Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Automotive technology continues advancing forward at blinding speed. Electric vehicles are inching toward their big tipping point; self-driving technologies are growing and improving; and even the good, old internal combustion engine is learning new tricks. Pretty soon we’ll all be zipping around in the swarm of self-driving, self-charging electric taxi pods. Before we do, we’ll continue getting a taste of that future through the high-powered lens of concept cars. This year’s most memorable concepts included retro-styled electrics, next-gen hypercars and one very uncommon type of off-road hybrid.

Modern vehicles may have fast-evolving technology on their side, but oftentimes their styling leaves us nostalgic for our favorite rides of the past. Peugeot very effectively brought past and future together in the present when it debuted the e-Legend concept at this year’s Paris Motor Show. The concept gives the 504 Coupe from the 60s and 70s an ultramodern makeover, leaving an appearance that’s retro while also sleek and contemporary.

Not only does the e-Legend look good, it’s loaded with all the next-gen tech a proper concept car should have. It zips from driveway to parking garage under the power of a 456-hp electric drive that promises up to 373 miles (600 km) of range and 0-62 mph (100 km/h) acceleration ducking below 4 seconds. It packs full Level 5 autonomy but still allows for human driving, letting the driver select the perfect ride via two manual and two autonomous driving modes. When letting the vehicle drive itself, passengers can take full advantage of the 16-screen infotainment system.

Long story short, the e-Legend is an all-electric, fully autonomous car with the immutable soul of a classic.

Hyundai really designed that?” It was a question we found ourselves asking about two particularly inspired 2018 concept cars, debuted in the same month – the Hyundai Le Fil Rouge from Geneva and the Genesis Essentia of NY auto show fame. The Le Fil Rouge was but a lightly detailed design study, but Hyundai had a bit more info to provide on the Essentia. We also like the look of the Essentia a touch better, owing to styling cues like the pinched rear spoiler, laser lights and compact triangular grille.

Genesis’ first all-electric effort, the Essentia is all about styling befitting a range-topping GT, a little something Genesis calls “athletic elegance.” In short, that manifests itself in dramatic, swept-back proportions, muscular haunches, big wheels and a windshield that trickles gently into a transparent hood. With help from the reduced weight of the carbon monocoque and body panels, the Essentia’s high-density battery pack and multi-motor powertrain push it from 0 to 60 mph (96.5 km/h) in a flat 3 seconds.

The Essentia is as impressive inside the butterfly doors as it is outside. The cabin combines the cutting-edge with the classic, leather- and velvet-trimmed seats facing a fully digitized dashboard. Instead of merely creating a fast, efficient route, the Essentia’s AI system tailors recommended routes to driver preference – anything from the shortest A-to-B, to a leisurely scenic tour, to a twisty, fast-paced sprint. The system adjusts vehicle settings like chassis tune and seat position accordingly.

Mercedes Vision EQ Silver Arrow

Revive a famous 1937 race car, update its retro-radical physique with a modern body that looks poured on, add in a 738-hp all-electric powertrain and, well, unless something goes horribly wrong, you’re going to take home some “best concept of the year” recognition. That about sums up the Vision EQ Silver Arrow Mercedes debuted at Pebble Beach, and the car locked up its claim to a spot on this list before we even looked into the 248-mile (400-km) range or clean, single-seat cockpit lurking below the forward-lift half-canopy.

The concept pays homage to the W 125, an aero-optimized, Grand Prix-derived car Mercedes built in 1937 before sending it out on the autobahn to set a 268.9-mph (432.7-km/h) public-road speed record, a mark that stood until just last year. We kind of prefer the lines of the other Pebble Beach-debuted electric single-seater, Infiniti’s Prototype 10, but the Vision EQ has a pedigree you can’t ignore.

There was a time not long ago when every electric concept was a big deal and something to look forward at auto shows. But EVs haven’t even fully arrived and it already feels like electric GTs and crossover concepts have become entirely formulaic and predictable. If there’s a major auto show going on, there’s going to be an electric concept debut, probably a handful.

Much like electric concepts used to break up the auto show monotony of gas and diesel sedans and wagons, these days it sometimes takes a grumbling ICE to break up the silence of the electric concept parade. And when that ICE happens to sit inside a concept that’s half pickup truck and half side-by-side, it breaks the silence with the knee-weakening thunder of worlds colliding.

The Rugged Open Air Vehicle concept mashes Honda’s powersports and automotive sides together into one awesome off-roader. Honda hadn’t yet unveiled its Talon all-out performance side-by-sides prior to the ROAV’s SEMA debut, but its Pioneer 1000 UTV served as an appropriately stout and playful companion for the Ridgeline to commingle with. The result: a fast, furious but practical off-road machine that can just as easily haul lumber as it can rip a unique signature in sand and dirt. It’s the type of old-school, off-the-wall concept car that today’s cookie-cutter self-driving Tesla-fighter concept no longer is, proof that the auto industry still has creativity in its head and red blood pumping through its veins.

