To understand the genius of the modern car business, have a look at modern cars. Here is a sampling of design elements and wildly imaginative features found in cars and concepts unveiled in the past year or so.
54 bits of brilliance on today's cars
Rocks around the clock
2017 Bentley Bentayga
The optional Breitling Tourbillon self-winding clock just might be the industry’s most expensive option at $160,000. The clock has titanium, gold and diamonds.
2017 Cadillac CT6
The battle for space on the dash is rendering old-style mechanical gauges obsolete. The CT6 has a customizable instrument cluster from Delphi that, at the press of a button, presents vital information between the digital gauges in superclear 1920-by-720 pixels.
BMW Vision Next 100 concept
Dials, buttons and switches on the copper-toned autonomous vehicle have disappeared while air vents are ditched in favor of climate-regulating fabrics. The Vision Next intuitively communicates with the driver through flowing movements on the dashboard surface consisting of about 800 individual triangles — similar to a flock of birds changing directions. BMW calls it Alive Geometry.
Stow as you go
Nissan Serena, Honda Freed
This pop-up hatch on these Japan-market cars is like a glove box right behind the steering wheel.
A dash of luxury
Hyundai Vision G concept
The asymmetrical sunrise stitching on the seats and the bronzing on the trim are among the nice touches inside. Also, a big, wide, curved LCD screen displaying all kinds of infotainment in the G’s dash.
Nipped and tucked
2017 Honda Civic
For the 10th-generation Civic, Honda shortened the overall length by a few inches, lowered the top profile nearly an inch and massaged the quarter panels to look more aggressive. Of course, don’t plan to get comfortable in the rear seat if you’re over 6 feet tall.
2016 Chevrolet Camaro
The sixth-generation Camaro is cut close around the thighs and midsection. The exterior lost some visual mass. The headlights and grille are narrower, the air intake is more pronounced and sleek, and LEDs replace the old-school fog lights.
Right on the button
2015 Lincoln MKX
Ignore the acres of flat plastic around them and focus on the MKX’s switch gear for the stereo and climate control: They’re live buttons! Lincoln quietly is acknowledging that the earlier touch-sensitive panels were generally useless.
2016 Hyundai Tucson
If Hyundai had simply rebadged the new Tucson as a Genesis crossover and tacked on $15,000 to the price, no one would have been the wiser — at least from the outside. This deftly handsome compact punches well above its weight in the style department without trying so hard that it will look outdated in five years.
Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Concept
The latest collaboration of Aston Martin and Italian coachbuilder Zagato features large pieces of carbon fiber. The taillights evoke classic Zagato design while the wing mirrors are inspired by the One-77, a limited-edition Aston coupe that debuted at the 2008 Paris auto show.
Easy to assemble
OX flat-pack truck
This utility concept, designed by ludicrously cool F-1 and McLaren designer Gordon Murray for markets such as Africa, is meant to be as cheap as possible. It’s shipped as a pack for local assembly. Among the clever touches: The rear passenger benches double as sand ladders, and the tailgate is also a ramp to load barrels and whatnot.
Reinventing the wheels
Tesla Model 3
The wheels on the forthcoming electric sports sedan direct air under the body. Tesla uses aero simulation tools from Boston-based Exa, and the computer-aided wheel design would reduce the need for expensive active aero devices, thus cutting costs.
Keeping it simple
Tesla Model 3
Check out the Model 3’s strikingly sparse interior. There’s no instrument panel in front of the driver, no tangible buttons or remote knobs, levers or touchpads controlling any screens built into the dashboard. Instead, a single touch screen, 15 inches wide, protrudes from the center console. It controls nearly every ancillary function not related to driving the car.
2016 Nissan Titan XD
All r&d was done in the U.S. for the Titan, meaning there are lots of nooks and crannies for storage inside and a bunch of tie-down points, cleats and rails in the bed, plus LED bed lighting. Lockable bedside storage boxes can be removed from inside the bed with a few screws so they don’t infringe on cargo space.
Grilled to perfection
2017 Nissan GT-R
Nissan reshaped the 2017 grille for the sake of aerodynamics and cooling abilities, giving the sports car a silver V-Motion mustache.
2017 Bentley Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase
In an impressive bit of fabrication and design, the aircraft-style folding tables in the Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase (a $12,670 option) are purely mechanical, with 761 hand-machined components (most invisible to the user). The tables can support 88 pounds apiece.
2016 Mazda CX-9
The Signature model could almost stand in for a luxury crossover, what with its matte wood, brushed aluminum and stitched leather. Mazda uses Rosewood panels with such thin lacquer you can feel the graining.
