Unlike the production A3, a wagon, Audi designed the A3 concept as a sedan, hinting at a future model fitting below the A4. This car showcases a variety of refined Audi technologies and styling. Notably, the one-piece grille is more prominent than ever, and flanked by LED headlights.
At 14.5 feet long and weighing in at 3,392 pounds, the A3 remains compact. But Audi's turbocharged direct-injection 2.5-liter five-cylinder gives it 408 horsepower, with a 0 to 62 mph time of 4.1 seconds. Even with that kind of power, fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg.
The engine is mated to a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which, like the current DSG, the driver can shift manually or automatically. And Audi fits the A3 with its Quattro all-wheel-drive system.
The clean design of the interior represents a refinement of current Audi cabin tech. The full-color LCD in the instrument cluster is 8 inches, but still flanked by real speedo and tach gauges. The MMI knob on the console is topped by a touch pad, an innovation Audi says will soon find its way into production cars.
BMW's roadster concept is really more about the electronics than traditional design or motive power. Vision ConnectedDrive integrates three driving modes, which BMW calls Safety, Infotainment, and Environment. Each state uses lighting effects to signal its presence. Orange signifies Safety, and is denoted here by the lighting effects in the hood, which direct the driver's attention to the road.
Blue lighting, denoting the Infotainment state, encompasses driver and passenger, and emphasizes the social aspect of driving. In this mode, the passenger is presented with what BMW calls an Emotional Browser on a screen, which highlights locations in the car's immediate vicinity. The passenger can choose a location and send its address to the driver's navigation screen.
The third mode, Environment, uses green lighting, and not only shows the driver efficiency information, but also uses vehicle-to-vehicle communication to alert the driver to upcoming hazards or obstacles. For example, if there is a traffic jam ahead, that information shows up in the navigation system, which will find a route around it.
Although BMW de-emphasizes the car aspect of this concept, it serves as a possible future design direction for BMW's Z series of cars. The windshield flows into the hood, while humps behind the seats evoke classic racing cars.
Mini's new concept is somewhat whimsical, but also explores different ways of using the interior space of the compact car. For example, it is configured as a three seater, with an optional fourth seat to be used for short trips or children.
The concept gets its name from its door design, which resemble rocket fins. But this design is actually practical, allowing access to the cabin in narrow parking spaces, where a traditional hinged door could not open as far.
Although Nissan's new electric sports car concept looks like a Z, it was built from the ground up for its electric power train. Lithium ion batteries are located over the front axle, while two electric motors drive the rear wheels, contributing to even weight balance. The headlights actually conceal charging points.
Nissan cites exciting performance figures for the ESFlow, such as 0 to 62 mph in under 5 seconds. Meanwhile, range is quoted at 150 miles. The two rear motors can vector torque across the rear wheels, making for better cornering.
Although a concept, the ESFlow uses principles Nissan developed in cars such as the 370Z, GT-R, and the Leaf. With Nissan's know-how, it could put something similar into production if it could find a market.
Infiniti's design brief for the Etherea concept was to come up with a compact luxury car appropriate for the Infiniti badge. The result is what Infiniti calls a cross between a sedan, coupe, hatchback, and even a crossover.
Infiniti specifies a hybrid power train for the Etherea based on that in the new M hybrid. For the smaller concept, it would use a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, by itself generating 245 horsepower. An electric motor can also drive the wheels, helping save gas at low speeds and giving extra boost when needed.
The Captur continues a design theme that Renault began at last year's Paris Motor Show with its Dezir concept. This theme encompasses four stages of life, with the Dezir embodying the first, falling in love. Captur represents the second, two people exploring the world together.
The Captur is a crossover designed as a multi-use vehicle for a couple, able to carry luggage for road trips or serve as a commute car. Renault specifies its Energy dCi 160 twin-turbo engine concept, twin-turbo 1.6-liter engine producing 160 horespower, along with a dual-clutch transmission.
R-Space represents the third stage of life, starting a family, according to Renault. (We imagine the fourth car in this design theme will be coffin-shaped.) The R-Space is a modern interpretation of a compact minivan. It uses Renault's Energy TCe Concept engine, a 0.9-liter three-cylinder that manages to generate 110 horsepower.
