It's time to get your skates on for the biennial Frankfurt motor show, and that's not just a cheery turn of phrase – the show is massive, easily the most vast of motor shows, with the combined halls measuring more than 1.6km in length.
That's before considering that the enormous stands brought along by local heroes BMW, Mercedes and VW Group practically count as minor towns, or perhaps even aircraft carrier-equivalents, in their own right. Hence the skates – roller skates, a bicycle, a Segway, perhaps a friend with a compact helicopter – you'll need at least one to be able to get around in here.
Perhaps lacking the global significance of Geneva or the sheer money-grabbing allure of the Beijing or Shanghai shows, Frankfurt is nevertheless a hugely important car show, for Europe and the world. The home team German car makers always save up some special metal to show, and companies from other countries are inevitably a little sidelined, there's always the chance of an away-goal upset.
Speed bumps ahead
This Frankfurt show, which opens to the media on Tuesday, September 15th, is particularly significant. The scars of recession are healing over now, but the global motor industry still faces serious challenges. Co2 emissions regulations are tightening the world over, electric power still faces an uphill struggle in the buying public's mind and the geo-political situations in North Africa, the Middle East and Russia will all be preying on minds, as will the fact that this celebration of automotive glitz and glamour will be taking place in the heart of a Europe beset by the most serious refugee crisis since the Second World War. Above all though, there will be worries over China – the recent stock market collapse/plummet/crisis/necessary correction (delete as applicable) will be puzzling and perplexing car company board rooms the world over – China's supposedly insatiable market was supposed to be the cash cow to exceed all known cattle, but there will now be worries of a serious slow-down, maybe even a collapse, in sales of western cars in that all important market. It's critical to put the best foot forward, so in alphabetical order, here's what the brands have to offer.
At least there will be one thing to cheer about – a genuinely new Alfa Romeo. We've seen and heard the new Giulia already, but this will be the first opportunity for a proper pore over Alfa's new rear-(and four-wheel-)drive BMW 3 Series fighter. Yes, there are serious doubts over whether Fiat can afford the massive investment needed to properly revive Alfa Romeo as a credible brand, and indeed whether the buyers are still out there for a badge that has been thoroughly superseded in most minds by BMW, Audi and Mercedes. Still, a new Alfa is still a thing to gladden the motor nut's heart, so let's enjoy it while we can, eh?
Across the vast acreage of halls will be one of the Giulia’s targets and fiercest competitors – the new Audi A4. We already know it’s a delight to drive, but will its same-again styling be too much of the same for buyers?
Audi will also be looking to the future (2018 actually) with an eTron Quattro concept all-electric SUV that previews the Q6 – Audi’s rival for Tesla’s upcoming Model X, which already apparently boasts a 500km one-charge range. An EV game changer in the premium car market? There’ll also be a chance to see the new 600hp, 305kmh V8 turbo S8 supersaloon and a new SQ5 Plus that adds a 340hp BiTurbo V6 diesel to the Q5 SUV range. Expect too to see the convertible version of the newly-launched R8 sports car, and possibly the turbo’ed V6-engined version of the R8 too.
Distantly related to Audi, Bentley will be making one of the biggest noises at the show with its Bentayga SUV, the luxury brand’s first ever 4x4. Based on the same chassis as the Audi Q7, the Bentayga will have the 6.0-litre W12 turbo engine from the Continental GT coupe, which pushes it to a claimed 300kmh top speed. A V8 turbo version will also be available as will, eventually, a plugin hybrid. Bentley is remaining coy over the subject of a diesel model, but one must surely be in the works.
BMW’s electric future
BMW will have its screaming new M2, a hot, high-performance version of the 2 Series Coupe and a replacement for the much-loved M135i coupe, and it will more than likely bring along the gorgeous CSL Hommage coupe that was shown at the Villa D’Este and Pebble Beach concours events. Of more mundane interest will be the facelifted and updated 3 Series with its new three-cylinder petrol engines (shared with the Mini) and 225xe and 330xe plugin hybrid versions of the 2 Series Active Tourer and 3 Series saloon. The new 7 Series will also get its first major public outing as will a new M6 GT3 racing car and the M4 GTS concept. The updated, mostly front-wheel drive, X1 also gets a show stand place.
New Bugatti Veyron?
The Bugatti stand will come under intense scrutiny. While we know the Franco-German ultra-car maker will have its Vision Gran Turismo car on the stage (developed not as a road car but exclusively to be digitised for the Sony PlayStation game) there are rumours that Frankfurt may give us our first peep at the styling of the €1.6-million, 1,500hp Veyron replacement, the Chiron. Even if that car, or a concept, doesn't make an appearance, the more aggressive, hard-edged look of the Vision Gran Turismo should give us some clues.
