By Stuart Schwartzapfel
You might think the "A" of the Concept A vehicle Volkswagen unveiled in Geneva stands for "A whole new design language." But the idea of a four-door vehicle with coupe-like styling is nothing new. Mercedes-Benz thought it up first, with the stunning CLS500. Its seriously low and seductive roofline was later mimicked by Porsche in its Panamera concept and by Aston Martin in a four-door Rapide (rumored to have gotten the production green light).
But the Concept A means more than a sexy roofline. It previews the 2009 Golf-platformed compact utility vehicle that the company is calling "Touareg's little brother." In other words, it constitutes VW's move into the compact SUV market. With an upscale feel, the Concept A will compete against Acura's upcoming RDX (MDX's little bro) and BMW's X3 (X5's baby bro). Whether or not the VW marketing folks call it a crossover, the production vehicle will boast AWD performance, truck-bed loading ability, SUV utility, and the road manners of a sportscar.
From the front, the Concept A reflects the Passat. The hood is long and the overhang short, providing the extended wheel wells with ample room for the concept's vicious-looking 20-inch wheels. The C-pillar oozes down into the ridge running the length of the flank, a ridge that some critics might say resembles the "flame surfacing" design method brought to prominence by BMW design chief Chris Bangle. The car has another BMW design cue, referred to as the "Hoffmeister kink" for Wilhelm Hoffmeister, who first sketched the forward wedge at the base of the C-pillar.
As always, the production version will be less glitzy in form. Say bye-bye to the cool suicide doors, the black leather and brushed aluminum interior, and the Glacier metallic paint-job (glass flakes added to the paint mix give the finish beautiful depth). The most disappointing change is probably the removal of the sloping roofline. Only time will tell if this straight roof will retain its low and sexy profile.
The Verdict: If the production version turns out half as functional and attractive as the Concept A, VW is sure to make a splash.
Schwartzapfel, a certified car freak, writes BusinessWeek.com's Concept of the Week column. He has studied the automotive marketplace and worked as an advertising/marketing strategist for major manufacturers. He does not write about any car brands for which he currently works.