The ferocious, the flying and the fuel-frugal: The best concept cars of 2017
After covering major international auto shows and events stretching way back to January's 1-2 CES/Detroit Auto Show punch and through to this month's LA Auto Show, we've seen a lot of concept cars. They range from brilliant to unjustifiably weird. Our favorites of 2017 include past icons reinvented as vehicles of the future, electrifying ultra-premiums, hard-to-define segment-benders and utterly insane hypercars.
Bentley EXP 12 Speed 6e
Even if the Bentley EXP 12 Speed 6e wasn't born an electric concept in a year that saw even the least likely auto badges getting more serious about electrified powertrains, it'd have made this list. What's not to like about a perfectly sculpted Bentley roadster with a plum-delightful interior blend of leather trim and cascading touchscreen center console?
Of course, the EXP 12 Speed 6e is an all-electric concept, and Bentley's first at that, so all the more reason it deserves to be here. Bentley didn't detail the 6e's electric powertrain layout when it introduced the concept at the Geneva Motor Show, but it did say that such an electric car would spit out plenty of torque and grand touring capability – enough to complete a trip between London and Paris, roughly 300 miles (483 km), on a single charge. That's about in line with the 311+ (500-km) miles that other VW Group badges have been estimating on their concepts. The all-electric design has an added bonus, inspiring the copper accents that dress both interior and exterior.
"Where are our flying cars?" It's a query that's been shouted from the hilltops and is likely to get louder and louder, given that flying cars have been "just a few years away" for, well, more than just a few years. 2017 didn't provide the answer to that question, but it did bring plenty of flying car news, and it did see a few flying car designs show up at major international auto shows. Before Daimler welcomed folks to its Frankfurt Motor Show hall with a Volocopter vessel, Italdesign and Airbus wowed the Geneva crowds with the Pop.Up concept.
More than just a flying car, the Pop.Up is a mobility ecosystem based around a two-seat transport pod that can secure to the electric vehicle chassis and VTOL quadcopter that Airbus/Italdesign penned to go with it or trains, hyperloops and other mass transit systems.
Each user can find just the right blend of road, air and mass transit by letting the accompanying app do its work in compounding factors like time, cost and traffic, creating the ideal A-to-B ride. If ever a futuristic concept car vision were able to get us excited, it'd have to be the idea of a Pop.Up quadcopter swooping in to lift our transportation pod out of rush hour gridlock, turning an arduous hour+ commute into a flight of mere minutes.
We're not anticipating that the Pop.Up will become the very first product to answer the "where are our flying cars" question, but Airbus suggests that it would be possible to develop such a system within a decade or even less. So 2027 Geneva Motor Show, we're looking at you.
Kia Proceed Concept
Some concepts use every gimmick in the book to catch your attention, and some do it without much effort at all. The Kia Proceed finds itself in that second category, a styling exercise that just makes you stare in awe, trying to figure out what it is you're looking at. With a Stinger-inspired face and sloped roofline, it's too sporty to be an estate, but it's also too long and roomy to be a coupe. Kia's quite happy calling it an "extended hot hatch," and it definitely walks and talks like that breed of duck.
The illuminated side glass surround and dripping "lava red" paint perfectly accentuate the car's gorgeous proportions. We would readily trade the feathery seats and aromatic "memory bank" of the weird interior for some powertrain details – real or imagined – but even without, the Proceed is a highly effective piece of styling from a company that's starting to find its footing in adding some excitement to its line.
Toyota Fine-Comfort Ride Concept
Quite the opposite of the Kia Proceed, the Toyota Fine-Comfort Ride concept does not make the list for its style, of which the boxy concept has little. Toyota calls it "a new form of premium saloon," but it looks more like the spawn of a crossover/minivan union. On the other hand, it's loaded with more than enough tech and interior design features to overlook its awkward style.
Toyota breaks away from the electric concept car convention, exploring the next generation of fuel cell technology, along with fully autonomous design. It says the fuel cell powertrain driving the Fine-Comfort's wheels could deliver around 620 miles (1,000 km) of range for each three minutes or so of hydrogen fueling.
