We’ve come a long way from the slab-sided Hummer, with its barn-door aerodynamics and unrepentant gas-guzzling. The latest crop of SUVs unveiled at the Paris Motor Show are hardly recognizable as members of the same automotive species. And, well, the future’s not pretty.
The Hummer was best suited to invading Panama, but found its way into popular culture and onto public streets thanks in large part to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s affinity for it.
In the 1990s, the Hummer was easily identifiable as an SUV. It was the obvious next step for the genre of vehicles that began with the Willys Jeep in the 1940s. Originally designed for the military, both vehicles were ideal transport for anyone who wanted to look tough or macho parked outside Loblaw’s. Visually, they were defined by flat surfaces and square edges, high ground clearance and big chunky tires.
The new SUVs on display in Paris were exactly the opposite: curvaceous with little ground clearance, big wheels and low-profile tires.
BMW’s X2 concept embodies these trends. It’s remarkably low. It’s barely taller than a sedan, with little additional ground-clearance. You won’t be crawling over rocks or through deep water in this SUV. Its huge, diamond-cut 21-inch alloys are wrapped in low-profile tires better suited to sports cars. If you forget that it’s ostensibly supposed to be an SUV – technically a crossover, but that’s splitting hairs – it actually looks good. It was one of the more successful new designs from the show.
A toned-down version of the X2 will likely go into production as a sportier, pricier version of the compact X1.
The Infiniti QX Sport Inspiration concept is similar in proportion to the X2. It was previously shown in Beijing, but updated for Paris with more blingy bits, including bronzed wheels. It previews the upcoming QX50.
Call it the high-waisted look. The waistline on cars, the line that runs from the edge of the hood under the side windows, has been creeping up steadily. The result is that most new models you see here have narrow side windows. From inside, it’s like looking out of a bunker.
And cladding – so much chunky black plastic around the wheel arches. Why? It’s an easy way to make even the softest of crossovers look rugged. The X2 is guilty, so is the Infiniti QX, the Lexus UX and the Land Rover Discovery.
The Lexus UX concept is a love-it or hate-it thing. It’s over-the-top aggressive, like deep-sea-monster meets origami-gone-wrong. It has a passing resemblance to Lamborghini’s old Urus SUV concept.
“The biggest challenge for any designer is always to create something new and original, yet with relevance to both the customer and the brand,” said Simon Humphries, one of its designers. The UX is certainly original.
The Mitsubishi GT-PHEV concept provides a jarring glimpse of a “high-end next-generation” SUV. It has creases and chrome and lights all over the place. It’s a textbook example of the high-waisted trend. The concept has three electric motors, in addition to a conventional engine. It could run on electric-only power for 120 kilometres, according to the company.
By comparison, the Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ concept is clean and simple. Sure, it has a blue light-up grille, but that’s tame in this company. There are no extraneous lines. The surfaces are soft and rounded. It looks like it could go into production tomorrow, but it will take much longer than that. The production version – Mercedes’ first all-electric vehicle – will have a range of around 500 kilometres and go on sale within three years.
Compared with other SUVs unveiled in Paris, the Audi Q5 is extremely conservative. That’s because it is a production car, not a concept. But it’s also because the Q5 is predictable. It’s nearly identical to the smaller Q3 and larger Q7. In Europe, it will go on sale with a choice of three-diesel and two gasoline-engines with outputs ranging from 143 horsepower to 272. A hybrid will also be on offer.
Mercedes gave the compact GLC Coupe the full AMG treatment, adding a 362 horsepower twin-turbo V-6 under the hood. This SUV is more suited to the race track than it is to an off-piste romp through the desert. It’s the latest in Benz’s growing SUV lineup, which features five different models.
Of all the new SUVs in Paris, the Land Rover Discovery most closely resembles the Hummer and Jeeps of old in style and ethos. The Land Rover is slab-sided and tall, with useful ground-clearance and deep-water wading capability. But any hard edges have been rounded off, and where the Hummer and Jeep had canvas roofs, the Discovery’s is made of huge glass panels. The three-row SUV will be on sale by mid-2017 with a starting price of $61,500.
What would Schwarzenegger think?