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The Hyundai Curb concept confirms the compact crossover as the bandwagon every major manufacturer wants a seat on. As with the Evoque, Juke, Vertrek, HR-1 and Paceman, the Curb teams an exaggerated sense of robustness below its waist with a rakish upper body, including a wraparound, heavily tapered DLO; this sub-segment already has a code of conduct, despite its relative infancy. Hyundai Design North America has continued with the design language ushered in by the i-Flow Concept shown in Geneva last year, with its extrovert surfacing and graphic treatment. Its application here is largely successful, particularly the looping graphic which runs around the top of the windscreen, around the window tops and trailing edge of the rear door, before looping around the door surfaces, turning back on itself to describe the waistline and reappearing to define the rear corner of the fender. Its glazing is worthy of note for two reasons: firstly, the wrap-around rear screen and rear spoiler – somewhat reminiscent of the Citroen DS3 – adds a less utilitarian, three-box aesthetic to the side profile; secondly for its squared-off scuttle, which forces the base of the windscreen from a convex to a concave surface which fails to relate to the overall design language. Aside from this and the rather clumsy 'CURB' script on its rump, the DRG is the car's least convincing aspect, specifically its grille which is overstated in both form and finish. Hyundai may consider the grille as its corporate signifier, but sister brand Kia has managed to avoid such blunt techniques and appears all the more 'premium' for it. The Curb's interior is worthy of note too, the looping graphic theme of the exterior brought inside, most impressively wrapping from the IP extremities, down to the floor before curling back in to form the support for the front seats. Hyundai's desire to lead in the future of interface and HMI is obvious here too, and its integration of display screens into the overall architecture is impressive, smeared as they are, across the IP.
There is the odd gem at Detroit this year and the Ford Vertrek is one of those; it just tends not to be shouting for your attention. It elicits almost the opposite reaction to many previous ‘Kinetic Design' vehicles. Designed in Cologne, this concept is relatively close to a production design, one that will replace the Kuga in Europe and Escape in North America. In design terms, it's significant for ushering in ‘Kinetic Design 2.0'. Where the Kuga's surfacing is overwrought, the Vertrek's is elegant, where Kuga is busy, Vertrek refined. It's all part of a plan to move Ford upmarket: "Premium isn't noisy...we're quietening everything down," explains J Mays, Group Vice President of Design and Chief Creative Officer at Ford. "We're going to start subtracting away from Kinetic, until we have just the right amount of lines, shapes and so on." Many aspects of the exterior successfully refine Ford's design ethos. Most obviously the fascia is chiseled and, while far from demure, does away with the overstatement and cheapness the Vertek's platform-mate, the Focus, exhibits. There's gently voluminous surfacing and crisply emphasized shoulder haunches, which Mays says we're likely to see appearing in more future cars. And the best element is also one of the most subtle - a beautifully resolved, pinched lip on the boneline, which brings a real sense of quality and craftsmanship to the design. The tall, narrow appearance of the Kuga from the rear is banished too, a bevel running out of the tail-lamp and horizontally across the tailgate is used to cheat down the height of the surface, in a similar way to Audi's Q5. Inside, the IP and overall theme are familiar from Geneva 2009's Iosis Max Concept. The new SUV de riguer - a centre rail - emerges from the trunk floor and is flanked by four wrap-around chairs and door cards featuring aluminum, suede and leather. The wing-shaped IP carries elegantly through the window and out to form the mirror arm, visually widening the interior. It's finished in a color scheme which is a restrained grey and beige, accented in dayglo orange, creating an appearance on the door panels that Martin Smith somewhat amusingly refers to as "lederhosen that have turned up at a rave club", according to Mays.
