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The 26 Best Auto Show Concept Cars Of The 21st Century

Citroen Numero 9 Concept

Are auto shows dying? Many auto journalists think so. Do new vehicles all look the same? Perhaps to you, a consumer in the compact car category. Are concept cars with no future as a production vehicle annoying? In a sense.

But as art, concept cars serve a purpose as examples of what an automaker’s design department can do when given a huge budget, few parameters, and no practicality or production concerns.

We can hope automobile manufacturers will be able to keep a few secrets in the lead up to January 2015’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. Maybe there will be something special, not just production versions of upcoming luxury crossovers and flashier potential versions of existing cars, but truly special design. 

Interesting surfaces. Inventive detailing. New ideas. 

If so, this list will be in need of an update. Heading in to the Detroit auto show, however, these are our 26 favourites of the 21st century. You will disagree. Wholeheartedly, we suspect.

26. Dodge Kahuna

Dodge Kahuna concept

Both ahead of and behind the times, the Kahuna is just one of a dozen or more Chrysler Group concepts we could have placed on this list if we weren’t interested in spreading the wealth around.

25. Lexus LF-LC

Lexus LF-LC

The LF-LC is an opinion divider, but it signaled that Lexus could break free from convention. Quite nicely.

24. Jeep Willys 2

Jeep Willys 2

Is it easier for Jeep to impress us with something crazy because the core elements never change? Or is it more difficult because there are untouchable elements?  

23. Volvo T6 Roadster

Volvo T6 roadster

Some concepts are great because they fit the image of the company. Others, like the T6 Roadster, are perfect because they come completely out of the blue.

22. Mazda Ibuki

Mazda Ibuki concept

This is not what all Miata enthusiasts wanted to see, but it was a whole new take, vital for a car that could have devolved into a painfully slow evolutionary process.

21. Hyundai HCD-14

Hyundai HCD-14 concept

The HCD is a little bit crazy. OK, it’s a lot a bit crazy. It’s very, truly, overwhelmingly crazy. But it works.

20. Ford Bronco

Ford Bronco Concept

Ford has introduced a number of brutish, silver truck concepts. This is the best of the bunch.

19. Chevrolet Nomad

Chevrolet Nomad Concept

It mixes retro and originality rather than just relying on the work a designer completed 40 years ago.

18. Volvo 3CC

Volvo 3CC concept

Blissfully abnormal, but with a purpose.

17. Lamborghini Estoque

Lamborghini Estoque

Yes, the modern Miura concept is more eye-catching, but it’s not original. This sharp-edged knife of a sedan is modern Lamborghini at its best.

16. Infiniti Essence

Infiniti Essence Concept

It’s very curvy and flowy and long and low and wide.

15. Chevrolet Code 130R

Chevrolet Code 130R

This is perfect for making auto writers say, “But Chevy, there really is a market for this.” Probably not.

14. Buick Velite

Buick Velite concept

They’ll give us a version of the Opel Cascada. This would be so much more in keeping with Buick’s premium history.

13. Ford Interceptor

Ford Interceptor concept

Should we be surprised that a traditional American automaker can design an impressive, classically American full-size sedan?

12. Dodge M80

dodge m80 concept

It’d be a Ram if they introduced it now. Regardless, it strikes a nice balance between outlandish and realistic.

11. Dodge Hornet

Dodge Hornet Concept

It’s not pretty, but it’s a Dodge subcompact with proper Dodge attitude. 

10. Kia GT4 Stinger

Kia GT4 Stinger Concept

On a list full of stuff that won’t or didn’t or can’t happen, the GT4 Stinger might have a future.

9. Mazda Shinari

Mazda Shinari Concept

The production 6 looks good. But with no limitations, Mazda can do way better.

8. Volvo Coupe

Volvo Coupe Concept

Classic proportions mix with Volvo’s classic and modern flavours.

7. Toyota FT-1

Toyota FT-1 Concept

When TVR takes over Toyota.

6. Ford Start

Ford Start Concept

Smooth like a beautiful bubble.

5. BMW X Coupe

BMW X Coupe concept

Bangle themes – on the right day, in the right light, in the right mood – pleased the right (or wrong?) person.

4. Volvo XC Coupe

Volvo XC Coupe Concept

Just not quite as good as #3.

3. Volvo Estate

Volvo Estate Concept

Nobody does wagons like Volvo. Volvo, unfortunately, doesn’t do wagons like this.

2. Cadillac Sixteen

Cadillac Sixteen Concept

Why is the Escalade SUV left on its own to be a big, bold, high-priced Cadillac?

1. Volkswagen Bulli

Volkswagen Bulli Concept

Take my money.