2013 Frankfurt Motor Show Hits and Misses

European economic crisis? Hah! This place is nothing like Detroit circa 2009 — 10, when the ravages of the Great Recession made Cobo Hall look like a scene from a clearance sale. On the contrary, there was a bumper crop of new sheetmetal in Frankfurt. The Germans led the way with their huge, separate halls displaying entry-level to ultra-luxury cars and crossovers. Audi constructed a purpose-built, temporary stadium in the space BMW used to own and designed its “upside-down city” with ceiling mirrors to double display its cars. BMW responded with a stand that looks like an Apple superstore, complete with a raised track for i3 demo rides. Picking the hits and misses here are deputy editor Joe DeMatio, executive editor Todd Lassa, associate editors David Zenlea and Greg Migliore, associate web editor Evan McCausland, and the critic every car designer respects and fears, our automotive design editor, Robert Cumberford.

HIT: Volvo Concept Coupe
“Although Volvo leaders in Sweden are reportedly at odds with their Geely Group bosses in China over the future direction of the automaker, this striking two-door, inspired by the iconic P1800, is nice to look at while they argue it out.” — DeMatio

“The Volvo Concept Coupe is strong yet subtle. It has a presence, yet it doesn’t beat you over the head with gratuitous curves, haunches, or crazy chrome. It’s a simple, clean design Volvo could really use in its lineup.” — Migliore

“I was skeptical of proclamations that this would be the beauty of the 2013 Frankfurt show, but after staring at it for the better part of thirty minutes, I’d have to say it is — or, at least, that it’s tied with the Monza and the S-Class Coupe. This concept exudes both presence and personality, two traits that are largely lacking in most modern Volvos. If this is a sign of where a Chinese-backed Volvo is heading, I like it.” — McCausland

“This concept offers the clearest break yet with the successful but tired styling language that Peter Horbury introduced at Volvo two decades ago. The concept’s clean, elegant lines provide hope that the brand will continue to be a European style leader despite its Chinese ownership.” — Zenlea

“Displaying an off-white P1800 just behind and above the Concept Coupe was brilliant. The front-drive platform said to underpin the concept has a longitudinal-engine dash-to-axle proportion, like the Audi A4/A5, which gives the potential halo car the premium look it needs, though I doubt a production model will look quite like this.”
— Lassa

HALF-HIT: Volvo Concept Coupe
“There’s nothing original here, at all. I liked the concept’s indents bordering the wheel band opening until I saw a VW Crafter delivery van on the streets outside with the same design cue.” — Cumberford

“Worst of show. Utterly over-the top, disjointed, vulgar excess.” — Cumberford

“Perhaps Pink Floyd’s ‘Careful With That Axe, Eugene’ was really a warning to Lexus stylists. Although the proportions and stance are OK, the surface language is anything but cohesive. I can’t make sense of that triangular shoulder placed just below the beltline, which seems to have no relation to any other line or form on the body.” — McCausland

“Life was better when Lexus design was merely anodyne and boring.” — Lassa

“The Lexus SUV concept is striking, but not in a good way. The lines and wheel arches are overbaked. There’s too much cheap-looking plastic. The grille is tacky.” — Migliore

“The styling of this crossover-thing was, at least, consistent: consistently ugly from every angle. Tiny greenhouse, huge grille, big mistake. Let’s hope the production version, to be called the NX and to be powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder, will tone down this extreme auto-show styling.” — DeMatio

HIT: Opel Monza Coupe Concept
“It doesn’t share much with the Monzas of yesteryear, unless you’re willing to count a wide stance, rakish roofline, and gorgeous sheetmetal. Here’s hoping this inspires a few future production Opels — and, subsequently, a Buick or two.” — McCausland

“Gullwing doors on a car like this are eyewash. They’re becoming the camera-sideview mirror of the New Millennium, and it’s hard to see exactly what production car or cars the Monza will inspire. But as a potential Opel “four-door coupe,” it represents a promising styling direction with handsome surfacing. Perhaps, with those extra windows above the rear seats, it could become a new-age Buick Sportwagon — and not a Skyhawk.” — Lassa

“Thirty-six years after the first Monza debuted at the Frankfurt show, this big, winged coupe gives us new reason to consider the struggling Opel brand. Or, at least, to realize that GM Design can knock one out of the park on both sides of the Atlantic.” — DeMatio

MISS: Opel Monza
“I like how it looks at first, but the concept is really a bit weird. It’s humongous and reminds me of a canoe. And the proportions are awkward.” — Migliore

HIT: BMW i3, i8
“The BMW i8 is the best, most interesting design at the show. It’s a groundbreaker.” — Cumberford

“Both hybrid sports cars, the BMW i8 and the Porsche 918, have completed their journey to production. Both have retained the vitality and dynamism (Germans love that word) of the concepts on which they’re based. I’ve driven the i8 and enjoyed it thoroughly.” — Zenlea

