Strange experiments are happening in the auto industry.
Companies are cross-pollinating different types of vehicles to create new breeds, and the results are sometimes perplexing.
For example, Nissan has turned its pudgy Murano into a convertible. Meanwhile, Range Rover is trying to show some concern for the environment by offering its smallest, most car-like SUV ever, the Evoque.
Both the Murano and Evoque are considered “crossovers,” which by definition are a mixed bag to begin with: They blend attributes of SUVs, wagons and minivans. So it seems these new variations represent the next level of crossing over.
The line between different kinds of cars is also getting hazier, driven in part by a focus on making smaller cars more appealing. Both Hyundai and Scion are launching compact cars that stray from the norm in terms of seating and overall packaging. The intention is to make them more practical and thus appeal to a wider audience.
Of the new vehicles coming in 2011, here are five that don’t quite fit typical molds.
Graft the rear end of a station wagon onto a sports car and you get the Ferrari FF.
The FF is supposed to be Ferrari’s most practical model, a supercar the whole family can enjoy. It has four seats and a decently sized trunk, which is why the rear end is designed the way it is.
It will also be the first Ferrari ever to have all-wheel drive. The name “FF” is an acronym that stands for “four seats” and “four-wheel drive.” This car replaces the 612 Scaglietti, which until it ceased production at the end of 2010 was Ferrari’s largest model and the only one with a back seat.
The Ferrari FF’s V12 engine puts out 660 horespower and is good for 0 to 62 mph in 3.7 seconds, Ferrari says.
Actually, the FF’s body style is not without precedent — it’s just obscure. Lamborghini’s Espada from the late 1960s and ’70s had a roof that stretched back like a wagon’s to accommodate a rear seat and trunk. A more recent example is the BMW Z3 Coupe, which — unlike the Ferrari and Lambo — only had two seats.
Here’s a piece of trivia: This type of sporty, stubby wagon is called a “shooting brake” in Europe.
Hyundai wants this little hatchback to be as cool as a Mini Cooper but more affordable and practical.
While styling and cool factor are subjective, it does have a larger interior and trunk than the Mini.
What makes it odd is that it has one door on the driver side and two doors on the passenger side. The idea was to keep the shape of a sporty two-door, but to add a rear door on the passenger side for easier access to the back seat.
Hyundai used motorcycles as a design inspiration: The car’s wraparound windshield resembles a helmet visor, and the center console is in the shape of a motorcycle’s gas tank.
A 138-hp four-cylinder engine should make the lightweight Veloster pretty peppy. Hyundai expects it to get 40 mpg on the highway. The car goes on sale this summer.
Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
This bulky convertible SUV-type thing comes across much better in person than in photos. It will appeal to yuppies who like drop-tops but don’t care for sports cars and the compromises they bring in comfort and convenience.
Nissan is setting modest sales targets for the Murano CrossCabriolet, which shows the company is being realistic about its potential.
Several of the journalists who saw the Murano CrossCabriolet on display at an event in December thought Nissan was crazy for creating it. One even said he wouldn’t be caught behind the wheel and so wouldn’t be test driving it. A Nissan rep at the same event said consumers have responded positively to it.
Say what you will of the design, in person the car looks and feels high end, with a well appointed interior and power-folding fabric top. The trunk and back seat had to be shrunk, and the rear doors are gone to accommodate the convertible roof. Other than that, the specs are similar to a regular Murano.
Range Rover Evoque Coupe
The Evoque is Range Rover’s first vehicle aimed at environmentally conscious young drivers; and for a company that has only ever built large, expensive, gas-guzzling SUVs with go-anywhere capability, it’s a huge deal.
In fact, the only reason (or at least the main reason) the Evoque isn’t a car, is because Range Rover refuses to build anything but SUVs for fear of tainting its image. Rightly so.
The Evoque is Range Rover’s smallest, lightest SUV ever. Depending on how it’s configured, it can weigh up to 728 pounds less than the U.S. version of the Land Rover LR2, currently the company’s smallest SUV. Plastic front fenders and an aluminum hood and roof help keep weight down. Opting for front-wheel drive — a first on a Range Rover, and something that would’ve been unthinkable five years ago — instead of the standard four-wheel drive saves 165 pounds.
Its silhouette and overall styling are intentionally car-like — particularly on the two-door model — and much sleeker than the company’s blocky SUVs. The Evoque has been tuned to drive like a sporty luxury sedan on the road. Its four-cylinder engine is small for a Range Rover, so it’s turbocharged to produce a lot of power for its size (240 hp).
Four-door and two-door versions of the Evoque go on sale this fall. Land Rover expects “well equipped” models to sell for around $45,000.
The Scion iQ is like a mash-up between a Scion xD and a smart fortwo.
From the outside, it appears to be a two seater, but there’s actually room in back for one adult and a child. Scion calls it “3 + 1” seating.
That’s because the rear seats aren’t symmetrical — the one on the right is larger than the one on the left. The idea is that the front occupant can move forward to make more room for an adult in back, while a truncated seat behind the driver can accommodate a kid.
It’s a creative use of space and the sort of thing we’re probably going to see more of as cars inevitably get smaller.
The Scion iQ is powered by a tiny four-cylinder engine that produces around 90 hp. As if to preempt any questions around safety, Scion is touting 10 airbags on the iQ, including one that covers the rear window, which the company says is a first.
Scion’s parent company Toyota already sells the iQ in other markets. It goes on sale in the United States this spring.
© 2012 Forbes.com