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Posts filed under ‘Concept Cars’

EV Dreams: Lexus Electrified Sport

December 17, 2021 by Matt

Lexus Electrified Sport LFA EV Sports Car

I hate that I love the way this looks.

To me, speed isn’t an end in itself. It’s a nice-to-have, but a car’s ability to engage me as a driver will always top my list of priorities when assessing its desirability. Axiomatically, then, a car that engages more of my body—whether appendages through the necessity of rowing my own gears or my senses through hearing and feeling the engine’s internal combustion—will always trump the sterile, inert driving experience delivered by an electric vehicle (EV).

So no EV has sparked any desire whatsoever, whether the vehicle/appliance in question is a lowly Nissan Leaf or a multi-million dollar Rimac Nevera, or anything in between.

Until now.

Toyota and Lexus recently unveiled a whole slew of EV concepts, form factors ranging from pickups and economy cars to crossovers and sports cars. Topping the range is a kind of LFA successor called the Lexus Electrified Sport.

And I can’t get enough of it. The classic long-nose, short-deck proportions have more than a hint of Mercedes-AMG GT—an excellent source of inspiration—and the concept touts other Toyota/Lexus cues, like a nose that plays like a 21st-century remix of the Mark 3 Supra’s, and upswept haunches borrowed from the latest sports car in that storied line.

There’s just one problem. While it looks fantastic, sucked to the ground, visual masses distributed like an old-school sports car’s, but with up-to-the-minute modern detailing, the inevitable question arises: Why? Why does the nose need to be so long if there’s no big engine underneath? Why is it shaped that way if it doesn’t have to be?

I have a feeling lack of underlying justification for otherwise familiar shapes is going to be a fairly recurring theme as EVs become more commonplace. Some (most?) designers see that as a net positive, freeing them from packaging constraints and liberating them to redefine the idea of what a car should look like in ways they’ve always wanted to. But for those of us, like myself, who like a little function underpinning the form, it’s a step backward.

Either way, Lexus has a visual winner on their hands. Hopefully they’ll bring it to market in some way.

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Audi Concepts:
The quattro Concept

April 19, 2013 by Matt

2010 Audi quattro Concept White

As much as I covet the quattro Concept, I’m actually kind of glad Audi decided not to put it into production.

Why? It’s too retro. It’s a developmental dead-end. As a nostalgia piece it’s a brilliant tribute, echoing not only exterior details like the classic Quattro‘s aggressively stubby proportions and box flares but also its businesslike interior and especially its iconic turbocharged 5-cylinder engine. No mere automotive sculpture, it’s a real working car, driven in anger by more than a few automotive publications.

2010 Audi quattro Concept White

But had Audi produced it, even as a limited-run model, as many implored them to do as it graced the auto show circuit in 2010, the quattro Concept would have met with the same fate as other unabashedly retro concepts like the Plymouth Prowler or the 2002-2005 Ford Thunderbird: Constrained to its niche and not really relevant to any of the other cars in the manufacturer’s lineup. One of Audi’s greatest assets as an automaker is their brand cohesiveness; some may call it lack of creativity but there’s real value in their cars’ messaging consistency across the model line, and a production quattro Concept would have been a bit of an outlier, even as a halo car.

2010 Audi quattro Concept Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

That said, even as a one-off homage, the car demonstrates a few aspects of Audi’s way forward. The grille shape and headlight treatment, for one, seem to represent the direction those of the rest of the marque’s lineup are headed—with the logo moved up above the grille onto the hood for a cleaner look. The 402-hp, 2.5l 5-cylinder engine, lifted from the TT RS, seems in tune with the latest trends in engineering and has a considerable amount of development potential remaining. Most significantly, the quattro Concept signaled Audi’s newfound commitment to lowering their cars’ weight, tipping the scales at a lithe 2,850 lbs. After several decades of ballooning car mass, via the quattro Concept, Audi’s statement was, “We’re fighting back.”

Audi showed commendable self-restraint in not producing such a desirable car. I can admire it as a hat tip to its creator’s legacy, infused with a few glimpses of the future.

