Every two years, Europe’s motor companies put their finest on display in September at the world’s biggest passenger-car show. This year’s edition of the Frankfurt Motor Show, the 65th, provided welcome signs that, though the market (particularly in Europe) may be stagnating, manufacturers and their designers are still pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in personal transport.
The big push is, of course, in electric vehicles. Everybody who’s anybody was beating the EV/hybrid/sustainability drum. That goes as much for the big mass market manufacturers such as VW, as it does for the most petrolheaded of high-performance brands such as Brabus. Perhaps the biggest growth area is in plug-in hybrids. Most in-your-face EV was BMW’s groundbreaking carbon fibre i3, purely by its dominating the fleet of vehicles shuttling the footsore media contingent between halls. As ever more stringent pollution regulations begin to take effect, we’ll see plenty of activity in this area. And if you think that going electric means having to put up with glorified milk floats, you obviously haven’t heard of the Audi Quattro Sport Concept, Porsche 918 Spyder or BMW i8. All of these use electric power in one form or another, and all of them are unashamedly high-performance.
Frankfurt 2013 by numbers
35 Countries represented among exhibitors
1 098 Exhibitors
99 Countries represented among media
11 500 Media members
230 000 Square metres of exhibition area
300 000 Visitors recorded in Week 1
Here’s a closer look at some of the show standouts.
Mercedes-Benz Concept S-Class Coupé
Perhaps in Stuttgart there is at last recognition that our heads are spinning from alphabetitis. The letters letter A, B, C, E, G, L, S, K and combinations thereof are meant to clearly delineate model ranges, but often they have resulted in overlaps and some uneasy fits. The Concept S-Class Coupé slots in where the CL used to belong, somewhat out on its own. Not only do the concept’s well proportioned lines look refreshingly sleek and sensational compared with its the big, blingy forebears, it also has a 4,7-litre twin-turbo V8 that we can expect to see in coming models. Word is that a hybrid is on the way
A name synonymous with sporty cars – whether two-seater or sedan – is striking out in a bold new direction. And why not? BMW’s X5 is proof positive that you don’t have to be an off-road specialist to create an SUV. Actually it’s all rather cheeky of Jaguar: just across the alleyway at the show was stablemate Land Rover. It didn’t help that Land Rover didn’t have a showstopper like its Defender-style concept of two yeas ago.
The C-X17 looks stunning, and given the success of equivalent models from the German competition is quite likely to do well. It’s said to be based on a platform that will revitalise the Jaguar line-up and provide the basis for, among others a compact sedan aimed squarely at BMW’s 3 Series.
Joint hosts for our group of South African media at Frankfurt was Hyundai, and though our expected visits to the company’s technical and motorsports centres sadly did not materialise, we were given a preview of the i10’s world launch. Immediate impressions are distinctly positive.
The new car is significantly bigger than its predecessor. In conversation with designer Thomas Buerkle, he confirmed that much work had gone into the rear of the car to increase headroom, particularly. The effect is clearly visible from the outside in a more pronounced, extended C pillar styling. Besides the rear room, there’s now also a bigger boot. Hyundai is positioning itself increasingly as a maker of Euro-oriented cars and this model is going to do big things for the company.
Volvo Concept Coupé
The first product from the pen of new designer Thomas Ingenlath, the Concept Coupe pays homage in its lines to the legendary P1800, though of course it is a lot bigger. Its toothy grille may not be to everyone’s taste, but its overall elegance is unmistakable. Ingenlath says we can expect to see some of the Concept’s styling cues in the new XC90 sport-utility; the current model is now pretty long in the tooth.
The coupe’s underlying Scalable Product Architecture is also being prepared for completely autonomous driving, according to Volvo. We’ll start to see the first signs next year with autonomous steering to avoid accidents and make driving more comfortable. Volvo aims to have fully autonomous technology on the road before 2020. Its plug-in hybrid drivetrain features a two-litre high-performance Drive-E petrol engine with a supercharger and turbo, plus an electric motor on the rear axle. Total output is about 300 kW and over 600 N.m.
Audi Sport Quattro concept
Showcased at the Volkswagen Group’s eve-of-Frankfurt preview, the Nanuk and Sport Quattro both drew gasps. For different reasons. The Nanuk’s vaguely retro styling with bulging hindquarters seemed more reminiscent of 1960s US muscle car than the offroad supercar it’s meant to be. It’s by a long shot not the most harmoniously styled Audi. Will its dazzling claimed abilities win over those who can’t bear to look?
