Frankfurt, Germany – Wouldn’t you like to take some of those shiny cars and sport/utilities that are carefully laid out in the Frankfurt Messe’s 11 halls out on the street for a drive? No, you wouldn’t, unless you’re out to test stop/start systems in traffic jams. Frankfurt’s morning and evening rush hours, sampled when arriving and leaving the show, are as bad as most any other city. But the engineers, designers and marketing executives who have spent the last four or five years of their lives bringing the new cars to market know that a good infotainment system combined with Bluetooth connectivity can keep you coming back for more. Perhaps when the next Frankfurt show is held, in 2017, they’ll be offering you autonomous car-sharing programs, anyway. Until then, here are our hits, misses and revelations from the 2015 Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung in Frankfurt …
While it’s important this is a 600-horsepower electric Porsche with four doors, it’s the car’s overall shape that I love. Build it with two doors and make this the forerunner of the next-gen Porsche 911. Here’s a good measure of a car’s sensuality: what it must be like to hand wash it. Just give me a Mission E-shaped 911, a bucket of warm soapy water, a wash mitt and stand back.
— John Lamm
Miss: Porsche Mission E Concept EV
I can’t see the point of a four-door sedan that’s hard to get into.
Hit: Porsche Mission E Concept EV
Any car with a claimed 600 horsepower, a 3.5 second 0-60 time and Nurburgring lap of under 8 minutes is going to get our undivided attention, even if it was powered by 600 hamsters. That the Porsche Mission E all-electric powered sedan features a floor-mounted battery pack that drives two electric motors cribbed from the 918 is a sign of the times. Porsche has packed top-tier tech into the Mission E, including all-wheel steering, and when plugged into something called the Porsche Charging System, the battery pack can be charged to 80 percent capacity in 15 minutes with a claimed 310 or so mile total range. It also looks right on the outside, with a killer four door coupe profile (good luck getting in back) cribbing present 911 looks with an overall future profile that no doubt presages the next Panamera. This car looks to be relatively close to production and if so, it’s game-on Tesla, depending of course on price (we’re guessing probably a lot more than a top spec Model S).
Sometimes concept cars attempt to go big and end up looking like abject disasters. Not so with Bugatti’s fantasyland take of a vehicle that was primarily designed as a virtual machine for the long-running Gran Turismo Sony PlayStation video game series. Bugatti officials are billing the car’s inclusion in the game as a way of giving back to its legion of fans, which for years have lusted after the mighty Bugatti Veyron, one of the most astonishing performance cars of all time. If the successor to the Veyron (reportedly on the way next year and to be called Chiron) comes out looking like the Vision Gran Turismo, we’re betting very few would complain. Bugatti president Wolfgang Durheimer has made it clear that the car features several design cues we will see on the coming production model. The Vision Gran Turismo was designed with racing Bugattis from the brand’s storied history in mind. Many elements of the car have been tested in simulations and it has a luxurious, high-tech interior befitting a multi-million dollar hyper car. It’s a concept that has us more intrigued than ever about what we will see from Bugatti in its real world future. We’re also looking to get our hands on a copy of the new Gran Turismo – we hear the Vision dominates at Le Mans.
Miss: Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo
Yuck. Whoever detailed the design of the Vision Gran Turismo needs glasses. It is overdone, overwrought, fussy and contrived. It’s meant to impress Gran Turismo gamers, but please don’t let it be a precursor for the upcoming Chiron. And never mention it in the same sentence as the 1937 Le Mans-winning Type 57G Tank. Ettore and Jean Bugatti must be spinning in their graves.
It has nice shapes. Looks promising.
Hit and Miss: Mercedes-Benz Concept IAA
How about a 3/4 Hit, 1/4 Miss? Against the rules, perhaps, but the overall shape and the active aero aspect of Mercedes’ Concept IAA are beautifully done. Love the idea of the extending Kamm tail and the flaps and louvers that divert air for better aero. But that front end? Ouch. It must look good in the wind tunnel, but on the road?