Behind the Fine-Comfort's B-pillar-free combination of hinged front doors and sliding rear doors, four occupant-wrapping recliners provide the utmost of comfort in the first and second row, swiveling around on orb-like bases when so desired. The third row is a simpler, more familiar bench.
The interior benefits from a diamond shape that provides extra width and space toward the front and center before narrowing at the rear. Digital displays integrated in the side windows and dash provide the full gamut of infotainment multimedia. The Fine-Comfort Ride may not be the vehicle you'd most like to be seen in, but it's definitely a vehicle you'd like to be in.
Lamborghini Terzo Millennio
Lamborghini concepts have been some of the most wild in recent memory. We're talking sci-fi-level creations like the air-sucking Veneno or shark-spearing Egoista. So we never imagined the first all-electric Raging Bull would be mistaken for a basic highway commuter. We also never suspected it would be the radical amalgam of high-tech materials, next-gen technologies and huge air-channeling cutouts that is the Terzo Millennio.
Lamborghini is working with MIT in developing the technologies needed to create an electric bull that can properly rage. Those technologies include supercapacitors, energy-accumulating carbon fiber body panels, a high-performance in-wheel motor system, and even a "self-healing" structure that could repair damage autonomously. In other words, we're looking at an electric car with next-gen Lamborghini levels of awesomeness.
No typical auto show reveal for the Terzo Millennio – Lamborghini and its MIT partners revealed it at the EmTech MIT Conference in November. Hopefully we'll get a closer look during the 2018 auto show season.
Toyota Tj Cruiser
The Fine-Comfort Ride shows a futuristic way Toyota might blend SUV and van construction into a functional vehicle, and the Tj Cruiser shows a more contemporary one. This versatile mash-up machine could write a compelling new chapter in Toyota's legacy of rugged, capable 4x4s built for abuse and longevity.
Unlike other 2017 MP-SUV designs, notably the Mitsubishi Expander and Citroën SpaceTourer 4x4 Ë Concept, the Tj Cruiser is more than just a beefed-up minivan equipped for deftly handling slick, frosty gravel driveways. And that's because Toyota isn't balancing an urban crossover with a minivan, instead slapping a rugged 4x4-style front-end on a boxy cargo van-like body.
Likewise, the folding seats/flat load floor of the interior smartly blend the passenger hauling capabilities of an SUV with the stuff-carrying of a cargo van, letting owners load oversized items up to 9.8 feet (3 m) long straight to the dashboard. We're guessing the Tj won't handle like a dream, but selectable 4WD and large tires will help to ensure solid traction over varying ground.
We'd think a production Tj would have to add at least an extra seat to the concept's four, but we can certainly think of many uses for one. Here's to hoping Toyota gets serious about it, for Japan and beyond.
BMW Concept 8 Series
Many concepts are born with an unknown future, but the BMW Concept 8 Series' future is much clearer, as BMW has said that it is a taster of a production 8 Series Coupe. News of an all-new 8 (i.e. the "pinnacle of sports performance and exclusivity at BMW") should be enough to get BMW fans all giddy, and the sharp, aggressive styling of the Concept 8 should have the same effect on anyone who isn't excited by the words alone.
The angry face, the precisely placed lines and creases, and the perfectly proportioned muscles combine to create a car that exudes power, confidence and class. The driver-focused interior features a masterful blend of digitization and performance-based materials like carbon fiber, polished aluminum and leather.
Not only does the Concept 8 Series score for being one of the better-looking concepts of 2017, it also gets points for building excitement about next year's debut of the production version. Onward to 2018.
Honda Urban EV
The year brought plenty of EVs and autonomous concepts that wear modern or futuristic looks. Honda bucked that trend with the beautifully retro Urban EV. But for some carefully rounded edges and a digital face that communicates with the crowd, this Frankfurt-debuted concept would look like it had been dragged directly out of 1975 and retrofitted with Honda's latest electric tech.
