Frankfurt 2005's Ten Most Significant Vehicles

AUDI Q7

After teasing us with sneak photos, testing photos, and the Pikes Peak concept, the Q7, Audi's first true SUV, breaks cover finally at Frankfurt--just in time for rising gas prices all around the world. Based on a lengthened VW Touareg chassis, the Q7 has seating for seven. The vehicle is powered by Audi's familiar 4.2-liter V-8 that makes 350 hp and 325 lb-ft mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual override. Air suspension is optional, along with nineteen- and twenty-inch wheels and tires: eighteens are standard.

Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi's head of vehicle dynamics, tells us that the Q7 has been engineered for the street. The air suspension--from the Audi A8--delivers a lower ride height and a more refined ride than the Touareg. The all-wheel-drive system, with its 40 percent front/60 percent rear torque split, comes from the RS6. "The Q7 will do donuts, I promise you," Hackenberg says.

Inside, the Q7 has the leather-and-tech look of the A6. The third-row seat folds flat into the floor.

The Q7 will reach U.S. streets in the spring of 2006. Johan de Nysschen, Audi of America's chief executive, says it heralds a greater U.S. focus for Audi's future product development.

Inside, the Q7 is beautifully crafted, with lots of bright metal accents, an Alcantara headliner, and high-quality leather. Expect a base price in the low-$50,000 range.

BMW Z4 COUPE

The BMW Z4 Coupe Concept is really not a concept at all: it's a production car we'll see next summer. As the name implies, it's a Z4 roadster with a stationary roof. The fixed top makes it stiffer and lighter, so it should be a better driver and a viable track toy, a use hinted at by roof bulges perhaps intended to accommodate helmet-wearing occupants. On the track, the Z4 coupe would probably be outshined by the new, though likely more expensive, Porsche Cayman, which is essentially a hardtop Boxster. Still, it's a Teutonic comparison we're looking forward to.

The Z4 roadster's new engine--a 3.0-liter straight-six that puts out 261 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque--resides between the front fenders of the Z4 Coupe. BMW estimates the concept will perform 0-to-62-mph acceleration runs in 5.7 seconds and reach an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.

We have criticized the Z4 roadster, which debuted in 2003, for its disjointed exterior and interior design. It was the second production BMW to show off the highly abstract "Bangled" design style brought to us by Adrian Von Hooydonk and his boss Chris Bangle. The coupe loses the roadster's ungainly trunk in favor of an attractive hatchback that, from the rear, evokes recent Ferraris. The side profile is fast and sleek, not unlike the Lotus Exige. Never has a hardtop looked so much better than a convertible.

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