It’s easy for a car that’s all sharp lines and flaring wings to catch the eye, but sometimes it’s the ones with the deceptively conservative styling that catch you by surprise. A case in point is Italdesign Giugiaro’s Clipper MPV concept car, which was unveiled last week at the Geneva Motor Show. The four-wheel drive, six-seater with fully independent all-electric drive sports a design that's based on a study of future cities, and is billed by the maker as a “veritable automotive research design lab.”

At first glance, the Clipper doesn't look like much to write home about. Its very understated lines would almost be conventional if it weren't for the lack of a grille and the fact that the wing mirrors have been replaced by camera stalks. Based on the MQB modular platform developed by the Volkswagen Group and seating six in three rows of two, it’s deliberately functional with a layout designed to make the most of the interior space, which ended up as an exercise in putting as many passengers as possible into a not very large car.

With a curb weight of 1,800 kg (3,968 lb) packed into a 2,790 mm (109.8 in) wheelbase, the Clipper isn't exactly light either, but when it opens its doors, it’s obvious that there’s more to it than meets the eye. It reveals that there’s no B-pillar, which is instead integrated into the the structure of the back doors. The front door scissors up while the back gull-wing doors sweep out. Both doors open simultaneously and automatically, though they do incorporate an electronic safety system that keeps the back door shut until the front door has started to open.

"This year, we wanted to focus our styling and engineering research on a project for a deliberately not futuristic car,” says designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. “The only concession to exotic styling lies in the door opening mechanisms, with ‘butterfly’ doors at the front and ‘gull-wing’ at the back. We concentrated instead on devising an architectural solution to satisfy the need for a spacious, comfortable interior, also exploiting the advantages of the technology at our disposal today. An example of this is the flat floor, typical of electric vehicles, and the mobile modules of the interior which can be modified, with the controls and dashboards developed in line with the ‘touch feeling’ concept so that the compartment adapts to the needs of driver and passengers. As always, the name of the vehicle hints at its personality traits: ‘clipper’ ships enjoyed their heyday in the latter half of the 19th century; quiet and streamlined, they transported precious cargo like spices.”

The Clipper is powered by a pair of 110 kW (147 bhp) electric motors sited front and back. This explains the unusual front, where the grille is replaced by two air intakes between the light clusters and the wheel arches, along with two under the headlamps, to channel air to the batteries. According to the designers, battery packs are housed in the floor to protect them from damage.

With its direct-drive gearbox, the Clipper does a respectable 204 km/h (127 mph) and has a range of 540 km (335 mi). There’s a McPherson suspension in front and Multilink in the back, and the wheels boast Vredestein tires.

Inside the Clipper there’s upholstery and trim designed in collaboration with Alcantara, and the designers say that they're aimed at a user-friendly, intuitive design. The instrument panel is designed to be as light as possible, with the driver’s instrument panel replaced by two screens. One is recessed and attached to the upper part of the instrument panel, appearing to float. The other is projected on a perspex cover set at a 45-degree angle for a holographic effect.

In the dash on the passenger’s side are three screens. One replaces the rear-view mirror and the other two provide navigation and infotainment. Underneath the screens and running the width of the dash is the climate control aperture.

Between the front seats is a tunnel housing a folding 11-in touchscreen that replaces conventional buttons, allowing for lighter, simpler controls. The only buttons in the Clipper are the start/stop button, the gear selector, and the electronic handbrake in the armrest. The screen folds away flush when not in use and the entire tunnel can slide back to allow easy access by the driver or passenger to exit by the opposite door.

The simplified control theme extends to the steering wheel, where buttons give way to two mini touch pads to operate the main controls and turn indicators. Another way that control is simplified is by making the windscreen wipers and headlamps activate automatically.

In front of the four rear passenger seats are four iPad minis. These and the front seat infotainment displays are connected to an app developed by Italdesign Giugiaro, that allows passengers to contact each other and the outside world, share documents or play multiplayer games. The two back rows also fold flat to provide extra luggage space.

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