The lack of a B pillar makes for easy access through the wide-opening carriage doors. Renault designed the rear area for children, using 27 small, motorized cubes that can reform themselves into a variety of configurations, such as a table or a booster seat.
Although Cadillac previously showed its ULC, or Urban Luxury Concept, at last year's Los Angeles auto show, it is probably more appropriate for the European market, which appreciates smaller luxury cars. This small four-seater shows clear Cadillac styling, and relies on a 1-liter three-cylinder engine to deliver 60 mpg.
Volkswagen recently acquired Italdesign Giugiaro, which promptly designed two concepts for the company. The first, Tex, shows an idea for future Volkswagen sports cars. Its hybrid system uses a combination of a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine and an 85-kilowatt electric motor. Tex can also hit 62 mph in about 6 seconds and also has an electric range of 20 miles.
Italdesign's second concept for Volkswagen is the Go, a compact car designed to maximize interior space. Although just a little over 13 feet long, it has the interior capacity of a large SUV. Powered by an electric motor, it can go 150 miles on a charge.
Smart attempts to shed some of its utilitarian image with the ForSpeed concept. Starting from the basic two-seater ForTwo platform, Smart gives the body a more raked appearance and an open top. Roll bars are molded into the bodywork behind each seat.
Similar to the Smart EV currently being tested, the ForSpeed uses an electric power train. A 16kWh battery powers the 30-kilowatt motor that's housed in the rear compartment. The battery delivers an 85-mile range and can be recharged from 0 to 80 percent in 45 minutes using a 220-volt outlet.
Toyota fitted an electric power train, provided by Tesla, into its iQ model as a prototype for a new electric vehicle. The iQ is a good choice because of its low weight and compact size, making it a good urban vehicle.
A 47-kilowatt motor sits up front, getting power from an 11kWh lithium ion battery pack under the floorboards of the car. Its performance numbers are not that impressive, taking 14 seconds to hit 62 mph and only having a range of about 65 miles. It takes 4 hours to charge from a 200-volt source.
Rolls-Royce is not known for worrying about fuel economy, but with the 102EX, the company is trying out an electric power train in a full-fledged Phantom sedan. That's almost 6,000 pounds of car with a length of about 19 feet. And Rolls-Royce does not plan on compromising luxury.
Rolls-Royce says the 102EX has the largest battery pack ever placed in a passenger car. This pack uses 96 lithium ion pouches and drives two electric motors at the rear wheels. The total power of this system is 290 kilowatts. That gives the 102EX a range of 125 miles and 0 to 60 mph acceleration in under 8 seconds.
Mazda's new concept showcases its Kodo design language in a small SUV. The vehicle looks near ready for production, and could fit in as a CX-5, underneath the current CX-7 in its model lineup. The new design carries a prominent Mazda badge that protrudes from the grille.
Further signifying the Minagi's readiness for production is the use of Mazda's new line of SkyActiv technologies, the heart of which are modern gasoline and diesel engines. The direct-injection SkyActiv-G gas engine uses high compression to achieve increased torque and lower fuel consumption than Mazda's previous engines.
Alfa Romeo designs great-looking cars, and the 4C concept is no exception. For this concept, Alfa Romeo wanted to provide all the performance of its 8C Competizione in a more economical package. With its turbocharged direct injection 1.75-liter four-cylinder, the 4C does just that, getting to 60 mph in under 5 seconds.
Mitsubishi designed the Global Small Car to show a single platform that could be exported to any country around the world. The company specifies a 1.2 MIVEC engine for the car, but also says it can be adapted for an electric power train. Mitsubishi is currently gaining expertise in the electric vehicle market with its i-Miev.
Saab showed off the PhoeniX concept as a design direction for the next 9-3 model. This is the first concept after the company was sold by GM to Spyker. It uses a hybrid power train and a design meant to evoke Saab's roots as an aircraft company.
Rinspeed, a Swiss tuner company, always brings unique concepts to the Geneva auto show. This year's entrant, meant to look like a 1950s beach vehicle, is kind of dorky. Rinspeed says it would run on electric power, but does not include specs. The grille is actually an LCD panel that can show various messages, and even the driver's Facebook status.
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET. Prior to the Car Tech beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine. He's also the author of "Vaporware," a novel that's available as a Nook e-book.