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Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing Audi’s rich history of noteworthy concept cars. Read the other installments here:

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The quattro Concept

Audi Concepts: The Rosemeyer

January 25, 2013 by Matt

Audi Rosemeyer Concept Car

I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of this one when I first saw it.

Audi’s Rosemeyer concept, one of the highlights of the 2000 auto show circuit, certainly isn’t a conventionally beautiful car. It is, however, fascinating in the sense that when I first beheld it, I was immediately curious about its design influences; I wanted to know why Audi had decided to shape its lines and details how they did, and even the genesis of its name. There had to be a lineage, a reason—Audi is too deliberate a car company to pen such a car on a whim.

Audi Rosemeyer Concept Car

In a nutshell, the Rosemeyer concept is Audi’s homage to the all-conquering
1934-1939 “Silver Arrows” Grand Prix racers. This crop of pre-war German monsters, fitted with massive, supercharged engines channeling, in the end, well over 600 hp through the skinny tires of the era were only truly mastered by a handful of top tier drivers, among them Rudolf Caracciola, Tazio Nuvolari and the concept’s namesake, Bernd Rosemeyer, killed during a land speed record attempt in 1938 on the then-brand-new Autobahn.

Audi Rosemeyer Concept Car

Audi Rosemeyer Concept Car Inside Interior Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

The Rosemeyer exudes a brutish, imposing, almost industrial presence. The brushed aluminum finish is catnip to a design enthusiast and the almost Art Deco features like the headlight eyebrows and four-spoke steering wheel make it look like something out of Fritz Lang’s landmark sci-fi epic Metropolis. Every line is rational, crisp, utterly Bauhaus, not classically lovely but completely mesmerizing. In a way, it reminds me of a Porsche 911 in the sense that if described objectively, someone not able to observe the car wouldn’t visualize a beautiful vehicle, but actually seen, everything works together perfectly; no detail seems to have been overlooked.

Audi Rosemeyer Concept Car

Furthermore, its shape whetted our appetite for that of the Bugatti Veyron. Even a casual comparison of the two brings out their similarities: The relatively small greenhouse, the horse-collar grille, the same general stance and proportions; they even share a mid-mounted W16 engine configuration (the Veyron’s fitted with quad turbochargers) and all-wheel-drive. But where the Veyron shares little with its marque’s predecessors save its grille shape, the Rosemeyer’s design connects with Audi’s lineage at too many points to count. I’d call it the superior design, and it’s a shame its creator declined to produce it, citing potential brand conflicts with Lamborghini, which Audi had recently purchased, as well as difficultly in translating the design into a production form at a certain price point.

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Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing Audi’s rich history of legendary concept cars. Read the other installments here:

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Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis Concept

January 18, 2013 by Matt

Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis Concept Detroit Auto Show 2013 Gray

Well, it should have been the main attraction at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, rather than that vulgar, glitzy, warmed-over American icon that hogged all the publicity.

This is the first time in over a year and a half that this blog has highlighted a vehicle made by the South Korean giant, but with their HCD-14 Genesis Concept, they’ve earned some attention. A fascinating blend of American, British, German and Asian design themes, the HCD-14 takes styling cues from many different sources and fuses them into something that stands confidently on its own four tires.

Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis Concept Detroit Auto Show 2013 Gray

The influences are obvious. The nose treatment and return on the back edge of the rear window are lifted from Aston Martin and the slope of the decklid very much resembles that of Audi’s gorgeous A7. Furthermore, most of the (few) chrome details draw from Asian design history and the whole car’s slab-sided “pillbox” proportions pay homage to classic American cruisers like late-’40s Hudsons and Buicks and more recently, cars like the Chrysler 300.

Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis Concept Detroit Auto Show 2013 Gray

All that said, the HCD-14 creates an identity beyond the pastiche of influences by virtue of its emphasis on proportion over decoration (a common refrain around here), an achievement remarkable given the incredibly overwrought and at times head-scratching designs Hyundai has produced lately. It’s distinctive without being tacky, and exaggerated enough, in classic show car fashion, such that elements like the front end design and overall shape would hit the bullseye if toned down just enough for the production line.

Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis Concept Detroit Auto Show 2013 Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

For its part, the interior fails to break any new conceptual ground, but is understated (for a concept car) and quite inviting-looking, with themes that could translate easily to a road car.

Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis Concept Detroit Auto Show 2013 Interior Inside

Most significantly for Hyundai’s future design direction, the HCD-14 features a number of elements that could be easily incorporated into cars of different sizes and proportions, in the same way that BMW’s signature kidneys are versatile enough mesh with a variety of bodystyles. Take the simple, near-vertical grille shape and the way the inside apexes of the headlights relate to its upper corners—that design detail is very “portable” in the sense that, say, a sports car’s low, rakish shape could feature headlights of nearly the same shape paired with a similar, but lower and wider grille. The family resemblance would be present, and the sports car’s styling wouldn’t be compromised by having to graft an out-of-context “corporate identity” onto the fascia. The HCD-14’s shapes and details represent the first real, golden opportunity for Hyundai to build a long-term brand image. For that reason, among others, it’s a true standout.

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Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis Concept

Long-Awaited Bavarian Supercar

November 23, 2012 by Matt

BMW M8 Supercar Concept Rendering Illustration

Ever out of sync with the ebb and flow of the supercar market (the supermarket?), BMW looks set to finally unveil a counterpart to Mercedes’ SLS AMG and Audi’s R8. Well, in a few years, that is. Left Lane reports on the upcoming M8 (its rumored name):

…BMW will unveil the M8 as a concept in 2014 before launching the production version two years later.

Why rush things?

The late ’70s BMW M1, admittedly an excellent car, was too late (and underpowered) to participate in the initial supercar wave that produced such leading lights as the Ferrari Boxer or Lamborghini Countach. And the M1 predated the mid-’80s supercar boom by half a decade. The Bavarian automaker chose to sit out the more recent spate of astronomically-priced road-eaters as well; the new BMW supercar’s would-be rivals have been one-upping each other around the Nürburgring for the better part of a decade at this point.

Left Lane continues:

[T]he 21st century M1 will pack about 600 horsepower thanks to a 4.0-liter V8 engine fed with two turbochargers. Mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, the eight-cylinder mill will propel the M8 from zero to 62 mph in about three seconds and on to a top speed of roughly 200 mph.

Other than a 9-speed automatic (!), there’s nothing from that description that wouldn’t translate perfectly into the curriculum vitae of, say, a McLaren 12C or Lexus LFA. If BMW wants to have any chance of success, as impeccable as the road manners of the upcoming M8 will inevitably be, its automaker needs something more, something special, something unique in a crowded market. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Editor’s note: The car pictured at top is a rendering developed by the website and doesn’t officially represent a definite design direction for a new production BMW.

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Long-Awaited Bavarian Supercar

Audi Concepts: The Avus quattro

October 1, 2012 by Matt

Audi Avus quattro concept car aluminum W12

For me, our new series represents a convergence of interests. It’s no secret I’m an unabashed Audi fan, and as a designer, I’m naturally drawn to the cars that epitomize the most uncompromised expression of Audi’s design philosophy: Their concept cars.

Today’s symphony in polished aluminum, the Avus quattro, was introduced in 1991. Its W12 engine marked the first appearance of the now somewhat-commonplace W-configuration, essentially two narrow-angle V6s joined at the crank. Audi quoted a power figure of 502 hp for the 6.0l engine, but it’s questionable as to whether the engine was ever installed, and the Avus hit the car show circuit with a mockup powerplant under the rear glass.

Audi Avus quattro concept car aluminum W12

In any event, the Avus was more of a design exercise than a technical showpiece, although it did feature Audi’s signature quattro AWD system and preface the automaker’s pioneering aluminum construction methods. No, the Avus was first and foremost about the curves, with its downright suggestive waistline and delicate wheel bulges. There were connections with the all-conquering pre-war Auto Union racers, too, with the Avus’ wheels pushed out toward the car’s corners, and the cockpit’s location right up front. But overall, as a combination of sensual appeal expressed in a seemingly austere, form-following-function, futuristic wrapper, it’s arguably without peer. It’s that tension between the seductive and sterile that maintains the Avus’ fascination to this day.

