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Kappa Kappa Kappa

Automotive Industries takes three GM Kappa-based concepts out for a spin.

Saturn Curve

 The Curve’s interior hints at the style and craftsmanship to be found in future Saturns.
The second 2004 Kappa-based concept is this sinewy Saturn Curve. Its mission is to spread the word that GM’s once moribund Saturn brand is working hard to grow its product portfolio with exciting, dynamic new vehicles in the next few years.

Design Manager Anthony Lo sees the RWD Kappa architecture as “a brilliant new canvas on which to design expressive vehicles,” and this concept’s striking 2+2 design is a collaboration of GM’s North American and Sweden-based European Advanced Design Teams.

Its most interesting exterior feature is a “floating” roof created by a wrap-around canopy of glass concealing its pillars. “The selection of color, materials and lighting convey maturity and sophistication,” says Lead Exterior Designer Shuichi Yamashita. Like Nomad, it was built in Italy with assistance from famed Italian coachbuilder Pininfarina.

Saturn says the Curve’s warm yet futuristic interior, created by Lead Interior Designer Nicho Vardis, previews the level of workmanship and refinement intended for future production models.

The front and rear bucket seats are charcoal leather with terracotta inserts; the steering wheel, dash and console use blonde wood to communicate lightness and airiness; unique “floating” inserts in the doors have color-changing backlighting. Yet full analog instruments and a Ferrari-like gated shifter evoke a serious sports-car feel.

Like Nomad, Curve is well motivated by a longitudinally mounted 2.2L Ecotec four, but this one is supercharged to a more modest 200 hp and twists the rear wheels through a Getrag 5-speed manual gearbox — similar to the combination in the current production (FWD) Saturn ION Red Line. Also like Nomad, its handling felt crisp and responsive within the confines of our modest proving grounds drive opportunity.

While Curve will not reach production, a sexier-still Kappa-based Saturn roadster that we can’t yet talk about eventually will.

Chevy Nomad

The black leather-trimmed interior has anodized blue aluminum gauges that on a tinted 3-D look at night.
Fifty years ago, Chevrolet wowed Motorama showgoers with three exciting concept cars based on the first-ever (1953) Corvette. One debuted roll-up windows (vs. plastic side curtains) and a removable hardtop. Another was a fastback coupe called Corvair. The third, a stylish wagon-back Vette dubbed Nomad. Just one year later, that handsome 2-door wagon body style reached production as the ’55 Chevy Nomad.

Five years ago, Chevy showed a modern Nomad concept with that same sexy roofline, then recycled it this year on this smaller concept, which bears a not-coincidental resemblance to that first Corvette-based beauty.

This time, it’s one of two Kappa platform companion pieces to the sensuous Solstice roadster coming next year from Pontiac. “It’s a personal vehicle that carries the expressions and emotions of the driver,” says Simon Cox, director GM Advanced Design, United Kingdom, who oversaw its design.

Despite its modest size, this 2004 concept boasts clever cargo-accommodation features including a removable rear roof panel, a unique folding tailgate and a cargo floor that slides out over the tailgate to ease loading of large, bulky items.

The black leather-trimmed interior is accented by Cove Blue inserts and “energizing” blue lighting, while anodized blue aluminum gauges (in a large, fan-shaped cluster like those of ’50s Chevys) take on a tinted 3-D look at night, like the atmosphere in a hip martini bar, says Lead Interior Designer Jose Gomez.

A 250-hp 2.2L turbocharged Ecotec four drives the concept’s rear wheels through a 5- speed electronic Hydra-Matic with tap-shift controls on the large, classic-look steering wheel. Yes, it’s quick, though our drive experience was limited to a handful of moderate laps on an open course at GM’s Milford, Mich., Proving Grounds. The freshly minted RWD Kappa chassis seemed crisp and responsive, too, whetting our appetite for the ’06 Solstice. Pretty as it is, this wagon-back Nomad is unlikely to reach production.

Hummer H3T

 The interior features NIke Sphere-upholstered seats which can cool or warm the body with out mechanical means.
Like it or not, GM’s Hummer H2, which marries the rugged looks and capabilities of the original Hummer (H1) with the road manners and civility of a large SUV, has become an icon nearly overnight.

Now this H3T concept previews the soon-to-come more reasonably sized, more affordable, more fuel efficient mid-size Colorado/Canyon-based H3.

The H3T design, says GM Small Truck and Hummer Design Director Clay Dean, is “a minimalist approach that conveys purpose … simple in appearance yet strong to the touch … as if it’s been milled from a solid billet of steel or aluminum.” Its proportions are classic Hummer — wide stance, low roofline, huge (34-in. tall) tires pushed to the corners — with cab and bed integrated into a single structure.

Its wheelbase is 118.6 in., its ground clearance 11.5 in, its approach and departure angles 51 and 50 degrees. Its pickup box has side-access doors and drop-down steps that double as weather-tight storage, its tailgate forms an unbroken load surface when down, and its large power (canvas) sunroof combines with a drop-down rear window for near-convertible open-airiness.

Inside and out, it’s a fascinating collaboration between GM and Nike design. The BFGoodrich ACG tires have sand paddles, traction pads and multiple rubber durometers defined by different colors, like Nike ACG hiking shoes. The seats are covered in lightweight Nike Sphere material, which (as in specialized clothing) can cool or warm the body without mechanical means. An altimeter, an inclinometer and a compass sit on the dash, a hood-mounted digital camera can record off-road adventures, and a pair of detachable Nike backpacks are integrated into the seatbacks.

The production H3 SUV (not pickup, at first) will be powered by the Colorado/Canyon 3.5L 5-cylinder, but likely not the concept’s mighty 50-hp, 350-lb-ft turbocharged version.

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