Doomsday has passed without a gasp, so it looks like humanity still has a future. If the concept cars we saw during the past year are any indication, that future looks very bright. As we prepare to roll the calendars over to 2013, it's time to celebrate the finest concepts that 2012 bestowed upon the world. From voluptuous supercars, to green fuel misers, to the downright abstract and outlandish, it was a big year for concepts and design studies.
Sexiest Roadster: Lamborghini Aventador J
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If there was one concept car that simply exuded four-wheeled sex appeal from every vent and crevice, it was the Lamborghini Aventador J. Lamborghini took the already gorgeous Aventador, cut the roof and windshield clean off, and created a one-piece sculpture effect by seamlessly blending the body with the cockpit. It's no surprise that the Geneva-debuted one-off concept fetched more than $2.75 million from its lucky buyer.
Coolest Off-Roader: Mercedes-Benz Ener-G-Force
The Mercedes-Benz Ener-G-Force and its "hydro-tech converter" (even Mercedes put quotations around that piece of non-existent componentry) won't be showing up to dirt roads anytime soon, but in an age when every real SUV is getting watered down into a bloated station wagon – we're looking at you Nissan Pathfinder – it was nice to see an automaker thinking about a future for one of the few real off-roaders left. Like the G-Class, the hydrogen-fueled Ener-G-Force was designed to tackle any muddy road, rock garden or slick hill thrown under its tires. The vision also included some helpful equipment like a pull-out toolbox and terrain scanner.
Most Radical Supercar Design: Peugeot Onyx
Given the sheer number of cars purporting to be "super" these days, it's not easy to design a car that truly is. Many supercar concepts look like old, tired designs dressed up with new badges and vents. So it was quite exciting when Peugeot gave the Paris Motor Show crowd a concept supercar that resembled no other. It started with a distinct face and body and brought the concept to superlative levels with copper wings and doors and matte-black carbon fiber bodywork. The functional artistry on the body was almost enough to make folks forget about the 600-hp V8 hybrid powertrain waiting to spin the wheels. As if the Onyx car needed any help, Peugeot designed a matching three-wheel scooter and a bicycle to go with it.
Coolest Concept That Will Never See Production: Volkswagen Hover Car
As much as the idea of a hover car brings out the little kid in us, we don't see the Volkswagen Hover Car hitting production in the near (or distant) future. The two-person flotation pod was the result of Volkswagen's People's Car crowd-sourcing project. The Hover Car may not be part of Volkswagen's 2014 line, but we commend the public for not just getting outside the box, but for shredding all evidence that such a box exists.
Coolest Concept Likely to See Production: Lexus LF-LC
Lexus debuted the LF-LC at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show with the strictest conceptual intentions. A positive reaction from Detroit visitors led the company to begin considering production. Reports about production plans have persisted since last winter, and a car based on the LF-LC could potentially transition into the role of a flashy sports flagship now that the last LFA has rolled off the assembly lines. Behind its sharp styling, the LF-LC concept housed a 500-hp Advanced Hybrid Drive System.
Best Conceptual Revival: Jeep Mighty FC
Jeep has been flirting with the idea of a bringing back a pick-up model for years, and the Mighty FC may have been the baddest conceptualization yet. Channeling Jeep's Willys heritage, the Mighty FC concept combined a 2012 Wrangler Rubicon cab with a full-sized cargo box. It may look less maneuverable than the average Wrangler, but Jeep showed video evidence that it was nimble enough to master some of the scorched-slickrock rambles of Moab, Utah.
EV We Most Want to be Seen in: Morgan Plus E
Modern day auto shows are filled with fanciful electric and green concepts, many of which are designed to appear futuristic. Sometimes they pull it off, and sometimes they fail. The Morgan Motor Company didn't take that chance. As it likes to do, Morgan went the opposite direction in terms of styling, sliding an electric powertrain into a retro-styled car that Dick Tracy could have emerged from. In addition to can't-miss looks, the Plus E had a rare combination of electric motor and five-speed manual transmission. Morgan showed it at the Geneva Motor Show to gauge public reaction.
EV We Most Want to Drive: Mercedes Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive
The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG with electric drive claimed an early stake as king of electric supercars this year. The car's four motors put out 740 hp, which led Mercedes to declare it the "world's most powerful electric super sports car" (though the Rimac would certainly take issue with that point). Mercedes says those bolting ponies are enough to power the car to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 3.9 seconds and onward to a 155 mph (250 km/h) top speed. The AMG will hit the market late next year €416,500 (about US$550,000).
Best Production Car Turned Racer: Bentley Continental GT3 Concept Racer
Bentley left motorsport racing back in 2003, when the Continental GT was but an infant. Now that the car is all grown up, Bentley is returning to racing with the Continental GT3. Based on the Continental GT Speed, the GT3 will make its racing debut next year. Bentley is still developing the race car and has yet to announce the specs.
Hottest Concept We'll See Next Year: McLaren P1
It's almost not fair to put the McLaren P1 on a list like this. We've waited for the return of a flagship McLaren for so long, we would have been impressed with just about anything it rolled out. But, despite the difficulty of recapturing legend, the F1's successor managed to exceed all expectations. A truly unique and stunning design, the P1 looked like nothing we've ever seen. Every component and aerodynamic feature threw down a gauntlet at the world's most elite supercars, saying, "Think you can take me? 2013: Let's do it." McLaren has yet to reveal what "it" the P1 can do, but we know it will rattle track-side stands when it launches next year.
With so many incredible concepts to choose from, we ran out of spaces before we got to the BMW Zagato. Plus, we thought that including a "Best Combination of German Engineering and Italian Styling" category might have tipped the scales too far in favor of this car. First revealed as a coupe at Lake Como, the Zagato showed up to Pebble Beach without its roof.
Our focus was on vehicles that drive (at least theoretically), but if we included vehicles that get towed behind others, the Odorico Pordenone would have made the cut. One of the most stylish mobile living quarters we saw in 2012, the concept camper used two hard-sided wings to commute nimbly in traffic and expand into a large, stable living space.
Magna Steyr MILA Coupic
The MILA Coupic concept, debuted at the Geneva Motor Show, was far from the prettiest concept we saw this year, and it seems unlikely it will show up to market in its specific form. However, we like the flexibility and utility of the 3-in-1 concept and see it as a useful solution for drivers that want the efficiency and fun of a small convertible with the space of a larger car or truck.
We stacked our list with green supercars like the Peugeot Onyx and Mercedes E-Drive, so the slot where the Emerg-E would have gone was already filled. Still, this 402-hp range-extender developed with the help of Lotus gets a nod for its combination of style, performance and hybrid power. It's also been the subject of production rumors, so maybe we'll see it again in 2013.
Have we missed something? Choosing from the array of concept cars we've encountered over the past 12 months has been no easy task and we'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Have your say in the comments section below.View gallery - 80 images