It's amazing how basic designs from simpler times truly pop when surrounded by the more stylized machines of today. The Urban EV's flat roofline, classic hatchback stance and white paint were among the simplest design elements in Frankfurt, but this concept was also among the vehicles that held our attention the longest.
The Urban EV gets much more modern below that throwback shell, where its electric powertrain is joined by a personal digital assistant, streamlined digitized driver's area and two-way energy management system that allows the car to share power with the home and electrical grid.
We're not sure how closely it will follow the concept's retro motif, but a production Urban EV-based car will debut in 2019.
Volkswagen I.D. Buzz
Now that we've gone down the path of production-bound, retro-futuristic electric concepts, we're all but required to turn our attention to the Volkswagen I.D. Buzz. Not that it doesn't earn a spot on its own – the world has been waiting for a new-generation VW Microbus for decades, and after toying with folks with the 2001 Microbus and 2011 Bulli concepts, Volkswagen is finally hitting the accelerator on a production bus. The I.D. Buzz concept serves as a preview, having opened a busy year of electric concepts at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show.
The production I.D. Buzz-based electric van scheduled for launch in 2022 will lose the fully autonomous driving suite of the concept, but it will have Level 3 capabilities. Hopefully it'll also have the classic short nose, window-lined cabin and flexible interior. The concept has a floor-mounted 111-kWh battery powering its 369-hp AWD e-motor layout for up to 373 miles (600 km, NEDC). We don't suspect the 2022 version will be quite so powerful, but hopefully it'll have comparable range.
Nissan NV Cargo X
As interesting as it is to ogle time-traveling vehicles from the 2020s and beyond, sometimes it's nice to see something that just works, in the present tense. Nissan's NV Cargo X is just that, with the compelling off-road video to prove it.
The type of van you usually have to turn to an aftermarket outfit like Sportsmobile to build, the NV Cargo X concept shows Nissan's own ideas on a rugged, off-road-ready NV 2500 HD van, not that it didn't have help, as off-road builder Ian Johnson joined the automaker on the project.
With a 310-hp/555 lb-ft Cummins V8 turbo diesel engine, heavy-duty Aisin 6-speed transmission and 4WD borrowed from the Titan XD and an off-road-specific suspension and 37-in General Grabber X3 tires, the Cargo X is a convincing go-anywhere van.
The upgraded van also wears a front skid plate, tube front bumper, 10,000-lb winch and off-road lighting. Should anything go wrong on the trail, it's equipped to be its own support vehicle, its cargo area filled out with an onboard air system, fluid containment and storage, high-lift jack, portable welder, recovery equipment and more.
While the self-supporting off-road van angle is interesting, we'd really love to see this one turned into an off-road expedition camper van. Nissan has been dipping its toes in the overland market, so here's to hoping for an NV Cargo Xpedition concept in 2018.
Usually when we talk about microturbines in motor vehicles, we're talking about a big rig or super-exclusive supercar, but this year Pininfarina brought the conversation to the luxury sedan segment.
Working with Hong Kong's Hybrid Kinetic Group, the world-famous design house created a silky smooth sports sedan around a potent 805-hp electric powertrain with graphene-enhanced battery and microturbine range extender. So when all those other next-gen concept cars shut down around 311 miles (500 km) or so, the H600 is only about halfway through its total range of 620 miles (1,000 km, NEDC). For those interested in shorter, quicker journeys, it can also sprint from 0-62 mph (96.5 km/h) in a mere 2.9 seconds.
The H600 wears a classic, upscale set of clothes while its interior is a bit more playful and cutting edge, highlighted by the tablet-sized floating center console screen. Pininfarina followed the Geneva-debuted sedan up with a crossover and SUV, so the H600 definitely appears more than just a one-and-done concept.
Audi is leading the way toward autonomous driving with the Level 3 A8, and the Frankfurt-debuted Aicon concept shows how it might continue to lead the way in the future. The dramatically stretched sedan leverages autonomy toward a much more comfortable and luxurious premium car experience.
