16 outrageous production cars that look like auto show concepts
You needn't do more than glance at the rakish flanks of BMW's i8 to understand why it's on this list. But the German automaker's flagship sports car isn't just present just because of its road-hugging form and butterfly doors.
In production since 2014, the i8 is also showcar-worthy because it's a plug-in hybrid built on a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic chassis. Despite boasting near-supercar performance, it's powered by a tiny 1.5-liter three-cylinder gas engine and a pair of electric motors.
BMW i8 sales have been slow, but this car never fails to draw an admiring crowd wherever it goes. It's a future collectible.
Perhaps more than any other vehicle on this list, Subaru's SVX seemed to come utterly out of left field. At the time this car went on sale, the Japanese brand was known for producing admirably basic, hard-wearing transportation that was long on utility but almost entirely style free.
The SVX, by contrast, was a showy, look-at-me piece of work penned by legendary car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. The two-door coupe wasn't just a radical styling statement, it was a headlong leap into a near-luxury segment of the market that Subaru had never dared enter before.
Photo by: Subaru
The SVX had all sorts of interesting details, but it will be forever known for its window-within-a-window design, something previously only seen on a handful of exotic sports cars.
Built between 1991 and 1996, the SVX wasn't a commercial success, but it remains an arresting piece of design.
Photo by: Subaru
For those few consumers who had been yearning for a premium small pickup with a convertible top and retro styling, Chevrolet's 2003-2006 SSR must've seemed like Manna from heaven.
Based on the altogether duller Trailblazer SUV, the SSR's bulbous fenders and grille were inspired by GM's famed 1947-1955 Advance Design pickups.
Photo by: Chevrolet
Initially, the SSR looked to be a smash hit thanks to a speculator-fueled market at launch. Sales quickly tempered after quality issues and gripes of lackluster performance cropped up.
Chevy eventually attempted to jumpstart interest in the model by fitting it with a much more powerful Corvette-sourced LS2 V8, but sales didn't budge.
Toyota's Mirai looks for all the world like a really angry vacuum cleaner, with its glowering stare and massive front air intakes. Its sheetmetal contouring on the bodysides and complex taillamps are no less intense.
Whether you like the Mirai's look or not, a hydrogen fuel-cell drivetrain under the hood adds even more concept-car flavor.
Photo by: Toyota
On sale in select North American markets since 2015 in very small volumes, the Mirai should keep its show-car-for-the-street exclusivity, making it an event each time you see one.
Photo by: Toyota
On sale in the US between 1999 and 2001, the Isuzu Vehicross was like no sport-utility vehicle the world had ever seen.
Relatively small in size, the Vehicross punched well above its weight in visual impact, and not just because it was the only production SUV ever to wear a set of snake-like fangs.
Photo by: Isuzu
With ribbed doors, a faired-in spare tire and heavy black cladding regardless of paint color, the Vehicross' aggressive looks shrouded comparatively ordinary mechanicals.
A shortened Trooper frame and powertrain lived under the skin, but the Vehicross had real off-road ability thanks to its short overhangs and heavy-duty shocks with external heat-expansion chambers.
Photo by: Isuzu
Lexus' stunning LC500 coupe is the newest model to make this list -- in fact, it may not have even reached most dealers yet.
The low-slung sports-luxury coupe has gutsy, show-stopping good looks the likes of which have never been seen from Toyota's premium brand.
In recent years, Lexus has been working hard to cast off its image as a staid luxury automaker, perhaps going too far in the other direction with angular, grille-heavy designs. The LC Coupe's gorgeous looks suggests Lexus designers have finally found some balance.
Acura's beak-shaped corporate face has won the premium brand few friends over the years, but that hasn't stopped the automaker from persevering. Oddly, the company's design language probably reached its fullest realization with this vehicle, the ZDX.
Roaming darkened corners of showrooms from 2010 to 2013, the ZDX was a mid-size crossover SUV not designed for everyone -- literally. Its extremely raked roofline made rear-seat access and comfort tough, and the cargo room wasn't much better.
The ZDX's anime looks belied its decidedly conventional underpinnings - the model was based on Acura's very competent (if somewhat bland) MDX crossover. The ZDX's high-performance visuals simply weren't backed up with the moves to match.
The ZDX may have been designed to take on other so-called "four-door coupe" CUVs like the BMW X6, but the Germans had the last laugh -- they're still selling their models while the love-or-hate ZDX is long gone.
Japanese automakers have long been obsessed with boxy city cars, so in that context, the Scion xB shouldn't have been a surprise. But when it was called in to launch Toyota's Scion brand in 2003, the xB was like nothing else North American consumers had ever seen.
Yes, you really could've walked into a showroom and buy one.
This retrofuturist auto-show refugee is the Plymouth Prowler, a two-door roadster inspired mightily by hot rods of the 1930s. Offered between 1997 and 2001, the outrageous rear-wheel-drive droptop was built in part to invigorate Plymouth, a Chrysler family brand with a sleepy reputation.