Revelation: Mercedes Concept IAA Would be the Perfect Tesla Model S-Fighter
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche says the Mercedes-Benz Concept IAA is not the next CLS-Class, though the interior portends that of the new E-Class coming later in 2016. Zetsche also hints that rumors Mercedes will have a Tesla Model S-fighting full-electric luxury sedan by 2018 are pretty accurate. I think this sleek, midsize sedan with its active aero that reduces drag from a 0.25 coefficient down to 0.19, could be the Model S competitor. The aero-aids are feasible for production and would help extend range.
While taking on Elon Musk and his water-walking brand, Tesla, seems like a foolish thing to do for those in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, Audi’s fresh, clean exterior design, 310-mile range, and 50-minute charge time for the E-Tron Quattro electric luxury crossover mean Musk & Co. will have a serious competitor in the all-electric space, perhaps for the first time—though we won’t see the new Audi in production form until some time in 2018. A serious EV with an Audi-like interior and without a beta-test release cycle may well turn eyes and dollars away from today’s Electric Jesus.
Hit: Volkswagen Tiguan
No, it doesn’t look much different from before, but it’s roomier and it sheds weight. And the Volkswagen Tiguan that’s coming to the U.S. market will be even larger, finally making the great-driving, nicely styled crossover a competitive entrant. This Tiguan is a smart update to the first gen, but I’m most impressed by the tech on board: A 12.3-inch full-color instrument cluster is impressive technology inside what is essentially an affordable family crossover.
Hit: Nissan Gripz Concept
Nissan continues its affair with funky styling in the blocky, bulging Gripz, and the result is surprisingly fun and attractive in person. A Juke with Maxima styling? Why not? It actually works.
Miss: Nissan Gripz Concept
Is this the next Juke? The next Z car? Either way, it’s a glum preview of Nissan’s future. I understand the sensibility and business case behind an all-wheel-drive hybrid crossover, but I will never be as excited about this sporty four-door as I was about the IDx concept.
Miss: Toyota C-HR Concept
Where the Gripz wears its funk with a casually cool attitude, Toyota’s C-HR comes off as strained and hyper-active–a vehicular trendster trying too hard to pull off its outfit.
Miss: Nissan Gripz
Seriously overdone. Again.
Revelation: ‘Black Test Car’ Redux
It’s saying something that the side surfacing of the Nissan Gripz – which is either the next Juke, or the reason to put off the next Z Car – is less-busy than the “diamond” styling theme of the Toyota C-HR. Both are four-door hatchbacks, with hidden rear access doors and hybrid powertrains. Toyota promises production, which means you’ll probably see the b-/c-segment crossover ‘tweener in Scion dealerships in a couple of years. But launch of the two here has me thinking that nothing has changed in the car business since Yasuzo Masumura’s cynical 1962 corporate espionage drama, “Black Test Car.”
Hit: Jaguar F-Pace
I was initially skeptical of Jaguar adding a crossover, partly because the brand is paired with SUV-centric Land Rover, and partly because it has a ridiculous name. But the F-Pace is a gorgeous luxury crossover inside and out. The dashboard is somewhat plain, in the style of many Jaguar Land Rover products, but some F-Pace models on display had fantastic wood trim and really soft leathers that stand up to German crossovers. I sat in the back seat and was pleasantly surprised to find that unlike, say, a Range Rover Evoque, there is plentiful legroom and headroom for adults to actually ride long distances. Couple that with the lightweight aluminum architecture and gutsy engines we know and love, and this Jag is an easy hit for me.
Hit: Infiniti Q30
This is platform sharing done right. The gorgeous curves and creases on this Q30 are not only as wild as the 2013 concept, but also a far cry from the Mercedes-Benz models that underpin this compact hatch. I think not offering AWD in the U.S. is a mistake — Infiniti plans to push the Q30 crossover on snowbelt buyers — but otherwise this car has the style and sophistication to lure in new shoppers. Infiniti claims it drives with as much excitement as its looks imply, which would be welcome change from the Benz models.
Miss: Toyota Prius
Not to harp on the issue that many others have noted, but this is a wholly unattractive car.
While the Gallardo dropped its top like a gawky, awkward co-ed, the Huracán Spyder is a supermodel posing for the paparazzi on the sands of Ibiza. Removing the roof doesn’t typically do any favors to a supercar’s performance, but modern carbon-aluminum engineering means the Spyder should be every bit as sharp as its buttoned-up sister—and even more gorgeous to look at.
