Over the course of 2014, Gizmag has traveled to the major auto shows of the world in search of the latest cars and in-car technology. In our journey from Detroit, to Geneva, to Beijing and on to Paris and LA, we've seen countless concept cars, some good, some terrible and some that we're still undecided on. Many of those concept cars have been ultra-powerful, aero-optimized sports cars ready to create a new generation of exotics. Here are our choices for the best of the best of 2014.
10. Kia GT4 Stinger
Not typically a brand that gets the heart racing, Kia has been making some noise at auto shows of late. It closed out 2013 by introducing the 2015 K900 luxury sedan at the LA Auto Show, then started off 2014 by showing the aggressive, race-inspired GT4 Stinger in Detroit. Some questionable styling decisions, like the bottle opener grille flanked by vertical headlights, had us debating whether or not to include the GT4 in the last. In the end however, it was hard to leave out a muscular, Kia-badged sports car with dynamic fastback profile and wraparound greenhouse. For that reason, it sneaks in at Number 10.
In terms of equipment, the RWD GT4 2+2 debuted with a 315-hp 2.0-liter turbo four powering the 275/35R-20 Pirelli P-Zero tires. Kia didn't provide any performance estimates in NAIAS, but given the car's stripped down, stereo-less interior and 2,874-lb weight, it'd certainly be much livelier than virtually anything in Kia's current stable of cars. Kia's official introduction left little chance of a GT4-based production car, but rumors since have suggested otherwise.
9. Peugeot Exalt
Never one to back away from the challenge of creating an intriguing concept car, Peugeot had a particularly big year of design in 2014, best evidenced by its Paris Motor Show display. Before watering the Exalt down to a gray-on-lighter gray coupe in Paris, it painted a more interesting contrast in Beijing. The original Exalt concept revealed at the Beijing Motor Show used a more effective blend of color and material, affixing red "shark skin" hindquarters to an otherwise raw steel body. The interior had an equally eye-popping presence thanks to its combination of black ebony wood, basalt fiber, exposed steel and wool-blend fabric.
The Exalt was designed more to excite the driver's eyes than his spirit, but the 340-hp HYbrid4 powertrain promised the vicious bite to match the bark. The setup combined a front-mounted 1.6-liter THP engine and rear electric motor, offering pure-electric, gas and gas-electric modes.
8. Skydancer 7.5 RV Roadster
Stretching our conceptualization of terms like "sporty" and "roadster", we were able to find a place for the Skydancer 7.5, one of the wildest concepts we saw all year. The boxy, bus-like shape of the Mercedes Atego base platform is a marked divergence from the sharp, aggressive curves seen throughout the rest of this list, but the Skydancer has the very same verve for pleasure driving as any other concept here. By jacking the four-person driving cell up just below a retractable panoramic roof, the one-off RV convertible enthralls drivers with air-through-the-hair, open-top driving and extended road-trip-ready living quarters in tow. Unlike other massive motorhomes on the road, this one is as much about the drive as the destination.
7. MINI Superleggera Vision
MINI stepped outside the box - quite literally - at the 2014 Concorso d'Eleganza Ville d'Este. Instead of giving us yet another version of its boxy Cooper, it gave us a radically different animal in the Superleggera Vision concept. That's largely because the sporty roadster wasn't designed by Mini or its parent company BMW, but by Italian design and coach building house Touring Superleggera.
The one-off Superleggera concept sported a clean, simple, stylish design with distinct cues like the frameless windshield, low-profile doors, Union Jack taillights and aerodynamic rear fin. The round eyes and hexagonal grille gave it a face just barely recognizable as a distant relative of MINI. Beyond its handcrafted aluminum bodywork, the Superleggera housed a BMW eDrive electric powertrain of unreleased specification. Following Concorso d'Eleganza, it made a variety of auto-show appearances, including Salon Prive, Paris and Los Angeles.
6. Volkswagen XL Sport
We had to debate a bit about whether to include the Volkswagen XL Sport concept here or on our upcoming list of top 2014 green concepts. In the end, we decided that, while the XL Sport is still plenty green, it's a performance rendition of the even greener XL1, so it belongs on the sports car list. The XL Sport's 168-mph top speed and 5.7-second 0-62-mph specs aren't all that exciting on a list like this one, but the fact that VW repackaged its revolutionary ultralight, aero-optimized green-tech flagship into a Ducati-powered sports car definitely raises eyebrows and heart rates. Few other concept cars made us daydream about a track-based test drive more than the 1,962-lb, 197-hp XL Sport. This isn't just a cool, new sports car, it's an entirely new breed of reworked sports car engineering.
While the car's drag increased over the XL1's due to the demands of reworking the platform into a performance sports car, the XL Sport flaunted plenty of high-tech aerodynamic design. The aero kit includes wheel arch vents, an extendable rear spoiler derived from the hardware on the Lamborghini Aventador and adaptive rear-hatch air vents. Team those up with a 1,962-lb curb weight, "the world's most powerful two-cylinder engine" and a race-tuned chassis, and you're probably daydreaming about a track test, too.