Photo by: Plymouth
In order to make this small-volume project feasible for production, Chrysler raided its own parts bins for much of the Prowler's unseen bits and cabin switchgear.
The resulting hand-built, aluminum-bodied roadster was -- and is -- an eyeball magnet. The Prowler was criticized for not having the V8 power and manual transmission that its looks would suggest, making do instead with a V6 and mandatory automatic. It disappointed some enthusiasts but others fell in love, recognizing the comfortable, look-at-me cruiser for what it is.
Photo by: Plymouth
One of the very first pure-electric cars available in the US market, the bubble-shaped Mitsubishi i-Miev looked like nothing less than a helicopter with its rotors clipped.
Tiny wheels at the corners and lots of glass meant the i-Miev won't be mistaken for any other econobox on the road.
You don't often see asymmetry crop up in car designs, and when you do, it's usually very minor. Nissan's Cube embraced the idea, sporting a single body-colored rear pillar, which lent the car the appearance of wraparound glass on one side.
The rest of the design was no less show-stand ready, with upright, boxy proportions softened by rounded-edge windows and prominent fender arches.
Japan's Nissan is the only automaker to appear on this list twice, and with good reason. The company seems to have an unquenchable desire to find new niche segments. Need more proof? Look no further than the 2011-2014 Murano CrossCabriolet. It's the single oddest convertible -- and maybe the oddest vehicle -- sold in many, many years.
It's not clear why Nissan thought there would be a big market for a near-luxury midsize convertible crossover SUV, but it built one anyway, and spared no expense to make it happen. The Murano CC had all-new sheetmetal from the windshield header on back, a complicated roof (with two rear windows!) and four new seats.
The resulting genre-defying soft-roader was neither a good SUV nor a particularly stylish convertible. Sales were abysmal, but those who bought CrossCabriolets remain fiercely loyal to their unique purchases.
Henrik Fisker was already a luminary in the automotive world when he set about to start his own car company. Having penned such timeless wonders as the BMW Z8 and Aston Martin DB9, the Danish designer looked to apply his trademark long, flowing lines and his favored ultra-low and wide proportions to a four-door luxury sedan. The Fisker Automotive Karma was born.
Photo by: Fisker Automotive
With an emphasis on beauty over practicality, the stunning Fisker Karma wasn't particularly easy to live with. Huge on the outside, it was decidedly less so on the inside.
It also had a surprisingly coarse-natured plug-in hybrid powertrain. The first of its kind in a luxury car, this novel approach did the Karma no favors in terms of performance, refinement or reliability.
Fisker Automotive only managed to sell cars in 2011 and 2012 before imploding. However, the Karma dream may not be totally dead. Now under new ownership and with a new name, the car may yet live again under the Karma Revero moniker.
Photo by: Fisker Automotive
When you're a small, independent automaker, sometimes you have to try to carve out your own niche in order to avoid being trampled by the big guys.
That must've been the thinking behind Suzuki's diminutive little X-90, which was simultaneously marketed as a 4x4, a sports coupe and a convertible of sorts (it actually had a t-top roof).
Photo by: Suzuki
Sold between 1995 and 1997, the X-90 was actually heavily based on the Suzuki Sidekick subcompact SUV, the body-on-frame successor to Suzuki's long-serving Samurai. As such, it was available in both rear- and four-wheel drive.
Given its robust mechanicals, some X-90 owners have lifted their trucks and converted them into tiny trail-running terrors.
Photo by: Suzuki
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
On sale in North America since 2012, the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque debuted to rapturous reviews for its aggressive design. With its rising beltline and cantilevered greenhouse set atop a set of massive wheel arches, the Evoque was high-fashion stuff.
Available in both three- and five-door formats, the Evoque's style-conscious appeal extends to its interior, which is available in a myriad of colors and finishes.
Today, small premium SUVs are all the rage, but when the Evoque was first revealed, it wasn't clear if luxury buyers would actually be interested in paying big dollars for tiny utility vehicles.
The Evoque has been a major success for Land Rover, both in terms of sales and revitalizing its corporate design language. These days, you can see a little bit of Evoque in the British company's entire lineup.
There's no way we were going to leave this beauty out.
Concept-car looks don't always work out in the real world, and such was the case with the 2001-2005 Pontiac Aztek. Perennially found near the top of many "ugliest cars" lists, the Aztek's angular, almost military-surplus appearance came in for unbridled criticism and disappointing sales.
Photo by: Pontiac
But that's not to say Pontiac's Aztek wasn't innovative, or without merit. It is inarguably one of the very first crossover SUVs ever made, the very type of vehicles that are dominating today's car market.
What's more, the Aztek was one of the first deliberate forays by an automaker to embrace young, outdoorsy, "active lifestyle" shoppers. It could be ordered with a removable cooler, air compressor, and even a tent and inflatable mattress.