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At the end of auto-show season there's a typical letdown. Lots of fancy sheet metal was shown, but when the cars don't make it to the dealership, it feels like a hot date called off at the last second. Sometimes, though, show cars aren't just pretty teases, but harbingers of real, viable automobiles. Here are the concept cars we expect to come to the showroom (though in an altered form), with our best guess on timing, specs and, when possible, price.
2013 Alfa Romeo 4C
Pray that Fiat gobbling up Chrysler is a gamble that pays off, so that nothing scuttles the plan to bring this car to our shores. The Alfa is nothing short of a mid-engine Italian masterpiece. While the horsepower figures don't jump off the page (250 from a turbocharged, 1.75-liter four-cylinder), the show car weighed less than 1800 pounds. That would make the 4C plenty quick, and at least as entertaining as the present Lotus Elise. For handling, think of the long-departed Toyota MR2 with, we'd wager, a far more gorgeous exhaust note. And, yes, there will be a convertible version too, likely in 2013.
2013 Jaguar C-X75 Of all the cars at the Paris Motor Show last September, we thought Jaguar's C-X75 seemed the least likely to see production. Well, we were wrong, but if you want to pick one up it'll cost you a cool $1.1 million. Formula One maker Williams will help to develop the chassis and supposedly the hybrid system as well. We won't see the twin gas-powered turbine system that was originally shown in Paris. Rather, there will be a conventional gasoline-powered motor (with specs yet to be determined) mated to a hybrid-drive mechanism. Still, if the C-X75 (it will get a new name, too) features four electric motors (one at each wheel), it will offer all-wheel drive and extremely high torque. Jaguar promises a run to 60 mph in under 3 seconds, a top speed of 200 mph and a range of 31 miles in electric-only mode.
2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
The Evoque will go on sale this summer in most of the world, but American buyers will have to wait for an October debut in October. The engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged unit developed by Ford (yes, post-divorce) with power in the 240- to 250-hp range. The "terrain response" system that's integrated so nicely in the Ford Explorer will be stock here, as will AWD. In Europe there'll be diesel options and (the horror!) FWD-only editions. The Evoque marks Land Rover's need to get both more eco- and more tarmac-focused, so expect a vehicle that handles more like a sports sedan than a tank. Land Rover will offer a magnetically controlled damper setup, but only one transmission: a six-speed automatic. This crossover will come with a choice of three or five doors; both configurations seat five. Expect pricing to start around $45,000.
When Mazda showed off the sexy Shinari concept at the 2010 L.A. Auto Show last December, it signaled a strong directional change. The Shinari is sexy; It looks less like a competitor to the Altima and Camry crowd and more like a Lexus fighter. The Shinari will lose some of that show-car edge when it goes on sale as the Mazda6 this December. But word is that it will sport an unconventional 2.2-liter diesel boasting 310 lb-ft of torque and a 40-plus mpg highway rating. The car's free-revving, 5200-rpm redline is especially unusual for diesels, but Mazda's goal was to emulate the character of its gasoline-powered cars, so this twin-turbocharged diesel seems less foreign to buyers who know the brand for quick-revving gas motors. Expect Mazda to offer an upgraded interior with more of a luxury feeling, too. If Mazda can pull all this off it has a motor to rival the Germans and a unique look to rival its Japanese competitors.
2013 Cadillac ATS
The Urban Concept Cadillac shown at last year's L.A. Auto Show was a head fake. Yes, maybe at some point Cadillac will do a small people-mover, but Caddy won't do a small-volume niche vehicle before it builds a genuine rival to the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and C-Class Mercedes-Benz (the Cadillac CTS is a bigger and heavier car than those Germans). The forthcoming ATS would rival the A4 and its ilk in size, but we have questions about how well it could compete. For cost reasons, the ATS's Alpha platform has to serve for both this smaller sedan, the next-gen CTS and the Chevy Camaro. That's not likely to lead to a great deal of success, as the goal with the ATS was to stick with a light chassis and smaller, high-boost motors. Whether that plan is still feasible is a good question, and the answer could decide the success or failure of the small Cadillac. And it's not just a question of performance; even luxury carmakers are scraping hard to find better fuel economy. With BMW ditching in-line-six engines for turbo fours, you can bet Cadillac has to find a way to dance to a similar tune.