In contrast, the Sport Quattro is almost understated (if you disregard its screaming yellow paintwork). This was more like it, hardcore Audi performance fans, were saying. Will the massively powerful Audi rocket make it into production? We certainly hope so.
Porsche 918 Spyder
Not only does it look stunning, the 918 Spyder proves that there’s more than one way to skin a cat – or break the lap record at the Nurburgring. Walter Röhrl blasted around the legendary circuit in 6 minutes and 57 seconds to set a new production-car mark, but of considerably more significance than the time itself was the car’s drivetrain. Hybrid drive is not just for bunny-hugging save-the-whalers: it’s for unmitigated performance junkies, too.
The latest iteration of BMW’s sustainable supercar occupied a surprisingly low-key role at Frankfurt – the i3 got much of the attention. But it yet again provided evidence, if more was needed, that the big guns (think McLaren P1 and Porsche 918) can squeeze serious performance out of a hybrid drivetrain. Broadly speaking the i8 is minimally changed from its original concept form, albeit that it now has PHEV as opposed to full EV drive. So yes, we can have a hybrid supercar; the real question is, will people buy it?
A year ago, I drove Nissan’s Leaf in South Africa and came away impressed with the car’s sheer drivability and practicality, if not its gimmicky new-wave display. Only one aspect, really, had me worried: range anxiety. It needed concentration to ensure that, in local conditions, the range of about 50 km on a full charge was sufficient.
The electric version of Volkswagen’s UP minicar is something else again. Having driven one at Frankfurt, I’ve come to the conclusion is that, with today’s electric cars, you really can have your cake and eat it.
Range anxiety? Not at all, even when you take the wrong exit from a roundabout and, instead of pottering around the sidestreets, find yourself screaming down a four-lane freeway peppered with signs pointing towards Basel, 300 kilometres away. We started our little odyssey with 138 km showing on the range-ometer, and finished it with 108, having regenerated a couple of kilowatt hours. And this wasn’t a leisurely drive, either: it included a few moments – only mildly panicky ones, it has to be said – involving a vigorous stamp on the accelerator pedal to blast into the fast lane. Actually, it wasn’t nearly as frantic as it sounds. The e-UP quite comfortably kept up with and passed fast-moving traffic on the freeway.
Dr Lars Hofmann, head of Technology for VW Group E-Traction, told us in a pre-drive briefing that the group produces 23 vehicles that emitted less than 95 grams per kilometre of CO2. Even more impressively, though, it has 302 models with emissions below 120 g/km. Based on the company’s modular strategy, it would soon be rolling out 40 new models with alternative drivetrains. “Even fuel cell will be possible, as well as EV and gas power,” he says.
The three models available to try on the e-mobility drive included the VW E-Up, Audi A3 sportback E-tron and Porsche Panamera hybrid.
The Audi, a plug-in hybrid, manages 50 km on electric power and 940 km in total on a full tank of petrol. “This is definitely a long-distance car,” Hoffman says. “But it is sporty, with a 150 kW output.”
You want sporty? The big Porsche is rated at 306 kW, with a 270 km/h top speed and a 0-100 km/h time of 5,55 seconds. Yet on electric power alone it will reach an impressive 135 km/h.
In the real world, described as “World champion in efficiency”, the e-Up is rated at 3,02 Euro per 100 km, based on an energy cost of 0,258 Euro per kWh. It’s the perfect city car: compact enough to slot into tiny gaps in traffic or parking areas, yet roomy enough for four. Its nippy nature yet frugal nature is absolutely appealing, and though its finish may look better than it feels, it seems a quality product. Still, there’s a big But: although described as affordable e-mobility, there’s no question that, from our point of view, it is expensive.
If you believe cars are becoming too effete as manufacturers trample over each other in the rush to win the planet-friendly Olympics, well, there’s always Brabus. This performance house has developed excess to a fine art. For instance, quite likely the world’s fastest station wagon is pictured at left. Based on a Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG, it boasts a 675-kilowatt 6-litre biturbo that simply lays waste to the tar, rocketing the car to 100 km/h from rest in 3,1 seconds. Its top speed of 350 is electronically limited, as is the peak torque of 1 450 N.m
The interior shown at right is of a similarly manic S-Class rework, equipped with such niceties as a concealed Apple computer and outrageously plush interior.
Click here for more photos from the Frankfurt Motor Show 2013.
Check out the wallpaper collection from Frankfurt Motor Show 2013, too.