The 10 most droolworthy concept cars of the year, and 1 big cringe

Concept cars aren’t as wild as they used to be, but the 2018 auto show season proved automakers haven’t lost their touch when it comes to making us dream. Some made us cringe, too.

We noticed a handful of prevalent trends as we covered auto shows all around the world. Car companies were more eager than ever before to talk about advances in electrification, connectivity, and autonomous technology. Many rolled these features into an SUV, a body style still soaring in popularity, but some mustered all the creativity stockpiled in their design department to show something fresh that left a lasting impression.

Here are our favorite concepts of 2018, and one we consider a costly and not very successful attempt at originality. Spoiler alert: Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Aston Martin Lagonda Vision

Aston Martin Lagonda Vision concept
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Aston Martin is known primarily as a purveyor of sexy sports cars, but its winged emblem used to also appear on some of the world’s most luxurious sedans. The British firm wants to renew ties with its upscale heritage by reviving the Lagonda nameplate as a full-blown sub-brand. The Lagonda Vision concept unveiled at the 2018 Geneva Auto Show sheds insight into how Aston will once again roll with Rolls-Royce.

Befitting of its flagship status, the Lagonda Vision takes the form of a big, luxurious sedan with an unusual silhouette. Interior designers took advantage of electrification and autonomy to create a spacious cabin that offers business class-like seating for four passengers. It’s too early for us to claim that what you see is what you’ll get, but we know the born-again Lagonda brand will sell an SUV, a coupe, and a sedan inspired by the Vision concept. Expect the first production models to arrive after the turn of the decade.

Audi E-Tron GT

audi etron gt concept production 2020 se e tron 3
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Audi told us the electric E-Tron SUV it introduced in 2018 is the tip of the iceberg. It’s the first of about a dozen battery-powered cars that will reach showrooms before 2025. The E-Tron GT concept presented at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show previews one of them, and it will stand proud as the first battery-electric Audi Sport model when it goes on sale in about 2020. While that’s a tall order to fill, Audi’s research and development team has cracked the code.

Built on the same platform as the upcoming 2020 Porsche Taycan, the E-Tron GT sits on top of a 96-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that stores enough electricity to deliver about 250 miles of range. An 800-volt charging system makes road trips possible by replenishing 80 percent of the pack in under 20 minutes. It wouldn’t be worthy of the Audi Sport nameplate if it didn’t deliver the kind of performance that pins you to the back of your seat, and it doesn’t disappoint in that department. Audi explained two electric motors join forces to zap the four wheels with 590 horsepower, which is enough for a zero-to-60-mph sprint of 3.5 seconds.

Don’t expect the E-Tron GT to change much as it transitions from a concept car to a production car. “We have never done a show car as close to series production as this,” Enzo Rothfuss, Audi’s head of interior design, told Digital Trends.

Audi PB18 E-Tron

Audi PB18 e-tron

Unveiled at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Audi PB18 E-Tron squeezes paddock-ready technology from the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and Formula E series into a supercar with an eye-catching shooting brake design that blurs the line between a coupe and a station wagon. It’s electric, and it’s packed with more technology than a trans-Atlantic jet, but Audi bucked the autonomy trend and instead developed the PB18 E-Tron with pure driving enjoyment in mind. It won’t move an inch without a human driver behind the wheel.

The driver sits on the left side of the car when carrying a passenger. When driving on a track, the entire cockpit slides towards the middle of the cabin to make the PB18 feel like a single-seater race car. By-wire technology that seeped into the automotive industry from the aviation sector makes this configuration possible by eliminating the mechanical components of the steering and braking systems, like the steering column that normally connects the steering wheel to the steering rack.

The Audi PB18 E-Tron is merely a concept car, not a preview of a production model. Never say never, though; British magazine Autocar reports the next-generation R8 will go electric.

Chevrolet eCOPO Camaro

Chevrolet eCOPO Camaro concept

If we’re talking strictly about appearance, the Chevrolet eCOPO Camaro stands out as one of the most realistic-looking concept cars we saw in 2018. The Camaro has regularly visited drag strips across America since 1967, so what’s the big deal? Well, instead of a jumbo V8, the eCOPO boasts a pair of electric motor that generate 750 horsepower to roast the rear tires in complete silence. Though Chevrolet noted testing is on-going, its early estimates peg the racer’s quarter-mile time in the nine-second range. That’s a little bit vague in an era when every tenth of a second counts, but the eCOPO could beat the vaunted Dodge Challenger SRT Demon on a drag strip.

Chevrolet hasn’t decided whether to make the eCOPO a reality yet.

Genesis Essentia

Genesis Essentia concept
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Talk about making an entrance. Genesis, Hyundai’s recently-emancipated luxury division, showed the entire industry what it’s capable of when it revealed the Essentia concept at the 2018 New York Auto Show. The coupe boasts a dramatic design inside and out, and “multiple” electric motors send it to 60 mph from a stop in three seconds flat, but Genesis stopped short of revealing full technical specifications. The extensive use of carbon fiber offsets the weight added by the battery pack.

Artificial intelligence allows the Essentia to automatically adjust the driver’s seating position and configure the electric powertrain to best suit a given route. The same software lets the car detect the driver’s behavior and mood. It’s super-futuristic, and we don’t expect to see it in showrooms anytime soon, but it’s one helluva statement of intent from a brand that, 20 years ago, was making the Tiburon.

