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The Drive 100: The Greatest Concept Cars of 2015

If you didn’t know, now you know.

Every day through Dec. 23, the writers and editors of The Drive are bringing you the essential guide to the year in car culture. Divided across 10 core categories, The Drive 100 is a celebration and send-up of the year that was. Check back tomorrow for: Viral Hits.

Citroën Cactus M

Earlier this year, I joined The Drive’s Zach Bowman in driving a new Mazda Miata across Norway. Fantastic trip. Our support vehicle was a diesel Citroën C4 Cactus, a five-door hatchback with creepy rubber side paneling and 91 horsepower. It was, unequivocally, the worst car I’ve ever experienced. The engine shuts off coasting under 5 mph for economy, then struggles to get itself going again; the gearbox turns you into a galley slave. Dynamics? Imagine driving an ischaemic stroke. So, naturally, in a fit of French problem solving, Citroën decided to make it a convertible. Behold: The Cactus M Concept. What’s better than a spiritual successor to the Diane 6 Méhari? Nothing. Nothing is better.—Max Prince, senior editor

Mercedes-Benz Concept IAA

These days, all cars are wind-tunnel-tested but—sweet Zephyr—not like this. Behold, the Mercedes Concept IAA, with a drag-coefficient of .19 Cd. Beyond supreme function, the Concept IAA has luscious, windswept form. Its shuttered grille recalls a metallic whale shark’s maw; its fastback profile tumbles down toward Hell’s most sensual pits; at 80 km/h, eight blades emerge from the bumper to form an aerodynamic bayonet. As they should, the lights appear as afterburners. The Concept IAA is only a design study now, though enough letters to Stuttgart could turn this into the 2025 CLS. —Ben Keeshin, staff writer

Porsche Mission E

With diesels looking more like a dead end for an imperiled planet, Porsche’s stunning Mission E shows Germany finally getting serious about an electric future. Slated for showrooms around 2019, the four-wheel-drive sedan, previewed in concept form in September at the Frankfurt Motor Show, looks to torment Tesla’s Model S with an electric range beyond 300 miles and a 15-minute charge to 80-percent capacity—even if its 600 horsepower and estimated 3.5-second zero-to-60 time are shy of Tesla’s Ludicrous levels. Porsche’s future looks prettier as well: Whatever propels it, the Mission E’s wide-hipped, gracefully feathered swan could potentially replace the ugly-duckling Panamera.—Lawrence Ulrich, chief auto critic

Honda Project 2&4

I don’t drive motorcycles. In fact, I’m generally opposed to adventure. But I’m in favor of anything that reduces vehicle weight, and this nearly naked concept reduces the car to its barest elements. It also takes advantage of Honda’s unique position as a manufacturer of cars and motorcycles, and hybridizes them into one quick, challenging, sophisticated sandwich of high-revving alloys and composites.—Brett Berk, writer-at-large

Jeep Wrangler Red Rock

Here’s a Jeep I would gladly accept. Loaded with off-roading goodies, the Red Rock edition is far from your average mall-crawler. In addition to a two-inch lift and 35-inch BF Goodrich tires, the doorless concept utilizes electronic locking differentials and Dana 44 solid front and rear axles. Although we are confident a combination like that will keep you from spinning those tires, Jeep has added a Warn winch in case you did need a helping hand. Jeep plans to make 50 special-edition wranglers based off the Red Rock concept to pay tribute to the upcoming 50th Moab Easter Jeep Safari. A golden jubilee, indeed.—Max Goldberg, assistant editor

Hyundai Santa Cruz

I fervently believe that people want to see this concept happen. It’s perfect for those who want a pickup, but can’t afford (or don’t want) to pay for huge tires and an extra fuel tanker every week. But it could also be a good option for people looking to avoid tying their testicles back as they plunge crotch-first into the tepid, tranquil waters of the great compact crossover ocean.—Benjamin Preston, writer-at-large

Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo

Concept cars are wild outgrowths of the human imagination. This thing takes that idea to its apotheosis. Is it a Thirties race car? A 21st-century video-game avatar? A motorized French soufflé? All and none of the above. Bugatti took a car designed exclusively for the Gran Turismo video game series and created a 3D, drivable version, to celebrate the end of the production of its 1,001-horsepower Veyron. The one-off Vision Gran Turismo appeared at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the French blue racing colors of the Bugatti Le Mans winners from the Thirties. We were there at Frankfurt, and our eyes were popping. They still are. —A.J. Baime, editor-at-large

Mazda RX-Vision

I’ve been waiting for the next Japanese supercar for what, eight years? It was supposed to be the NSX. It was going to be a V-10. Then it was cancelled. Then it was a 500-hp V8. Cancelled, again. Then it was a mid-engine hybrid V6. Then Tony Stark drove one in 2011. Then we forgot, because it was just a rebodied old NSX. Then, in December 2014, Acura revealed the new, new, new NSX, which looked like a poor man’s Audi R8. Then Mazda revealed something everyone wanted but no one was expecting: the RX-Vision. It was gorgeous, audacious, fresh, stunning and drove a thousand wannabe car bloggers to use a thesaurus for the first time. And then everyone forgot the new NSX was ever in development. And then everyone forgot Acura was at the show at all. Good job, Mazda.—Alex Roy, editor-at-large

Aston Martin DBX

Nothing like a bit of heresy to grab our attention. The DBX was the wedge issue of the Geneva Motor Show in March: a jacked-up, electron-fed admission by a century-old builder of glamorous GTs that glamorous GTs alone would not sustain it. (Granted, they never did, the builder having tasted bankruptcy seven times.) But the audacity of the DBX was not limited to the concept’s mere existence. Look at how it translates an Aston coupe’s cab-rearward, swept profile to a crossover application. Does it work? Debatable, but as an exercise in killing your darlings to ensure your survival, you could do much, much worse.—Jonathan Schultz, deputy editor

Toyota S-FR Racing Concept

The lean and low Toyota S-FR Racing Concept is the Toyota we love and the Toyota we want. The Toyota that brought us the 2000GT, and RWD Corollas and frickin’ Le Mans cars. The Toyota that winks at enthusiasts on weekends while it trundles out fuel-cell vehicles and Avalons all week long. Its sporty/sexy conceptual predecessor, the S-FR concept seen in Tokyo, shaved a whole 10 inches off of Toyota’s GT86 (Scion FR-S in the U.S.). To further woo us, Toyota put a little muscle in the fenders, lowered the car two inches, and added a gaping maw and enough wing to ground a GT car. It’s brash, cartoonish and hysterical. In a word, perfect. We’re already wooed, Toyota, now we’re waiting on you to build it.—Chris Cantle, West Coast editor

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