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The 15 most significant cars of the 2011 Frankfurt motor show

Wed, 14 Sep 2011

Over 100 new cars were unveiled at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show, but which are the most important? From production cars to concepts that will never be built, CAR's road test editor Ben Pulman, decides on the 15 most significant models premiered at the IAA... 

1 – Land Rover DC100 concept

Chunky and funky, it’s Land Rover’s Evoque, the Defender urbanised, modernised and stylised for the 21st century. Range Rovers have become too ‘bling’, but the DC100 has the restrained elegance of the Disco 3 – we’ll ignore its bright yellow sister, the speedster-style DC100 Sport. It’s not a conventional, utilitarian take on the Defender for the traditional Landie customer, but bar the Army just how much of a market is there out there? The most profitable sales are to be found in market segments where you can charge premium prices, so don’t expect a wash-with-a-hose £15k rival for the Panda 4x4. Most importantly, the DC100 – and its Sport sister – confirm that Land Rover will replace the Defender (it’s about time really), and public reaction to these two will shape the new car due in 2015.

2 – Mercedes F125 concept

Not the best-looking Merc concept car of recent years, but ignore it at your peril. Mercedes’ F-branded concepts always offer a glimpse of the future before any other manufacturer, and the F125 (built to celebrate the company’s 125th anniversary) is more forward gazing than most – think two generations hence. The F125 boasts a hydrogen fuel cell, cutting edge lithium-sulphur batteries, a gargantuan 620-mile range, an eMatic all-wheel drive system, and a lightweight body built from the ground up to accommodate the specific requirements of a hydrogen-fuelled powertrain. It’s Mercedes going all-in on an H2 future.

3 – Volkswagen Up

It’s not an innovative rear-engined and rear-wheel drive supermini like the original concepts promised; in fact, looking at its conventional layout you’d be forgiven for just thinking it’s VW’s replacement for the Fox. Which it is. But the VW Group has put a lot of thought (and thus money) into this car, there’ll be Skoda and Seat versions too, and a gaggle of Up concepts at Frankfurt previewed potential GTI, EV and faux-4x4 versions. Hundreds of thousands of these things will be built, and with that badge to boot, Ford’s Ka and every other little city car out there should be worried. Simple, straightforward, and destined to be a success.

4 – Skoda MissionL concept

Understated and so easy to overlook – it’s just a Skoda, after all. But the MissionL – anyone else read it as Missoni? – will reach production (almost unchanged) in 2012, and it heralds Skoda’s entry into the hotly contested hatchback class, thus far ruled by the Focus and Golf. With VW parts bin backing, Skoda’s propensity to offer more space for less money, and a badge that those in the know now respect, it’s going to shake things up. And help double Skoda’s annual sales to 1.5m units by 2018.

5 – Porsche 911

No, not the new 911. We’ll admit the new 991 is significant (it’s cleaner, faster and better looking than its 997 predecessor, and will become a hybrid at some point in its life) but instead the now-defunct GT3 RS 4.0 is on my list thanks to a technicality – it made its motor show debut at Frankfurt.  It marks the end of a 911 that first ushered in water-cooled engines as the 996 in 1997, and secured Porsche’s future thanks to sharing parts with the Boxster. In final 4.0-litre guise it’s quite possibly the greatest road-legal 911 ever built, and unless Porsche’s engineers can work miracles, it’s also the end of the line for the amazing, motorsport-derived ‘Mezger’ flat six. Goodbye to a great.

6 – Jaguar C-X16 concept

Not actually as good looking in the metal as you might expect but there the disappointment ends (and it’s not exactly ugly). An aluminium chassis means it’s light, a supercharged 375bhp V6 for the R version means it’s fast, and prices from around £55k mean it’ll take on top-end Boxsters and bottom-rung 911s. It'll probably halve the number of deposits Porsche takes for the new 911 during the Frankfurt show.

