The good, the bad, and the ugly

Concept cars used to be a much rarer thing back in the day. Back in the 1960s, carmakers didn’t build many at all. Budgets were tighter, technologies were fewer, so most companies barely unveiled one per year, if not fewer. 50 years later and carmakers launch tens of concepts per year. We saw too many to count in 2019, but we remembered a few of them. We remember some for being cool, but we also remember a few concept cars for being some of the worst we’ve seen in years. In this list, I discuss the five best and five worst concepts launched in 2019.

The Best

Karma SC2

The Best and Worst Concept Cars of 2019
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Now owned by the Chinese, California-based Karma Automotive is looking to come back to the market with a series of a spectacular cars. To preview things to come, Karma unveiled a pair of concept cars at the Shanghai Auto Show.

They're called SC1 and SC2, and the only difference between them is that the first is a roadster, while the second one is a coupe.

I’m choosing the coupe here because the double-bubble roof gives it a more balanced look and reminds me of race cars from the 1960s. The coupe also looks better in its dark grey paint, which highlights the flowing, organic lines. The SC2 looks really aggressive and it’s aerodynamic too.

2019 Karma SC2 Concept
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It’s impressive from every angle on the outside and the cabin is fancy enough to compete with high-end supercars from Ferrari and McLaren. The doors are just as impressive, with the wing doors opening vertically toward the front fascia. That’s to the upper section that extends into the roof, the doors almost mimic the design of a jet fighter’s canopy. Karma also promises impressive performance with an all-electric drivetrain rated at 1,085 horsepower. It’s supposed to take you to 60 mph in only 1.9 seconds, so it could be the quickest car in the world. It probably won’t go into production like this, but the concept is indeed impressive and one of the coolest releases of 2019.

Read our full review on the 2019 Karma SC2

Genesis Mint

The Best and Worst Concept Cars of 2019
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The Genesis Mint concept might seem an awkward choice given the big number of futuristic concepts launched in 2019, but that’s exactly why I’m including it here. It’s a different take, a big departure from the usual concept car, and a bold option for a market saturated by sports cars and SUVs.

The Mint concept is Genesis' idea of a luxury city car.

But even though it’s quite small, it also looks sporty thanks to a floating, coupe-style roof, a simple front fascia with thin lights, and a sculpted, bold rear end. Despite the size, the Mint looks very spacious. The seats are mounted deep into the rear compartment, with legroom comparable to that in a full-size sedan.

The 2020 Genesis Mint concept Brings Cargo-Only Rear Gullwing Doors to the New York Auto Show
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The Mint doesn’t feature a center console and the dash is thin and simple, features that also enhance the cabin’s airy look. Almost everything is swathed in brown leather, so this isn’t your regular affordable hatchback. The concept also introduces a new take on the trunk. Instead of a tailgate or a trunk lid, the Mint features opening rear fenders that swipe vertically toward the rear to create large side openings through which you can put luggage behind the seats. The Mint is obviously an electric car and features a high-density battery pack that provides an estimated range of 200 miles.

Read our full review on the 2019 Genesis Mint

Aston Martin Vanquish Concept

The Best and Worst Concept Cars of 2019
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Introduced alongside the Valhalla concept, the Vanquish concept is the least spectacular of the two, in the sense that it’s not as aggressive design-wise. But that’s exactly why I’m including it here instead of the Valhalla. While the latter is a full-blown hypercar, the Vanquish concept is a more down-to-earth design, the kind that could go into production without major changes. It’s basically Aston Martin’s competitor for the Ferrari F8 Tributo and the McLaren 72S.

Watch out Ferrari and McLaren, the mid-engined Aston Martin Vanquish is coming for you!
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Although it shares design cues with the Valhalla, the Vanquish boasts unique features as well. It also features an aluminum chassis instead of carbon-fiber so it will spawn a far more affordable production model. This model will also debut a brand-new, turbocharged V-6 engine and it will move Aston Martin into a new era. A hybrid model is also in the works. Overall, the Vanquish concept is the best news we got from Aston Martin in 2019 beyond those of super expensive future projects.

Check out more details on the 2019 Aston Martin Vanquish Concept

Suzuki Hanare

"Best concept cars" lists are usually populated by supercars and wild-looking vehicles, so the Hanare is a somewhat unusual presence here.

Essentially a compact bus with seating for four, the Hanare is a fully autonomous vehicle devoid the traditional steering wheel and cockpit.

It doesn’t have a front and a rear, as it can operate in any direction, and the seats are placed at the extremities, leaving the center section free. The entire side of the van opens, so ingress and egress is as simple as it gets. A massive screen placed on one of the side walls provides entertainment, connectivity, and information about the route. The Hanare is a living room on wheels and a very cool idea. Hopefully, a production model will follow to provide competition to Tesla’s upcoming Robotaxi.

Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex

The Best and Worst Concept Cars of 2019
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The Vision Simplex concept is yet another unusual vehicle unveiled in 2019. Inspired by the Mercedes 35 HP, also known as the Simplex and the first modern car, this concept is just as simple as its spiritual predecessor. A tribute to the early automobile, it doesn’t feature fenders, doors, or a roof, and sports a wraparound engine hood and a boat-tail rear end.

