Is there a market for a sort of high-performance Sport Utility Coupé or Convertible?
The question is timely. Lamborghini has long said they are considering a replacement for their ultra powerful and ugly LM 001 and 002, the American Hummer finds more and more buyers among lunatic drivers and Porsche has virtually decided to build its own higher performance version of the M Class S.U.V. Mercedes-Benz is about to launch in the U.S.A.
This is what Marc Deschamp seems to have considered or felt when he had to decide what sort of show-car the Heuliez Torino operations he directs, should design and build for the 1996 Mondial de l'Automobile. The company is one of the many branches making for the French, strong and dynamic, Heuliez Group and a subsidiary of France Design.
This might well explain from which thinking the Heuliez Intruder comes from.
Heuliez says they have looked at the concept of an all-terrain vehicle, because its popularity has made it a social phenomenon in the USA and Asia, with promising opening in Europe. For this reason they asked their design think-tank in Turin to design the Intruder as an illustration of their vision of this peculiar market niche.
Deschamp considers that off-road vehicles represent a species of transport of its own kind and wondered why this emerging species should not develop in as many variants as traditional passengers cars have: estate, two door, convertible and more.
He actually predicts that, after the current generation of trendy four-wheel-drive S.U.V. for town driving, a range of all-terrain derivatives, two-doors, convertibles or even dual-purpose passenger vans should be expected in few years' time.
One of them could well look like the two-seater, two-door, open roof convertible Heuliez presented in Paris. The Intruder has a Targa-style roof which can be lifted off by hand, the rear window is automatically operated to lower it into the rear compartment without being touched by hand. Thus the Intruder two-door saloon easily transforms into a convertible, with the fixed rear uprights acting as a roll-bar.
The bodywork can well be called a composite construction with some structure and body panels made of steel and other, mobile, part such as the engine bonnet and the bumpers made of carbon fibre. The roof is made of glass.
Heuliez point out that "the Intruder opens up a top-of-the-range market that no four-wheel-drive in the world has yet explored. A designer car based more on emotion than logic". Although the idea is a good one and capable of attracting the attention of Lamborghini and its rivals, it is not that new. Already in 1987 Nissan suggested the idea of a two door, coupé type, of its S.U.V. with the Judo concept car presented at the Tokyo Motor Show. Probably to early: the market was not ready yet for it but it is a pity that Nissan did not keep working on that brilliant concept.
At first sight the Heuliez Intruder looks really sexy and attractive.
Its muscular style speak of strength and shouts virility. Its large and wrapping curves overlap at door level, while the minimal rear overhang and the vehicle's long nose provide a rather dynamic and solid character.
On the road it has a lost of stance and make a strong impression. It is wide and relatively compact.
Actually it sits a bit too high, on the large wheels made of 9.5 x
17 inches light alloy wheels made in Japan by Works, with 285/60/17 Michelin tyres specially designed and built for the Intruder. As much as 300 mm, ground clearance are convenient on wild off-road terrain but looks a bit too much on tartan road and on boulevards.
Yet, Intruder aims at being relatively low, thus scarifying the roof height. This deliver quite a funny feeling with the driver and passenger seats are pretty much off the ground and people inside the car missing 100 mm over their heads.
The trouble here is that like an old-time coupé is has a lower roof that significantly compromise interior height and driver's or passenger' comfort. Fortunately rear vision is not direct (and miserable) but provided by prismatic rear-view mirrors courtesy of the British De Montfort company.
The style of the cockpit is consequent with the sporty character of the bodywork. Strapped into a deep bucket scat, the driver sits in a radically sporting driving position. The layout of the dashboard instruments is a glancing reference to modern aircraft design, transforming the passenger into a sort of co-driver with a degree of control over the machine.
The materials used for interior trimming offer both the refinement expected of show-car and the toughness required in off-the road driving.
Deschamp might have also considered that the theme would also provide an opportunity to promote their business with Mercedes-Benz, having chosen their
G 320 off-road machine as the platform for his idea of a spectacular S.U.V.
Mercedes-Benz executives would certainly pay attention to his work, even if the show-car had not the three-pointed star emblem anywhere. The grille design, although different clearly hinted at Mercedes-Benz.
After all the Heuliez is one of those "fuoriserie" Turinese coachbuilders used to be famous for.
Like the cars they used to build between the two world wars, and the 1996 Alfa Romeo Nuvola
, the Intruder is built on a bearing and fully equipped running chassis built with the technique still applied to serious all-terrain vehicles for tough cross-country expedition and military purposes.
The angled ladder, steel frame construction of its chassis is particularly resistant to twisting and bending. It comes with rigid axles guided by longitudinal and transverse arms together with a stabilising bar and telescopic front shock-absorbers that ensure constant ground-holding and grip. Its transmission assembly is based on an 4-speed automatic gearbox for leisure driving with transfer box and low gear plus with three fully-lockable differential inter-axle shafts for extreme off-the-road-driving.
The 3.2 litre six-cylinder in-line 24-valve engine delivers 210 HP at 5,500 rpm. But what really matters is its superlative torque: 300 NM at 3,750 rpm.
And you can be reassured this is enough to make the Intruder a car that is fun to drive, to trail and to take you to the Café.
У "Heuliez Intruder" на родство с "Mercedes–Benz" внешне указывает только характерная облицовка радиатора. Однако в действительности связь немцев с этой известной инжиниринговой и дизайнерской французской фирмой, которая, по–моему, никогда раньше "родине не изменяла", гораздо глубже. Дело в том, что 6–цилиндровый 24–клапанный двигатель ( 3199 см3, 210 л.с. при 5500 м–1, 300 Нм при 1750 м–1), подвески и трансмиссия почти полностью взяты от "гелендеваген". Выбор агрегатов для двухместного автомобиля с кузовом "тарга" (съемная прозрачная крыша и автоматически убирающееся в багажник заднее стекло) кажется странным, но только до тех пор, пока не познакомишься с геометрическими характеристиками. При габаритах 4340х1900х1500 мм, базе в 2400 мм и снаряженной массе 2 т у автомобиля клиренс равен 310 мм, а размерность специальных шин "Michelin" — 285/60/17. Ба, да ведь это, несмотря на все внешние признаки скоростного купе, самый натуральный "джип"!
Аналогов "Heuliez Intruder" я что–то и не припомню. То есть всяких изящных полноприводных пляжных автомобилей хватает, а "Suzuki X–90" даже запущен в 1995 г. в серию. Но у него, да и у остальных, чахлый — по сравнению с "мерседесовским" — моторчик, дорожный просвет всего 170 мм, не говоря уж о трансмиссии. А здесь — 4–диапазонный "автомат", демультипликатор, автоматическое перераспределение потока мощности по осям и три блокируемых дифференциала. К тому же у автомобиля практически нет свесов, а удачное распределение масс позволяет ему сохранять устойчивость на 80–процентных склонах и преодолевать броды глубиной 60 см. "Heuliez Intruder" очень красив, хотя и непрактичен: багажник у него чисто символический.
Конвейер ему вряд ли светит, но чести марки он не запятнал, даже наоборот, лишний раз доказал, что изначально хороший автомобиль, такой, как "Mercedes–Benz G", испортить практически невозможно.
По материалам: Concept Car Central; www.cardesign.to; Владимир Матвейчук, "Gelandewagen" по–французски (Журнал "АВТОМОБИЛИ", 3-1997)