It’s a new year and that means another round of cars, both production-ready, and crazy enough in their concept form.
Of course, before we head into what’s new in 2016, it’s always a good idea to look back at the cars (or, sort of cars) we saw last year that really stole the show.
Let’s take a closer look at eight favorites:
Ford basically started off 2015 by dropping the mic at the North American Auto Show in Detroit.
Its creation is the origin story that will live on as folklore for years. Built underground Ford’s Product Development Center, only a few people in the entire Ford Motor Company knew about or worked on the return of the GT. Even if you could get underground, there was no sign that said “Secret Ford GT Development Area,” yet hidden behind the old auto parts and abandoned crafting materials was a secret studio where a small team built the car that simply had no rival in 2015.
While many may have speculated on the imminent return of the Ford GT, what was shown was simply out of this world. A stunning design, both modern and exotic, channeled the Bertone Mantide’s unique flying buttress feature. It even rolled onto the stage under its own power, a twin-turbo V6 engine, producing 630 horsepower.
Of course, that horsepower figure wasn’t even known until the car graced the cover of Forza Motorsport 6, immediately thrusting the all-new Ford GT into virtual stardom.
The production model is still a year away, but the racing version will join this year’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, ahead of a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
Porsche Mission E
Mein gott, Volkswagen had one interesting year.
The group was dominating the European market and making huge sales gains worldwide. Porsche won at Le Mans (and later, the World Endurance Championship). They even revealed one of the coolest concepts of the year at the Frankfurt Auto Show.
And then Dieselgate happened.
Lost in the media firestorm of the year’s largest automotive scandal was the Mission E, revealed just prior to the news breaking. It’s basically a Tesla Model S P90D if created by a company with over 60 years of experience with the whole “going fast” thing.
It’s fully-electric, with 600 horsepower, a 310-mile range, and all of the premium touches one expects from a Porsche. It also happens to look like how we always wanted the Panamera to look, low-slung profile, suicide doors, pronounced wheel arches, etc.
It’s the all-electric super saloon of the future – but it’s also up in the air. Going after Tesla and the luxury electric powertrain segment is a smart long-term move, but with the VW Group’s lingering scandal bleeding millions, it might be a while until a production version arrives.
The rotary engine is dead, long live the rotary.
The enthusiast’s favorite spinning Dorito may have fallen out of favor in an increasingly malaise mass market, where safe and reliable pay dividends, but Mazda kept feeding us hope. They said it wasn’t dead, it just needed more development. There were even rumors of a skunkworks team slowly developing the rotary engine of the future, complete with better power, efficiency, and reliability.
Unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Show, the RX-Vision was an unexpected surprise. As the prelude to a possible production version of the RX-9 (or RX-7, if they revive the nameplate), the concept is an exquisitely crafted grand tourer.
It’s the most exotic interpretation of Mazda’s Kodo design language and, paired with a noticeably longer and wider platform than previous RX models, one can’t help but wonder if Mazda wants to push upmarket with their new sports car.
There is one caveat with the RX-Vision – and it’s a big one – no engine exists yet. The concept was indeed shown sans powertrain.
And for all of the hope and longing for a rotary engine to return to the automotive market, Mazda has its work cut out to produce an engine that’s competitive without too much of a price premium.
While the Ford GT stole the show at Detroit, Buick gave a reason to not forget the brand.
The Avenir concept is what the world expects – and needs – from an American luxury automaker. It’s big and ostentatious, with lots of chrome, lots of power, and the unmistakable air of wealth. As what would be Buick’s flagship model, it’s the return to form we’ve been waiting years for.
Featuring rear-biased all-wheel drive, a V6 engine (most likely what would be the 400 horsepower 3.0L from the upcoming Cadillac CT6), and a surprisingly upmarket interior, the Avenir is more Bugatti Galibier than Chevy Impala.
