other reason, the 2016 Hyundai Veloster Rally Edition was a show-stopper thanks to its unique matte blue paint job accented by a faux carbon fiber body kit and lightweight, 18-inch blacked-out wheels of rally design. Opting for the Rally Edition also brings improved performance, with a sportier suspension setup and a B&M Racing sport shifter. Based on the Turbo R model, the Veloster Rally Edition is powered by a 2.6-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder producing 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. There’s no word yet on pricing, but if you want one, you better act fast. The 2016 Hyundai Veloster Rally Edition goes on sale in May, and Hyundai has limited production to just 1,200 units.

The 2015 Chicago Auto Show runs through this weekend, so be sure to sound off in the comments below to let us know which cars were your favorite.

Jeffrey N. Ross
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