2017 McLaren 570GT
The new glass hatch swings up on side hinges, opening either left or right, depending on whether your McLaren is left- or right-hand drive — it always opens to the sidewalk side of the car.
Maintaining your wedge
2016 Lamborghini Huracan Spyder LP 610-4
The long, flat rear deck characteristic of so many convertibles is absent here. Lamborghini labored to ensure the coupe’s wedgy profile, and the hexagonal side window openings were maintained with the top up or down.
2017 Mercedes-Benz SL roadster
The classic roadster line gets a sleeker profile this time. So much sheet metal was altered that Mercedes had to retest the car for pedestrian impact. Thus the improved SL is far prettier and better aligned with its earlier forebears.
F for frisky
2017 Jaguar F-Pace
Stylists wrapped voluptuous sheet metal — much of it aluminum — around the chassis with a corporate fascia/headlamp treatment and functional power-bulge hood, creased side lines and an unmistakably F-Type rear end. The result: perhaps the sexiest crossover on the road today.
2016 McLaren 675LT Spider
Partly named for its long spoiler, the 675LT Spider is reminiscent of the first Longtail, the fastest of the legendary McLaren F1s. The air brake is the killer app. At some point when driving this car, you’ll be in triple-digit speeds, feeling confident in your coordination. Something will happen — a bird, a cop, a kitten — and you’ll go to the brakes hard. That’s when the snowboard-size spoiler gets vertical, catching all the nearby air and dropping speed to something more manageable.
2017 Aston Martin DB11
The AeroBlade spoiler funnels air from intakes inside the C-pillars and pushes it through ducts hidden in the bodywork before expelling it through the rear decklid. This will help you stay planted before hitting the 200-mph top speed.
2017 Volvo S90
The sedan has diamond-knurl knobs and hand stitching on the leather dash and door panels, as well as large swathes of wood trim, a bright aluminum structural element rimming the bottom of the dash and Volvo’s first adjustable side bolsters and seat-bottom length. Volvo calls it a “Scandinavian sanctuary.”
Making a big entrance
Lincoln Navigator Concept
Gigantic gull-wing doors elicited gasps at the concept’s Gotham debut. Concertina steps, “piano key” shifter buttons and a clever cargo management system also impressed. Will the concept be built? Yes, but without the crazy doors.
2017 Mazda MX-5 RF
A first for the little roadster king: a retractable fastback roof that folds in about 12 seconds — and at up to 10 mph — with no loss in trunk space.
Acura Precision Concept
A long, low hood, sweptback cabin and wild, aggressively flaring rear fenders suggests Acura’s new look. Designers also dumped the much maligned “beak” grille. The sexy new looks put Acura on a fresh path that further distances the brand from Honda.
Buick Avista concept
Note the “halo” effect on edges of the concept’s headlights and taillights.
2017 Lexus LC 500
The taillights flow out of the rear fender, marking the shoulder line and stretching horizontally to the center of the vehicle. There’s also a vertical element that is both futuristic and offers a bit of family resemblance with other Toyota group cars.
Kia Telluride concept
A concept with lots of futuristic bells and whistles, including 3-D-printed interior trim components, digital displays along the interior walls and a pair of fold-flat captain’s chairs modeled after business-class seats on an airplane.
Pizazz in a zzz’s segment
2017 Kia Cadenza
Subtle features, such as a “Z” design in the taillights, add character to what tends to be the fairly boring large-sedan category.
Wild styling gives the subcompact crossover more than a fighting chance to beat up on the more humdrum early entrants in the segment.
2017 Kia Sportage
A convincing evolution of a great design, with unique elements. As one reviewer noted, the broader wheel arches house 19-inch alloy wheels that give it “a high sporty dune buggy vibe.” Is this what a Smart SUV might have looked like?
New wave Cadillac
Cadillac Escala Concept
Check out Cadillac’s changing design language. As Car Design News put it: “The front mask shows an evolution of the key Cadillac themes, the headlights now slim, recessed OLED strips above the very deep scoop of the 3D-patterned grille. Character lines break up the long, deep hood as well as sweeping down the front fenders to emphasize movement and dynamism.”
Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 concept
Long hood, slim headlights, low roof and massive chrome grille (inspired by a pinstripe suit, Benz says) dominate the front end. They combine with the dramatically sloping rear glass to recall aero-coupe glory from days gone by while at the same time making the car look futuristic.
2015 Shelby Mustang GT350R
The first mass-produced sports car to come standard with carbon-fiber wheels — which are ultralight, ultrastrong and ultraexpensive — the replacement cost is more than $14,000 for all four wheels. The upcoming Ford GT also will have carbon-fiber wheels.
