Concepts with surprising amounts of attitude from the unlikeliest of manufacturers.
There's more to concept cars than an automaker showing something futuristic off to gain buzz at an auto show. There's often a complaint that they rarely make it to production, but the clue is in the name. A concept car is essentially a fundamental idea, and not a finished product. Concepts are created for different reasons and can be the building block for a later model, or parts of the concept can make their way onto production cars. They're often a way for engineers and designers to explore out-of-the-box or farfetched ideas. They can also gauge the public's reaction to ideas, whether in styling or features.
The companies that draw the most headlines with concepts are the ones that are known for exciting cars. However, concepts are an essential part of all the automaker's process. These are some of the cool ones from companies often considered to be less exciting than brands most celebrated for building cool cars.
Hyundai's RN30 concept made everyone sit up and take notice in 2016. It was a collaboration between Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Center, Hyundai Motorsport, and Hyundai Motor's Performance Development and High Performance Vehicle Division. It showcased what Hyundai saw it's European market i30 N model becoming as a hot hatch, and the work Hyundai has been putting into weight reduction and aerodynamics. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder has a larger turbo and forged internals so it can make 374 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque reliably sent to all corners. Rather than using carbon-fiber bodywork, Hyundai teamed up with high-tech chemical company BASF to save weight using durable plastics. It also featured a pair of butterfly doors to make getting in and out easier.
Something you or I would describe as a shooting brake, Kia described as an "extended hot hatch" in 2017. Also, according to the South Korean automaker, it was what the next Kia Ceed model might look like. If that had been the case, we would be begging Kia to bring it to the US. The muscular proportions and rakish roofline are gorgeous, and a panoramic glass roof with a lack of B-pillars adds sophistication. Kia's European design center created it as part of the lead up to the 2019 generation Kia Pro_Cee'd three-door hatch. Thankfully, Kia has dropped the silly styling for the name, and it's simply the Ceed now.
When Buick showed the Avista concept at the Detroit auto show, rumor has it that the Camaro design team didn't know it existed until then, and some noses were put out of joint. We can see why that might be true, but the fact is Buick knew it would never actually see the car as it is through to production. Buick first said that the public reaction wasn't strong enough to build it, but, in reality, Buick's largest market is China. And China isn't the place to try and sell a sporty coupe. It would've been magical, though, as a 2+2 with 400 hp from a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6.
The Datsun 510 of the late 1960s and early 1970s was a strange success. It had European performance with Japanese styling and affordability, and all backed up by motorsport success. The Nissan IDx Nismo was a concept based around the idea of a modern successor to the 510. While we hunger for more affordable coupe body style and rear-wheel-drive cars on the market, the 370Z was only a few years old in 2013. That meant that Nissan had no business case to make a competitor to its own affordable sports car.
Sadly, Acura has become a boring brand. While the classic Integra Type R is worth crazy money, there's nothing comparable in Acura's modern lineup. At least there wasn't, as Acura used the Type S concept to influence the new 2021 TLX Type S. The design has been watered down a little from the concept, although not as badly as many concepts that never reach production. Still, we're seriously hoping this is the design language implemented on further Acura vehicles in future. Acura promised the concept shows how the brand plans to cater to the enthusiast, so we hope it dials things up even more over the next few years.
Genesis is having a hard time shaking the ignorant assumption of their cars being "just a Hyundai with a different badge." Getting something like the Genesis Mint Concept into production could start to open people's eyes, though. The concept is of an upscale electric city car, but it's tiny. It has two doors, two seats, and looks sporty as hell as well. It uses the Genesis brand's signature parabolic line so shape the car up at the rear fenders, and a matrix pattern under the sills that doubles as cooling for the batteries. We particularly love the rear scissor doors used to access the cargo compartment.
Whether car companies are invested in electric cars or not already, most have at least one concept. Genesis has had two stunners recently, and the first was the Essentia. It's based around a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis and powered by multiple electric motors, powered by a high-density battery pack arranged in an 'I' shape and through the center tunnel. The intakes on the front are designed to create an air-curtain, as are the air outlets behind the front wheels. On top of all that, the Essentia features race-car style pushrod suspension. It's all pie-in-the-sky for now, but signals Genesis' intent to push harder into the luxury sports market.
Mazda has a rich history of crazy cool cars, but in recent years, it has tightened its belt and stuck to models it has the best business cases for. Mazda still injects tasty vehicle dynamics into all its cars, but there's been no Mazdaspeed badged cars for a while, and no rotary-engined cars for a long time. Every year, Mazda likes to tease something that gets the rumor mill going, but in 2015 it dropped a big tease with the RX-Vision. We've given up on the idea that Mazda will produce a rotary-engined car again, so this is an example of what could have been. Mazda claimed it has its next-gen Skyactiv-R rotary engine, but what people assumed would be the RX-9 has yet to appear. That hasn't stopped Mazda milking the headlines, though, and last year the company showed off a GT3 concept version.
If you're a car company and want to attract automotive journalists and, by extension, headlines, then a brown sexy looking shooting brake is the perfect recipe. It's pure catnip to us, and Volvo put together something very adventurous in 2014 using styling influences from the 1970s P1800 ES shooting brake mixed with Volvo's modern styling cues. Some of the styling has influenced its way onto modern Volvo vehicles, but there's no hope this could ever see production. Automotive journalists aren't a very big demographic. At least the man behind the design, Thomas Ingenlath, has since gone on to head up Polestar, where concepts like this are more likely to trickle into some sort of production form.