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Nine futuristic car concepts to keep an eye on

Lexus LF-LC concept

Toyota

Everyone enjoys a good concept car, especially art lovers and techno-geeks looking for the latest ideas in automotive design and technology. And we go to auto shows to see them.

The 2013 Canadian International Auto Show has an interesting if not entirely new collection of concept cars. That is, Toronto, being more a sales show than a showcase for global product introductions, rarely gets a concept car that hasn't first been seen at one of the international extravaganzas in Detroit, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Beijing.

Nonetheless, the concepts in Toronto for 2013 are an interesting mix of what can be and what will be – what can be a production car and what technologies will be seen in future models. Here's a look at what you'll see at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

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Volkswagen Cross Coupe

What is it? Ah, ha. Here we have a look into the future of the Volkswagen Tiguan crossover wagon, and perhaps other VW models, too. So we're talking about a serious concept car.

In this case, the seriousness starts with what is underneath – VW "Modular Transverse Matrix." That's a mouthful to describe the basic mechanical bits and pieces that underpin this concept – and, as the Motor Authority website points out, this platform, which is abbreviated in German as "MQB," will make its debut in the next-generation Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf.

Where was it first shown? We saw one at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show (with a small direct-injection gas engine rated at 148 hp and 155-lb-ft of torque mated with a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic). The following spring at the 2012 Geneva Auto Show, we saw this version powered by a combination of TDI Clean Diesel technology and twin electric motors. Here, the concept is rated at 306 hp while sipping fuel at a rate of just 1.8 litres/100 km.

What's the significance? VW is as good at sharing platform across multiple vehicles as any car maker in the world, and better than most. With its 12 in-house brands, the VW Group is anxious to contain costs while expanding its lineup. Motor Authority points out that combining the MQB platform with VW's Modular Petrol Engine System (MOB, in German), VW stands to "reduce engine, gearbox and chassis combinations by roughly 90 per cent." If you want to know why VW seems able to create so many different vehicles for so many different markets under so many different brands, this is an example of how.

Technical highlights? VW says the Cross Coupe TDI Hybrid jets from 0-100 km/h in 6.5 seconds, which makes it faster than the gasoline/electric version. It can travel about 40-45 km on the charge in its 9.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. According to Automotive News, the diesel-electric system consists of a 187-horsepower, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder common-rail diesel engine, a 9.8-kilowatt-hour battery pack and two electric motors. One electric motor delivers 40 kW, or roughly 54 horsepower, to the front wheels, while the other provides 85 kW to the rear set. Depending on how you drive, the Cross Coupe operates as a front-wheel-drive car or with assistance from the rear wheels when the driver gets "enthusiastic."

Will it become a production model? Perhaps not exactly as you see here, but the technology and design ideas at work will definitely show up in a VW showroom near you.

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Honda Urban SUV Concept

What is it? Honda says this one "hints at the styling direction of an all-new small SUV slated to launch in Japan by the end of 2013, followed by the U.S. market in 2014." Believe Honda. And it will be built in Honda's next Mexican plant alongside the Honda Fit subcompact on which the Concept is based.

Where was it first shown? This look into the future had its debut just last month at the Detroit auto show. John Mendel, executive vice-president of sales at American Honda, said "we expect fuel-efficient and fun-to-drive 'small' cars to play a key role in meeting the needs of our customers" and this little SUV is critical to expanding Honda's lineup.

Technical highlights? The wizardry starts with packaging. This concept is 230 mm or about nine inches shorter than the CR-V, currently Honda's smallest SUV. It has hidden door handles and a coupe-like stance for a measure of aerodynamic efficiency. Inside, well, because the gas tank is located in the centre of the vehicle, under the floor, the seats can be configured many different ways – including a fold-flat mode for maximum cargo capacity. The all-new model will also feature next-generation telematics. Power will come from a new direct-injection four-cylinder engine.

Will it become a production model? Oh, yes. As Automotive News reports, Honda plans this one for early 2014 and the target buyer is a tech-savvy, budget-minded consumer who wants a vehicle loaded with toys but does not feel cheap. Car companies are increasingly interested in growing a segment of small SUVs below the CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4. Chevrolet, for instance, is launching the Trax small SUV and Buick has the new Encore.

