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Saturday, 26 September 2015

IAA Frankfurt 2015 - More Mad Concept Cars!

2015 Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo - I did not realise it was finished in friggin 'BLUE CARBON FIBRE.
Wacky concept cars are great, really they are. So let's look at some! As important as the real cars for real people are, the fun of motor shows is just as much or more in seeing what undiluted visions car companies have, what their designers and engineers would or could do with freedom from regulations and production costs. We recently went through a couple of years where concept cars just seemed to be thinly veiled production cars with a bit of extra design spice thrown on the grab attention, at the expense of something truly interesting. Thankfully, Vision Gran Turismo has helped car companies see the point in doing something extreme to connect with potential future customers, and with that subsequent outburst of creativity has come the return of true concept cars to the fore. No, 're not heading to production. They're heading to your dreams. Here are five.


Hyundai N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo




Oh yes, this is really a Hyundai. If you're still under the impression that the Korean car company (twinned with Kia) makes laughably terrible tin boxes then I'm afraid you're a good ten years out of date with that stereotype. They're now at the point where they're ready to launch a performance brand. Its name? N. Not to be confused with BMW's M Brand, or indeed the high speed platform game with a little ninja that has to collect gold and avoid mines/rockets/zappy things. The game for which this machine is destined is, of course, Gran Turismo 6, along with the Bugatti up top and all the other Vision GT creations. The 'N' in, er, 'N' It stands for both Nürburgring and Namyang, the latter being where Hyundai's research and development network is based, in South Korea

The new sub-brand will aim to trade on special powertrains, lightweight materials and a thrilling driving experience, all of which seem to be in evidence here. Looking like an LMP1 car from a decade in the future, the N 2025 Vision GT has an electric motor in each wheel, with each operating fully independently and being fed energy from a 670bhp hydrogen fuel cell system (Hyundai currently build hydrogen-powered "ix35" crossovers in the real world), with an extra 201bhp coming from a supercapacitor-based KERS. 871 horsepower and all-wheel-drive should make it more than a match for the LMP1 cars in the game, perhaps more in line with the Mazda LM55 V-GT. The aerodynamics are similarly extreme, although more angular in style than the swooping Mazda and featuring humongous mostly-open channels through the sides of the car. It looks ballistic just sitting still, and that's a good thing. The three-spoke wheels are a peculiar touch but I like them.

I wonder how much of this will actually translate to a Hyundai N road car, though? We've seen the RM15 Concept, which was a mid-engined Veloster-based super hatch that never amounted to anything, but would an N production car have these big swooping lights, or three-spoke wheels, or a central fin? It remains to be seen how relevant this brand showcase will actually be. As a tool to drum up interest, though, it does a very fine job indeed.

Oh, and Hyundai's N division have already been hard at work on the new-generation i20 WRC car... and South Korea's official bobsleigh!


So that's pretty neat, too.


Citroën Cactus M concept




After the Hyundai racecar, this might seem quite tame, but that's mostly because it's based on a production car. This is the Citroën Cactus M, a beach-bum version of their quirky crossover meant to reference the classic Méhari. It's not going into production, but a small group of people will wish it was anyway. The transformation has involved removing the rear doors, swapping the hard top for a tent-like apparatus draped over a targa-esque rear roll bar (complete with inflatable porch!) and strategic use of surfboards, as well as detail styling touches here and there like the O-shaped silver inserts front & rear and the cool mirrors. The signature Airbumps along the side of the normal Cactus have been replaced with three strips on the remaining doors.



The interior is approximately 256 times more colourful than the majority of production crossovers, with the red flowery areas made of neoprene, just like a wetsuit. In the same vein, there are outlets in the floor of the car which can be opened to serve as drainage so that you can hose the interior down. Might want to avoid hosing the touchscreen infotainment or the digital instrument display, mind...

The tyres are tall and narrow to increase the ground clearance and improve its ability to drive on soft sand. Like the road car it's front-wheel-drive only, but Citroën have added "Grip Control" with Normal/All-Terrain/Snow/Sand modes for all your active lifestyle needs. It's no Land Rover Defender, but should manage a beach holiday in Anguilla without much trouble. Besides, like any good Citroën, it's just funky and different. That's what the car world needs.