French fun from Citröen
Citröen is having some fun at Frankfurt. The once-financially-troubled French car maker is back on its feet now, bouyed by the success of the C4 Cactus compact crossover and the C4 Picasso MPV. Its show star this time around is the Cactus M Concept, an open-top C4 Cactus inspired by the sixties Citroen Mehari not-quite-off-roader. Think of it as a Parisian beach buggy and you won't be far wrong? Chances of production? Slim, but possible. Of more serious intent is the updated DS4, the second of the now-standalone DS brand's facelifts. It gets a new grille, some new interior bits and pieces and a 'Crossback' variant that adds butch roof rails and underbody protection and a 30mm increase in ride height to try and piggy-back DS onto the soft-roader boom.
Ferrari petrol purity
Ferrari could well have one of the proper show-stoppers at Frankfurt. We know that it will have the slinky, sexy Spyder convertible version of the new turbocharged 488 coupe there, and in some circumstances that would be enough. But we’ll also get to see Ferrari’s last-ever non-turbo or non-hybrid V12 engine in the F12 Speciale, or possibly F12 GTO (the name is still TBC). Expect 760hp, a tweaked chassis and earth-shattering decibel levels. And a €600,000 price tag.
Fiat’s new Punto?
Fiat will be showing off its updated 500 (tweaked styling, updated interior) and there's a chance we might get a peep at what plans it has for the next-generation Punto. We should also get to see the first sight of the new 124 Spider – based on the fantastic Mazda MX-5 and coming in Fiat (soft-edged) and Abarth (hard-core) flavours.
Ford’s premium expansion
Ford will have its astonishing GT supercar to show off again, while it will also be pushing its new Vignale luxury offshoot, with Viganle-fied versions of the S-Max and Galaxy to sit alongside the freshly-minted Mondeo Vignale. Expect to get a good look a the Euro version of the new Edge SUV too, as well as a hotter-than-Hell Shelby version of the new Mustang. And a first glimpse at the all-new Fiesta? Probably…
Honda’s sports plan
Honda will be busy showing off its new NSX in full production form, as well as the new HR-V – its rival to the Nissan Qashqai. There will also be a concept called the Project 2and4, a fantastic (in every sense) concept that mixes Honda's motorbike and car building expertise into a tiny single seater with the engine from Honda's Moto GP racing bike and styling inspired by sixties F1 cars. Sadly, it's not for production.
Hyundai’s future styling
Hyundai is going to have a very busy Frankfurt. Alongside the i20 Active (faux SUV-styling to compete with the likes of the VW CrossPolo) and a a mid-life facelift for the Santa Fe (blink and you'll miss it) there will also be some significant concept cars. The Vision G is a big-grille'd luxury coupe – a sort of Hyundai BMW 6 Series – that's not only a look at Hyundai's future styling but also its intent to seriously take on the established luxury car makers with successors to, and expansions of, the successful Genesis and Equus V8 saloons. Backing that up will be another PlayStation GranTurismo concept (yes, Hyundai and Bugatti are doing the same thing…) called N-2025. It's a wild-looking mid-engined supercar, but the significant bit is the N badge; that will become Hyundai's high-performance brand as it creates a competitor for the likes of Ford's ST, VW's GTI and Fiat's Abarth.
Infiniti within sight
Infiniti will be, at last, making a big European splash at Frankfurt. Nissan’s luxury brand has long been a big hit in the states but its diet of big, rear-drive saloons has thus far failed to make an impact on European buyers. That could be about to change with the arrival of the production version of the much-trailed Q30 crossover. Built in the UK, but based on the Mercedes GLA, it’s the first Infiniti to cater to Europe’s front-drive, diesel-power tastes. It’s striking looking but how will a brand with no history and an interior very obviously lifted from Mercedes (same dials, same switches etc) do against entrenched home-grown premium brands? A ballsy Frankfurt launch under the noses of its major rivals indicates just how seriously Nissan and Infiniti is taking all of this.
Jaguar finally gets its SUV
Jaguar may just have one of the stars of the Frankfurt show in the shape of the production version of its F-Pace SUV. It’s Jag’s first ever crossover, and while we have already seen most of its shape in the CX-17 concept car and various lightly disguised prototypes, Frankfurt is the first chance to see it shorn of camouflage. There’s no denying it’s a desirable looking thing (and it’s probably effectively the replacement for the XF Sportbrake estate as Jaguar says that business case for that car is looking shaky). Expect it to quickly rival the smaller XE saloon as Jaguar’s best-seller.