Hit: Lamborghini Huracán Spyder
I’m fortunate enough to have driven a Huracán coupe, and it was a glorious experience. I can only imagine how much I’d enjoy the car’s intoxicating acceleration, righteous 10-cylinder soundtrack, and ferocious roadholding, with the roof down and the sun beaming down on me. I know the Ferrari 488 Spyder that was here could do many of the same things, but it just doesn’t have the brashness of Lamborghini’s latest raging bull.
Revelation: Six-Banger Ferrari Confirmed
CEO Amedeo Felisa made it pretty clear at his press conference that the brand is in the process of developing a six-cylinder engine. “Will a six-cylinder come to a Ferrari someday? Probably yes,” Felisa said. AUTOMOBILE’s Georg Kacher recently wrote that the Prancing Horse brand is looking at a couple of options: We might also see a less expensive future Ferrari California with a twin-turbo 2.9-liter V-6 instead of the turbocharged 3.9-liter V-8. Though the V-6 could have the same 90-degree layout as the Ferrari V-8, R&D is also considering a F1-style 120-degree V-6, which would help forestall unpleasant vibration and push down the center of gravity. Ferrari says that 600 hp is feasible, and that’s before adding any electric power-assist systems. …The best part about this V-6, though, is that it will be made-to-measure for the Ferrari Dino Concept, which [former Ferrari CEO Luca] Montezemolo wouldn’t approve but [FCA CEO Sergio] Marchionne is eager to build. The Dino, which might come to market as the 486, will look butch and aggressive rather than sleek and elegant like the original Dino 246 GT from 1969. Call the Dino an entry-level Ferrari if you want, but since the price will start around $200,000, we won’t.
Of course, the first Dino also had a five-speed manual. Ferrari officials at the event say that their customers have spoken, and “no” is the answer to manuals.
Miss: Audi S4
How I used to love the S4. Not so much with this new one. There’s no sniffing at the tech specs, with a new 354-hp, single-turbo V-6 with the turbo mounted within the V for compactness, but I struggle to get excited about this car’s appearance. The S4 has always been somewhat understated, but this one takes it to extremes. I am not exaggerating when I say I couldn’t tell which were A4 sedans and which were S4s. Pump up the aggression, Audi!
Revelation: Audi’s giant building is pretty cool
Audi always constructs its own building at the Frankfurt auto show, rather than simply putting together a stage in an existing structure. This year, you ride up escalators and walk through a dimly-lit space accented with flashing red lights, through a chilled room with ice-covered walls carved with Audi logos, and then into a somewhat cramped room. As you can see, it was absolutely packed; by using mirrored walls, it appeared much larger than its actual dimensions. So, how much does it cost to build a new building for an auto show? A well-placed friend says that at the last Frankfurt show, the bill was well into the tens of millions of Euros.
Presented in standard S500 (S550 in the States) and bahnstorming S63 AMG (the matte eggshell-white car) variants, this is the first big, S-Class Mercedes convertible built since 1971. In the second age since the ‘70s in which the convertible market seems doomed, I just want to get behind the wheel of this triple-layered ragtop and cruise the Amalfi coast. To quote the title of theme music for a scene in “Get Shorty,” “Oh, to be alive and in a convertible.”
— Todd Lassa
Miss: Smart ForTwo Cabriolet
It’s a visual mess with the top folded, and stuff hanging out.
Who knew Benz’s new design language lent itself to two-door cars so well? I like the sensuous, rakish roofline and deep tumblehome. The C-Class sedan has caught the BMW 3 Series in chassis dynamics. Now, the 4 Series had better watch out.
Miss: Smart ForFour
I’d really rather have any other small car, including the Renault Twingo with which it shares a platform.
My pick for best concept; it’s a modern Citroen Mehari beach car, a two-door version of the fabulous Cactus, with an open top and a Pontiac Aztek-like tent attachment. It’s a laid-back convertible for those of us who can’t afford the Mercedes S-Class Cab.
Hit: Citroen Cactus M Concept
What better way to roll to the beach than the funky, fun-loving Cactus M? A concept for now, the beach-cruising convertible has surfboards strapped to its roof, a removable fabric top, and the same innovative styling (bubble wrap to protect the doors!) as on the regular C4 Cactus. I’m a fan.