The good news is that Buick isn’t letting the stunning design fall by the wayside. It showed up at the Philadelphia Auto Show; a rare occurrence of a recently revealed vehicle appearing at a smaller market auto show. Later, it graced the green at the prestigious Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Design cues first seen on the Avenir also appeared on the restyled 2016 Lacrosse.
While there are currently no plans to build it, trademark applications and strong public support may lead to a production model in the future, especially with a stablemate to share parts from (Cadillac CT6).
If Buick actually goes forward with a production version this close to the concept, it would be as revolutionary as it is unexpected.
Yamaha Sports Ride Concept
When you design the Mclaren F1, you tend to have some fanfare whenever you’re involved in a new project.
Yes, Gordon Murray has surfaced again, this time with his studio lending a hand in designing the Yamaha Sports Ride Concept, revealed at the Tokyo Auto Show.
Featuring a carbon fiber chassis, said to be an “affordable” example of the exotic material being used, it weighs a spry 1700 pounds. Add in rear wheel drive and a mid-mounted front engine, a combination seen in cars like the Corvette Stingray, the Sports Ride Concept has the right engineering behind it. Specifics aren’t known yet on what engine would be used, but Yamaha certainly has bountiful choices from their sports bikes, including their 240 horsepower MotoGP bike.
While Yamaha might not have much in the form of the automobile production capabilities, they have a stellar past in lending their expertise to fan favorites like the Toyota 2000GT, Celica GT-S, Ford Puma, and even Lexus LF-A. On their own, it might not be a likely model to go into production, but with a partner like Toyota, there’s a chance. It certainly looks closer to a road-ready model than a concept doomed to fantasy.
How “affordable” the Sports Ride Concept would be is still anyone’s guess, but could you imagine driving this super Miata for under $35,000?
If it’s anything like some of what Yamaha has had a hand in before, sign me up!
Honda Project 2&4
What if the sidecar actually drove the motorcycle?
Leave it to Honda to show us how incredibly amazing and terrifying that thought would be. Unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show, Honda’s Project 2&4 is the brand at its most creative.
Powered by the 1.0-liter V4 found in their MotoGP bike, you’re going to get 212 horsepower with a 14,000 rpm redline, with less than 900 pounds to move around. Theoretically, it seats two, but with a passenger seat that clips onto the other side, good luck finding someone as crazy as you to tag along.
Adorned in Honda’s classic white and red livery, it looks the part of the ultimate track toy – competing against the BAC Mono, KTM X-Bow and others. Give credit to Martin Petersson of Honda’s motorcycle design center in Japan, who won the company’s internal design competition for the 2&4, it absolutely looks like it would fit into the market – despite being such a radical concept.
Of course, it being a radical concept is the crux for hopes at production. CEO Takahiro Hachigo might want the company to return to Honda’s roots as an innovator, but the Project 2&4 is a little too extreme – exposed seat and all.
Still, it’s great to see a company looking rekindle the spirit of what made them great, and if the ideas behind the Project 2&4 trickle into the company’s far more ordinary products, that’s a great sign.
It may look like an angry Pokémon, but this little Toyota looks to bring Miata thrills at a significantly lower price.
Unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Show, the S-FR is set for production later this year, and appeared quite production-ready at its maiden event. That’s an awfully quick turnaround for a new car, but it looks like Toyota is going full steam ahead with a new performance offering.
It’s not a kei car, so that means no size or engine restrictions. Instead, we have a car that’s slightly bigger than the new ND Miata, with a 1.5-liter 4 cylinder engine producing 130 horsepower.
It doesn’t have exotic materials like carbon fiber or aluminum to keep the pounds off, but it still comes in at 2160 lbs., far less than your standard sports car. Even with U.S. safety requirements adding a few hundred pounds, it would be one of the most lightweight cars you could buy.
While Asian and European markets will have a strong chance of sampling the S-FR for themselves, there’s a chance it will come stateside as well. Toyota’s leadership wants to improve the brand’s performance image and who am I to say no to a front engine, rear wheel drive sports car that would be priced around $20k?