Honda Project 2&4




Right, let's dial the crazy back up again. This is what it looks like when Honda puts a car and a motorcycle into the Large Hadron Collider. The internet might cynically think it's an Ariel Atom and a BAC Mono spliced together, but it's all-Honda - the 999cc V4 engine is lifted almost straight out of the Honda RC213V Moto GP racing bike. Detuned to suit road use and connected to a 6-speed road car DCT, it produces 215hp @13,000rpm, 87lb/ft @10,500rpm as it revs towards 14,000rpm. These aren't spectacular figures on their own in a world where performance saloons make over 500 horsepower, so we need some further context. At 3.04m long, 1.82m wide and 0.995m tall, it's the same length as a Toyota iQ city box... but the other thing is, it weighs roughly half as much as one of those, tipping the scales at just 405kg (893lbs). That's more than a bike, but it's over a third less than an original Mini. It's also 85kg lighter than the lightest Caterham Seven currently on sale, the 160. If you want something lighter on four wheels, you can only really choose between the LCC Rocket or a go-kart.

You'll get just as much wind in your face as in either of those choices, as well.


The idea of this mad, mad thing is to create a car that feels as much like driving a superbike as possible, similar to the (Honda-powered) Ariel Atom but with wholly Japanese input. Honda say that the bodywork takes inspiration from their '60s Formula 1 cars such as the famous RA272 - Japan's first Grand Prix-winning car - although the angular minimalist fairings draped over the mechanicals also recall their motorcycles. The single front light and rear crash structure are probably meant to look like an 'H' shape, but look more like an 'X' to me. I have to say, while it's one thing to thread yourself into a Caterham or Ariel, this arrangement where you're essentially sitting outside the car looks like it would be mildly terrifying at speed, helmet or not... so I suppose it does replicate the experience of a fast bike! A section of the bodywork on the right-hand side can be removed to fit a second seat, which is why the driver's seat isn't central.


You can expect to see a production car based on the Project 2&4 concept approximately never. Maybe it will appear in video games, though. Honda's Vision GT car hasn't been revealed yet, come to think of it, so maybe there's a small chance they'll add this to GT6 at the same time they add that.


Peugeot Fractal




The two best countries for weird design concepts are probably Japan and France. While it's nice to see Honda playing the crazy card for the first time in a while, Peugeot have been absolutely killing it for the last few years now when it comes to show-stopping design studies. First came the sexy SR1 roadster in 2010 and the HX1 hydrogen MPV concept in '11, then the 2012 Onyx supercar with copper front quarter panels and an LMP1 engine in 2012, followed by more material science with the shark-skinned five-door Exalt and digitally woven Quartz crossover in 2014. Now, following their bonkers 875bhp/875kg Vision GT car, we have this, the Fractal. It's a two-door roadster-y thing with a removable roof that makes it look like a sleek hatchback when attached.

The proportions are the standout aspect of the exterior design though, rather than the geological surfacing. With an almost absurdly short-looking wheelbase, high waistline and tiny overhangs, plus the fashionably big 19" wheels with almost no arch clearance and a low ride height, it looks like a designer's sketch in 3D, as if it's leapt straight off the napkin and gone directly from biro doodle to physical show car. See how similar the top left sketch is (which hopefully wasn't drawn afterwards to make me look silly).


In its teleportation from two- to three-dimensional space, the Fractal has grown a pair of 101-horsepower electric motors to give it all-wheel-drive, with a backbone battery to keep the centre of gravity low and central within the wheelbase. The results can be quantified in a straight line with a hot-hatch-bothering 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds and a standing kilometre time of 28.8 seconds (I have no context for whether that one's good or not...), while the range is said to be 450km/280-ish miles. Despite the large 30kWh lithium-ion battery, the whole car weighs just 1000kg, the lightness perhaps being helped by its compact dimensions of 3.81m long and 1.77m wide. There are two rear seats but from the pictures they look absolutely useless, not least because there will be almost no headroom with the roof on even if you can squeeze your legs behind the front seats. On the flip side, a variable ride height means that the two people up front can enjoy driving on different road surfaces, with a 70mm minimum for low-drag cruising on smooth roads and a 110mm maximum ride height for gravel paths or speed bumps or whatever.

So that's the hardware taken care of, now the soft stuff. Peugeot describe the Fractal as "an idea incubator," meaning it has lots of neat techno stuff that might appear on the next 208 or the one after that. More than 80% of the interior surfaces are 3D-printed. The steering wheel has two touchscreen squares where your thumbs can reach to deal with media and navigation, while a horizontal 7.7" touchscreen in the centre console gives you greater access to infotainment functions and such. If that's still not gadget-y enough, you can even control the essential functions from outside the car with an app for your Samsung Gear S wrist bling! Once behind the wheel, a holographic HUD shows you information about the car itself, with a polycarbonate strip at 45° to create a sensation of depth. A central spire reaches up to present to you some actual buttons and switches (!), while a "9.1.2" surround sound system using individually-controlled FOCAL FLAX speakers gives the driver further information using acoustics in a seemingly 3D way. An example of the acoustic driver aid includes audio sat-nav instructions being thrown 'forwards' and then seeming to get closer to the driver as the junction gets closer. It's called 9.2.1 rather than just 9.1 because of a "two-channel tactile bass system" in the back of each front seat which transmits bass sounds to your ears through a physical object and your body, rather than the air. The idea is that you can hear strong bass and nobody outside the car can. Any anti-chav sound solution is all right by me!