Audi Avus quattro concept car aluminum W12

Audi Avus quattro concept car aluminum W12

If I have any criticism of the design, it’s that the nose treatment appears to be almost an afterthought in light of the drama of the car’s profile and top-view details. The fascia, not coincidentally, is the part of the car which has dated itself most rapidly; with a few changes the rest of the Avus would be quite at home on the modern car show circuit, not so the nose, which would need a full redesign.

But I’m really splitting hairs. The Avus was a showstopper, a bold statement about Audi’s design and technical direction delivered in a shape that could stop traffic. In other words, it was everything a concept car should be.

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Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing Audi’s rich history of legendary concept cars. Read the other installments here:

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Mercs I Would Consider: The C111

September 12, 2012 by Matt

Mercedes C111 Orange

Okay, so being an experimental car, I can’t really consider this one from the standpoint of a possible purchase. But it’s still one of my favorite Mercedes.

Appearing in at least three distinct incarnations starting in 1969, the first two C111 evolutionary steps represented testbeds for Mercedes’ Wankel, or rotary, engine program, and the last housed the automaker’s latest high-performance diesel engine efforts. More than an engine platform, though, the C111 was an outlet of sorts for Mercedes’ engineers. The automaker’s racing program had been shuttered in the aftermath of the 1955 Le Mans disaster, and its development team was hungry to apply themselves to something more exciting than standard-issue production sedans. As it was produced, then, the C111 was trimmed and finished to a degree unheard of for an average technology demonstrator. No spartan development mule, all three generations sported a tractable engine, decked out interior, a refined chassis and even air conditioning. Indeed, as the late Paul Frère reports in this Road & Track feature article:

The C111-II is so elegant and businesslike that, with modern technology under its skin and wider tires, it would be the hit of any motor show today. No wonder that at the time, the factory received many blank checks from potential customers [eager] to acquire a replica.

Mercedes C111 Orange Wankel Rotary Engine

Despite the luxurious trimmings, all three incarnations of the C111 were very quick. The initial 3-rotor Wankel-powered C111-I’s engine pumped out a characteristically smooth 280 hp, and the II’s 4-rotor engine raised that power figure to an even 350. That was a lot of power for the late ’60s and early ’70s, and it allowed the car to reach 60 mph from a standstill in under 5 seconds, as good as any contemporary muscle car from our neck of the woods. Even the later, diesel-powered C111-III, while not quite as fast as its predecessors, set several speed + economy + endurance records.

The bodywork was steadily refined throughout the car’s evolution, and has a distinctly Teutonic, functional feel to it, kind of what a German GT40 Mark 3 might have looked like. That said, I think it looks fantastic, and as Frère alluded to in the above quote, the C111 has a kind of timeless appeal. Completely free from any Mercedes styling cues—gullwing doors excepted—the car sort of stands alone in the automaker’s history as one of the few times they really gave their engineers and stylists free rein to consolidate their expertise and innovative leanings into one car.

Mercedes C111 Wankel Rotary Engine Motor 4-Rotor

Why wasn’t it produced? As much freedom as Mercedes gave their development team with the C111 project, they were clear to point out that the car was a technology demonstrator, and had no chance of progressing beyond that stage. Also, as refined as it was, the engine technology was the C111’s real raison d’être, and when Mercedes started hitting hurdles with their Wankel engine program, instead of persevering like Mazda did, eventually overcoming most of the technical and production challenges, the German automaker decided to pull the plug and direct its resources elsewhere.

Mercedes C111 Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard Gauges Instruments

It’s a shame. I see the C111 as a sort of a proto-BMW M1, which was itself a kind of pre-Acura NSX: An archetype of a truly user-friendly supercar. It had some rough edges, to be sure (Frère spotlights an outdated steering system and tricky handling at the limit, among other things), but overall the C111 made a considerable effort to “meet the driver halfway,” as it were, instead of being the hot, cramped, sweaty, evil-handling supercar its Italian contemporaries were. Between its refinement, looks and technological bravery, I have a great deal of admiration for it.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting Mercedes models worthy of enthusiast consideration. Read the other installments here:

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Infiniti Emerg-E Concept:
Mid-Engined Bandwagon

March 29, 2012 by Matt

Infiniti Emerg-E EmergE Concept Show Car Silver

It’s ironic the new Infiniti Emerg-E is called a concept car. After all, a concept is supposed to showcase new engineering solutions or styling directions for an automaker, and the Emerg-E offers absolutely nothing original on either front.

