Concept vehicles used to be wishful thinking. Now they’re closer to your driveway than ever.
By Bill Heald
Contemporary technology has done great things for automobiles, and I’m not just talking about how cuttingedge engineering makes our rides more stimulating. An additional benefit involves how fast designers’ dreams can go from the drawing board to reality, and incorporate more complex body forms, hybrid drivetrains, and the latest electronic devices. Jaguar’s C-X75 may have one of the hottest profiles in this group, but it’s so much more than just a great body. This beautiful supercar is a boldly ambitious project that blends an advanced power train with futuristic styling, ultimately producing an aggressive departure from even the most dramatic Jaguar concept efforts to date.
The 778-horsepower “propulsion system” uses electric motors at each wheel as a primary drive system, supplemented by midengine micro gas turbines that can charge the batteries and/or provide supplemental power. Not only is this a snarling carnivore in terms of acceleration and top speed, but this is also a green avenger that uses plug-in hybrid technology. Jaguar claims a range of more than 550 miles. That means if you charge the batteries at your provincial estate a few hours before you depart to bid on that van Gogh you want to hang above the fireplace, you can travel around 60 miles solely under emission-free electric power. Then the engines fire up to recharge the batteries and provide thrust as needed. A 205-mile-per-hour projected top speed puts the X75 in rare company, and while of all the vehicles here this may be furthest from mass production, Jaguar will sell you a limited-edition coupe based on the concept (sans the micro turbines—you’ll get a more conventional engine for now). It will have only two electric motors instead of four, but it should still get up to 60 miles per hour in about three seconds. Act fast, though, as the company will build only 250 units at somewhere around $1.2 million a pop. That van Gogh can wait, yes?
GMC Sierra All-Terrain HD
Whereas most concepts tend to start from a clean sheet of paper, GMC has taken its heavy-duty truck platform and used it as a starting point for the ultimate work/play/overthrow and pillage vehicle, and it’s as functional as it is eye candy for truck lovers. The most critical modification involves tweaking this massive vehicle so it can surmount just about any obstacle you might encounter both on- or off-road; this is achieved through increased ground clearance, better approach/departure angles, customized control arms, and fully adjustable Fox shocks (from a company famous for its off-road racing expertise). Electronic disconnection of the front stabilizer bar, which enables greater suspension travel on rocky terrain, is accomplished at the touch of a button. There’s full composite underbody protection, and cool (yet very practical) features abound, such as lockable, lighted storage compartments and motorized assist steps for the cab and cargo bed to make access easier (they tuck away for off-road driving). Power comes from a 397-horsepower Duramax V-8 diesel. Since that’s been coupled with the Allison transmission, this truck can haul 2,700 pounds and tow 13,000 pounds. Obviously this isn’t just a design exercise; it’s a seriously capable mountain-mover. “It’s the ultimate professional-grade tool for construction crews, ranchers, and adventurers whose activities aren’t limited by where the pavement ends,” explains Lisa Hutchinson, GMC product marketing director. “Although it is strictly a concept, it is a pretty realistic one.”
This dream Saab, which resembles a stainless-steel cruise missile (with butterfly doors), is a stunning machine that lures you in with artfully sculpted lines and phenomenal detail work. The company itself has been plagued with changes in ownership, financing, and other trivialities, but when it comes to aviation-based design mastery (Saab started out by building fighter planes, after all), these Swedes are hitting on all cylinders. I should say they’re turning on all motors, too, for like so many of our concepts here, this is a highperformance gas/electric hybrid. The front wheels are driven by a state-of-the-art turbocharged engine, while the rear wheels get an electric motor for multimode all-wheel drive operation. The body around this drivetrain is a perfect example of what can happen when you give designers a free hand. Saab likes to describe the form as “tightly wrapped by a liquid-like skin, with the teardrop cabin resembling a dark ice block appearing to erupt from the center of the muscular bodywork.” At the New York International Auto Show, there was a giant ice sculpture next to the PhoeniX to support this contention, but I think most visitors were too focused on the car to notice. Conventional door handles or crude mirrors on stalks don’t compromise the airflow over this exquisite body, because electronic latches and tiny cameras handle these chores instead. Saab calls the minimalist interior styling (featuring innovative LED light tubes) an “aeromotional” design strategy, incorporating “fire and ice” effects. Onboard tech includes Google Android–sourced web access for maps, music streaming, and ultimately downloading specialized applications.
