Japanese manufacturer Suzuki is best known for its motorcycles and then for its mostly boxy, sometimes awkward looking, compact cars and jeeps. Though these cars may offer a sensible option for those not really interested in design or image they won't actually draw a crowd at the Suzuki dealerships. So obviously Suzuki is looking into new ways to expand its market.
It's not that they don't know how to make exciting, awe inspiring vehicles; the extreme Suzuki Hayabusa for instance, the fastest mass produced street bike ever created, gave daring speed lovers a thrill and traffic safety fanatics a heart attack. And therefore it seems only logical to use the available performance bike know-how to breathe some life into Suzuki's car design.
The most feasible concept to come out of this synthesis is the aptly named Concept S. Though still boxy it does convey a brutal image with its chunky appearance, wide track wheels and artillery-like exhaust pipes. Its proportions indicate a firm roadholding and kart-like dynamics.
Its motorcycle genes mostly show at the wheels, where the brake discs and calipers are clearly visible, and at the rear by the big exhaust pipes. Also the interior shows a motorcycle type of array of clocks. Besides the performance bike influence also Suzuki's experiences with the Ignis Super 1600 rally programme have been put to use, especially for the car's dynamics.
The Concept S features the 1.6 litre 16-valve DOHC engine of the Ignis Super 1600 rally car, combined with all-wheel drive, a 6-speed sequential gearbox and a rally-inspired drivetrain. This must make this little car a scorcher on the road.
As usual in Japanese concept cars the interior is filled to the brim with high-tech gadgets, most of which are operated by a video game type controller button on the steering wheel. Most striking features in the interior are the Advanced Navigation System which can follow road routes from E-mail or the Internet and the intelligent key card system which has a fingerprint identification and is used to lock, unlock and start the car as well as automatically adjust the suspension to the preset levels preferred by the specific driver.
The Concept S may not exactly be an elegant beauty, still I find it an intriguing car, virtually asking for an all-out test drive. It could have the stuff to become a compact contender to the likes of the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, or a Mini Cooper S killer. In any case it's the most appealing Suzuki I've seen in a while.
Where General Motors seems to be struggling to get Swedish manufacturer Saab on a prosperous track fellow American concern Ford seems to do a whole lot better with the other Swedish car brand: Volvo. A steady stream of varying Volvo concept cars has been presented over the last years, usually designated with unimaginative letter combinations. The cars however are often fresh looking designs embodying different angles on Volvo's heritage or future innovations.
The SCC (Safety Concept Car) for instance was unveiled at the 2001 Detroit Auto Show and presents one of Volvo's main brand features, safety, packaged in an attractive form. Main objective of this design is to improve safety by stimulating better driving as well as by applying new technologies. One way of stimulating better driving is to improve visibility and to that goal the front (A) pillars next to the windscreen have been made transparent, the side windows almost pillarless and curving inwards following the shape of the seats to eliminate dead angles and last but not least: a sensor has been added monitoring the position of the driver's eyes which adjust the position of the driver's seat for optimal vision on the road and dashboard instruments. I wonder what this sensor does when the driver is looking at pretty passers-by?
Other safety innovations packed in this car are new 4-point seat belts, with either two belts crossing the chest like an "X" or making a "V" and connecting on the waist, a concealed cowl bag in front of the car which inflates for protection of pedestrians and cyclists in case of a collision and a radar unit which measures the distance to traffic at the rear and alongside the car and alerts the driver when necessary. Also rear facing cameras in the door mirrors have been added to further enhance visibility.
Not unlike the more recent Suzuki Concept S the Volvo SCC features a remote control system activated by fingerprints. The system identifies the driver and adjusts the seat, steering wheel, pedals etcetera accordingly. Additionally the driver has only to touch the door handle to unlock the door and can start the car without a key.
It's good to see that a safety vehicle doesn't have to look like tank these days. In fact, the SCC exterior reminds me (again) of the classic Volvo P1800 ES of the early 1970s, especially that glass rear hatch. The SCC is a balanced and attractive design and one safety car I wouldn't mind to be seen in.