2017 Cadillac CT6
The full-size sedan uses a combination of aluminum, ultra-high-strength steel, extrusions and cast parts for its lightweight body. The CT6 also features GM’s new aluminum-welding process and steel welded to aluminum parts. The result: the lightest car in its class and the class below. Curb weight: 3,647 pounds.
Tunes with style
2017 Cadillac CT6
In the luxury audio arms race, the Bose Panaray sound system in the CT6 sits right at the top of the list with 34 speakers. When the engine starts, a Panaray-branded speaker arises dramatically from the middle of the dash, a prelude to the enveloping sound, engineered by Bose to sound like a concert hall.
2017 GMC Acadia
GM aims to reduce the number of injuries and deaths from heatstroke that occur when parents leave children in hot cars. The Acadia is the company’s first vehicle with a sensor that detects objects in the rear seat. “Rear Seat Reminder: Look In Rear Seat” flashes in the speedometer when the driver turns off the engine.
2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor
The track-ready Camaro ZL1 and the Ford Raptor off-road performance truck couldn’t be more different. Yet they share one very important component: the new 10-speed automatic transmission developed jointly by General Motors and Ford. The gearbox shifts faster than transmissions used in Porsches, the automakers claim.
2016 Chevrolet Volt
The second-generation Voltec gasoline-electric powertrain in the redesigned Volt ditches most of its rare earth magnets and heavy-duty orange electric cables. The GM-designed electric motors are stronger, lighter and less expensive to manufacture. The 53-mile range on electric power only is a 40 percent increase over the first-generation model.
Losing the lag
2016 Audi SQ7
French supplier Valeo is leading the charge to get electric superchargers in high-volume production. Audi’s SQ7 crossover this spring became the first vehicle to offer the power-increasing device. A fast-revving 48-volt motor spools up the supercharger in seconds to pressurize the intake system, virtually eliminating turbo lag.
2016 Nissan Rogue
Nissan and its subsidiary, JATCO, have found the magic formula for the much-maligned continuously variable transmission. Nissan’s Xtronic CVTs enable engines to run more slowly, smoothly and quietly while improving fuel economy.
2017 Lincoln Continental
The high-mounted, curving exterior E-latch door handles on the Continental, located on the chrome beltline strip, come straight out of the Rolls-Royce book of design. The electrically operated handles help give the new Lincoln flagship a clean, smooth look and free up critical space inside the car so speakers can be mounted for optimum sound quality.
2016 Buick Cascada
Buick has begun revamping its grille design with a modern version of the winged look from the Wildcat II concept car of 1954 and production Buicks of the mid-1950s. All Buicks will have the new grille by 2018.
Seat of power
2017 Lincoln Continental
The Continental’s patented 30-way adjustable seats — dubbed Perfect Position — may be the most technically advanced in a car under six figures. Inspired by jet seats and high-end office furniture, the seats are heated and cooled, offer massaging and have thigh extensions for additional support. And they are extremely plush.
2016 Ford Edge and 2015 Lincoln MKX
Ford has created an adaptive steering system that reduces steering wheel effort at low speeds. A small motor in the steering wheel turns the shaft to the steering rack, making it easy for the driver to maneuver into tight spaces.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
The tri-pane sunroof in the Pacifica exposes all three rows of seating to natural outdoor lighting, visually opening up the box-on-wheels and making it feel even roomier.
Just like home
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
The Pacifica’s front-row infotainment screen is mounted flat on the instrument panel, giving it the appearance of a wall-mounted home TV.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Chrysler’s Stow ’n’ Go minivan seat storage system was good before, but it was a pain to move the front seats forward and back to collapse the second row. The system on the 2017 Pacifica does the whole process with the push of a button, submarining the seat down instead of tumbling it forward.
Handle with flair
2015 Volvo XC90
The big crossover sports a crystal shifter made by Orrefors, the famous Swedish glassmaker.
2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit
Yes, decorative interior lighting is a cheap way to evoke luxury, but it works. On the top-end Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit, a lit “SUMMIT” in the door sill helps separate the SUV’s top trim from its other levels.
2017 Mercedes-Benz E class
The switch to LED exterior lighting not only allows automakers much more creativity, it makes for additional safety. On the 2017 E class, the Hella headlights shield oncoming traffic from high-beam glare automatically, while keeping the road well lit.
2015 Ram 1500 pickup
In the cavernous center-console storage area of the Ram 1500 is an otherwise undistinguished little shelf that will tightly hold almost any smartphone or tablet.
— Richard Truett, Larry P. Vellequette, Jens Meiners, Nick Gibbs, Christiaan Hetzner, David Undercoffler, Bradford Wernle, Autoweek
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