“We’ve heard so much about these cars over the past few months that they seem like old news. But the all-electric i3 city car, which was being used to shuttle media around the vast auto-show campus, and the plug-in-hybrid i8 supercar, priced at $136,000 for the USA, will go into the history books. I was a guest of BMW four years ago at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show and sat in on a roundtable with their R&D chief, who spoke at length about the company’s long-term commitment to electric drive. It all seemed a little pie-in-the-sky then, but here we are with the results, and they’re impressive.” — DeMatio

MISS: “Small” European cars.
“European cars are becoming huge. It’s not just the crossovers. Even the subcompact Fiat 500 and the Porsche 911 look bloated compared to their predecessors. Much of this has to do with meeting crash regulations. And buyers — even German buyers — prefer the stable feeling of a bigger car with a longer wheelbase. Still, I’m hoping that in the next decade, automakers can reverse the trend toward gigantism.” — Zenlea

HIT: Infiniti Q30
” ‘Bravely pink’ is how I described the Q30 to Lassa. Or is it coral? Or lavender? In any case, it’s striking, and it shows that Infiniti continues to outpace Lexus in design, if not in sales.” — DeMatio

MISS: Bugatti Legend “Jean Bugatti”
“I just saw another irrelevant take on the Veyron a few weeks ago at The Quail event during the Monterey, California, car week activities. The news that yet another bauble for the world’s super-rich was debuting left me cold.” — DeMatio

HIT: Ferrari 458 Speciale
“The sign read ‘Best Ferrari V8 ever.’ While the FF and LaFerrari have generated all the attention recently, the 458 is still an athletic, menacing, and beautiful car. The red and blue striping only added to it.” — Migliore

MISS: All Steel-Body Electric Vehicles
“…Whether specifically electric only — e.g. Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf — or electrified conventional cars, like the new VW Golf electric.” — Cumberford

HIT: Jaguar C-X17
“This is it, boys and girls: Jag’s first crossover, in concept guise. Expect the production model to look a good deal like this, maintaining the silhouette while toning down some of the styling cues. It’s one of the more controversial cars at the show, simply because it is a Jaguar crossover (cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth). It was the most likely of my hits to be a miss, but after viewing the car extensively on the stand, my verdict is that Jag pulled it off. If Porsche can make an SUV, so can Jaguar.” — Migliore

HALF-HIT: Jaguar C-X17
“I got a close look at a rendering before I saw the crossover in the tin. In the picture, its proportions looked more Audi Allroad than the Q5/Q7 that it is [Ian Callum calls it a ‘Q6’ in size]. Allroad proportions would have been more appropriate for this brand.” — Lassa

“Very nice, but completely predictable.” — Cumberford

HIT: C-X17 pastries at the Jaguar stand
“Tasty.” — Lassa

HIT: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe Concept
“One of the few show cars that live up to early teaser sketches when viewed in person. Despite its size, the S-Class Coupe’s strong, taut curves lend it a svelte, athletic feel. I always thought the current CL was a handsome automobile, but its replacement makes it look pedestrian.” — McCausland

“Lots of coupe action at Frankfurt! We were underwhelmed by this new two-door S-Class when we saw photos last week, but when I saw it on the Mercedes stage, I liked it.” — DeMatio

NEAR-HIT: Mercedes-Benz S-class Coupe Concept
“I love the strong, handsome nose and the long, flowing, rakish, B-pillar-free profile, but when you look at the tail, you can’t help but think that Benz has been raiding BMW’s taillamp parts bin.” — Lassa

HIT: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Intelligent Drive
“With just a few additional cameras and radar sensors over the ones that are already standard in the new S-class, this experimental vehicle was able to drive itself from Mannheim to Pforzheim last month. The route was the same sixty-some miles that were driven by Karl Benz’s wife 125 years ago to prove the road-worthiness of the Patent Motor Car. A neat bit of history wrapped up in a big piece of the future.” — DeMatio

HIT: Smart Fourjoy
“This beach car is a pretty nice Mini/Fiat 500 competitor.” — Cumberford

MISS: Smart Fourjoy
“Give them credit for trying.” — Lassa

HIT: Mercedes-Benz GLA
“With this small crossover and its mechanical twin, the CLA-class that’s already on sale, Mercedes-Benz finally has a couple of entry-luxury cars that merit the three-pointed star. On sale next summer, with an AMG version not far behind.” — DeMatio

HIT: Mercedes-Benz S-Class headrests
“One element caught my attention when I jumped into the back seat of an S500 hybrid: the headrests are the most comfortable, cosseting, pillowy headrests I’ve ever experienced in an automobile. For a jet-lagged auto writer stuck in a time zone six hours away, those headrests felt like little portals to heaven.” — McCausland

