New Atlas has racked up the sky miles this year, criss-crossing the globe to cover the biggest motor shows, launches and stories in the automotive world. Starting at the Detroit Auto Show, we've seen the launch of concept cars providing a new take on everything from American luxury to eco-friendly supercars. Here's our pick of the best concept cars launched in 2016.
The Cadillac Escala is more proof that, after years in the wilderness, proper American luxury is making a comeback. It's designed to explore what a flagship car, bigger and bolder than the current CT6, would look like – and the answer is clear. It looks utterly gorgeous: subtle and classy, but dripping with presence.
Open a door, and you're confronted with a light and airy cabin, which eschews the current luxury focus on leather and wood in favor of pale suit fabric. The dashboard is adorned with a dual-screen instrument binnacle. It's focused on delivering crucial information to the driver at a glance, and makes use of curved-screen technology for a wraparound feel.
Compared to some of the cars on this list, the Escala wouldn't be all that difficult to drag from concept to production. It's powered by an old-fashioned V8, the styling is relatively simple and the interior doesn't involve any levitating, holographic, inside-out elements making it tough to produce. Cadillac, please make it happen.
Renault made the most of its home-ground advantage in Paris this year, launching the stunning Trezor. Although it was unveiled at Mondial l'Automobile, it wouldn't look out of place on the catwalks of fashion week, or even sitting in a Parisian art gallery.
Following on from the DeZir concept launched in 2010, the front end of the car is defined by big fenders and slim, c-shaped daytime running lights. They're similar to the ones you'll find on the new Megane, but pack a bit more of a punch attached to a silver bullet like the Trezor. As if the slinky shape wasn't enough, the one-piece roof section rises like a fighter jet canopy, making it easy to get into the bright red cabin.
In keeping with the mobility-first focus of the 2016 Paris Motor Show, the Trezor doesn't run with a highly strung petrol engine under the hood. Instead, it draws on a Formula E electric powertrain with 349 hp (260 kW) of power – enough to shunt the car to 100 km/h (62 mph) in around 4 seconds flat.
Opel/Vauxhall Concept GT
Although their current lineups lack a real halo sports car, Opel and Vauxhall have a history of sporty compact coupes stretching back to the mid 1960s. The GT, launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March, is designed to evoke the original Opel Experimental GT and Vauxhall VXR, with a lightweight chassis and simple engine.
Power comes from a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder turbo engine with 143 hp (107 kW). Although they're not huge numbers – especially in a world where hot hatches make almost 300 hp – a skinny 998 kg (2200 lb) curb weight means the GT will still hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in around eight seconds, putting it in line with the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GT86.
Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6
Launched at Pebble Beach in August, the gargantuan Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 harks back to a time when excess was celebrated. Some throwback designs end up looking unoriginal and overblown, but Mercedes has managed to perfectly nail the Vision 6 from the outside, combining a gorgeous classic shape with design cues from the forward-looking Concept IAA.
In past the looooong bonnet might have played host to a V12, but the Vision swaps petrol power for batteries and electric motors. Total system output is 550 kW (750 hp) and the 80 kWh underfloor battery is good for a range of 500 km on the New European Drive Cycle, or around 200 miles under EPA testing.
BMW Vision Next 100
When your brand is built around the Ultimate Driving Machine slogan, the advent of self-driving car raises more than a few questions. The Vision Next 100, shown off as part of BMW's centenary celebrations, provides a peek at what the Ultimate Self Driving Machine the future might look like.
Apparently, the car of the future takes a few different forms, thanks to movable elements both inside and out. The wheels are hidden under a mesh of shape-shifting triangular elements. They move as the wheels turn, and help cut the car's coefficient of drag to just 0.18 – slightly smoother than the Volkswagen XL1, and significantly smoother than the current BMW i8 supercar.
There's more moving parts in the cabin. In self-driving mode, the steering wheel folds and the seats turn inwards, allowing the passengers to chat and interact, but swapping to more driver-centric modes brings the steering wheel back into play, and adjusts the windshield heads-up display to deliver info about the best possible line through the next corner.