The Level 5, AI-controlled concept doesn't even waste unnecessary space or gross vehicle weight by carrying a steering wheel or pedals around. Combine that with standalone front recliners that can slide all the way back, and you have new levels of legroom and interior space – at least until you have to move the seats back up for the rear passengers. Integrated ottomans provide further comfort.
The settings throughout the Aicon's cabin are dialed in effortlessly because Audi's PIA digital assistant recognizes the passengers via their smartphones and sets everything to their preferences when they step aboard. Should anyone feel the need to manually change anything, touch controls built into the door panels are at their fingertips and voice-based and eye-tracking control systems are at the ready.
With manual driving but a memory, passengers are free to watch media on the digital display, surf the Web, work or simply take a nap. The glass roof panels can be set to opaque and OLED mood lighting set to create a relaxing atmosphere.
Powertrain details are a bit of an afterthought on a concept of this nature, but in case you're wondering, Audi specified a 349-hp four-motor electric drive with nearly 500 miles (800 km) of range. The concept can drive itself to charge, where it can reach the 80-percent level in under 30 minutes.
Lazzarini Hover Coupè
Retro-futuristic design is a theme seen in several concepts on this list, but no other takes it to the extremes of the Lazzarini Hover Coupè. Designer Pierpaolo Lazzarini centers a classic Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8-influenced body between four rotors, creating a style of flying car utterly perfect for a future adaptation of Dick Tracy. The Hover Coupè doesn't require a separate drone like the Pop.Up or deployable wings like other flying cars, vertically lifting from the confines of city traffic to the airspace high above.
We definitely won't be expecting a final Hover Coupè prototype in 2018, or anytime in the years following, but the concept does make us "think about the future without forgetting the past," as Lazzarini intended.
Infiniti Prototype 9
Easily the most fun (ground) electric concept car of the year, the gorgeous Prototype 9 sees Infiniti trying its hand at rewriting the past. The badge sought to explore the type of open-wheeled grand prix race car it might have run if it had been in business back in the 1940s, giving a simple, cigar-shaped body dimension and definition with creases, tucks and vents. The dominating front grille gives a big first impression, but unlike the huge front grilles that have found favor in production with some automakers (we're looking right at you, Lexus), this one actually works quite nicely as a signature styling point.
While the Prototype 9's exterior is all retro, the underlying powertrain technology is modestly futuristic. Infiniti has hooked a prototype electric motor worth around 148 hp and 236 lb-ft to the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission.
That doesn't exactly make the Prototype 9 a lightning-quick podium-topper, with a top speed of 106 mph (170 km/h) and 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) of 5.5 seconds, but it does give the car some credibility as more than just a fancy showpiece. If that prototype motor finds use in a production Infiniti or Nissan, we reckon it'll drive for a bit longer than the 20 minutes of feisty track driving the Prototype 9 offers.
Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet
Yes, the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet is yet another electric concept. No, that's not why we picked it, nor do we anticipate the massive 18.7-foot (5.7-m) convertible being particularly efficient, no matter what is spinning the wheels.
The new Maybach concept gets the nod for being a magnificent piece of design work, every bit as stunning as its hard-topped sibling, one of our favorite concepts of 2016. All the bodywork of the Cabriolet's long-arcing hood is balanced nicely by the fresh air that fills out the two-seat cabin.
The retracted soft-top naturally draws the eye to the superlative interior, which is every bit as much a highlight as the classic lines of the body. The two seats flow together as if poured from large vat of liquid leather, and backlit quilting serves as the perfect day/night accent. The yacht-like wood floor, the blue fiber optic cable mimicking the flow of electricity from within the central tunnel, the wraparound digital display strip, and the classic cylindrical gauges all add to the car's exceptional presence.
A single photo will never do a concept car justice, so be sure to browse through more interior and exterior angles of each of these intriguing vehicles in our photo gallery.