MISS: Audi Sport Quattro, Nanuk Quattro concepts
“Whereas Porsche and BMW delivered on their promises of green, fast cars, Audi offered only more concepts, the Sport Quattro and the Nanuk Quattro. They’re cool cars, but they both look like reruns — the Sport Quattro is a bigger version of the 2010 Paris concept, and the Nanuk looks suspiciously similar to the ItalDesign Parcour we saw just a few months ago in Geneva. Time for Audi to stop promising and start delivering.” — Zenlea

“The Sport Quattro was supposed to be the star, but the Nanuk Quattro was a better effort. The Sport Quattro is a boxy coupe with a rather awkward backlight. Is it a hatchback or a coupe? Looks like Audi isn’t sure. And, being based on the A7 chassis, it’s too big.” — Lassa

HIT and MISS: Ford S-Max “concept”
“This lightly disguised next-generation version of Ford’s C-segment MPV nicely matches Ford’s new design language. Its wedge shape shouldn’t make Americans think ‘minivan,’ but would, anyway. It’s not a CUV. It won’t be sold in North America. Don’t even ask. Don’t ask about the Fusion Vignale trim level, or better yet, the wagon version of the Fusion Vignale.” — Lassa

HIT: Ford Mondeo Vignale wagon
“Vignale is a high-end model line for Ford’s European portfolio. It looks nice, but who cares in America? However, one of the vehicles shown at Frankfurt was a Mondeo wagon dressed up in Vignale trim. The Mondeo is the European version of the Fusion. So, here’s my unsolicited advice, Ford: bring a blinged-out Mondeo wagon to the U.S. — like the one you put on display in Frankfurt. Call it a Lincoln. People will like it. Suddenly the brand has a unique, attractive car that’s not shared with Ford (Be sure to change the front end a bit, though). You want the sexy wagon from Ford? Oh that’s a Lincoln. At least that’s how consumers will see it. Makes sense to me, anyway.” — Migliore

HIT: Brabus G800 6×6
“As a devoted Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen junkie, I had to choose this one as a hit. A passerby remarked that it was “wretched excess,” and that’s precisely why it’s amazing. The “base” G63 AMG 6×6 is already ludicrous enough, but who knew there was room for more power? Brabus, apparently. My mind is blown.” — McCausland

MISS: Renault Initiale Paris Concept
“A big, purple crossover concept. I like the name. Not much else. It’s a shame, because Renault usually has impressive concepts at European shows. The Captur was sitting nearby the Initiale as evidence. This one falls flat.” — Migliore

“I think Renault was going for an Eiffel Tower–girder construction look in the car’s side trim and huge wheels. It doesn’t work.” — Lassa

HIT: Citroën Wild Rubis
“For the name alone. Everyone is trying to do a semi-premium C-segment crossover, and Citroën is no exception.” — Lassa

MISS: Lamborghini LP 570-4 Squadra Corse
“The VW Group’s luxury brands were not batting well in Frankfurt. Just as I never want to see or hear about another version of the Veyron, I don’t want to see or hear about another version of the ancient Gallardo. What I want to see and drive is a completely new version of this car, which is five years overdue for a replacement.”
— DeMatio

HIT: Cadillac
“It was nice to see the unapologetically huge, distinctly American Cadillac Elmiraj on display here in Frankfurt. The German automakers clearly run this show — Cadillac occupied a tiny corner of the venue, whereas Mercedes, Audi, and BMW spread out in separate buildings. But the beautiful Pebble Beach concept proves that this American luxury brand has the potential, at least, to stand toe to toe with them. Now, Cadillac needs to build it.” — Zenlea

MISS: Chevrolet SSR
“There are two pimped-out examples, complete with booming audio systems, parked outside one of the halls at the Frankfurt Messe. Why? You’ve got me.” — McCausland

HIT: Spark-Renault SRT_01E
“There’s going to be an FIA-sanctioned electric racing series fairly soon. That’s interesting and timely, and the races should be fun to watch. This is one of the race cars. It packs the equivalent of 270 hp from its electric traction motor, and the chassis is a carbon and aluminum construction from Dallara. Sounds like a winner to me.” — Migliore

Mercedes-Benz S-class Coupe concept, Tesla Model S for its ability to draw big crowds, the production Alfa Romeo 4C, and the Citroën Cactus concept.

HIT: Auto shows
“Kurt Vonnegut wrote, ‘We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you different.’ Auto shows are a great place to remember that. Even as I scurried to interviews and tapped out stories on my phone, I made time to check out the two-story slide at the Mini stand, to down a beer in the Mercedes cafeteria, to collect a million brochures that I’ll throw out later, and to look at lots of cool cars. Auto shows are fun. Don’t let anybody tell you different.” — Zenlea

And so it goes.

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