Automotive designers are reigning in their imaginations when it comes to turning out futuristic concept vehicles and are focusing on the marketplace.
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Stephen J. Mraz
With a few exceptions, this year’s crop of concept cars (and trucks, and vans, and everything in between) are unlikely to turn more than a few heads on a busy street. They look much like automakers’ regular fare. But here are some of the standouts.
Subaru Impreza Subaru’s “four-door coupe,” the Impreza all-wheel-drive concept car, is powered by a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated Boxer engine with a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission, the automaker’s nextgeneration powertrain. It also features the company’s EyeSight camera subsystem installed along the front edge of the car’s roof. Images from the camera can be viewed on a monitor in the center of the dashboard cluster. The camera also networks with Subaru’s latest collisionprevention technology. And like many concept cars, the Impreza sports a wedge-shaped rear-view camera mounted relatively high on the driver-side A-pillar rather than a mirror. Images appear on the dashboard monitor.
The Vertrek compact SUV from Ford shows how much cargo a smaller SUV could carry. The Vertrek has 15% more cargo space behind the first row of seats and 20% more behind the second row than the Ford Kruga, a vehicle the company sells in Europe. The vehicle’s 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine has an auto-start-stop feature that shuts the engine off when it begins to idle — at a stop light, for example — then restarts the engine in 0.3 sec when the driver hits the accelerator. This could cut CO2 emissions and bump fuel economy by 5%, a figure that could go to 10% in city driving with heavy traffic.
To handle the electric loads of this instant start feature, Ford upgraded the standard starter motor and added a stronger pinion-engagement mechanism. It also took some electrical engineering to ensure the vehicle’s battery could handle the frequent charge-discharge cycles that come with start-stop operation. For example, regenerative charging increases the alternator output when the vehicle brakes or decelerates, converting the kinetic energy of the vehicle into electric energy. This “free” current recharges the battery. The battery also carries a management subsystem that monitors its status and lets the start-stop feature know how much battery charge is available. It then keeps the engine running if the battery does not have enough charge for another start.
The MINI Paceman, a “mini muscle car,” is said to be the first small sports-activity coupe (SAC ). Under the hood, a twin-scroll turbocharged 1.6-liter engine cranks out 211 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque, and torque can be bumped to 201 lb-ft in brief bursts with the overboost feature. To emphasize the crisp, go-kartlike handling common to MINIs, the Paceman rides on MacPherson spring struts with lower track-control arms on the front axle with electric power steering and speedsensitive power assist. The rear end sports a multilink suspension fit for FWD or AWD versions. Inside, there’s room for five, according to the automaker.
Mazda designers created a sleek four-door coupe, a new configuration popular among this year’s concept cars. But the automaker revealed little about the engineering underpinning this vehicle.
GMC Sierra All Terrain HD
The purpose of this GMC concept truck, the Sierra All Terrain HD, is to provide off-road performance and comfort. The truck has a wider track, more ground clearance, and larger approach/departure angles, letting it tackle rough terrain with ease. For power, the truck carries a 6.6-liter Duramax turbocharged diesel and an Allison 1000 six-speed automatic transmission that provide 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque. The grille was designed to deliver cooling air to the engine no matter what the conditions, while a forcedinduction hood provides plenty of air to the engine. For better “crawling” across rocky terrain, drivers can disconnect the front stabilizer bar by pushing a dash-mounted button.
Thirty-five-inch tires give the truck ground clearance and a commanding presence. To help passengers and drivers handle that height, there are motorized steps for the cab and cargo bed that can slide in or out at the touch of a button. There are also storage compartments atop each rear-wheel fender.
The Kia KV7, a concept van, “embraces the box” rather than trying to emulate the raked windshields and wedge-shaped noses common on other vans. Kia also added a gull-wing door for passengers. Opening it, along with the front passenger door, creates an overly large entry to the loungelike interior, thanks to the lack of a B-pillar. And once inside, passengers can enjoy custom-built swiveling chairs, a chaise lounge fitted into one of the rear corners, and reclaimed teak-wood flooring.
The van is powered by Kia’s new Theta II two-liter turbocharged engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It can deliver up to 285 hp and get 30+ mpg.
The Curb from Hyundai has a clean exterior, thanks to touch pads for opening each door and rear hatch, eliminating door handles. A heads-up display (HUD) projects navigation data, images from rear-view cameras, and vehicle diagnostics on the windshield, letting the driver keep his eyes on the road. To improve visibility while cornering, three holes are milled in each singlepiece A-pillar. And for added storage, head rests on the rear seats mount to the car frame rather than the rear seats. This lets the head rests swivel up into the roof and the seats fold flat into the floor.
The Curb is powered by Hyundai’s 1.6-liter Gamma powertrain. It consists of a turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine mated to a direct-shift gearbox. The powertrain develops 175 hp and almost 170 lb-ft of torque.
From Switzerland: Rinspeed’s BamBoo
BamBoo, a concept car from Frank M. Rinderknecht and his design team at Rinspeed, seems to be designed for beach communities and tropical golf courses. The car, which debuted at the Geneva Motor Show, weighs about 2,400 lb and gets its power from a 54-kW electric motor. Top speed is 75 mph, and it can travel about 65 miles at 55 mph. While the chassis consists of steel and composite, the body and interior undoubtedly make use of some form of bamboo.
The UC? from Rinspeed, a subcompact two-seat electric car, was designed to reduce emissions and the need for gasoline, eliminate or shrink traffic jams, and to fit on trains. Consumers could take their UC?s along on long-distance train trips for use at their destinations. (Rinspeed even designed railcars that could onload and off-load UC?s quickly.) The electric motor gives the car a top speed of 75 mph with 96 lb-ft of torque, and a 65‑mile range. The transmission has three positions: forward, neutral, and reverse. On the inside, the driver uses a joystick to steer. And the UC? name? It stands for Urban Commuter, or the rhetorical, You see?