Proving that every manufacturer has a wild side.
When a concept car debuts from an exciting manufacturer, we all get that tingle of anticipation as to what it may mean, what it may hold for the future. We know, more often than not, that either the concept or some variations of its technology are bound for production. But every once in a while we’re hit with a surprise concept from an unlikely source; once in a while a boring manufacturer unveils something more exciting than just about their entire line-up combined. More often than not these concepts don’t reach production, but they instill some hope in us that even the most boring of manufacturers aren’t just run by bean-counters looking for maximum profit from minimum effort.
Volkswagen makes highly competent, refined, luxurious cars for the man on the street. Performance models like the Golf GTI and Golf R are immensely capable, but even its quick models are a little on the dull side – immensely capable, but sterile. On the whole, VW is kind of boring.
The Volkswagen W12 Coupe, on the other hand, was anything but. The concept car debuted in 1997, featuring a mid-rear mounted 5.6-liter W12 engine powering all 4 wheels – an engine that would eventually evolve into the Bugatti Veyron’s immense W16 engine. Over the next four years, the W12 would evolve as a concept to spawn roadster, rear-wheel drive versions, and ultimately the W12 Nardo, with 591 horsepower, a 0-62 mph time of 3.5 seconds, and a top speed of 221.8 mph.
French manufacturers don’t exactly have an extensive reach into the United States, but that could be attributed to the fact that on the whole, they’re rather unexciting. Peugeot turns a profit by selling commuter hatchbacks and sedans that are refined, competent, and impressive, though ultimately they’re a little bland.
The 2012 Peugeot Onyx concept was decidedly exciting by comparison to the rest of the line-up, with bold looks and an incredible use of unique materials, inside and out. The wings and doors were crafted from a single sheet of copper, highly polished but left exposed to the elements so it could change with exposure, and the Onyx was underpinned by a carbon chassis. Power was derived from a hybrid system comprising a 3.7-liter V8 sending 600 hp to the rear wheels and electric motors generating an additional 80 hp.
Infiniti was launched as an upmarket sub-brand to Nissan, much like Lexus was to Toyota. But while many Infiniti products are highly luxurious, they’re hardly exciting. Not since the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge have we had a glimpse of potential production glory.
In 2012, however, Infiniti released a concept based on the Lotus Evora platform. The Emerg-E concept featured electric propulsion in the form of two electric motors – one powering each rear wheel – with a combined output of 402 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque. In addition, a 3-cylinder engine recharges the battery pack when completely depleted. The concept was a working prototype and could’ve been something seriously special for the Japanese brand. However, boredom reigned supreme, and Infiniti stuck to things a little more sensible for the showroom, much to our chagrin.
Ok, so Kia is trying really, really hard not to be boring anymore; and while it might be making some progress in that regard, it has more work to do to change perceptions. The Stinger and Stinger GT are at the forefront of the shift in mindset, but before the Stinger GT came into being, a concept bearing the Stinger nameplate was the most exciting thing from a rather average manufacturer.
The Kia GT4 Stinger was a 2+2 seat sports car concept that debuted in Detroit and set tongues wagging. It wasn’t just the striking Ignition Yellow paint job and brilliant design by Peter Schreyer that got everyone excited though. Powering the GT4 was a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine developing 320 hp. Of course, it sent that all to the rear wheels, and weighing just 2,870 pounds, power-to-weight was healthy too. The GT4 was the exciting concept from a boring manufacturer that foreshadowed an exciting future.
Hyundai has been in much the same boat as Kia for generations – a boring one. Despite occasional pieces of excitement like the Hyundai Coupe, the rest of its products are fairly vanilla. It wasn’t until Albert Biermann got involved that the N Division gave us hope of credible excitement from the Korean brand.
But a few years ago, the PassoCorto concept proved the marque could indeed create something exciting. Designed by IED of Turin, the sports car was a mid-engined concept featuring a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine producing around 280 hp. The PassoCorto looked incredible and could’ve been a rival to the Alfa Romeo 4C. Alas, the concept remained a small bit of excitement from an otherwise stale brand.
While we may have said French brands tend to be rather unexciting, Renault is the most exciting of the lot – notably in the hot hatch stakes where it consistently challenges for top Nurburgring honors as the quickest FWD hot hatch around – a title it's challenged for over the best part of nearly two decades. But the bread and butter of the company is compact hatchery and crossover practicality, all fairly mundane.
In 2010 however, to preview a new design language, Renault presented an electric supercar concept called the DeZir. It featured butterfly doors – suicide butterfly on the passenger side – and 148 hp from a mid-mounted electric motor driving the rear wheels. 0-60 mph took 5 seconds, on a way to a top speed of 112 mph – respectable figures at a time when electric propulsion was still in its infancy. The DeZir was a glimmer of excitement among the boredom and previewed some of the best French design work we’ve seen to date.
Toyota was once a prestigious marque, with performance icons like the 2000GT, Supra, Celica, and MR2 in its historical stable. But in the last twenty years, Toyota has become the king of the mundane, producing appliances that look as exciting as a tumble dryer – except at least the tumble dryer leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy. While a new Supra is coming, the brand doesn’t exactly ooze excitement.
However, last year’s GR Super Sport Concept showed that the brand still has some adrenaline pumping through its veins. The product of Toyota’s GR performance sub-brand, the concept is an LMP-inspired concept potentially destined for production and Le Mans glory. It features a 986-hp hybrid drivetrain comprising a twin-turbo 2.3-liter V6 and electric supplementation. The GR Super Sport genuinely is a racecar for the road – if it reaches production – and shows Toyota has the ability to truly excite when it wants to.
Aside from the 300 SRT, Chrysler hasn’t exactly created anything noteworthy for a long time. The Sebring, 200, Grand Voyager, and Pacifica all reek of mundanity, and it’s been the story of the brand for some time. Even the Crossfire never really injected much excitement into the brand. But there was a time when it weighed up its options for something extreme, and following the shutting down of the ME Four-Twelve project, the Firepower looked to be the next best thing.
Under the skin, the Firepower was actually based on the Dodge Viper, with Chrysler styling and a 6.1-liter Hemi V8 developing a not-too-shabby 425 hp. 0-60 mph supposedly took just 4.5 seconds, which would’ve been brilliant in production. But Chrysler allegedly couldn’t find a viable way to produce the car, so it remained just a concept.
Citroen is the third major player in the French automobile realm, and whilst not quite as boring as the others – the DS sub-brand trades purely on quirky design – they’re still kinda bland. 2008 however gave us a glimpse of a little more excitement with the reveal of the GT by Citroen concept, as a collaboration between the brand and Polyphonic Digital – creators of the Gran Turismo game franchise.
Six cars were allegedly built and sold. While the in-game version was powered by a 778-hp hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain, the road-going cars were powered by a 646-hp 5.4-liter Ford V8. Though it was never officially confirmed, it is believed production never actually happened, relegating the GT by Citroen to the category of exciting concepts from boring manufacturers.
This may well come up on every list of exciting concepts never to reach production, but the Nissan IDx is a concept that truly deserved to reach production. Aside from the GT-R and the now very heavily aged 370Z, the Nissan brand is far from exciting. Even its Nismo models are best classified as mediocre attempts at branding.
The IDx concept, however, would’ve been something altogether different – a modern-day version of the 510 in all its compact, rear-wheel drive glory. It looked retro cool and had the potential to rain on the Toyota 86’s parade. There was even a super-cool Nismo version, rumored to have run a 1.6-liter turbo 4-cylinder generating around 200 hp. It might seem a little ordinary to some, but to enthusiasts, the IDx concept was a dream that almost came true.