Kia’s optimum plan
Kia is going after the mid-size saloon market in a serious way with the new Optima. It looks familiar but there's no denying it's a handsome four-door, and while this is a market that's still on the decline, Kia reckons it's still significant enough to warrant investment. The new Optima has much lower Co2 figures than before, with the promise of plugin hybrid and estate versions to come. The somewhat-controversial looking new Sportage will be the Korean brand's big launch at Frankfurt though, alongside a mildly updated Cee'd hatch and estate.
It will be all about an open-sky policy at Lamborghini as the German-owned Italian supercar maker launches not one but two mid-engined drop tops. The wild Aventador Roadster SV we already know about, but we’ll have to wait until show-time to see the convertible Huracan. Expect it to be gorgeous, though and expect also to see something of the new Urus 4x4, which shares a chassis with the Bentley Bentayga.
Lexus will be bringing along the critical new RX crossover – the hybrid 4x4 has long been one of the best-selling cars the Japanese luxury firm has ever made, and this new model will be crucial to underscore its success against the likes of the BMW X5 and Audi Q7. We may also get to see our first sight of the all-important seven-seat version of the RX, something Lexus’ US dealers are screaming for and which would go down well in Europe too. We’ll also get to see a facelifted GS saloon and Sport versions of the IS and CT.
Maserati joins SUV race
Another potential show-stopper, and a rival to the RX, will be the Maserati Levante. We've been waiting almost a decade now for a Maserati SUV, and the Levante will be crucial not only for Maserati's future fortunes, but also for those of relaunched Alfa Romeo, which is relying on Maserati to share its rear-drive saloon and SUV platforms. The Jeep Grand Cherokee architecture, originally earmarked for the Levante, has been dropped in favour of a much-modified Ghibli chassis and expect V6 turbo petrol and V6 turbo diesel power, as well as a V8-engined rival to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
Mazda will be showing off its Koeru concept – a plus-size crossover that will eventually lead to a new CX-7 to sit above the successful CX-5. Expect swoop-y styling and possibly a seven seat layout alongside a new generation of SkyActiv weight savings and fuel economy measures, as well as a hybrid electric element. The Koeru will also be the signpost to the future of Mazda’s styling.
Mercedes take on Tesla
No show is more important for Mercedes, and the three-pointed star will be pulling out all the stops for Frankfurt. For now, its biggest (in every sense) star will be the majestic S-Class Cabriolet – all of the luxury, none of the roof – as well as a facelifted SLK (rebadged as SLC), an updated A-Class, and the C-Class Coupe in regular and monster AMG forms. Expect to see something of the all-new E-Class as well, and we might get a peep at what Mercedes is working on for its recently-announced all-electric Tesla Model S rival.
Mini’s big show star really is big – it’s the new Clubman estate, which grows from being a Mini hatch with a small extension to being a proper family four-seater with a big boot. BMW wants it to be seen as less of a small estate, and more of a quirky VW Golf rival. The barn-door boot remains but the single rear side door is gone and replaced by conventional rear doors; one on each side. We should also get a clearer idea of what Mini has planned for the production version of its gorgeous Touring-designed Superleggera half-electric convertible concept.
Nissan’s new pick-up
Nissan will have its new NP300 Navara pickup for us to have a look at, as well as an updated Micra supermini and, we expect, a concept that will preview the upcoming and all-important new Juke compact crossover. An updated Leaf electric car, which is expected to have its one-charge range improved by around 30 per cent, will also be there. Nissan’s big news though will be a concept car previewing a new high-performance crossover that mashes-up the likes of the Juke, Qashqai and X-Trail with the legendary sporting Z-Car line. Sacrilege or sensational?
New Astra from Opel
Can Opel make a Frankfurt star out of the new Astra? It's a rather conventional-looking family hatch, but the Frankfurt-based car maker will be hoping that the new model's more sophisticated, more spacious cabin will make it more of a runner in the sharply competitive family hatch segment. The Astra TCR racing car concept should also give us an idea of what the next-gen Astra Coupe will look like, and we might just get a concept to show us the beginnings of the new Insignia's styling too.
Peugeot’s Fractal concept
Peugeot will have the new 308 GTI in full production form at Frankfurt, as well as the insane (and possibly still production-bound) 500hp hybrid 308 R. We'll also see the sharply-styled Fractal concept that points the way to a new 3008 crossover.
