Auto show concept cars: New styling cues, new trends


Concepts faded during the lean recession years, but now they are back with a vengeance as automakers explore not only new styling cues but trends in alternative powertrains and digital technology. Big, bold and colorful, concepts like the Buick Avista and Acura Precision are old-school gorgeous.

The Acura Precision Concept

Acura Precision

What it is: A wide, long (122-inch wheelbase), angular sedan signaling Acura’s new design direction. The focus in the “Diamond Pentagon” grille which is a welcome relief from the much derided parrot beak of recent vintage. The interior is ultra-wide, too, with a stretched, curved center screen. The car’s “digital human-machine interface” is said to be able to recognize each occupant coming into the car and adjust their experience accordingly — performance settings, audio, etc.

Payne’s take: Acura’s brand has long been in the sales wilderness, unable to create enough separation from the chassis it shares with Honda and uninspired in its looks. The wicked Acura NSX sports car awakened the brand last year, and the Precision promises more change ahead.

Audi H-tron

What it is: A hydrogen-hybrid of sorts. The 370 mile-range H-tron runs on a 134-horsepower lithium-ion battery pack that drives the front wheels at low speeds before the 148-horse fuel cell stack kicks in for more AWD grunt. Solar cells in the roof also provide extra power. Powertrain innovations aside, the skin hints at the coming Audi Q6 crossover wedged nicely between the Q5 and Q7 and made on the same MLB platform.

Payne’s take: The coming Q6 will come with a buffet of drivetrains (thus the MLB architecture instead of the VW group’s electric platform), with the hydrogen likely sold in California by 2020 to meet its EV sales quotas.

Buick Avista

What it is: Big, muscular coupe built on GM’s sensational Alpha platform that is the skeleton for the nimble Camaro and ATS coupes. Sporting Buick’s new, winged grille and airy cabin touches, Avista’s styling will no doubt influence coming Buicks like the Regal sedan and Enclave crossover.

Payne’s take: Buick’s renaissance has largely rested on attractive crossovers like the Enclave and Encore which have distanced the brand from its stodgy sedan past. The Avista, however, suggests Buick is serious about making passionate cars, too. I’d love to pull this bad boy next to a Mercedes SLC and rev its growly, 3.0-liter V6 turbo.

Kia Telluride

What it is: Kia takes a stab at a big SUV with a hybrid concept based on the same bones as the well-received Kia Sorrento mid-sizer. The sprawling seats make it look like a two-row vehicle, but a production version would have three, of course. Neat fact: The dash, steering wheel, and door panels are made by 3-D printing.

Payne’s take: You’ll know it by its cabinet-style swinging door. Whether or not the doors make the final cut, it looks like Kia is serious about big utes.

Nissan Titan Warrior

What it is: A year after debuting its Titan XD — a light-duty truck with the 5.0-liter Cummins V-8 diesel capabilities of a heavy duty — the Warrior badge takes the idea off-road. Wider and taller with blistered wheel wells and a menacing fascia inspired, says Nissan, “by warriors in ancient Greek mythology,” the Warrior is on off-road, diesel-powered tree flattener.

Payne’s take: Nissan has taken a niche approach to a pickup market dominated by Detroit’s Big Three. The Warrior oil-burner is for the same customers who want heavy duty capabilities in a light duty truck — but who want to get home via the creek bed.

Scion C-HR

What it is: Toyota has yet to enter the red-hot subcompact crossover (see the Jeep Renegade and Mazda CX-3 among others), but Scion’s entry is telegraphed by the C-HR concept. Looks like Scion will take the funky route with a Nissan Juke-like styling cues including high-mounted headlights and a dramatic rear waistline.

Payne’s take: Scion has struggled with sedans. Time to deliver customers what they want: A crossover.

Volkswagen Tiguan GTE Active

What it is: VW drops the curtain on its near-production ready, second-generation compact ute. The all-wheel-drive Tiguan GTE is a plugin hybrid version that offers 20-mile range on battery juice alone — or a hybrid mode assisted by a 148-horsepower turbo-4. A rotary button opens a Jeep-like bonanza of driving mode options including Onroad, Offroad, Sport, Snow, Charge (battery is charged while driving) and Battery Hold (maintains a constant battery charge).

Payne’s take: Tiguan is the first in a wave of VW SUVs as the struggling brand tries to become relevant in America’s hottest segment. Based on the same nimble, MQB skeleton found in the 2015 Car of the Year Golf and (coming) Passat sedan, the three-row Tiguan is essential to VW growth.