Is it just me, or are there fewer and fewer wild concept cars to gawk at at the car shows these days, or that signature car that leads all the motoring sections the next day? Whatever happened to the Chrysler Tomahawks, the Ford Airstreams or the Mercedes F800s?
Well, there may be fewer wild designs, but what concepts there are today can still be striking, game-changing and - even better - near-production ready. And Detroit didn't disappoint in that regard. Along with the concepts that car officials will cheekily avoid questions on production, a few on display here show that good design is still alive and ready for our roads in the near future. Here's a rundown of some of the few notable debuts.
- When Honda brought out the original NSX in 1990, it said it wanted it to be the best supercar on the road, and there is good argument that it succeeded. Now, the name has been resurrected with a striking concept with the same purpose. It keeps the same mid-mounted V6 layout as its namesake but augments that with an electric motor. "I think a supercar must respond positively to environmental responsibilities," said Takanobu Ito, the president and CEO of Honda. He also went on to say it would have exceptional power-to-weight ratio, so there is hope yet. Production will start in three years.
- Again, the Lexus LF-LC is a concept only, but wow! The company may not build it, but it did say the design of the sports coupé was an exercise to help develop design cues for production vehicles, and that sounds like there could be a lot more excitement from Lexus.
- Technically, this isn't really a sports car, but Hyundai has made a major increase in the Coupé's power to warrant a sporty nod. The optional V8 now pumps out 348hp, good to push the two-door to 100kph in the low five-second range. While we're at it, I might as well mention the Veloster Turbo, now with 201hp and a very angry-looking front grille.
- While Hyundai ups the horsepower, Bentley takes it down a notch. The Continental GT, which usually has a monster W12 engine, can now be had with a smaller, 4.0L, twin-turbocharged V8. But lest you think Bentley has gone soft, that V8 puts out 500hp and 652Nm of torque.
- The Cadillac ATS comes with a promise: GM said it will be the equivalent, if not a better drive than a BMW 3 Series. Those are big words, but the company said it's willing to back them up when the car comes out later this year. It keeps the sharp Cadillac family lines, but it's more subtle than the slightly larger CTS, while riding on an all-new, lightweight chassis. Inside is an intelligent and customisable TFT gauge package and a tech-laden CUE infotainment system, while under the bonnet it will be offered with three engines, including a diesel and a manual gearbox - an indication of Cadillac's aim to make a dent in the European market.
- Ford's design division has been very busy, and in a very good way. The company introduced its redesigned mid-sized Fusion in Detroit, aimed squarely at the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, and with looks like this there is no reason it should fail, at least from the showroom floor. Is that an Aston Martin I see from the front? The engine packages will range from a 170hp, 2.5L four cylinder up to a 237hp, 2.0L Ecotec motor, with a hybrid thrown into the mix.
- From the same stand, Ford seems to have put the paddles on a brand some thought was dead. Lincoln, one of the worst-selling marques on the planet, debuted its refined and stunning MKZ concept. In fact, the actual redesigned car, which goes into production later this year, should look a lot like this concept; hopefully the rakish grille and swooping hind quarters will make the cut.
- Honda's designs have also been staid in recent years, as the car maker seemed to be playing it safe on looks and relying on its image of reliability to sell cars. Maybe the new Accord Coupé concept is an indication that things are changing. Though designers still haven't gone out on a ledge, the Coupé looks better than just about anything that's come from them recently.
- Maybe hybrids really can be exciting. No, I'm just joking! But they can look better than what's out there, at least, and Toyota has stretched hybrid style with its NS4 hybrid concept. Not only does it look more like a car than the current crop of Priuses, but it almost looks Italian with its swoopy curves and long snout.
In from left field
- Smart debuted its tiny Four-Us two-seat urban pickup concept at the Mercedes presentation with the former Saturday Night Live star Jon Lovitz introducing it. Where did he come from? I guess you could say the same for the Four-Us; the electric-powered, err, truck reportedly has a top speed of 80kph, but I doubt we'll see it rolling down Sheikh Zayed Road.
- Under the shadow of the Dodge Dart launch, Chrysler had its 700C minivan concept just sitting quietly on a nearby stand with none of the fanfare enjoyed by the compact car. I don't think anyone expected it, but it did show an interesting, though certainly not revolutionary, direction for the usually staid minivan segment. I still won't buy one.