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Posts filed under ‘Concept Cars’

Chevy Code 130R:
Where’d This One Come From?

March 4, 2012 by Matt

Chevy Chevrolet Code 130R Red

Seriously. There’s no precedent here.

One of the stars of last month’s Detroit Auto Show is the car pictured above: The oddly-named Chevy Code 130R (code for what?). A lightweight front-engine rear-driver with punchy, masculine proportions, it reads like a stripped-down BMW 1 Series for the younger set.

Equipped with an optional 6-speed manual transmission and powered by a 150-hp 4-banger (with a hybrid “boost” system good for another dozen or so horsepower), the Code 130R won’t be buckling pavement anytime soon. That very fact, however, is what makes it so surprising this car has emerged from Chevy. Sure, their Corvette Z06 and ZR1 are track dominators, and the Camaro ZL1 acquits itself quite well in the twisties, so it’s fair to say the automaker can put together cars that can handle, but I can’t recall that they’ve ever developed a concept that adheres to the lower-power + lightweight + RWD formula. No, in every previous instance, good-handling Chevys—or GM cars in general—were invariably the ones given a massive engine, and didn’t necessarily prioritize low weight. But recently, Chevy, in an effort to plant their flag in the youthful sports coupe market segment, needed a response to the Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ twins, and serendipitously, Cadillac was in the midst of developing a brand new smaller RWD platform for their new BMW 3 Series fighter, the ATS. Chevy seized the day, truncating the platform to underpin the Code 130R. It’s fair to say, then, that in this case they were saved by Cadillac’s recent Great Awakening to the wonders of RWD + good handling, since otherwise Chevy probably would have just tarted up the Malibu with sporty-looking duds and tried to pass it off as a real threat to its Japanese competition.

Chevy Chevrolet Code 130R Red

The icing on the cake here is the styling. As bad as the Camaro’s is, the Code 130R’s styling is good. It’s just a delightful car to behold. It’s distinctive without being tacky, the lines are confident without being overdone, and best of all, the proportions are the real drivers of the car’s design, not ticky-tack decoration, as in years past. And the whole car carries uniquely Chevy overtones. I’m honestly so shocked that the Code 130R wears a bowtie that I’m tempted to ask which closet the Chevy designers and engineers were locked in during its development. The car hasn’t yet been green-lit for production, but there’s so much promise here. It’s a great place for Chevy to start—finally.


New Acura NSX Concept:
Worthy of the Name?

January 13, 2012 by Matt

Acura Honda NSX NS-X Show Car Concept New Silver Gray Grey

It’s not the bolt from the blue its predecessor was. The original NSX literally redefined the supercar, introducing the notion that blistering performance and prestige didn’t have to come at the expense of usability, ergonomics and reliability, and sent Ferrari and Porsche, among others, scurrying back to their drawing boards. The new NSX concept, on the other hand, slots rather quietly into the burgeoning crowd of alternative-propulsion supercar concepts such as the Porsche 918 or Jaguar C-X75. Mid-engined shape festooned with corporate design themes? Check. One internal-combustion engine augmented by two or more electric motors? Got ’em. Shameless plundering of its marque’s history while incorporating as many trendy concepts as possible? Yessir. And so on…

Acura Honda NSX NS-X Show Car Concept New Silver Gray Grey

Forgive my cynicism. In spite of its same-ness, with respect to the raw ingredients, the NSX Concept certainly carries its namesake’s torch in key areas: It’s a usable, range-topping halo car that delivers the expected levels of performance and elevates its brand’s image accordingly. And yet—there’s something missing… The shock of the original, perhaps? But how can you engineer a revolution? And anyway, the first-generation car was an easy answer to a surprisingly obvious question; what do modern supercars lack or overlook that could bestow a point of distinction on a new arrival so ingenious as to shore up those oversights? User-friendly, reliable supercars are all around. It’s been done.

I don’t have an answer. What say you? Are you pleased with Acura’s update of the NSX concept? If not, what could they have done differently to better distinguish the car from its rivals?

And whilst you ponder, check out the promo video after the jump, put together, appropriately enough for such a technological wundercar, by the Polyphony Digital team, the same crew responsible for the Gran Turismo series:

Watch the clip!

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New Lincoln MKZ Concept: Staying the Course

January 11, 2012 by Matt

Lincoln MKZ Concept Red

In a recent editorial for Jalopnik, Matt Hardigree offers an insightful take on the new Lincoln MKZ concept, unveiled at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. Here’s the takeaway quote:

So long as Ford continues to build upscale, cheaper cars on the same platform, why buy an MKZ when you can spend less money and get an equally attractive 2013 Ford Fusion? What’s the compelling case for Lincoln?