Buick isn't known for ground-breaking designs, but the Avista is one of the most beautiful cars we've seen this year. Launched in Detroit, it picks up where the Avenir left off in 2015 with gorgeous classic proportions and a bright, luxurious interior.
Power comes from a twin-turbo V6 with cylinder deactivation, hooked up to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Magnetic Ride Control also makes an appearance, allowing the suspension to be changed from rock-hard to silky-smooth at the push of a button. Unfortunately, even though all these parts have been cherry picked from GM cars that already exist, there are no plans to put it into production.
Citroen revived the legendary DS badge back in 2009 and turned it into a standalone brand in 2014, but it took until March 2016 for the marque to truly arrive. The E-Tense is designed to celebrate all that is right about French design, but it isn't a simple styling exercise. Instead, it's a thoroughly modern electric sports car that also happens to look drop-dead gorgeous.
We could tell you all about the 402 hp (300 kW) electric powertrain hiding under that green bodywork, but the real highlights in the E-Tense are behind the wheel. Citroen says it spent 800 hours designing the interior, which features seats inspired by watch straps and a sculptural steel dashboard. Although it won't make production, details from the concept are already starting to pop up on regular DS models, especially in the cabin.
Car manufacturers have traditionally used big motor shows to launch their concepts, but CES is quickly becoming a fashionable place to launch new, connected cars. The VW Budd-E made its debut in Las Vegas, where it set about turning the classic Microbus into a van for hippies, surfers and campers living in the internet age.
We're going to avoid talking about the styling here. It doesn't look much like the legendary Microbus from the '60s, and doesn't look all that exciting compared to the other concepts on this list. The real tricks lurk beneath the skin on the Budd-E, which comes loaded with unique ideas about how the next generation of VW buyer might connect with their car.
Inside, it shows off a new human-machine interface, which can be controlled using voice, gesture and touch inputs – some of which have popped up in the recently refreshed Golf. The car will communicate with smart home items, and Volkswagen has fitted a drop box so it can receive parcel deliveries while the driver is away. It'll even talk to connected home devices from DoorBird and LG.
Techrules TREV Concepts
Manufacturers have been toying with turbines in cars since the 1950s, but the idea has never been successfully put into mass production. Chinese startup Techrules thinks the secret to turbine cars is using the turbine as a generator, a concept explored on the GT96 and AT96.
Both cars are powered by a series-hybrid powertrain, which uses a single micro-turbine connected to a generator using a shaft. The 36 kW generator dedicates 30 kW of power to charging the 20 kWh lithium-manganese-oxide battery, while the remaining 6 kW is used to run ancillary systems.
Unfortunately, the AT96 and GT96 are unlikely to be showing up on roads anytime soon, but Techrules does seem determined to put the tech into production. Having debuted its concept cars in Geneva this year, the company is planning to return in 2017 and deliver an update on the car's progress. Suffice to say, we'll be paying the stand a visit to find out more.
Pininfarina H2 Speed
Pinifarina knows a thing or two about designing beautiful cars. The Italian styling firm has a catalogue full of Ferrari and Maserati designs, along with forays into parallel worlds like cycling and tractors. Even among such illustrious company, the H2 Speed is one of the prettiest, most significant projects ever to emerge from Pininfarina.
Hydrogen power is shaping up as one of the more viable alternatives to gasoline, because it allows people to maintain their current fueling patterns and driving habits in ways electric cars can't. We've seen city runabouts and practical hatches running with hydrogen power, but the H2 Speed is aiming much higher.
With around 370 kW (500 hp) from its twin electric motor – produced at 13,000 rpm, no less – the H2 will sprint to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 3.4 seconds and hit 300 km/h (186 mph). It drinks only hydrogen and emits only water vapor, and will be put into production come 2017.
To see more images of all the cars on this list, take a flick through our 2016 concept car photo gallery. If you think we've missed anything let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned for a wrap of the biggest electric cars to land this year!
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