Infiniti Q Inspiration

Infiniti Q Inspiration concept

Don’t tell Infiniti that the sedan segment is dying. Nissan’s luxury division firmly believes motorists will still want to sit low in the future, and the Q Inspiration concept shows the direction it will take as it designs sedans for the 2020s — and beyond. Visually, it’s recognizable as a member of the Infiniti family but it takes the firm’s design language in a bolder, more expressive direction. Stylists gave it a fastback-like roofline that flows into a shapely rear end with thin horizontal lights. All told, it makes the current Q70 look as bland as a stale pint of beer.

Connectivity is everywhere inside the Q Inspiration. Touchscreens mounted on the center console keep the rear passengers connected on-the-go, and a wide, curved screen that stretches across the entire width of the dash caters to the front occupants’ need for entertainment and information. Power for the sedan comes from Infiniti’s VC-Turbo four-cylinder engine, which uses novel variable compression technology to deliver a blend of performance and efficiency.

Though Infiniti has no plans to put the Q Inspiration into production, the concept’s tech and design will influence its future models. The VC-Turbo engine already powers the QX50.

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQ Silver Arrow

Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrow

As its name and its silhouette imply, the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQ Silver Arrow pays homage to the W125 Silver Arrow race car that first raced in 1937. Think of the W25 available in Mario Kart 8 and you’re on the right track. It’s not a quick retro job, though; this design study takes us on a trip to a far, far future. It’s a rolling, 720-horsepower laboratory that demonstrates Mercedes’ advancements in electrification, lightweight materials, and infotainment technology.

The cabin fuses old- and new-school design. Two screens face the driver. Embedded in the rectangular steering wheel, the first one is a touch-sensitive unit that provides key information about the car and its surroundings like its speed, the motor’s real-time power output, and the outside temperature. The second, much wider screen places a virtual racetrack over a digital representation of the road to let the driver compete against the computer in a current or classic Silver Arrow.

When it unveiled the Vision EQ Silver Arrow at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Mercedes-Benz clearly stated the concept wasn’t created with any kind of production plans in mind. The closest street-legal car you’ll be able to buy is the Mercedes-AMG One, but the entire production run has already been spoken for.

Nissan Xmotion

Nissan Xmotion concept

The popularity of trucks and SUVs designed with adventure in mind swelled during 2018. Nissan showed a surprising amount of foresight when it kicked off the year at the Detroit Auto Show with the Xmotion concept, an SUV that leverages Japanese design to stand out in an increasingly crowded segment. The company explained the concept’s rear lights draw inspiration from kumiko woodwork, for example, while the dashboard and the center console are made using kigumi wood joinery. The infotainment system even features a digital assistant shaped like a koi fish.

Nissan didn’t reveal what the future holds for the Xmotion concept. Credible rumors suggest the Japanese firm will resurrect the Xterra off-roader in 2019. Xmotion, Xterra. Coincidence? You tell us.

Rivian RT1

Rivian R1T

The Rivian RT1 looks like a pickup truck, accelerates like a supercar, tackles off-road trails like a Jeep Wrangler, and it’s made by a company no one had heard of a year ago. Oh, and it’s fully electric, Tesla-style. It was one of the biggest surprises of the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show.

The specifications sheet is jaw-dropping. Depending on the configuration, Rivian claims a 400-mile range, a three-second sprint from zero to 60 mph, and a maximum towing capacity of 11,000 pounds. It’s about the same size as a Chevrolet Colorado or a Toyota Tacoma, meaning it’s smaller than the hot-selling Ford F-150, and it’s packed with clever features like a hidden storage compartment in the space normally occupied by the transmission. Rivian claims adventurers can draw electricity from the battery pack through a built-in 110-volt outlet, while the air suspension system doubles as an air compressor in the field.

Rivian can talk the talk, now let’s see if it can walk the walk. Production will soon begin in a former Mitsubishi factory located in Normal, Illinois, and the first deliveries are scheduled for late 2020. Pricing starts at about $70,000 before incentives. The R1S — an SUV built on the same bones as the R1T — will also begin appearing on off-road trails in 2020.

Toyota GR Supra Concept

Toyota Supra concept

We’ve been writing about the next-generation Toyota Supra for years. We didn’t see it at the 2018 Geneva Auto Show, but Toyota whetted our appetite with a concept called GR Supra that’s essentially the production model hiding under the skin of a race car. Remove the deep front bumper, the fender flares, the various wings, and the park bench-sized diffuser and you’re left with the production model that’s scheduled to finally make its debut during the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. We know, because a number of leaks have revealed it ahead of schedule.

What were they thinking?

DS X E-Tense concept

We encourage automakers to think outside the box, and we like concept cars that push the envelope, but the DS X E-Tense goes a little bit too far. Stylists seemingly challenged themselves to build a concept car that’s part coupe, part convertible, but they couldn’t decide when to put the pencil down. It’s unique, but that’s because it looks like an effigy of a BMW i8 that got mugged, beaten up, and left for dead in a shady part of Los Angeles. We’re not sold on the criss-crossed LEDs that make the air intakes look like caves inhabited by giant tarantulas. The back end isn’t much better; it reminds us of a lacrosse goal.

It’s true, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In our eyes, the DS X E-Tense is an extraordinary broadside of weirdness that’s different just for the sake of being different.

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