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Sunday, 2 October 2011

2011 Frankfurt Motor Show Highlights

Mercedes-Benz celebrates 125 years with the F125, as modelled by Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche and his magnificent facial hair
Last week, car companies from all over the world were gathered in Germany for the Frankfurt Motor Show, one of the major shows on the calendar. In total, 91 different new models and concept cars were shown off during the ten-day event running from the 15th-25th September. Here are ten of them that stood out for me.

1. Kia GT Concept

Yes, a Kia. For those of you that don't pay attention to these things, Kia and Hyundai (who are joined like Peugeot and Citroën) are not a punchline anymore. In fact, I sat in a few Kias at EcoVelocity and they felt pretty darn good. The Koreans are also moving away from mimicking European styling and developing their own look out of it, which is where this beauty comes in. Some have criticised it for still having one or two details from other cars (notably the intakes that cut into the headlights, à la Aston Martin One-77), but I'm not terribly bothered by that. If you showed someone this car five years ago and told them it was a Kia, they would not believe you, and Kia say they want to start making more exciting cars, so who knows? Maybe this rear-wheel-drive 3.3 V6 GT with 390bhp and 394lb/ft could one day be a reality. In fact, Autocar reports it could happen in 2013, although probably without the carbon fibre wheels and rearview cameras (pushed forward, so they sort of look like the wing mirrors on an old Japanese car). Also note the delightful absence of batteries here. This isn't a V6 hybrid as opposed to a V8, this is a pure GT car sitting in the Nissan 370Z/Infiniti G37 area of performance. An 8-speed automatic makes sense in a car like this, too. If they do it properly, this could even prove to be a cheaper and interesting alternative to a BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz CLS or more likely the VW Passat CC. If it keeps the ~400 horsepower, maybe even Jaguars and Maseratis if one is optimistic. It's brave of them to start going for this neck of the woods, but if Kia improve at the rate they currently are, in 2013 the GT could be a genuinely good car. We'll just have to wait and see...


2. Jaguar C-X16

Ian Callum does it again. Another beautiful British sports coupé from the designer of the Aston Martin DB7, Jaguar XK and many more (personally though I'd only have one air intake either side of the grille). Of course, this one is different. This concept car is shorter and meaner than an XK or DB7, and a strict 2-seater. As well as a 3.0 V6 producing 375bhp and 332lb/ft of torque, there's a hybrid system including a 70kW (94bhp) electric motor that also adds 173lb/ft for 10 seconds at a time, meaning the C-X16 - temporarily - makes a total of 468bhp and 505lb/ft of torque, putting it between an XK and an XKR, both of which use a much thirstier 5.0 V8. Of course, the real point of doing this is that it produces just 165g/km of CO2, and low CO2 figures are important nowadays. Despite XK power figures, the XE production car that this will spawn is going to sit below the luxury sports GT and take on the likes of the Porsche Cayman S and 911 Carrera, being priced accordingly. Perhaps to keep it light, it's actually smaller than a Cayman. Other than that, there's not that much to say about it, really. It's a concept with a hybrid powertrain that previews a new sports coupé lighter and more agile than the golfer's XK. Until it gets de-concepted and becomes the XE, it's there for staring at, a purpose it is generally well-suited to.


3. Lotus Exige V6

Some people look at the fly-weight Lotus Exige and wonder what it would be like with a bigger engine than the Toyota 1.8 VVT-i that sits in the middle (with or without a supercharger attached), and it would appear Lotus has thought of that too. Perhaps inspired by the fire-spitting, window-licking Hennessey Venom GT, they've stretched the back out and squeezed the supercharged 3.5 V6 from the Evora S in there to make a 1080kg sports car with 350 horsepower. When said 1080kg sports car is a track-focused Lotus, that's quite a recepie. When I first read about it though, I felt negative. In one fell swoop, the lightest Lotus (aside from the barely-legal 2-Eleven) has gained 150kg and now weighs more than a tonne, something that has never, ever been true before. Yes, cars get fatter as they get replaced, but that fact immediately put me in mind of the five Paris concepts, none of which embraced company creator Colin Chapman's lifelong philosophy of  "simplify and add lightness", and this just seemed like the start of their slippery slope from unique purveyor of lightweight driver's cars to just another seller of premium sports cars with strong badge value. We don't need another one of those, Mr. Bahar. Still, when viewed in isolation from all that, this is still a Lotus, and they could write what they don't know about suspension on a pin head, so this - which is still 250kg lighter than an Evora, let's remember - should be a seriously good little car, especially as its creators want it to give "the ultimate Lotus experience". The last hurrah for light Lotuses? Maybe...


4. Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4 Super Trofeo Stradale

And now for something without a V6. In fact it would be a travesty if this car had a V6, so instead Lamborghini have spent time tweaking the 5.2-litre naturally-aspirated V10 in the Gallardo and adding racing paraphernalia to make the ultimate edition of their junior supercar. You see, they apparently don't have to worry about average CO2 levels (odd considering their only two cars have a 5.2 V10 and a 6.5-litre V12), so they can spend more time and money on putting their Blancpain Super Trofeo one-make race series on the road with this beast. With the same 1340kg weight as last year's Gallardo Superleggera LP 570-4, the same eponymous 570PS (562bhp), the same 0-60 time and a top speed 4mph lower than the Superleggera, what makes this run of 150 worth any extra money or attention? A much bigger spoiler. It's adjustable, too, and adds that extra stability on race tracks, which despite still having All-Wheel-Drive is where it wants to be. It also has a racing gearbox with a launch control system brilliantly named "Thrust Mode". Oh Lamborghini, you so crazy! The suspension promises to deliver "unmatched precision", the interior features race harnesses and a rollcage and it has lots of lovely red accents. When I say red of course, I actually mean "Rosso Mars", which sounds like the name of a pop singer. The thing is, looking at the Press Releases for both this and the Superleggera, these two "ultimate Gallardo" editions are... exactly the same. So all this special 150-piece limited edition is after all is a Superleggera with red paint and a bigger spoiler on it. Oh! I found something else: "The V10's unique firing order delivers the striking sound you hear in motor racing". So there you go. It also sounds better. Totally worth it...


5. Peugeot HX1 Concept

While Lotus was putting an engine it already had into an existing car, and Lamborghini was busy exaggerating things and mixing up some red paint (sorry, "Rosso Mars"), Peugeot decided to do something that actually is different: a new take on luxury transportation, and for six people too. Of course, the world's press decided that having six seats made this 2+2+2 an MPV, but there is no way a family of six such as, let's say, my family could go on holiday in this. There's nowhere near enough boot for that, unless we packed light or bought a roof box, which looks lame on most cars (not all of them though). All the same, it's a smart-looking thing, and the way the middle seats can sink into the front seats to make it a 2+2 is pretty cool. Unlike MPVs, it's low and wide, mostly for aerodynamic purposes, and the aero theme continues with transforming wheels (that either look like the ones pictured or fan out to make a disc) and pop-up flaps to complement a pop-up spoiler, all to mix style and low drag. Low drag, of course, helps them get the best mileage out of the car's Hybrid4 system, with a 2.2-litre diesel driving the front wheels and a 70kW motor driving the rear. They combine to make a 4-Wheel-Drive car with 300bhp, which would make for a pretty good MPV! Of course, this will never get made, and anyone disappointed by this news was kidding themselves from the start, but the Hybrid4 system will appear in the 508 RXH (Peugeot's Audi Allroad of sorts) and the 3008 Crossover. The pull-out middle seats and butterfly-wing doors? Probably not.