2014 Audi Quattro Concept
The 30th anniversary of Audi's Quattro technology spawned this lovely homage. The car we'll likely get in the showroom, however, will be the product of a Porsche-engineered platform for the VW Bluesport Coupe and Convertible, the Porsche 550 and the Audi R5 (think of it as a not-so-poor-man's R8). The chassis goal for all three is exceptionally low weight, far lighter than anything presently in this class. Though all three will be sports cars, they'll achieve impressive fuel economy. Some speculate that the Audi motor will be the 340 hp five-cylinder from the forthcoming TTRS, along with Quattro AWD and DSG transmission, and that the yet-more-serious R5 will be priced above the extremely capable TTRS, and perhaps won't even be much cheaper than an R8. That gets interesting, because then you're talking about an Audi competing with the Porsche 911.
2012 Ford Vertrek Concept
What was called the Vertrek Concept at auto shows should roll off the assembly line in Louisville, Ky., next spring as the next Ford Escape. The current Escape is ancient, going without a design overhaul to its boxy body since 2001. Whatever can be saved from the Vertrek Concept will be, and it's safe to say that the next Escape is going to get a carlike ride more fitting for the dogfight in the crowded five-passenger crossover segment. Likely to be roomier and more refined, the new Escape should also get the 180-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost motor that's already deployed in a few models in Europe and is set to spread to production in the U.S.
2012 GMC Sierra All Terrain HD Concept
A "special packages" truck by GM like this one is on the way, but it may not be not as special as the concept, since word is that the production model sold next year won't get the Duramax diesel. Rock-crawlers will want the shortened 5-foot 10-inch bed as well as the wider (by 4.2 inches) track and taller ride height, bringing 11.8 inches of ground clearance. They'd also dig the Fox Racing Shox custom dampers and full-length underbody skidplate. In typical nondenial denial fashion, GM reps say the GMC All Terrain signals absolutely nothing. But the tea leaves suggest General Motors needs to follow Chrysler (with the Ram line) in truly separating GMC from Chevrolet.
2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell
Most of what appeared on this concept will see production, though heaven help us if that includes the paint. Like the Jaguar C-X75, the Benz will feature motors at each wheel and be AWD. But the E-Cell will be purely electric, with a huge 48-kilowatt-hour battery, instantaneous peak torque of 649 lb-ft, and the equivalent of 526 hp. No word on the range yet. Mercedes promises 0-to-60 acceleration in a little over 4 seconds, which is quite an accomplishment since the E-Cell is going to be considerably heavier than the V8-powered gas SLS. By the way, a neat trick of a four-motor car is that all power delivery can be controlled on location at each wheel, including overdriving a wheel for faster cornering, for instance.
2011 Mini Rocketman Concept
This car was shown at the Geneva Motor Show. It's a good bet that a slimmed-down Mini will come to market eventually, especially because Minis are getting larger, not smaller, these days. But in the nearer term the Mini is shedding some pounds. The new 2012 Coupe this fall will be a two-seat-only car that drops 200 pounds from the Cooper chassis. The show car was 6 inches wider than the Cooper, but that's unlikely for production. What is likely is the same 208-hp John Cooper Works engine and a base 1.6óliter motor good for about 175 hp.
2012 Scion FR-S
We've waited seemingly forever for the FT-86, the joint project of Subaru and Toyota on a light, inexpensive sports car, to morph from clay to metal. But the multi-year effort should finally bear fruit later this year when the Toyota puts its cards on the table in the form of a new Scion. We'll see a flat, boxer engine in 2.0-liter displacement, courtesy of Subaru, as well as rear-wheel drive. Power and pricing are up in the air, though the rumored low-$20,000 range would pit the small car against the V-6 Mustang and Camaro crowd. With these looks, the Scion will turn a lot of heads, and tuners are going to have a ton of fun trying to take Subaru WRX STi parts and bolt them onto their Scion.
2014 VW Bulli
Volkswagen's attempt to disguise a Chrysler minivan as a Wolfsburg-bred flower-power-mobile hasn't gone over very well, but the brand needs to sell in every segment in this country if it's going to grow. The Bulli would integrate well with VW's strategy of multiple models on a single platform. The five-passenger van would use the next-gen Golf as its underpinnings, and possibly would come as either a hybrid diesel or even an electric-only vehicle, like the concept shown in Geneva this past spring. And unlike the present Transporter, which has really ballooned from the compactness of the original Microbus of the 1950s and '60s, the Bulli is small and squat. Still, modern-day adventurers and those with a hint of nostalgia will hope VW saves the show-Bulli's rear seat that folds totally flat for in-car camping.