I don’t know if Alan Mulally’s “One Ford” idea is as coruscating as Ford PR says, but it does make sense not to build two completely different vehicles for exactly the same market niche. Ford used to do that in Europe, with multiple British and German models having separately tooled engines, gearboxes, and body shells. Ford now builds two very similar but unrelated vehicles in the compact SUV category: the Kuga in Europe and the Escape in America. A third, slightly different Escape is also built in Taiwan for Asian markets. That’s obviously too many, and the Vertrek concept from the Detroit show gives us a glimpse of a true Mulally-mobile. The Vertrek is meant to prefigure the all-but-identical Kuga and Escape coming soon. Styled in Cologne, Germany, where Stefan Lamm leads all the C-segment (Focus-size) design teams, the convincing Vertrek exterior is by Croatia-born Kemal Curic, a seven-year Ford of Europe veteran who moved to Dearborn, Michigan, early this year. Freeman Thomas, himself one of the brightest sparks at Ford, is lavish in his praise of Curic’s creativity, which speaks volumes. When one designer extols another, you know there’s an exceptional talent. The interior, by Australian Dennis Sartorello, is equally convincing, although in the long tradition of concept cars, it is likely to be toned down (and cheapened) for production. The glass roof may or may not be available, but the rest of the car is pretty much what you’ll be able to buy quite soon.
There is nothing especially extraordinary about the Vertrek, it’s just that the stance, the flow of the lines, the shape of the roof, and the perfect simplicity of the wheelhouses combine to make this an exceptionally attractive vehicle. Moving the hood/windshield intersection forward allows sports-car-like windshield inclination, and by raising the roof over the driver, a tapering Kamm-style aerodynamic roof profile could be adopted without losing interior space. Don’t expect to see the door glasses meeting as elegantly as seen here; a thick B-pillar is almost inevitable for safety’s sake. Note that the high front end is affected by European pedestrian safety legislation, requiring a lot of space between hard points on the engine and ancillaries and the enclosing sheetmetal, a partial reason for the bump on the hood.
In general, I don’t much like SUVs, but the newest models that eschew a separate (heavy) frame — more tall station wagons than off-road scramblers — are becoming acceptable to those of us who abhor trucks as personal transport because of their weight and waste. There are tens of thousands of people who genuinely want the high seating position, the big tailgate opening, and the optional four-wheel drive offered by vehicles like this, and it is hard to imagine that they won’t be pleased by the clean lines of the Vertrek. In fact, the Vertrek concept is so good, I can almost see myself using a production version. Almost.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. The headlamps are mere slits, but they wrap around nicely to define the corners at night and add visual length to the ensemble.
2. Practicality yields to style. The extreme windshield slope won’t be much appreciated by drivers at night in bad weather. It’ll also be hard to clean inside but will look good in the showroom.
3. No, it’s not a Prius, but the low-drag roofline associated with that car is rapidly becoming ubiquitous because it works.
4. This dark plastic blade under the nose lets the painted surfaces above seem slimmer than they would be in a single color.
5. The corner intakes are a lot bigger than they need to be, but they enhance the impression of toughness that appeals to many SUV buyers.
So why not?
6. Mitsubishi established huge, perfectly round wheelhouses as a hallmark of SUVs long ago, and they’ve been followed by almost every automaker since. This iteration is simple, clean,
7. The slim-spoke wheels are almost lacy, certainly not what you’d want for heavy-duty off-roading but perfectly suitable for supermarket runs.
8. There is a lot going on at sill level in the Vertrek, some having to do with the slide-out running boards. Look for the lines to remain but not the elaborate mechanism.
9. These high-resolution digital-sensor mirror replacements will not be on the forthcoming production Kuga/Escape, but they will be with us someday.
10. This little hook allows the rising line of color separation to reestablish itself as a horizontal element, improving the stance and set of the body to the rear wheels.
11. Despite thick A-pillars, one has an impression of great visibility thanks to the absence of billboard-size sideview mirrors and the generous glass area of the windshield.
12. The dramatic instrument panel sweeps up to a central screen and out to the rearview sensors, and the lower curve to the console is even more dramatic.
Will it stay?
13. Relatively thin, very comfortable seats help the interior feel truly spacious. They should be possible for production.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
14. This triangular plateau allows the hood to taper inward to the front in plan view, giving visual direction to what is, after all, a big box. How it fades into the door is very nicely done.
15. Glass roof panels are extremely popular with stylists these days-but less so with paying customers. Glass is heavy and a hazard in rollover accidents, and it is often perceived as not worth the considerable expense.
16. Another triangular, almost-horizontal plateau fades away in the rear doors and provides a shoulder to set off the upper structure.
17. No door handles. Shades of 1940s lead-sled customs. They’ll be there when the cars are manufactured, but the effect of not having them is very pleasant.
18. Long wraparound taillights provide a natural separation of the vertical and horizontal surfaces.
19. This subtle rib across the rear gives the impression of strength and adds visual width.
20. More black plastic beneath the tail reduces visual height. Expect the effect to remain when the car goes on sale, but in much less elaborate form.