Acura NSX Concept

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What is it? Acura took the NSX out of production in 2005, but it's coming back and this thrilling concept hints at the next-generation supercar's styling and design. Jon Ikeda, Acura's chief designer, says the NSX represents the best of what Acura is striving to be. "We are insistent about delivering on the synergy between man and machine," he said. "The intention is to support the psychological and emotional aspects of driving a supercar at the limit, just like the original NSX did. This will be true of all Acura vehicles moving forward."

Where was it first shown? The first version of the NSX Concept was shown in 2012 at the Detroit show and then an updated concept wowed the crowds at the Detroit last month.

Technical highlights? The next NSX will be powered by a mid-mounted, direct-injected V-6 engine mated to Acura's Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. So we're looking at a new high-performance hybrid system that combines "torque vectoring" all-wheel drive through the use of three electric motors – one motor integrated with the V-6 engine and two motors driving the front wheels. There is also an all-new dual-clutch transmission (DCT). Acura says the whole system delivers a "new level of driving performance unparalleled by current AWD systems."

Will it become a production model? Yes. At this year's Detroit show, Honda/Acura officials said we can look for a production version of the NSX Concept some time in 2015, likely later in the year.

Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis Concept

What is it? Hyundai says the design points to the styling direction for its future premium vehicles. The car has "dynamic styling elements and advanced features which could one day be found in Hyundai premium models," says Hyundai, adding that the HCD-14 Genesis was created by the Hyundai Design North America studio in California.

Where was it first shown? We saw this four-door coupe first at last month's Detroit auto show, where it drew a mixed response from journalists on hand. The Wall Street Journal's Joe White, the dean of North American car journos, criticized this concept car for being "a big, expensive car in a world that's going small. The front end leans over the boundary between expressive and overdone. And rear-hinge doors?"

Technical highlights? The South Korean auto maker touts the car's "ultra-rigid chassis with strategic use of high tensile-strength steel," the "rear-drive powertrain" and "sophisticated five-link suspension system." A multi-mode power steering system "retains the road feel and feedback of a hydraulic system while providing the efficiency benefits of an electric system." And the engine, a 5.0-litre V-8 with direct injection, variable valve timing, is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

Will it become a production model? Not like this. This is truly a concept car, though the ideas at work will make their way into production models. The rear-hinged rear doors are too fanciful to make their way into real car. But, as Hyundai's chief North American design Christopher Chapman says, "We instilled HCD-14 Genesis with a premium-sport four-door coupe road presence. Its sleek and lightweight silhouette does not punish the wind, but uses fluidic precision with dramatic surfacing that conveys natural restraint."

One thing you will see in future Hyundais though, is the proprietary human-machine interface in the cockpit. The "motion-capture" technology allows the driver to control the sound system and climate control by the appropriately placed wave of a hand.

Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupe

What is it? Car and Driver said this concept "resembles a shrunken CLS," although it's 300 mm shorter. The styling has been a hit on the auto show circuit, too. "The exterior, with its sharply creased character lines, has a more dynamic look than is typical of cars this size."

Where was it first shown? The Concept Style Coupe had its debut at the 2012 Beijing Auto Show. At the time, Mercedes design chief Gorden Wagener told Car and Driver that the concept, "apart from the side mirrors and a few similarly fanciful elements," was mostly a production of the upcoming CLS class. For more on that, read below about whether or not this will become a production model and if so, when.

Technical highlights? Power comes from a turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-litre engine rated at 211 hp. It's mated to a seven-speed DCT automatic transmission.

Will it become a production model? Yes. Right now and it's called the CLA. "The response to the Concept Style Coupe was overwhelming. The most frequent comment by far was, 'Please put this car into series production.' That's precisely what we are doing now," notes Dieter Zetsche, Daimler AG's CEO and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. "The CLA is a car that does not confuse 'middle range' with 'middling quality'. Its sporty design underscores the sporty side of the Mercedes-Benz brand."

Smart forstars

What is it? This concept looks fun but it's deadly serious in terms of showing us what the next generation Smart cars will look like – though not exactly like this.

