The 10 Best and Worst Concepts of 2014

The hits and misses from Detroit to Beijing.

There are so many kinds of concept cars. There are the teasers for forthcoming new cars that were actually created after the production model was finished. There are flights of fancy not programmed for production. And there are true concepts, where a new stylistic idea or two is presented to gauge the public's reaction. For every dream car remembered forever, dozens are displayed and ultimately forgotten. In a given year, there may be a field of "concepts" that look as anonymous as the cars in a shopping center parking lot, without the truly new or truly good to reward the careful observer. Concept cars such as the Alfa Romeo BAT, Alfa Romeo Canguro, Cadillac Voyage, Ferrari Modulo, Lamborghini Marzal, Lancia Stratos HF Zero, or Maserati Birdcage 75th come only rarely. Here are the most memorable concept cars of 2014, some great and some not.

The Hits

1. Toyota FT-1

One of the best was the Toyota FT-1, a non-running concept out of the Calty Design Research studio in California that was conceived by the styling team without any technical brief. It struck a chord at the Detroit auto show last winter and has reappeared elsewhere in a different color. It will not surprise us at all if this notion is ultimately developed into a new Toyota Supra purely on the basis of this successful styling job.

2. Volkswagen XL Sport

Another great concept was the Volkswagen XL Sport seen at the Paris auto show last fall. It's a development of the VW XL1 super-economy car, but this time with a hot Ducati V-twin motorcycle engine to give the car fantastic performance to go with its super zoomy aerodynamic styling. Could VW build this? In a minute. It has all the constituent mechanical elements (Ducati has recently been acquired by VW), the concept seems easily certifiable as a road car, and there is demand. Don't count on it coming to the U.S., though, given that the standard XL1 won't come here. And ours is the land of giant vehicles, after all.

3. Renault Eolab

Renault usually presents lots of concept cars, sometimes several at the same show. But at the Paris show there was only the Renault Eolab, and it was not a styling concept initiated by Renault Design. It came from Renault's corporate researchers looking for minimum fuel consumption, and it proved so successful that the creators asked Renault Design to make it presentable for a public showing. It was quite convincing in its attractiveness and capabilities (234.9 mpg is claimed). More such functional projects in which all hands work to a specific end would be a good thing.

4. Renault KWID

Renault was also active at the New Delhi auto show last February, where the Renault KWID was the hit of the show. A three-across seating arrangement with the center driver slightly ahead of passengers evokes the McLaren F1, only for far less money. Sitting well off the ground for use on bad roads (of which there are many in India), it carries a four-rotor camera drone mounted on the roof that can be launched to scout a few kilometers ahead. Something like it will be produced this year in a Nissan factory in India, sadly without the drone.

5. Volvo Concept Estate

The third concept car in a series meant to establish a new design language that led up to the new 2016 Volvo XC90 presented at the Los Angeles Auto Show last fall, the Volvo Concept Estate is particularly clean, elegant, and sporty-looking. Of the three concepts shown -- the Coupe at 2013 Frankfurt, XC Coupe at 2014 Detroit, and the Estate at 2014 Geneva -- the Estate looks to be the most likely to show up as a production car. It fits Volvo's longtime role as a purveyor of solid station wagons, still a major niche in Europe if not in the U.S.

6. Audi Prologue

We also liked the Audi Prologue luxury car at Los Angeles and the BMW Vision Future Luxury big sedan at Beijing, and with the Opel Monza from 2013 Frankfurt, we see all three as simple teasers for a new wave of big ultra-luxury cars sure to come very soon. So perhaps these cars are not truly conceptual at all.

7. Kia GT4 Stinger

A good-looking but puzzling "concept" was the Kia GT4 Stinger seen in Detroit last winter. It's hard to think of any previous concept car that was pretty much a face-lift of someone else's earlier show car, but this Kia with its distinctively thick C-pillar is very closely related in shapes and even in color to the VW Ecoracer from the 2005 Tokyo show. Peter Schreyer, chief design officer of Hyundai and Kia (and one of our favorite designers), was steamed when this was mentioned and denied any similarities. True, the Stinger looks better in every way, but at least it should have been painted red.

The Misses

8. Lamborghini Asterion

The concept-car season included some clunkers, of course. One very nice car that simply didn't fit was the Lamborghini Asterion LPI 910-4 shown in Paris. It's a good-looking car, but somehow it seemed both old -- from the 1960s maybe -- and rather like those obscure supercars that show up in exhibitions and fade to black because there's really no story behind them, apart from astronomical power claims and styling cribbed from (usually) Lamborghini. Sant'Agata seems to have cribbed from itself this time.

9. Peugeout Quartz

For out-and-out ugly, we give you the twin dark stars of the Paris Auto Show this year. First, the hulking Peugeot Quartz, an SUV concept. With sharp-edged wheel openings front and rear reminiscent of the Lamborghini Reventon (but done without style or sense), awkward butterfly-wing doors, and an incredibly stupid diagonal color-change line that cuts off the rear of the body from the front -- a style gesture seen on several recent Peugeot concepts -- this is a monument to non-automotive design sensibilities. (And people wonder why Peugeot is in so much trouble.)

And then there was the Toyota C-HR. It features curves, angles, holes in the rear, bulging wheelhouses, and wheels apparently styled so that no one can avoid grating them against curbs. Note also the name for this abomination that's so like the Honda HR-V, which reinforces the total lack of imagination that informed this grotesque project. It was styled in the company's French studios, not in Japan. Well, give Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda some credit; it's not bland at least.

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