Infiniti G Convertible
One of the most successful types of concept cars (meaning a design that not only gets attention but ultimately ends up as a lightly modified production version) is a convertible variant of an existing model. Infiniti’s division-within-adivision, called IPL (for Infiniti Performance Line), is a place where both styling and high performance get priority over pure practicality, so production numbers are kept quite low. The G convertible concept takes the basic underpinnings of the IPL G coupe and adds a threepiece retractable hardtop for the kind of open-air pleasure only topless motoring can deliver. An IPL-tuned V-6 resides under the hood, and assuming it follows the coupe’s lead, there’s a robust 348 horsepower complemented by a specially tuned sport suspension with more responsive steering response than is found in most luxury autos. The body is carved to cut through the wind with effortless efficiency, and in return the aerodynamic body structure has a balanced flow to it that is a beauty to behold, especially in the concept’s lustrous Malbec Black finish. One common problem a lot of cars have when a convertible version is created from a coupe is a loss of the car’s styling aesthetic, as if the idea of having a removable top was purely an afterthought. The IPL G is one of those beauties in life that looks much better topless, as if this state is exactly what nature intended all along. Will a car that’s pretty much identical to this gorgeous concept see production soon? We wouldn’t bet against it.
Cadillac Urban Luxury
Back when Cadillac originally released the CTS sedan, the world was shocked and delighted with the bold, angular styling, a dramatic departure from anything Cadillac had ever done before. It was risky but it paid off handsomely, so now when we see a sharp, chiseled box like the Urban Luxury Concept it’s not hard to imagine that GM has the stones to bring something like this to market. True, it looks like it rolled off the set of a sci-fi movie, yet there’s plenty of family resemblance to identify the American luxury brand, and practical engineering in the tall, cubical profile (and even the bizarre scissor-style doors). This is a clever answer for those craving a roomy luxury vehicle in a crowded urban environment, as it seats four comfortably, yet, as Cadillac puts it, is “comparable in size to popular city cars found in Paris, Shanghai, and London.” Those trick scissor doors swing forward and up for access to both rows of seats and can be opened in really tight quarters. The hybrid drivetrain is likewise designed to facilitate congested metropolitan lifestyles with a one liter Inline Triple engine teamed with electric-assist technology. City-mileage figures are estimated to be well over 50 miles per hour, yet this is no econobox in terms of interior accommodations. Touchpad screens and projected readouts take the place of most traditional gauges, and the interior is trimmed with exotic materials, while the latest-generation interactive hardware interfaces with top-shelf audio, navigation, and comfort accessories.
Toyota’s Scion division has been aimed at young, entry-level drivers, yet it has sold a lot of vehicles to everybody from urban customizers to fun-loving retirees. So when it announced a new concept at the Javits Center in Manhattan, I think most journalists were expecting a creative, stylish, youth-centered ride that was ultimately just an economy car. What Scion delivered was a wickedhot coupe that is all about driving desire; in fact, it’s a purist’s sports car that’s engineered to be user-friendly and affordable. The FR-S (for Front-Engine, Rear-Wheel-Drive Sport) looks almost like a baby Ferrari 308, yet the real goodies are housed in the chassis beneath. There’s a small but potent flat-four boxer engine, and a design that has a really low profile and therefore a low center of gravity for optimal handling. Since Toyota owns a chunk of Subaru (and this is its signature engine architecture that powers the likes of the WRX performance sedan), it’s certainly possible there’s some Outback in the heart of this Scion. A fully independent suspension, rear-wheel drive, and lightweight construction all point to serious corner-carving capabilities.
This is an all-new design, but there’s heritage at work here, and it comes from the desire to build a weekend racer’s dream. “The FR-S Concept is most closely inspired by the AE86 Corolla,” explains Scion Vice President Jack Hollis. He’s referring to the classic “hachi-roku,” as it was known in Japan, a budget road-racing icon from 25 years ago. “The AE86 didn’t rely on brute horsepower,” he continues, “but instead a remarkable combination of a lightweight design, manageable power, and great balance. It made its way into almost every genre of racing, from grip to drift, and from the circuit to mountain roads.” This is one of those concept cars that is so brilliant it has to make it into showrooms. We hope. Please?