6. Citroën Tubik Concept

As usual, if it's really mad concepts you're after, it's Peugeot's hallucinating brother Citroën that you must turn to. Their latest creation is the pig-faced Tubik, which is again a new take on MPVs, but this time inspired by the corrugated H-Van from the company's past. Well, the front is, but the rest of it is pure sci-fi-meets-acid-trip. The driver gets his own McLaren-style butterfly-wing door which opens up to reveal "The Cyclotron", which Citroën describes as "a system that groups - in one circular line - the seat, pedal assembly, steering wheel and circular head-up display". Yup. Everyone else enters kerbside via a giant carbon fibre gullwing door, with a step that drops down like on a Lear Jet, allowing passengers to simply step into a highly adaptable interior that lets you forget entirely that you're in a traffic jam. It does this partly by looking like the interior of a Covenant spaceship from Halo and partly by being a "lounge-style cocoon". You can have a pair of two-person sofas that face eachother from either end of the cabin, or you can accomodate 8 people in a 2+3+3 set of benches (the two front seats are beside the Clyclotron), or the middle bench can fold down to make a table, or all of the seats can lay flat to make a bed for three, either making this a good place for a family to sleep or a pimp van. The seats themselves are purple felt with silk backrests, the door panels are also silken, and the floor is made of leather, so while you're saving the environment with the same Hybrid4 technology as the HX1, your passengers can walk on dead cows. There's also a TV screen on the ceiling (because at this point, why the hell not?), cameras instead of rear-view mirrors and two-way glass in the side door that means you can see out without others seeing in. Pervtastic! Meanwhile, all your luggage goes in a kind of giant pull-out drawer that sits at the back of the car. How can you not love Citroën concept cars after all that? Don't worry though, some of their other ones are much prettier.


7. Honda Civic (2012 EU Version)

Of course, motor shows aren't just about crazy concept cars, they're also used to unveil cars you can actually buy, and seeing as the interior of this one doesn't appear to have any purple silk in it at all, this must be a production car. In fact, it's the new EU-market Honda Civic, the sequel to the first production car designed entirely with triangles. It must be hard for them to redesign something quite as unique as the outgoing Civic, and for the most part they haven't done a bad job of it, however the tail lights let it down for me. While the 2006 car's rear lights were the same pointy strip as the headlights, these new ones look like they've been glued on from an entirely different car, and don't work with the rest of the design. Considering the development apparently spanned four years, they should arguably look better integrated, or maybe they spend too much time fiddling with them or something. The rest of it though, I think looks rather good. Honda say they focused on the ride and handling, which is a smart move when one of the main criticisms of the 2006-11 Euro Civic was the ride being too harsh, as well as improving the interior quality. Hopefully it still has the same funky-yet-super-clear blue dials, because the ones in the CR-Z were something of a highlight for me when I drove one. Of course, it's customary for writers at this point to mention that there's currently no word on when the Type-R version will arrive, but I would expect it to be around 12 months after the standard car hits showrooms in early 2012. Personally, I would also expect it to have more than 200bhp and be powered by a 1.6 turbo engine, but I can't back that up with anything other than observations of other hot hatches. Meanwhile, the Civic will be available with 1.4 and 1.8 litre petrol engines and a 2.2 diesel, all paired with a 6-speed manual (or a 5-speed auto for the 1.8), and all coming with "Hill Start Assist, ECO Assist, advanced fuelling control technology and Idle Stop", the latter of which I assume is a Stop/Start system of some description. Prices haven't yet been announced.


8. Maserati Kubang

Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that Maserati is building a Jeep-based SUV. One horrible consequence of Fiat merging with Chrysler is that the brands they each own are merging as well. This has already lead to Lancia's Ypsilon and Delta being sold in the UK with "Chrysler" hastily scribbled on them, and Maserati bumping uglies with Jeep to make this, the Kubang SUV. Is this really necessary? Unfortunately it is, as people with more money than sense flock like magpies to shiny-wheeled not-really-off-roaders with fancy badges attached to them. Porsche sells more Cayennes than 911s, for instance, which is amazing given how ugly it is, and proof that the rich are outright determined to buy stupid cars. Why not cash in on this with a Maserati SUV? They've put a positive spin on this by saying the following: "Until today Maserati has been producing sedans, coupes and two- or four-seater convertibles. Whether we named them Quattroporte, GranTurismo or GranCabrio - or, before them, Ghibli, Mistral, Bora or Indy - their common denominator rested in two words: sportiness and luxury. Times have changed: sportiness and luxury today don't have just one definition. They can also take the form of a very dynamic looking and high performing sport luxury SUV." If you say so, guys. Premiership footballers will get to choose from either the usual Ferrari-derived 4.7 V8 found in the current Quattroporte and GranTurismo, or a 3.0 V6 diesel. Outside of Europe, you can only have it with the V8, and of course there's no manual gearbox. That would make it a driver's car, of all things...