Miss: Citroen Aircross
It seems every even year at Paris and odd year at Frankfurt, Citroen shows off a huge (for Europe) SUV concept with a name similar to this. I can’t keep them straight, and they scare me, anyway. Please make them stop.
Hit: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
Just look at it. It’s so much prettier than a BMW M3, so much more aggressive than a Mercedes-AMG C63. And best of all, it has a manual transmission!
Miss: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
I wanted to lust for the newly reimagined Giulia, but 503 horsepower from its Ferrari-tuned 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 and blazing ‘Ring times don’t overcome the plain proportions and predictable details. It’s a handsome car, but it’s just not the neck-snapper it could — and should — be. Will it be fun to drive? Probably. Will it sound great? Almost certainly. But am I dying to get behind the wheel? Not really.
Miss: BMW 7 Series
The new 7-Series’ exterior design leaves me looking for the nearest caffeine. The too-busy face is mismatched to the ordinary and uninspired body shape, especially next to the curvaceous, still-new Mercedes S-Class. Does it impress behind the wheel? Sure, it does, but at nearly six figures to start, it should be the whole package, not just half of it.
Miss: BMW 7 Series
Bavaria’s flagship always has been the brand’s most expressive sedan. Save for the diamond-tufted leather seats cribbed from Bentley, the new model looks more like a mid-cycle refresh. You know you’re in trouble when the only feature anyone talks about is the touchscreen-keyfob.
Revelation: That Big Bentley SUV Isn’t So Big
Adjust the front seat of the Bentayga for a low-to-mid six footer and you won’t fit the same guy in the back without lopping him off above the knees, Monty Python style. Long legs have apparently gone lower-class.
Revelation: Bentley Bentayga’s Mulliner Tourbillon clock is almost $170,000
CEO Wolfgang Durheimer was in a very good mood; he just unveiled the Bentley Bentayga, a vehicle that has been billed as the most powerful, luxurious, and fastest (its 187 mph top speed barely nips the highest spec Porsche Cayenne) SUV in the world. “Luxury doesn’t have any limits,” Durheimer proclaimed, “We are defining the segment.” Case in point: the optional Mulliner Tourbillon by Breitling clock, machined in solid gold (rose or white, customer choice of course). The watch’s face can also be selected with a mother-of-pearl or black ebony face. It’s further adorned with eight diamond indexes and Bentley has developed a winding mechanism within the car to keep it timed right. At nearly $170,000 on an SUV expected to start at $229,000, it has to be one of the most expensive options of all time, especially relative to the car’s price.
Hit: Infiniti Q30
After a four-year gestation that has seen it progress from a low-slung minivan styled under the sea in the Etherea concept into its current form, the Q30’s crossover-coupe-hatch proportions work incredibly, and surprisingly, well to this CUV-hater’s eyes. Score one convert, Infiniti.
Hit: Opel Astra
Set aside the trendy floating c-pillar on this compact hatchback, the clean, modern and admittedly bland design is in the “wish we were the Volkswagen Golf” idiom. And it works for this car. The interior looks pretty good for a cost-conscious car, with some padding to the upper doors and General Motors’ corporate mobile app/navigation touch-screen.
Hit: Rolls-Royce Dawn
A nice car with the top up or top down, and comfortable for me in the back seat.
Revelation: Rolls-Royce and Bentley Get Expressive
I think the Rolls-Royce Dawn and Bentley Bentayga did themselves in with “expressive” paint and interior colors at this show. The Bentayga I saw in preview, for example, was a more subdued bronze, not the show model’s John Boehner-orange. And the Dawn just seems to be trying too hard. It was better when Big Money acted more like Old Money.
Revelation: Thunder Power Sedan
Revelation. Okay, so the car’s name sounds like it came from a Lone Ranger movie, but consider this so-called Taiwanese Tesla. Its Zagato shape is attractive, except perhaps for the grille, and there’s a comfy-looking interior. Range on a full charge with the 320 kW version is said to be 400 miles, and 0-60 happens in sub-5 seconds. Production slated for 2017. Who knows?