The Prius' success for Toyota is undoubted, not just in sales terms but also in image building, much of which can be attributed to the Prius's unique design identity. While Prius III moved slightly away from the 2004 car's hugely successful design, it maintained the hallmark of what it helped define as hybrid language: a monovolume with arcing roofline, ending in a Kamm tail. The Prius V is an attempt to translate these elements into an MPV architecture, with limited success. There's a sense the theme has been forced and stretched to fit the bigger package, resulting in design compromise. The roofline sits oddly, apexing far behind the driver's head, the nose pulled far forward in order to retain the arc. The result is a unwieldy-looking front overhang. While the sharp surfacing of the rear corners (another Prius signifier) are present, the roofline doesn't actually fall far enough at the rear to create the necessary visual connection with the standard car, loosing the hybrid feel. The DLO tries to cheat this, but another missing Prius elements (no rear screen extending into the roof surface) simply gives the impression of a very generic compact MPV by its absence. Inside, the connection to the hatch is obvious. The central screen showing the hybrid system operation – critical for communicating the hybrid story to passengers – is present, but otherwise it's a similar story to the exterior: much less visual interest, fewer unique elements. We suspect many hybrid customers excuse cheap plastics, ergonomically-challenged switchgear and low quality color and trim in the name of the advanced drivetrain. But continuing to ask Prius V customers to make the same sacrifice may prove a grave mistake, given a burgeoning array of hybrid and electric competitors whose European, Korean and now American makers are far ahead of Toyota in terms of not just color and trim design, but also perceived quality. This is a disappointing extension of a powerful brand, but we remain hopeful that things may improve. That's because the Prius C (a mildly tweaked version of last year's FT-CH) shown adjacent on the stand, is heading for production. We hope its fresh, innovative design and much of its detailing make production, as they are successful enough to not only form the basis of future Prius brand identity, but to also inform Toyota design more generally. Related Article: Review: Toyota FT-CH concept
Chrysler reinvented the American sedan when the original 300 made its debut in 2004. Now, the second generation of the iconic E-segment design – initially created by Freeman Thomas – has entered a new phase, retaining the classic proportions of its predecessor while becoming more refined and less cartoon-like.
The All Terrain HD concept develops the off-road ability of the heavy duty version of the latest GMC Sierra. Built atop the fully-boxed 2500 HD chassis, the concept features a unique short bed/crew cab body configuration, which is 229mm shorter in length and 102mm wider than production Sierra HD models.
Hyundai unveiled its new compact coupe challenger, the Veloster, at this year's NAIAS, following on from the 2007 concept of the same name. The C-segment coupe shares relatively little, design-wise, with Hyundai's current 'fluidic sculpture' design language already seen on the Elantra, Sonata and ix35, save for the rocker surfacing and its DRG. Its face incorporates the familiar hexagonal grille aperture and drawn-back headlights whose overall form, allied to the undercut surface directly below, are strongly reminiscent of the Citroen DS3. However its real stand-out feature is its asymmetric bodyshell, which places a single door on the driver's side and both front and rear doors for access to both front and rear passengers on the nearside. And unlike the Mini Clubman, both right- and left-hand drive cars will have specific bodies. Unlike the Mazda RX-8, the Veloster retains its B-pillar and the rear door opens in the conventional manner. Such is the shape of the aperture that access to the rear seats is difficult for adults, while the very question of why an asymmetrical design is employed is unclear – surely five doors would have been more useful and less complex than four and with little impact on the car's looks? There's no doubting its distinctiveness, from its exaggerated fenders to its unusually (and uncomfortably) pinched tail, although many we spoke to found it rather overwrought, with simply too much jostling for position, its faux hood vents deserving a special mention. Inside, the Veloster's IP is neatly reminiscent of its exterior form language and incorporates much 'sporty' iconography such as deeply cowled instruments and a start/stop button at the base of the center stack. Given its lower price point, it's unsurprising that perceived quality is rather low, with very hard plastics and silver-painted highlights. Electric blue floor-level and speaker grille lighting adds a little interest. Overall the Hyundai Veloster is a distinctive entrant to the compact coupe class. Its resolution may feel rather cheap in areas but its door arrangement is guaranteed to serve as a point of difference.