9. BRABUS Rocket 800

As well as manufacturers showing off their latest wares, tuning companies are flocking to motor shows nowadays to show you what they can do with last year's exhibits, and this is the latest creation from Mercedes-Benz specialists and power addicts BRABUS. Called the "Rocket 800", it started out as a new CLS-Class, but has since been completely overhauled. The engine bay is stuffed full of V12, which is then heavily modified and boosted by twin turbos to produce a whopping 800PS (788bhp) and 811lb/ft of torque, or roughly enough to propel a large house to 60mph. Probably. It's also enough to propel the Rocket 800 from 0-60 in just 3.7 seconds. BRABUS mention that the V12 BiTurbo can actually generate 1047lb/ft (1420NM), but this has to be limited to stop the gearbox from effectively turning itself inside out. Considering it can go from 0-200km/h (124mph) in just 9.8 seconds, and 0-300km/h (186mph) in 23.8 seconds - not miles away from a Veyron - the limited torque is probably not something to feel disappointed about. As for the top speed, which unlike most German super saloons isn't limited to 155mph, it can do a record-breaking 230+mph, making it the fastest 4-door car you can buy today. I recommend only buying one if you live near the Autobahn, though. 230mph isn't exactly wise anywhere else. It's also reassuring to read that "To keep the enormous performance of the world's fastest sedan safely in check at all times, the vehicle's aerodynamic properties, suspension and brakes were modified extensively." As well as colossal air intakes to stop the powerhouse from exploding, a rear spoiler and diffuser have been added to improve high-speed stability and prevent an attempt at that top speed from simply being an elaborate method of suicide, something BRABUS clearly don't want to be responsible for, as the top speed is limited to 217mph for road use (i.e. to stop the tyres bursting), suggesting you can delimit it for using on an airfield or drag strip, or when you get better tyres. Just in case you were wondering, BRABUS do stuff like this for a living, and make tons of money out of it. What do you do for a living?


10. BMW M5 (F10)

Having already seen the new BMW M5 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, as well as countless near-identical speculative renders before that, the appearance isn't surprising. I also won't be surprised if it proves to be the new class benchmark and is heralded as the best performance saloon on sale today. I guess I've become slightly jaded by the M5. For some reason it was never exciting during the run-up to its release. It looks like a 5-Series M-Sport with some chrome bits, it has a V8 Twin-Turbo like the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, and it makes 552bhp, which is on par for its class nowadays (it's also quite a lot). It does 0-60 in 4.4 seconds and has a limited top speed of 155mph, which again is the kind of thing one can expect from the current generation of mid-sized super-saloons. Maybe instead we should compare it to the outgoing M5 (E60) to see why this is so good. That had a 5-litre V10 making 507bhp (when you told it to, otherwise 400bhp for better fuel economy) and a tremendous noise. It also struggled greatly to get 20mpg and would even drop below 10mpg if you ever decided to get on with it. The new F10's 4.4 V8TT will apparently do 28.5mpg, probably averaging above 20mpg during average driving in real life. Peak torque in the E60 was at 6100rpm, and there was but 384 lb/ft of it (red-lining at 8250rpm), whereas the F10 reaches its full 502lb/ft of torque at just 1500rpm, and holds onto it until 5750rpm (red-lining at 7200rpm), thus giving it much more linear acceleration and acres more grunt in the low-mid range, which is the area in the revs one actually uses most of the time. You can thank the twin-scroll turbochargers for that. The DCT is also much smoother than the single-clutch automated manual in the E60, so really it's the powertrain where this new car shines. I also think it's good-looking, mixing executive smartness with underlying muscle, although I could do without the faux Aston Martin vents ahead of the doors. It seems to have all the bases covered. New benchmark it is, then.

Honourable Mentions include the new Porsche 911 (991), Ferrari 458 Spider, a preview of BMW's i8 hybrid supercar, a look at the next Land Rover Defender, another Alfa Romeo 4C Concept, the Fisker Surf (an estate version of the Karma electric hybrid) and the production version of the Suzuki Swift Sport. The Swift is an unsung hero of sorts in the supermini category, and a fizzy little hot hatch version could be a lot of fun. Apparently the last one was, and this one's still small and light, so who knows? It could be a hidden gem on eBay in the years to come. Until then, why not gaze at next year's new Formula Ford car? It's pretty cool, you know.

For press releases and wallpapers of all the cars from the Frankfurt Motor Show, use the tool below from Netcarshow.com.


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