While the cars we get to buy might not always be the most fascinating, most automakers continue to build vehicles that push the boundary of what the automobile can be. They're called concept cars because sometimes they're little more than that. Concept cars are the result of a single idea turned into something that automakers can render or push onto the floor of an auto show but nothing real. But we don't mind, because concept cars are awesome. Concept cars can preview a future model, gauge interest in a new design, or just be a show of design prowess and thought leadership. Now that we're on the verge of starting a new decade, here's a look at the best concept cars of the past 10 years. It's very interesting to see what happens when automakers come out to play.
Infiniti Prototype 9
Infiniti built a series of concept cars over the 2010s that showcased a racing history the company wasn't around to have. In that series were some truly stunning vehicles, but this one has to be our favourite. The car was revealed at Pebble Beach in 2017, and it's a look at a 1930s Grand Prix racer that never was. Exposed wheels, sleek styling, and an array of traditional Japanese techniques used to build the outside and the inside. It even has what look like old-style finned drum brakes. Powering the 9 was an electric motor and a 30 kWh battery pack that helped make this pseudo-Silver Arrow a green shot.
Volkswagen has a long history of some super-cool vehicles, and it's not afraid to bring them back for a modernized run. 2011's Bulli concept did just that for VW's classic Microbus vans. The tiny van got all the right retro cues, and though it's smaller than the old version, it can still seat six. The Bulli, the German nickname for the original T1 van, was electrically powered, back before every single concept had some sort of electric powertrain.
VW said the Bulli would form a new brand alongside its then-current lineup, and while it didn't happen the way we had expected, it looks like that old forecast will come true with the much more recent ID Buzz. Buzz borrows most of the Bulli's looks, and it's expected to reach production in Volkswagen's all-electric ID. brand.
This concept was a graduate student's design project, and it's out of this world. The idea is a body that's made up of a huge number of individual panels, or flakes, that can change shape as needed. It says small for normal driving and parking, but the flakes can extend to change the car's aerodynamic footprint. Turn in one direction and the flakes, controlled using carbon nanotube wires, move to add stability for that change in direction. Brake at high speed, they work to help you with that too. Could anything like this see production? Not in 2011 when it was revealed, and not today, but tomorrow? The sky is the limit.
The G-Force was a look at the future of the company's off-roader, the G-Class. And while it took more than half a decade for the real new G to arrive looking just like its predecessor, this is what Mercedes could have done. Part of a 2014 design challenge looking for the LAPD cruiser of 2025, the G-Force was a go-anywhere off-roader with a powertrain that saw it turn recycled water stored in roof-mounted tanks into clean electricity that could be stored in batteries in the side sills. The small windows were designed to keep officers secure inside.
In recent years, Mini's cars have slowly become not so mini anymore. In a world of massive crossovers and pickups, that's not much of a surprise. The Mini Superleggera Vision was a return to form for the brand that also moved it into the world of roadsters.
The Superleggera of 2014 was built by Mini with coachbuilder Touring Superleggera, with a hand-crafted aluminum frame. Mini called the styling " achingly beautiful," and we're inclined to agree with them. Under that gorgeous speedster body was a hybrid powertrain, and it all ended with the Union Jack taillight design that Mini ended up bringing to production cars.
Chevrolet Chaparral 2X Vision Gran Turismo
The Chaparral 2X Vision Gran Turismo was a concept designed for a video game, but that doesn't make it any less cool. The X-shaped car looks like some sort of Transformer meets exoskeleton suit, but that should just make it go faster. Chevrolet did build a real one, or at least a physical one, even though it could never match the powerplant that the designers had in mind. The 2X was powered by a laser beam generated by lithium-ion batteries and an air-powered generator that somehow gave it 900 hp. Do we understand how? Nope, but it'll do more than 400 km/h on your Playstation, and that's the essence of the concept car.
Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6
It's a long coupe in the style of pre-war models, but reimagined for 2030. Impossibly long and sleek, with a cabin set almost completely to the rear, this car just oozes luxury from every ounce of paint that's sprayed over it. Inside, it's designed like a lounge, with an impossibly high-tech virtual cockpit displayed onto the windshield glass, and a dashboard that wraps around from in front of you all the way back around into the seats. It's 360-degrees of concept car inspiration. Of course, it's electric, boasting 750 hp from four compact electric motors.
Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100
If the Maybach is the essence of sleek luxury design, the Vision Next 100, also called the 103EX is the complete opposite. If the Maybach spent the 1920s building public libraries, the robber-baron 103EX spent the decade making sure that poor Bob Cratchit never made it home to see Tiny Tim. Just look at the lighting signature of this car, it's practically the Punisher's skull in LED form. The set-out pod wheels are amazingly cool, and it almost looks like the car is floating instead of rolling along the ground. This one was designed in 2016 as a look at where Rolls could go in the next 100 years, and apparently the plan was to start making dalmatian muffs and scarves.
Isuzu FL IR
The FL IR (Future Logistics Intelligent Relay) is a concept for a new spin on the heavy truck. One that adds style to what is normally a function over form design. Tiny LED lights are overcome by a massive front fascia and oversized Isuzu badge. Say goodbye to mirrors, they've been replaced by cameras.
Isuzu said that this truck was inspired by marine animals and their use of ultrasonic soundwaves and unique swimming formations. There's also a "shark-inspired bio-design created to illustrate an image of a mighty robot." Of course, since this is a concept truck, it's loaded with platooning autonomous driving capability, where the lead truck leads and the train of vehicles behind takes what to do from the leader.
Audi AI Trail
The AI:Trail is the last of a series of Audis looking toward the future of transport. This one is designed as an off-roader, with four wheels at the very corners of the body. There are no screens inside because you're supposed to disconnect from the busy world in this one. Instead, there's plenty of glass to let you see out and see everything. Despite a big battery, weight should by under 1,800 kilos, keeping this relatively light for climbing over off-road obstacles. Other off-road features include terrain-sensing tire pressure adjustment, tires that can add 60 mm of suspension travel, and autonomous driving software that can handle any terrain.