Finally, electric cars don't make enough noise, so increasingly a sci-fi hum is being added by car companies to alert people nearby. The "sound signature" for this car was designed by electronic musician Amon Tobin. The exact sound changes based on what the car is doing, so astute pedestrians could in time be able to tell whether the car was accelerating, braking or not bothering to change speed at all as it bears down on you with the relentless inevitability of The Terminator. Best get back on the pavement!


Nissan GripZ




Crossover Alert! This isn't a particularly mad concept, but I can only ignore crossovers for so long. Besides, this one caused a bit of a stir in some circles because of... a letter in its name. This Nissan has a 'Z' in its name. Y'know what other Nissans have a 'Z' in their name? The 240Z. And the 300ZX. And the 350Z. And the 370Z. And the GTP ZX Turbo (google it). Oh, and the Stanza, but that one's not relevant here. The point is, there was strong speculation ahead of time that this would preview the next Nissan Fairlady Z sports coupé... despite it also being a high-riding crossover. A crossover Z?!

CUE DISPAIR. EVERYWHERE.

Except that, actually, I haven't seen anything coming from Nissan themselves that backs this idea up, other than vague "we're open to possibilities" comments regarding the future of the Z in general. One link to Zed cars past that is clear - or at least less unclear - is that this car takes inspiration from the black-on-red 240Z that won the brutal 1971 Safari Rally. Actual styling references are vague, but include the colour scheme, ducktail rear spoiler below the rear window and the sloping roofline. Really though, this is a stepping stone towards the replacement for the Juke. The rest of it is inspired by sporty bicycles and their ability to go where cars simply can't (#active #lifestyle = the crossover dream!). Even the carbon fibre steering wheel looks like the rear wheel on a velodrome racer or something. The white trim on the doors and centre console looks like one of those extremely uncomfortable saddles with a slot in the middle for no obvious reason. The pedals look like, well, pedals. In fact, I'm actually starting to like the interior more than the blocky, fussy exterior. The architecture of it is pleasingly slender, the bicycle references are clear but not gimmicky (which is more than can be said for the 240Z Safari references on the outside...) and I like the way they did the roof and pillars from the inside.


FUN FACT: The exterior was designed by Nissan Europe and the interior by Nissan Japan

As for what's powering it, little is known. We do know it combines a Nissan Leaf's electric powertrain with an undescribed combustion engine. Based on the fact that revs and speed are apparently measured simultaneously with just one dial, I'm going to speculate that it uses the Leaf's direct-drive transmission with only one forward speed, meaning the engine is merely there to charge the battery and doesn't directly power the 22" wheels at all.

But why with the crossovers? Well, sales figures don't lie, and crossovers make up around 70% of Nissan's overall sales, despite every internet forum commenter claiming to own a tuned GT-R (that could totally smash a Veyron in a drag race, bro). They've been riding the #active #lifestyle wave with the respectably bold Juke and widely agreeable school-run Qashqai, so if crossovers that size go all sporty, they want to be there first. They've already tried it on with the Juke NISMO, but that's been widely panned for not driving like a proper hot hatch. Mostly because it's tall and ungainly like all crossovers. But hey, never let common sense get in the way of a good fashion trend!

Sitting on a carbon fibre frame and featuring pillarless suicide doors, the Gripz is not directly heading into production. However, it's a bold crossover that's slightly shorter than the Juke, yet over 100mm wider and 70mm lower. A car something like this could be Juke 2.0, rather than any kind of "240ZX" sports crossover nonsense. But if this isn't the future of the Fairlady Z after all, what is? Officially the 370Z isn't being killed off any time soon, and the next one could have a downsized turbo engine or who knows what... but what if a designer took the Gripz and made it into a sort of "390Z" coupé?

It would, according to RC82 Workchop, look like this:



Granted, it's still a busy-looking design, but a toned-down version of this would be pretty cool. Perhaps it could even sit under the Z as a replacement for the old Silvia/200SX? A rival to the GT86/BRZ would be fun... but almost definitely a money pit for Nissan. Oh well, one can dream...


Don't stay tuned for any more Frankfurt Motor Show coverage! There isn't any.

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