The big question surrounding the PSA Peugeot-Citroen takeover of Opel was 'what happens to Opel?' Does it continue as a stand-alone brand? Or does it become simply a maker of badge-engineered French cars by another name.
Well, Opel has given us at least a signpost towards the answer with this; the GT X Experimental concept car, which previews a new (new-ish at any rate) styling direction for Opel, and gives us a clue of what its next-generation small SUV might look like.
What it will look like, quite a lot, is the 2016 Opel GT concept sports car. That concept, also the work of Opel's design director Mark Adams and his team, envisioned a smooth, sleek Mazda MX-5 rival. The GT X Experimental takes that uncluttered look (Opel calls is 'Visual Detox'), and turns it into an SUV. The lines are ultra-clean. Adams has taken out as many of the extra lines and bulges and cuts that cars normally have, and hidden as many of those that it must have (gaps for the doors to open, for instance) in the car's grey-yell-dark blue colour scheme. The GT X has even been denuded of door mirrors. Instead, there are rear-facing cameras that pop out of panels in the yellow stripe.
Look at the front, and you're looking at the new face of Opel. Well, to our eyes you're also looking at the face of the 1970s Opel Manta coupe, as rendered by Disney Pixar, but that's by-the-by. While there is newness in the 'Compass' styling trick (essentially a thin, sharp line that runs the length of the bonnet, before passing behind the Opel 'Blitz' badge at the front and down into the bumper) the biggest news here is the 'Opel Visor'.
Instead of a traditional radiator grille, the Visor is a broad, black panel that contains, amongst other things, the LED Matrix healdights and their ‘wing shaped’ daytime running lights; the Opel badge, which is now made of LED lights, and not chrome. They turn different colours depending on what the car is doing at any given time. The Visor also contains the sensors and cameras for the driver assistance systems.
Ah, that’s an interesting point. While many car makers are claiming that the mid-2020s will see full vehicle automation, Opel says that the GT X concept is ‘Level 3’ autonomous capable. That means it can do a lot of its own driving, but still needs someone, awake and alert, behind the wheel. Opel isn’t the first car maker to step back, a little, from the autonomous precipice, and one suspects it won’t be the last.
The GT X is electric of course (how could it not be, given the zeitgeist?) and has a 50kWh battery on board. While Opel isn’t talking any performance specifics as yet, that should be good enough for a one-charge range of around 300km. Set into the drivers’ side door sill, there’s a small hexagonal screen, which displays the battery charge level as you open the door and get in.
There’s other clever stuff going on. The doors open to 90-degrees, to make getting in and out that much easier (is Opel deliberately aiming for the older driver market, one that’s already keen on slightly taller cars?) and the rear doors are hinged at the back, hinting that Opel might return to the clever door layout of the last-generation Meriva. It’s also rather pleasing to see a concept car with small wheels. The GT X rides on 17-inch rims, tiny by motor show car standards, a move designed specifically to improve ride comfort. The stylists have added robust rubber covers at the edges of the wheels to make them look bigger, though.
The cabin is dominated by one huge screen, which looks after all of the instruments, infotainment, and any other functions. Opel says that “the multitude of screens, buttons and controls often seen in current-day production vehicles could become obsolete” but anyone who’s tried to adjust the radio volume on a touchscreen while driving might fervently hope that’s not the case.
"We have a very clear vision of how we will navigate the future using our PACE [Opel's plan for future profitability and electric car production] plan as our compass. Focus on a strong brand identity defined by our values - German, approachable, exciting - plays an integral role in our return to sustainable success. Our brand concept vehicle shows how these values will come to life in our products in the future. In absolutely breath-taking fashion, our engineering and design teams have sculpted these pillars into the Opel GT X Experimental. It gives a clear idea of how we see Opel's future mobility offer," said Michael Lohscheller, Opel's chief executive.