Where was it first shown? Last fall at the Paris Motor Show, Smart brought the forstars to the stage and the car had a much-discussed twist: a movie projector embedded in the hood. As Forbes so quaintly put it, "Pull up to any blank wall and, presto, instant cinematic tailgate party. The media player for the projector can stream video from an iPhone via Bluetooth. A high-quality audio system ensures no one will miss the dialogue. This kind of feature is more whimsical than practical."

Technical highlights? The forstars concept is an electric vehicle and parent Daimler AG is steadily pushing Smart into becoming its "urban" brand. City cars need to be small – and have some form of electric drive – as the soon-to-arrive 2013 Smart EV is. The latter is an adaptation of existing technology mated to EV drive, but the forstars suggests holistic thinking at Smart about the future of EVs. The "forstars" name refers to the glass roof (stargazing) and the projector used for watching "film" stars. Something fun: "It is also possible to conveniently set the perfect interior temperature in advance with a smartphone," Smart CEO Annette Winkler says in a press release.

Will it become a production model? Sort of. The 60-kilowatt electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack are coming in weeks to the company's first electric car, the fortwo electric drive. Something similar to this design will show up at a later date.

Toyota Fun-Vii Concept

This is not a car, but a concept worthy of PC Magazine fans. Indeed, in a review worthy of any gearhead buff book, the publication notes that the "Fun-Vii is a concept car whose exterior serves as an external display, and whose interior can also be adjusted to fit the driver's mood."

What is it? Here we have a car heavily influenced by smartphones, Toyota executives told PC Mag. The Associated Press reports that the car's external display can be adjusted to modify the car's colour, as well as display motion video and a user interface. Toyota says the entire exterior of the Fun-Vii can be used as an external display. In short, the Fun-Vii is one vision of what Toyota sees as a thoroughly connected car.

Where was it first shown? Toyota used its hometown 2011 Tokyo Motor Show to show this concept's debut performance.

Technical highlights? Toyota says the Fun-Vii suggests a not-too-distant future where people, cars and society are linked. The Fun-Vii is engineered to be able to connect wireless with the infrastructure and surrounding streets. The "Vii" is an abbreviation for vehicle, interactive, internet. When powered off, the exterior – the big display screen – is jet black. PC Mag says the interior "can be configured and modified as well, presumably with adjustable colours and tints for various portions of the car."

Will it become a production model? No. But some technology will find its way into real automobiles.

Lexus LF-CC

What is it? Something important. Lexus says the LF-CC shows "the latest evolution of the L-finesse design language," right down to that much maligned spindle grille, The concept also "announces the market launch of a mid-size coupe in the near future and driving it all is "a new 2.5-litre full hybrid powertrain with class-leading CO2 emissions, which will be introduced soon in the Lexus model range."

Where was it first shown? Lexus gave this one its global debut at last fall's Paris Motor Show.

Technical highlights? We like the 3D projector headlamps, "housed in the narrow gap between the lower and upper fender surfaces, without a conventional, one-piece cover." The interior is marked by a dashboard divided into two distinct zones: "an upper, Display Zone, with a multi-display screen located at an ideal distance for at-a-glance viewing, and a lower, Operation Zone, which allows access to the uniquely designed shift lever and an innovative touch tracer display for remote system control." And, of course, it's a hybrid.

Will it become a production model? Autocar, a British enthusiast publication, says a source inside Lexus suggests a production version is likely. If all goes as suggested, Lexus will make both a coupe and convertible version and power them both with hybrid drive. Perhaps by 2015?

Lexus LF-LC

What is it? Toyota's Calty design centre in Southern California produced this one. It has set the tone for the future of Lexus design, with its "dynamic shapes, intriguing details and expansive use of glass." The cabin is loaded and, as Lexus notes, "set off by organic shapes and materials."

Where was it first shown? Lexus stunned visitors to the 2012 Detroit auto show with this one.

Technical highlights? The roof, says Lexus, is made of glass and has a lightweight, cantilevered pillar with a glass-to-glass juncture. Modern and daring. The cabin has twin 12.3-inch LCD screens providing information and navigation display and control inputs are managed through a touch-screen control board in the centre console. The front-engine, rear-wheel drive LF-LC zooms along using a hybrid powertrain.

Will it become a production model? Not likely. This one is too overwrought, to ever find its way into a showroom.

For more Toronto AutoShow coverage, please click here.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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