There is none. Almost none of Lincoln’s arguments were about product. They were about image. The didn’t even commit to building this car because that would mean talking definitively about Lincoln’s future.

Late last September I wrote a post in which I brainstormed a few paths to Lincoln’s revival. Unfortunately, as the Jalopnik post points out and the MKZ concept itself gives evidence for, it seems the automaker has decided to double down on the style-over-substance-based, badge-engineered-Ford approach.

Lincoln MKZ Concept Red

It’s difficult to understand how parent company Ford could have any reasonable expectation that this strategy would lead to Lincoln’s success. All evidence points otherwise: The automaker has used the same product planning and marketing strategy for years, and has experienced a decline in sales to the point where the brand is barely afloat. In one magazine comparison test after another, the cars generated by this approach have been utterly trounced by the competition, building a negative brand perception in enthusiasts’ minds which eventually trickles out into the larger car-buying population. And just across the way, Cadillac, which had adhered to a remarkably similar image-based marketing game plan for years, has experienced a near-miraculous reinvention by focusing more attention on the dynamics and details of their cars than on creating some kind of illusory image in a would-be buyer’s mind about “the kind of man/woman who drives a Lincoln.” It would be charmingly archaic if it weren’t pitched with a straight face.

The evidence is all around that the “new” product development scheme has little chance of success. At this point, it’s difficult not to think Ford deliberately wants to kill Lincoln.

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New Lexus LF-LC Concept: A Design Analysis

January 4, 2012 by Matt

Lexus LF-LC LFLC Concept Red

Well, it’s not pretty.

At least, the fascia isn’t, not in the classical sense. Straining so hard for a new theme, like a rock band trying to play the same four chords in a new way after countless bands have done the same, the Lexus LF-LC concept’s nose ends up looking merely different for the sake of being different.

Now, I can’t fault the incredibly rakish proportions, but the traditional distribution of visual masses in the LF-LC’s profile just reinforces the contrived nature of the front end styling. Being a product of Toyota’s California-based design studio, the same crew who penned the original’s Lexus SC coupe’s flawless lines, I had high hopes for the new concept. Let’s just say my expectations weren’t entirely satisfied.

Lexus LF-LC LFLC Concept Red Profile Side View

As mentioned above, the car’s proportions are classically correct and right on the money. They also pay considerable homage to those of the first generation SC coupe, eschewing the second generation’s truncated boulevardier stance entirely in favor of the first-gen’s traditional GT shape. There’s more than a hint of the big-brother LFA as well in the impossibly low greenhouse, rocker panel intakes and straight line across the rear haunches. And I even detect a touch of Ferrari 599 GTB in the way the C-pillars become notable styling elements as they tango with the fenders and rear glass.

That said, I can’t help feeling that it’s a uneven mismash of ideas, holding a kind of uncomfortable tension between the classic and avant-garde. In a way, the LF-LC presents interesting similarities and differences to the recent Jaguar C-X16 concept. As I pointed out in my analysis of that car, its automaker produced a crumpet-collector to nearly rival the original E-Type, but given Jaguar’s recent production-level design decisions, the concept hewed far too closely to the classic Jag shape, trapping the company in the past, visually. Lexus, on the other hand, attempted to push the envelope with the Remington-shaver-meets-funhouse-mirror proboscis of the LF-LC; however, the Japanese automaker has no long and tired association with the classic GT shape or styling cues. Unlike Jaguar, they’re unencumbered by the past and could have created something arresting, showstopping, timeless, free from a concern that critics (like myself) would dismiss it as a retread of old themes—and they almost did, as evidenced by the car’s proportions, but… Then they grafted on the corporate front end, dashing hopes of a completely pleasing shape. So close, Lexus, so close.

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Mr. Jetson, Your BMW is Ready

October 5, 2011 by Matt

Bertone Spicup Concept Car BMW

What kind of car can you get for $617,000?

Let’s see… The incomparable Lexus LFA, a few Merc SLS AMGs, a gently used Porsche Carrera GT, perhaps a beat-on secondhand McLaren F1, a nice Ferrari 599, or…

Bertone Spicup Concept Car BMW Rear Tail Taillights

A Bertone Spicup, which looks like a refugee from a mashup of A Clockwork Orange and Mad Max. After languishing in the styling house’s vaults for years and undergoing a complete restoration, the concept car recently sold at auction for the princely sum of £400,000, or $617 grand at the current exchange rate.

