The sort of outlandish dream cars that long ago helped define the term concept car are increasingly rare at auto shows, being replaced by cars that are more production prototype than distant-future fantasy. Although a few cars on display at this year's Detroit auto show -- Mazda's Furai and Jeep's Renegade, for example -- are clearly flights of fancy, more often than not, the concept cars headlining today's show stands are early looks at what we'll be driving in the next three to five years -- minus the aesthetically and technologically overwrought interiors. Read on for a look at 10 concepts we expect to see on the road shortly.
Audi R8 V-12 TDI
We love the Audi R8's sexy shape, and any engine with 500 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque is going to make a lot of friends very quickly around here. Put the two together, though, and you have what, exactly? We initially reported that this combination would never see production, and even though the idea still strikes many of us as preposterous, Audi execs say they will be gauging public reaction as the R8 V-12 TDI makes its rounds on the show circuit this year. A decision should be made sometime this summer. Prepare to wrap your noggin around the diesel-supercar concept one way or another; even if the V-12 is deemed too big and heavy for a proper supercar, a 4.2-liter diesel V-8 with 326 horses and 561 pound-feet will be on its way to the market sometime in the 2009 model year.
China loves Buick. More than the U.S. does, anyway. China is Buick's largest market, with more than 300,000 sales in 2007. So this Riviera concept debuted last April at the Shanghai auto show, but this is its first appearance in the U.S. Designed and built by Buick in China, this mid-size luxury coupe is a portent of Buick's next-generation design language. Although the Riviera's massive 76-inch-long gullwing doors -- they project the name "Buick" on the ground when open -- won't make production, sources say the car's hybrid powertrain and the idea of a two-plus-two Buick coupe have an assembly line in their future, likely in China first.
General Motors' E-Flex hybrid architecture underpins this Cadillac concept in hydrogen fuel-cell form. Whereas the Chevy Volt originated the futuristic powertrain layout at the 2007 Detroit auto show, a series of concept cars at other stops along the show circuit since has refined and advanced the idea, and the Provoq is the largest application thus far. But that's only half the story behind this concept. Like past spell-check-confounding wreath-and-crest concepts such as the Evoq, Imaj, and Vizón, the Provoq previews an upcoming Caddy crossover. The BRX, as the vehicle will be called, will ride on a new platform utilizing elements of the Theta compact-sport-utility/crossover architecture and the Epsilon mid-size-sedan bones. We expect to see the BRX on the road in 2010.
Ford Explorer America
Ford's Explorer blew the mid-size-SUV market wide open in the 1990s, but the golden days for the hefty body-on-frame boy are long gone. Ford's Edge crossover is getting much more attention from media and buyers alike, outselling the old SUV in some months of 2007, although the Explorer eked out 7000 more sales for the year. So Ford is looking at taking the Explorer in the same direction, with unibody construction saving weight -- only 150 pounds on this concept, though -- and a series of direct-injection turbocharged engines to make equivalent power (or more) with less displacement and a slighter thirst for petrol. Forecast for this Ford? On the road within five years.
The Jeep Wrangler has pretty much had the hard-core compact-sport-utility crowd to itself for the better part of the past five decades. Competitors have come -- the Suzuki Sidekick, the Isuzu Amigo -- and inevitably gone as Jeep's unwavering faithful have repeatedly cemented their allegiance. If any domestic brand has the off-road reputation and military history to challenge Jeep, then surely it is Hummer. After establishing and securing its reputation with full- and monster-size trucks, Hummer is now working its way down-market. With doors and fender flares that are easily removed for visibility or repairs on the trail and the 304-hp V-6 from Cadillac's CTS underhood, the HX holds great promise on paper. We'll see if it can deliver on the road -- and more important, off the road -- in the next five years when it goes into production as the H4.
Land Rover LRX
Speaking of storied off-road brands, Land Rover had this little beauty to show in Detroit. While Hummer and Jeep mud-wrestle in the deep muck, Land Rover merrily solicits the suburbs for upscale customers who like the briars-and-brambles image that accompanies Land Rover ownership. Based on the same platform as the capable LR2, the LRX would retain that cute-ute's off-road promise but could sacrifice some utility for style, as the three-door construction restricts ingress and egress to the second row of seats. Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern assures Car and Driver that little change would be necessary to produce the LRX, which we see happening within three years.
Lexus LF-A Roadster
Whether or not we will ever actually get around to driving this car depends on how much longer Lexus keeps it on the show stand before turning it over to development engineers. It's been three years since we first saw, and already two derivatives of the car have been spotted running at the Nürburgring, but Lexus still insists it is merely a concept. We hope not. That stunning shape is backed up with a high-revving front-mid-mounted V-10 of just below five liters, driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. More than 500 horsepower is the claim, and the top speed is rumored to be in excess of 200 mph. We see no reason not to build it, and we can't imagine Lexus would still be teasing us with this concept if it could find any good excuses, either. We hope to see this roadster on the road within three years.
With the Ford Flex scheduled to begin production in 2009, there's no doubt this crossover will follow shortly. Although the Flex will be a seven-passenger vehicle and this concept seats only four, the production MKT will likely seat six in three rows, with the second row extended over the Flex to provide additional luxury to those occupants at the expense of people trapped in the third row. The shape should stay essentially unchanged, and the glass roof will remain. Lincoln claims many of the innovative interior bits -- such as the banana-silk carpeting and baroque engraving on the door handles -- could also make it to production. This one will follow the Flex to market, appearing in 2010.
Minivans might always be stuck with their terminally unhip reputation, but the Nissan Quest at least refuses to take it sitting down, with a look that nobody could mistake for any competitor. The Forum concept expands on that philosophy enough to make the Quest look dull, however, and with a full-lux interior -- including a rotating second-row seat similar to Chrysler's Swivel'n Go and a center-console microwave -- accomplishes the task inside and out. Although the top-shelf materials wouldn't last a day in the real world of shuttling kiddies and the funky instrumentation would cost a fortune to produce, the spacey styling and possibly even the trackless sliding doors could appear on the Quest replacement, due in 2009 or 2010.
Saab 9-4X BioPower
Taking styling cues inside and out from the wild Aero X concept, the 9-4X rides on the same platform as the new Saturn Vue and aforementioned Cadillac Provoq/BRX. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 241 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The BioPower in that name refers to E85 capability. On E85, the 2.0-liter runs higher turbo boost and ups the power to 296 hp and 295 lb-ft. Saab's new XWD all-wheel-drive system, like Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive and BMW's latest xDrive, can direct power not only fore and aft, but also from side to side in the rear. The 9-4X will see production starting in about a year.
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