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Year In Review: Ten Favorite Concept Cars Of 2011

Although the 2011 auto show circuit initially focused mostly on new production debuts, concept cars began to come out of the proverbial woodwork as the year progressed. Venues like Geneva, Frankfurt, Tokyo, and L.A. brought us dozens of show cars that sent jaws hurdling towards the floor and left us babbling to this very day. Here are ten that we'll still be talking about come 2012.

Considering most of Alfa's future product plans are hinged on small and midsize passenger cars, along with a handful of crossovers, the development of a small, midengine sports coupe is a refreshing break from normalcy. The 4C's taut, curvaceous lines had Alfisti swooning in the aisles, but the fact it was designed to be a light, sporty, affordable package caught the attention of enthusiasts around the globe. A 230-hp turbocharged I-4 reportedly offers about 230 hp, and may rocket the 1900-pound car from 0-62 mph in about 43.5 seconds. We're delighted to see Alfa pursue such a project, and ecstatic to learn that it's currently being developed into a production model. Here's hoping Alfa's U.S. renaissance finally gets off the ground in time to bring the 4C stateside.

The latest XJ may be the latest step in Jaguar's ongoing design renaissance, but is it possible to style a Jaguar sedan that's familiar, yet not full-tilt retro? Perhaps so, as evidenced by Bertone's B99 concept, which was unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. The proportions and smooth lines scream XJ, as does the roofline and C-pillar shape. Attractive, yes; ready for production? Far from it. Jaguar, firmly entrenched in its own design renaissance, views the B99 as pleasant homage, noting "we are not offended by it or against it - it is just not for us." Pity.

Eight years have passed since the introduction of the Sixteen concept, but Cadillac's still toying with the idea of a large, ultra-premium flagship model. The Ciel, which debuted at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, managed to attract plenty of attention, and it's easy to see why. It's interesting to see how Cadillac's past and future converge: yes, it's a large luxo-barge with an interior that absolutely oozes old-school luxury, but it's also powered by a turbocharged V-6 mated with a hybrid system. Could a large, luxurious Caddy like this be in our future? As we did in 2003, we'll keep our fingers crossed…

If this is truly a look at the future of Ford's design language - and Ford insists it is - then we're looking forward to the future. We can write off certain features like the scissor-hinged doors and feather-sized mirrors as conceptual flights of fancy, but the car's form - an evolution of Ford's current design theme - will influence production cars down the road. Rumor has it the forthcoming 2013 Fusion/ Mondeo bears a close resemblance to this car, especially in the front clip.

Jaguar C-X16

A smaller Jaguar sports car, designed to slot in just beneath the XJ, has been a long time coming - but if the finished product looks as good as the C-X16 concept unveiled in Frankfurt, it'll be worth the wait. Seeing as Jaguar deems the show car "a production prototype," it likely will. Engineers packed the car with an advanced KERS-like hybrid driveline, but it's the shape that serves as the conversation piece. Although it echoes the XJ and XF in certain areas, the entire package is far more aggressive when viewed in person - perfect for a sporty little coupe like this.

By now, it's no surprise that Kia, under the guiding hand of chief designer Peter Schreyer, continues to crank out some stupendous designs. Even so, the stunning GT concept managed to catch us off guard at the Frankfurt show in September. Its slick, low-slung form is unlike any other Kia product to date; instead, it perpetually elicited comparisons to vintage sports cars and Italian gran turismos. That exterior proved so stunning, few bystanders paid attention to the direct-injection, turbocharged 3.3-liter V-6 nestled underhood, nor the sumptuous bronze-on-black interior design,.Truly, this is the one Kia design that adheres to the company's mantra: it truly has the power to surprise.

We're not sure why ever previous stab at a subcompact Benz had to be so tall; so upright; so dorky - but we are thankful that tradition, which spans two generations of A-Class models, is about to draw to a close. The Concept A-Class, which we first saw in New York, is a far cry from every model to previously bear the name. Despite riding on a new front-drive platform, the rakish roofline and long hood almost gave it the feel of the rear-wheel-drive BMW 1 Series hatchback. It's an attractive car - and, judging by the latest round of spy photos, a thinly-disguised look at the forthcoming production model.

Does a fixed roof make Porsche's 918 Spyder concept any less gorgeous? As we discovered upon seeing the 918 RSR concept in Detroit, the answer to that question is a resounding "no."  The RSR, which hints at a competitive future for the forthcoming 918 production car, is nothing short of breathtaking. Although the roofline, rear deck, and paint scheme recall the company's former prototype racers (notably the 908 and 917), the tech packed beneath the surface is undoubtedly modern. A 563-hp, 3.4-liter V-8 - derived from the RS Spyder racer - is paired with an evolution of the 911 GT3 R Hybrid's KERS system. Electricity generated under deceleration can be sent to a pair of motors coupled to the front wheels, rendering the car a 767-hp, all-wheel-drive monster. Forget NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow; we're hoping the future of racing looks an awful lot like the RSR.

Victor Mueller's brash plans for his little Swedish automaker are perhaps best exemplified with the PhoeniX concept, which debuted in Geneva. Said to be a preview of Saab's new platform design - and, perhaps, the next-gen 9-3 - the PhoeniX was styled by former Pininfarina and Bertone wunderkind Jason Castriota. Apart from a nose reminiscent of the Aero X concept and a roofline evoking the urSaab prototype, the sleek two-door coupe bore little resemblance to any past or present Saab. The tapered rear hatch was further accented by wild, arching buttresses that dramatically flared away from the greenhouse. It was certainly one of the most flamboyant concepts to come from a major global automaker this past year -- or, at the very least, from a global automaker that may not live to see 2012.

This isn't Volkswagen's first stab at a retro people mover shaped after the venerable Type 2, but it is a different twist on reincarnating the Microbus. While VW's 1998 Bus concept envisioned a traditional 7-passenger minivan, the Bulli - which looks a bit like a first generation Transporter at ¾ scale - is a small, five-passenger subcompact MPV. While press photos left us a little cold, the Bulli is far more personable in viewed in person. The two-tone paint, bold nose emblem are blatantly retro, even if the overall form factor isn't a carbon copy of the original. The interior is considerably modern (note the iPad-driven control panel), but little cues scattered about (i.e. the faux bulkhead on the front seatbacks) still trigger flashbacks. A very clever design - and, if approved for production, the Bulli could prove a very clever competitor to the likes of the Scion xB and the GMC Granite