Aston Martin Lagonda Vision

It’s quite common that we get to see a brand’s future design language laid out in a forward-looking concept car, but it’s less common that the brand in question is both the all-new spinoff of a well-established premium performance brand and the world’s first zero-emissions luxury marque. That’s what we were looking at with Aston Martin’s Lagonda Vision Concept, which debuted at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show.

Aston’s design team used the occasion of the new Lagonda sub-brand to burn the playbook and explore futuristic interior and exterior design, using a decentralized AWD electric powertrain and autonomous capabilities as the springboard to rearranging familiar dimensions. The car vaguely resembles the concept car wedges popular back in the 60s and 70s, but in a more modern, stretched-out four door form.

B-pillar-less coach doors and flip-open roof flaps provide a spacious entryway into a cabin that explodes in eye-catching materials like silk, cashmere and ceramics. Built with Level 4 autonomy in mind, the interior includes swivel front seats, a left-to-right adjustable, retractable steering wheel and a full-blown VIP lounge seat.

This was our first look at a Lagonda brand set to launch its first vehicle in 2021, and it made us very eager for a second look.

The internal combustion engine may be facing increasing competition from newer alternatives, but it’s not going out without a little evolution of its own. Infiniti revealed its VC-Turbo variable compression ratio engine back in 2016, and the sleek, mid-size Q Inspiration concept sedan was the first car designed around the 2.0-liter VC-Turbo. The engine’s compact size allowed Infiniti designers the freedom to create a four-door coupe with spacious interior, and the results are more stunning than anything in Infiniti’s current lineup, a long but athletic silhouette with sloped roofline, chiseled character lines and razor-sharp lights.

Circling back to the VC-Turbo, the innovative, little four-cylinder varies compression ratio between 8:1 and 14:1, putting the muscle of a turbo at the driver’s toe tips but seamlessly scaling back to hybrid-like efficiency when the driver is merely cruising. It’s complemented in the Q Inspiration by other cutting-edge technologies like automated ProPilot and an interior with digital displays for everyone.

As a concept, the Q Inspiration was all about VC-Turbo power, but it will help shape the design of an electrified vehicle platform.

Toyota GR Super Sport Concept

The Toyota GR Supra Racing concept seemed like the obvious choice for this spot at first, but the Supra’s been in the works so long, we really just want to see the car, not a camouflaged racing variant. Toyota has confirmed the production Supra for a January debut at the Detroit auto show, and it will certainly be one of the biggest sports car debuts of 2019.

But here in 2018, the Toyota sports car concept that impressed us most was the GR Super Sport Concept, revealed at the Tokyo Auto Salon. Unlike the Supra, which has been dragging heels to market for years, the GR Super Sport kind of came out of left field late in 2017 ahead of its January debut. It was easy to write off as an interesting show car with no future, but then Toyota confirmed a production version just a few months later.

The GR Super Sport project will return a halo hypercar to the top of a Toyota lineup much better known for everyday commuting and practicality, and it appears it will be a full-blown race car for the road up there with the Aston Martin Valkyrie and Mercedes-AMG One. Toyota’s concept pulls hybrid technology from the TS050 Hybrid WEC car, relying on a 2.4-liter twin-turbo V6 and electric drive for a full 986 hp. With specs like that, we’re already just as anxious to see the production GR Super Sport as we are the Supra.

Porsche Mission E Cross Turismo

Changing things up from the electric sedans and SUVs that have become all too predictable, Porsche showed a different style of electric four-door this year with its Geneva-debuted Mission E Cross Turismo.

Adding a bit of electrifying adventure to the new sports wagon form factor it launched with the Panamera Sport Turismo, Porsche dazzled Geneva with a lifted light-rally car with 600+ hp electric powertrain. The Cross Turismo takes on/off-road control beyond simple dual-motor AWD, guaranteeing precise handling across various conditions with rear-wheel steering, dynamic chassis control and adaptive air suspension with up to 1.9 in (50 mm) of lift. The big tires and flared fenders ensure it looks the part.

With its off-road-ready construction and 3.5-second 0-62 mph capabilities, the Cross Turismo may very well become your new hobby, but it’s also capable of supporting old ones. Porsche includes a rail-based cargo loading system and a pass-through for longer gear.

It looked like the epitome of a show car when it debuted, but the Mission E Cross Turismo was a drivable concept, and Porsche has already confirmed a production version.

Seeing is believing, so check out more exterior angles, closeups and interior dives in the photo gallery. Then let us know which choices you agree with, which ones you don’t and what other 2018 concept cars we might have overlooked.

View gallery – 63 images

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