Porsche’s icon renewed
Wait, stop everything – there's a new Porsche 911 in town. Now, in exterior terms this is, as ever, something of a bring-your-own-magnifying-glass facelift for Porsche's apparently immortal rear-engined sports car. On the outside, the only changes are new lights and bumpers and a new engine cover. Inside there's a new multi-function touch-screen satnav which now includes Apple CarPlay and Google Maps but the real news is slung behind the rear axle – there's a new 3.0-litre turbocharged flat-six engine that replaces the old 3.4 and 3.8-litre naturally aspirated powerplants.
It comes as either a 370hp Carrera or a 420hp Carrera S and Porsche claims this is a car which can sprint to 100km/h in less than 4.0secs yet returns close to 40mpg on the combined cycle. While the 911 will look familiar, a bigger change will be found elsewhere on the Porsche stand. Expect to see a concept all-electric saloon, based on the architecture of Porsche’s upcoming BMW 5 Series-sized model (possibly still called Pajun or Panamera Junior) which should be able to go for at least 500km between charge ups and offer a rival to the Tesla Model S’s barnstorming 0-100km/h times.
Renault’s Megane replacement
Renault's two big offerings for Frankfurt are a (metaphorically) big new Megane and a (literally) big Alaskan Concept. The Megane looks especially handsome, and could steal the thunder of the new Opel Astra with its big, bold grille and its Volvo-esque interior. Could La Regie have a hatchback hit on its hands? The Alaskan is, believe it or not, Renault's first-ever pickup truck. A concept for now, it will make production next year using the Nissan Navara's chassis and 2.3-litre dCi diesel engines. Renault wants it to be seen as much as a luxurious SUV as it is a hardworking one-tonne pickup.
Rolls-Royce will be hoping that its Dawn convertible will steal as much of the show limelight as did the Wraith coupe upon which it is based. Expect boundless luxury and something of a nautical theme for this most Cary Grant-esque of cars. We probably won’t see much of Rolls’ Project Cullinan SUV at Frankfurt – that’s most likely being saved for Geneva next year.
Seat's big Frankfurt star will be the production version of its long-awaited compact SUV. Based on the chassis of the next Volkswagen Tiguan, and actually built by Skoda in the Czech Republic, this crowd-pleasing crossover could finally be the car that takes Seat from problem child status into sustained profitability.
Skoda's new Roomster
Skoda's show star will be the new Roomster, which moves up a size class and will be based on the architecture of the new Volkswagen Caddy. Expect lots of space and a small price tag. Skoda will also be showing off an ultra-frugal Superb Greenline, a sportier Superb Sportline and a very sporty (in looks if not actuality) Monte Carlo version of the Rapid hatchback.
Toyota’s avant-garde concept
For Toyota, this is going to be a major trip to the Frankfurt motor show. Not only does it have the new HiLux pickup to show off, but it will bring along the latest Prius, still by far the world's biggest-selling hybrid. The new car will arrive in Irish showrooms in January. We'll also get to see the RAV4 hybrid and a mild update for the Yaris.
Alongside these will be another chance to muse on Toyota’s plans for a Qashqai rival. Probably called Auris Cross, the new car will be based on Toyota’s modular model platform, will feature BMW-sourced diesel power, hybrid and petrol drivetrains and could well keep the very avant-garde looks of the C-HR concept car that was shown in Geneva this year. Expect a final production version to be unveiled in Geneva next year.
Toyota boss Akio Toyoda has for years now been exhorting his stylists to create bolder-looking cars and the Auris Cross could well be a major line in the sand for Toyota's design department. It could also be the car that pushes Toyota into the sort of sales success in Europe that it has long had in Ireland.
Home show for VW giant
This is Volkswagen’s home show, so expect the world’s biggest car maker to pull out some, if not all, of the stops. We know that the new T6 Transporter van will be there (significant if not exactly pulse racing), and we know that there’ll be a Golf Cabrio there (most likely an update of the old MkVI Golf soft-top).
The biggest news, however, is the new Tiguan. It’s not due on sale until late next year, but expect VW to give us a look at its all-important new crossover. A lack of 4x4 models has held back VW’s success in the US in recent year, so this will be just the beginning of a VW SUV explosion. There’ll be more, much more, but VW is keeping its powder dry until press day for now.
Volvo’s new saloon
Volvo is at last getting back into the big saloon and estate game. The current S80 and V70 have been allowed to get rather long in the tooth, but Frankfurt will see at least an idea of what the S90 and V90 replacement will look like. It will follow the design of the hugely successful new XC90 very closely (hardly surprising as they’re the same under the skin) and expect innovations in cockpit design as well as safety, and even lower emissions for the T8 plugin hybrid versions.