It's a modern interpretation of the first automobiles that were built in the first years of the 1900s.
2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
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Beyond the vintage design, it also sports quite a few interesting features, starting with a grille made from a lens-shaped 3D display with animations that indicate the car’s status. It also features semi-transparent rims, a leather bag in the rear, a steering wheel inspired by nautical designs, and a bench seat integrated into the chassis and the body. As you might have already guessed, the Vision Simplex won’t go into production. That’s too bad because it would make one hell of a hot rod!

Read our full review on the 2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex

The Worst

BMW Concept 4

The BMW Concept 4 Makes It Clear That BMW Has a Grille Problem Exterior
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As the name suggests, the Concept 4 is a preview for the next-generation 4 Series. But the 3 Series is already out.

Since the coupe usually looks like the sedan, the Concept 4 likely previews the M4.

And needless to say, people aren’t very happy with its design, mostly due to the massive kidney grille. Not only more angular than before, a weird design since BMW grilles are usually rounded off, it also stretches from the nose all the way into the splitter.

The BMW Concept 4 Makes It Clear That BMW Has a Grille Problem Exterior
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While this grille seems to be a reference to classic Bimmers like the 328 and the 3.0 CSi, its way too aggressive for this car and ruins the front end. At least that’s what many enthusiasts believe. Sadly, the Concept 4 isn’t just a coupe with an exaggerated grille that will become smaller on the production. The 7 Series and the X7 already boast massive kidney grilles, so it’s becoming a trend and an M4 that will look a lot like this concept isn’t out of the question.

Read our full review on the 2019 BMW Concept 4

Lexus LC Convertible

2019 Lexus LC Convertible Concept Exterior
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Unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, the LC Convertible Concept previewed the production model that Lexus introduced 10 months later, at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Usually that’s not an issue, but the problem with this concept is that it’s identical to the production model. Sure, it features white leather with gold stitching and 22-inch wheels, but other than that, it’s the same car that you can find in showrooms. Not much of a concept.

Read our full review on the 2019 Lexus LC Convertible

Hongqi E115

Hongqi is virtually unknown to American and European enthusiasts, but it’s a pretty big name in China. Founded back in 1958, it’s the luxury brand of FAW and produces a wide range of sedanas and SUVs, including a state limousine based on the Lincoln Town Car.

Shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the E115 is a luxury SUV that shares nothing with the company's existing crossovers.

Not only boxier, especially up front, it features a closed-off grille that looks a lot like the one on the Rolls-Royce Cullinan.

Although not particularly ugly, the E115’s main problem is the design of the front end, which seems borrowed from Rolls-Royce. An even bigger issue is that it might not be a coincidence. The company’s design department is headed by Giles Taylor, who spent a few years at Rolls-Royce. Now I’m not saying that Hongqi and Taylor copied the Cullinan, but the fact that the E115 front fascia reminds me of a Rolls-Royce is a pretty big problem.

Kia Futuron

2019 Kia Futuron Concept
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The Kia Futuron is the kind of concept that's just a bit too wild.

And while I don’t mind "wild," I don’t like it when carmakers take it over the top. It’s not innovative, it doesn’t look unique, it’s just a sleek SUV with angular lines and a really flat roof. And the front fascia isn’t very appealing either, while the beltline is definitely too high. The rear fascia is of the boat-tail variety and it doesn’t really make much sense with the rest of the car despite the fact that it’s a smooth continuation of the roofline.

2019 Kia Futuron Concept
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The interior looks much better, but you can see from the photos that headroom is a pain in the butt, especially if you’re sitting in the rear seats. I know it’s just a concept and it doesn’t really matter, but why showcase something that’s not practical? Of course, Kia also brags that the Futuron features four electric motors, one of each wheel, trying to suggest a performance-oriented layout. But we know this isn’t going to happen and that Kia will never build an electric crossover with more than 300 horsepower.

Read our full review on the 2019 Kia Futuron

Toyota Rhombus

The Best and Worst Concept Cars of 2019
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The Toyota Rhombus concept is weird. And I like weird, but the Rhombus isn’t my kind of weird. It’s like Toyota’s design team went out of its way to a really awkward looking vehicle with an oval body flanked by protruding fenders at each corner. And the front fascia makes it seem like the Rhombus is a folding car that you can simply pack into a suitcase. It’s intriguing and disturbing at the same time. And it’s one of the ugliest cars introduced in 2019.

The Best and Worst Concept Cars of 2019
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The interior is just as weird, with the driver’s seat placed in the center. Two passenger seats are placed on each side toward, while a third passenger seats is mounted even farther in the back, but in a central position. The three passenger seats are designed from a single unit, like in a rickshaw, while all four seats create a diamond (rhombus) shape that gives the concept its name. While this design would be somewhat cool for a taxi, the lack of rear doors makes getting it rather difficult. So at the end of the day, it’s just a weird concept with an unconventional seating layout. Not impressed.

Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert - ciprian@topspeed.com
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read More
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