5. FELINO cB7
Unveiled at the 2014 Montreal auto show, the cB7 concept from Quebec-based motorsports outfit FELINO actually isn't the first supercar to come from Canada - others - but it could be the most distinct and aggressive to rev engine in maple leaf territory. Part Zenvo ST1, part extreme, track-armored Chrysler Crossfire, and part angry kitty, the car's every inch itches for long straightaways and twisty track-day corners. The tubular-frame vehicle weighs as little as 2,200-lb (1,000-kg), depending on customer-selected equipment, and promises to pull the most from its four-, six- or eight-cylinder powertrain. The flagship power plant is a 525-hp 6.2-liter V8.
Quebec-based Felino has been tweaking and testing its final prototypes this year with plans to get the cB7 start a limited production run in 2015 at a starting price of $100,000. Performance specifications still have yet to be listed. The car will be primarily track-focused, but may be street legal, too.
4. Toyota FT-1
Toyota started the year with a bang when it pulled the silken cloth off its FT-1 concept. A concept car in the truest sense, the FT-1 showed that Toyota designers have been earning their paychecks in re-imagining what it means to be a Toyota. The central beak and hollowed-out front-end made for a "love it, or hate it"-type design, but the wraparound greenhouse with black-out A pillars, double-bubble roof and electronically activated rear wing were features that everyone can agree to love. We also liked the cannon-like exhaust treatments and rear air ducts. Toyota never revealed what type of power it imagined driving the rear wheels, outside of saying that it would be an internal combustion engine.
Toyota called the FT-1 a symbol of the "new chapter for Toyota Global Design" when it launched the concept, and rumors before and since its introduction have suggested that it's a preview of an all-new Supra successor, a car that helped inspire its design. Almost a year later and we still don't have confirmation from Toyota, though it did have the opportunity when it revealed a second FT-1 design at Concours d'Elegance. For now, it's merely a concept and video game car in Gran Turismo 6.
3. Lamborghini Asterion
A hybrid Lamborghini? Yep, that's going to make any list of top sports concepts of the year, especially when it shows a historically scarce front-engine-like look badged with a Raging Bull. Debuted at the Paris Motor Show in September, the Lamborghini Asterion shows the boys at McLaren and Ferrari what's what by combining 910 horses (comparable to the P1 and LaFerrari) with 31 miles (50 km) of all-electric driving capabilities (not comparable to the P1 or LaFerrari). It's powered by a trio of electric motors and a mid-mounted 5.2-liter V10 borrowed from the Huracán, which deliver it to 62 mph from stop in three seconds and up to 199 mph (320 km/h).
The Asterion really popped in Paris, and not just because of its Blue Elektra paint. The upright proportions, long, angled roof, bulging rear haunches and distinct rear fascia made it a real stand-out when displayed next to the typical, mildly evolving Lambo design language on the Huracán and Aventador. It was a new Lambo, through and through, but there's no indication it will make it to production.
2. VW Vision GT
We largely ignored the PlayStation-bound Vision Grand Turismo concepts of 2014 because, while quite beautiful and intriguing, they were primarily built without any regard to real-world feasibility. That can be true of auto show concept cars, too, but never more so than when your vehicle doesn't have to advance beyond digital rendering. Things like laser beam propulsion makes for a cool video game feature, but isn't exactly a realistic look at the current state of automotive design.
The Volkswagen GTI Roadster Vision GT sneaks its way onto the list because not only did Volkswagen build an actual concept car, but it built the most realistic of all the Vision GTs, based on an actual Volkswagen model with actual Volkswagen equipment. The GTI Roadster was also incredibly awesome, sending 503-hp charged air shooting across the driver's head over top the ultra-low, frameless windscreen. It swallowed and repurposed surrounding air with its extra-wide, cockpit-wrapping rear quarter design and other body kit elements. With the help of the DSG dual-clutch transmission and 4MOTION all-wheel drive, the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 took advantage of that aerodynamic design to the tune of 192 mph (309 km/h) and 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds.
1. Maserati Alfieri
Not that the Alfieri concept needed much help to land at the top of our list, but Maserati's forthrightness didn't hurt. Many other 2014 concept sports cars have left the world dangling, "Will they or won't they?" Maserati hinted at production when it showed the Alfieri concept at the Geneva Motor Show and didn't wait long before confirming it. The inspired 2+2 design ties Maserati's past with its future, a future that now promises to be sexier and fitter than ever. We're not entirely sold on the oversized, toothy grille, but everything behind that - the sharp headlamps; long, curvy hood; short, backset cabin; and ducted tail lamps, among other elements - points to an attractive new design direction.
In concept form, the Alfieri was powered by the 460-hp 4.7-liter V8 from the GranTurismo, but the production car will switch over to a trio of V6 options ranging between 450 and 520 hp. It will be offered as both a rear-wheel and all-wheel drive.
If you think our order is all funked up, hit the comments and weigh in on how you'd switch the numbering around or add 2014 concepts we've omitted. And if you're wondering how the sports concepts of 2014 stacked up to those of 2013, check out our 2013 sports car round-up. It's not an entirely fair fight because last year's top sports car feature included a few production models, but it did have more than enough concept cars for you to compare the two years and crown your own champion.