Infiniti Emerg-E EmergE Concept Show Car Silver

First, the design. For an easy Emerg-E recipe, take one part Jaguar C-X75 concept car, a dash of Lexus LF-LC grille, and a soupcon of new Acura NSX proportions. Maybe tweak a line or two here or there, slap an Infiniti badge on the nose, and voilà: Your Emerg-E. It’s actually quite amazing the Japanese automaker didn’t anticipate design critics in the industry immediately perceiving the similarities, especially since the three cars listed have all been released fairly recently, and are thus fresh in everyone’s memory. The whole affair reinforces a perception Infiniti have created for themselves over their twenty-plus years of existence: That of a car company in a perpetual state of catching up, of nipping at the heels of their competition, cribbing their ideas where necessary but unable to put forth anything truly original on their own. Design-wise, Infiniti’s new concept does absolutely nothing to dispel that notion, and I’m surprised more automotive news outlet aren’t calling them on it besides little comments here and there, such as, “[T]he nose looks a bit long, and incongruously, it seems to offer a riff on the spindle grille that Lexus is rolling out portfolio-wide” from Autoblog article linked to above. C’mon, guys. This kind of photocopied styling is going to continue until a design gets truly and deservedly panned. I hope I’m not alone in this.

Infiniti Emerg-E EmergE Concept Show Car Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

Under the skin, the copycatting continues. An oh-so-trendy pair of 200 hp electric motors deliver power to the rear wheels, batteries recharged by a 1.2l gasoline engine, much like the system in the Chevy Volt. I suppose Infiniti really didn’t have any original ideas here either, since every new shiny vehicular object on a rotating pedestal has been powered by a collection of electric motors for several years now.

I want to like Infiniti; I really do. They were kind of awesome once, with their “Japanese BMW” ambitions, but somewhere along the line they lost a creative spark. And if they’re ever really going to experience a breakthrough in the marketplace, they’re going to have to recover it and put forth something truly groundbreaking and visionary. The Emerg-E concept isn’t it.

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Mid-Engined Bandwagon

Captivatingly Curvy:
New Alfa Romeo Disco Volante

March 7, 2012 by Matt

Alfa Romeo Alpha Disco Volante Concept Carrozzeria Red

Okay, as a designer, I can’t not discuss this one.

That name, too… If only it had one of these so I could tell people I drove a Disco Volante with a Laycock de Normanville overdrive, my life would be complete.

But I digress.

Technically, the new car isn’t a real Alfa Romeo, owing to the fact that the Italian automaker didn’t actually design the car (design consultancy Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera did), but simply donated the foundation in the form of the chassis from their sadly limited-run 8C Competizione, including that car’s 444-hp, 4.7l V8 engine. So the Disco Volante is more than just a pretty face—it can move and groove.

Alfa Romeo Alpha Disco Volante Concept Carrozzeria Red

When it comes to the styling, Alfa has no shortage of jaw-droppingly gorgeous cars from which to draw inspiration. For their latest effort, though, Carrozzeria decided to pay homage to perhaps the quirkiest of the legendary racing Alfas: The 1900 C52, affectionately known as the original Disco Volante, or flying saucer. The Jalopnik article links to this page featuring photos and a description of the original; do yourself a favor and visit the page just to soak in the fascinatingly rounded body.

So, on the one hand, it’s a shameless ripoff of the original; on the other hand, the original was so otherworldly-looking (literally!) that any homage can’t help but look fresh amid the modern-day crop of bland and stale automotive shapes. I particularly love details like the way the beltline extends through the front wheel arches, and the classically-Alfa-like resolution of lines in the rear into a sort of boattail. In a weird way, especially given its quasi-supercar underpinnings, it fits in perfectly with the recent rash of “re-engineered classics” like the Singer Porsche and Eagle Speedster, despite the fact that the Disco Volante’s bodywork is bespoke and the others are more directly lifted from their forebears. And if this latest Alfa is a typical example of the trend of fusing old-school style with modern running gear, I hope the fad continues.

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New Alfa Romeo Disco Volante