Kia SPORTSPACE Concept
The Volvo Estate concept made my heart skip a beat in 2014.
Then Kia came along and nearly made it stop altogether…
Gregory Guillaume, Kia’s design lead in Europe, dropped arguably his best work at the Geneva Motor Show with the SPORTSPACE Concept. It simply stole the show, highlighting how Kia’s design language rivals the best in the industry.
Although described as a design study that shows where Kia could go in the future, it’s not too much of a gamble to say this could be the next Optima’s wagon version – especially for the European market.
The bigger question is if the chiseled lines lend credence to a higher end performance model, similar to Audi’s S-Line or BMW’s M Sport package. Performance options aren’t plentiful within the brand, apart from the Pro Cee’D GT and relatively tame SX trims. Kia even says the concept packs the brand’s current turbo 4-cylinder with 247 horsepower headed to the front wheels only, so nothing exhilarating underneath the beautiful bodywork.
Still, what a delight this would be if this design could see the light of production – with all-wheel drive and a powerplant to challenge the likes of Audi and BMW.
NanoFlowcell Quant F
While the SPORTSPACE may have been the Geneva Motor Show’s stunner for design, there was one that wowed audiences for its ambitious powertrain.
What you see is the NanoFlowcell Quant F – with “F” standing for “Flow.” It’s a clunky name, but certainly apropos. The design is modern, logical, and certainly flows with the idea of a sports car that looks realistic but hides a distinctly futuristic powertrain.
Speaking of, let’s talk about its utilization of a flow battery. We’ve heard about fuel cells, with companies like Toyota and Honda investing in what is, essentially, a fuel tank where oxygen (from the air) reacts with hydrogen (stored onboard) to generate power.
With water as a byproduct instead of carbon dioxide, fuel cells sound pretty good, huh? Well, in the Quant F, we’re dropping the oxygen and the hydrogen, and swapping in electrolytes instead (hey, we like electrolytes, right? Smartwater? Gatorade? Thing our body needs to survive?).
One tank of these electrolytes has a positive charge, while another has a negative charge, and these fluids flow separately inside the Quant F’s “fuel cell.” Now, before I have engineers rip apart my bastardization of very technical terms, I’ll end my explanation by saying that the reaction between the two oppositely-charged fluids is collected by a dividing “membrane” and sent to the rest of the car.
NanoFlowcell says the Quant F should be good for over 1,000 horsepower, a 0-60 time of around 2.8 seconds, and a range of 620 miles with zero emissions. Plus, with being able to fill up with new electrolyte fluid, it will be more convenient and familiar than waiting around for the batteries on your Tesla to charge.
Of course, these figures – and a fully-working system – are all in theory, so here’s to pouring one out for the future of automotive transportation – cheers!
Phiaro P75 Concept CIPHER
Auto shows and concept vehicles from relative unknowns go together like Four Loko and bad decisions. Fortunately, Phiaro Group, known moreso for their design business, has been around since 1939.
Also unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, the P75 Concept CIPHER is a two-seat track toy built in celebration of the company’s 75th anniversary. Call it a chance for their employees to build a Formula SAE car when they’re adult professionals, it features the fanatical attention to detail one expects from Japanese engineers.
Design-wise, it follows the KTM X-Bow, BAC Mono, and other well-known lightweight sports cars, but with a special paint scheme and sponsor vinyls, what we saw in Geneva would fit in at any world-famous circuit for a track day.
With a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder that generates 142 horsepower, a five-speed manual, rack and pinion steering, and ventilated brakes, the P75 is a perfect, practical little sports car.
And while it might not see production, judging by Phiaro’s Facebook page, they’re certainly having fun with it out on the track.
As a bonus, while these cars certainly won’t be built, it was great to see the Vision Gran Turismo cars continue to be built in real-life, at least as design studies.
They’re definitely out there, but some, like the Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo and Hyundai N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo, were absolutely stunning.