Built on a BMW 2000 CS chassis, the one-off Spicup seems to have been essentially an attempt to prove to Bertone’s designers that a car featuring a retractable metal roof panel could be made and driven. To that end, instead of building the car as a static car show sculpture, the Spicup retained all the BMW running gear and can be flung into the corners if not quite as vigorously as the car it’s based on, then certainly more than most of its brethren at the ’69 Geneva car show, where it was unveiled.

Bertone Spicup Concept Car BMW Interior Inside Cockpit

The styling, needless to say, is impossibly campy, sporting a variety of vents, bumps and surfaces textures. If a tornado ripped through the BMW parts warehouse and the scattered wreckage reassembled itself on its own, the result could hardly look more haphazard. The interior, by contrast, is actually fairly forward-looking and coherent, except for the day-glo green color, and in spite of the fact that it features possibly the most uncomfortable-looking seats ever fitted to a car. The whole project is probably one that BMW and perhaps even Bertone would rather forget, and judging by the fact that I’d never heard of the car until today, I’d say they did a good job in letting the Spicup slide into oblivion. $617 large has a way of shining a spotlight on dark corners of automotive history and proves, perhaps, that obscurity itself can be a lucrative quality.


Stunningly Unoriginal: Jaguar’s C-X16 Concept

September 7, 2011 by Matt

Jaguar C-X16 concept

Let me just say this up front: The new Jaguar C-X16 concept is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The proportions are beautiful, the details are well done, and the whole car is a magnificently tasteful expression of everything we love in a classic British GT—even if the name does succumb to a touch of McLaren-like weirdness.

Let’s get this out of the way, too: The powertrain—incidental as it is to a car whose appeal is 95% predicated on its looks—is a new type of hybrid system. When a The Fast and the Furious-style steering wheel button is pressed, the supercharged, 376 hp 3.0l V6 is augmented by the extra 92 hp of an electric motor grafted onto the gearbox. Cute. But only marginally relevant.

Now, to the issue at hand. When I first laid eyes on the concept last night, my gut reaction was “BUILD IT!” Since, however, I’ve come to appreciate Autoblog‘s critique:

[I]t’s as good as anything from Ian Callum, Jag’s Director of Design, but we’d be remiss not to say that it looks a little dated. Gorgeous, no doubt, but in the same way the XK is a stunner, but fails to quicken our pulse when we see one on the road.

Therein lies the rub, and Jaguar’s quandary as originators and Lord Protectors of the classic British GT faith: How to keep pace with evolving styling trends, offer something fresh-looking and maintain a connection to a uniquely rich heritage—a heritage distinctly dependent on looks rooted in classic proportions, stance and tastefulness.

Jaguar C-X16 concept rear quarter

Sadly, the C-X16 isn’t the solution. I honestly expected more from Callum, the force behind Jaguar’s wildly successful stylistic reinvention. With the latest XJ and XF, he accomplished the herculean task of prying the automaker away from 40-year-old design cues. But with the C-X16, in spite of the updated grille shape and other details, he falls back into old habits. The man who penned such classics as the brand-reviving Aston Martin DB7 and even the latest GT from Jaguar (the XK) doesn’t seem to have a vision for the body style’s aesthetic future as he serves up a collage of other cars’ design elements, from the Aston One-77‘s finned fascia and hips to the BMW Z4 M Coupe‘s greenhouse and rear deck treatment.

Concept cars offer a vision of a brand’s stylistic future, and range-topping GTs like Jaguar’s XK set the aesthetic tone for the rest of the brand. The automaker had the chance to unveil something really daring (like their showstopping XK120 and E-Type of the late ’40s and early ’60s, respectively), but as seductive as the C-X16 is, it’s a missed opportunity.


A Styling Non Sequitur

August 16, 2011 by Matt

BMW 328 Homage

I don’t get this one.

I want to give the designers the benefit of the doubt, but it just doesn’t pass the “obvious test;” in other words, when all’s said and done, what does the object in question most obviously resemble? And the answer in the 328 Homage’s case: An angry beaver. Once that comparison is stuck in your mind, there’s no getting around it.

The larger question is, how exactly is it an homage? Here’s the original ’36-’40 car, for reference:

Original BMW 328

So there’s a superficial resemblance in some of the details, like the wheels, hood straps, split windshield and long-nose / short-deck proportions. But otherwise… There’s little, if anything, in the homage that unambiguously recalls the original. I don’t think the homage needs to slavishly ape the original, either, but there’s a way to honor a legend stylistically without having to resort to campy details and the beat-me-over-the-head-with-it title of “BMW 328 Homage.” If I can’t draw the connections myself and be impressed with the coherence of the effort, the designers haven’t done their job. And with the Homage, they most certainly phoned it in. Thumbs down.

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