The Buick Verano is the GM brand's third – and smallest – new model in two years and, like the larger Regal, is closely related to its equivalent European Opel/Vauxhall model, albeit to a lesser extent. Sitting in the C-segment, the Verano's r'aison d'etre is to convince buyers that smaller need not mean less prestigious.
Designed under the guidance of Tom Kearns at Kia's US West Coast studio, the KV7 is a seven-seat minivan concept that fits the mold of VW's Microbus and Ford's Fairlane concept. "We wanted to do a 'van that was honest," Peter Schreyer told us, lamenting that "everyone is doing sporty, aggressive vans with rising waistlines and small glass areas and we wanted to rethink what the 'van was about and look at what its true appeal is". Clearly, interior is the real focus here and the over-riding impression is of a color and trim scheme that's exquisitely judged. The space includes a reclaimed teak floor, chaise-longue and shell seats (which swivel within their units) faced in lime-yellow upholstery. These combine with the large glazed area and digital interfaces to create an environment which hits a beautiful sweet spot of design: resolutely un-automotive, modern, yet evoking the VW camper-van age, when people adventured with groups of friends, visiting new places. This space is wrapped in a simple, elegantly-surfaced exterior that has just the requisite visual entertainment to avoid feeling austere. There's a horizontal theme which begins in the DRG graphic – Kia's tiger nose grille successfully evolving once again – wrap-around lamps and upper grille rendered behind a transparent upper-mask. This shape is echoed by the new trademark windscreen top (we hope Kia won't mind if we term it ‘widow's peak'), which the designers then employ as a theme. We see it reflected for the rear screen, in the wrap-around DLO whose third light steps up to create a thicker shoulder, and down for an anchored roofline. Inside, it's used for the IP shape, and finally, the rear view mirror case. Simple, elegant and yet never overplayed, Kia has found its contemporary design motif. Elsewhere, the strobing light units are an amusingly retro touch and as we've now come to expect from this company, the proportions and stance are impeccable. While far from original, this is yet another show star from Kia. It's a fine example of the design team driving forward the brand's image and conveying a perception of quality, putting the efforts of some premium brands to shame.
Mercedes continued its highly original conceptual device of showing sculpture at motor shows to convey new design messages with the unveil of a piece, 'Aesthetics No.2', at the 2011 Detroit show. Unlike last year's exterior-focused Detroit show sculpture (in that case hinting at the shape of the next CLS with a drape over it), this year's artwork was more interior-inspired and hints at the direction the brand is taking for its forthcoming quartet of A- and B-Class platform vehicles, known internally as the MFA architecture. All the new A- and B-Class cars will feature jet turbine style vents, shown on the sculpture with a triple set centrally mounted and one more at each end of the IP's flowing 'wings'. The dramatic swooping and high central transmission that runs between the oversized seats also reflects how some of the new range will look. The team was led by interior design director Hans-Peter Wunderlich and included designer Miroslav Jasko – behind the initial sketches – and creative manager Jan Kaul. Wunderlich says aviation, art, architecture and nature were key influences for the project which was designed and built in-house and made from foam covered in a super thin vacuum-formed fiberglass and then topped off with an Alubeam liquid metal paint finish. Although similar in length to a long limousine at 5600mm, the sculpture's other dimensions are exaggerated, especially its width (2600 mm), to give viewers a greater sense of the interior forms. But ultimately, says Wunderlich, the sculpture's significance lies in its overall feeling of where Mercedes wants to be in terms of both interior and exterior design, as he concluded: "We show simple surfacing – but not boring – done in a very sculptural way, so that you think, ‘I must have this car'". Either way, it's a great way to make a concept stand out among a motorshow full of more conventional offerings, while adding an air of arty sophistication to the Mercedes brand.
The Honda Civic Si concept unveiled at the 2011 NAIAS previews the ninth generation of the model, which is set to go on sale in the US this spring. Shown in coupe and sedan form, the vehicles showcase a new interpretation of Honda's 'one motion, one form' design language, which is meant to ‘convey a more substantial high-energy appearance', the company says.