7 – Citroen DS5

Utterly, utterly gorgeous. Citroen had a fleet of these, all in white with black wheels, shuttling tired hacks between the vast halls of the IAA, and they looked sleek, and low, and lovely. And no, I didn’t get a lift in one so I can’t be accused of giving PSA any preferential treatment. We get behind the wheel next month, and while I’d hate to assume the steering will be light and lifeless and ultimately the drive will disappoint, I reckon the DS5 was the best-looking new car at the IAA this year. Seriously.

8 - Maserati Kubang concept

Terrible. I know Porsche has the Cayenne and will soon have the Cajun, I know both Bentley and Lamborghini are working on SUVs, I know that this is the future as expanding, emerging markets demand these profitable cars which niche luxury manufacturers would only ignore at their peril. If you were the CEO, could you forgo a 4x4 knowing it dooms your company to build just a few thousand sports car each year? Or would you give the green light, secure Maser’s future, and set about improving the GT cars everyone loves? Exactly. That was from the head, so now from the heart. It’s ugly (every Maserati should be beautiful) and looks too much like a Mazda CX-7, and because it’s really a Grand Cherokee, a Porsche Cayenne is going to run rings around it.

9 & 10 – BMW i3 and i8

Couldn’t decide between these two carbon BMWs so they’re both in. Come 2013 the i3 will be launched in both range-extender and full EV forms, a £30k-plus supermini that’ll see just how much we’re prepared to pay for a car that’s shorter than a Fiesta. A genuinely innovative idea.

And in 2014 the £125k i8 supercar arrives. Audi has the R8 and Merc the SLS, and BMW missed the boat, yet while both rivals prepare limited-run, limited-range EV versions, the i8 will sail merrily past thanks to its three-cylinder hybrid drivetrain. It really is the supercar of the future.

11 – Ford Evos concept

Ignore the butterfly doors, don’t bother trying to find out what the powertrain is – instead, just look at the Evos. It’s not a jaw-dropper, but it heralds the start of a design language to replace the Blue Oval’s exisiting Kinetic Design. Which means the Mondeo, the Mk4 Focus, the next Fiesta, and every other Ford product over at least the next decade will be stylistically influenced by this car.

12 – Lancia Flavia Cabrio

Only Ferrari and Alfa seem to be surviving unmolested within the Fiat Group. Maserati has the Grand Cherokee-based Kubang, Fiat is flogging a Dodge Journey (thankfully not in the UK) and what’s going on between Lancia and Chrysler is utterly horrible. Us Brits get the American brand, which sells the 300C and Voyager alongside the Ypsilon and Delta, but it’s a name we don’t really care about. Pity the Italians then (and the rest of mainland Europe), as Lancia is being forced to sell the Voyager, the 300C (as the new Thema), and worst of the lot, the Flavia Cabrio. It’s just a 200 Convertible. There’ll be a business case behind it, but how low can you go? Worst car of the show. Look away if you don't want to be depressed.

13 – Alfa Romeo 4C concept

Another car that’s snuck in on a technicality: the 4C actually first appeared at the 2011 Geneva motor, but it’s been to the paintshop prior to its trip to Frankfurt, which gives us an excuse to feature it again. It’s gorgeous, stunning enough to distract you from the Flavia sitting opposite, and it’ll look like this when production starts in 2012. And it’s got the underpinnings to back up the good looks: carbonfibre platform engineered by Dallara, turbocharged 200bhp-plus 1.7, six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, rear-wheel drive, adaptive dampers. Just a few thousand will be built each year but it’s a brilliant halo car for Alfa to have as it returns to the USA.

14 – Toyota FT-86 II

Another car that we’ve seen before, but for Frankfurt it got a big rear wing and some new orange paint. Hardly significant, but this is the car that the CAR office is most excited about for 2012. Rear-wheel drive chassis, manual gearbox, 2.0-litre flat-four engine (with a turbo for the fast version). An excellent set of ingredients for a cheap sports car. Engineering partners Subaru meanwhile, are pissing around showing off boring transparent-paneled concepts and missing out on all the publicity.

15 – Vauxhall Rake concept

The VW Nils or Audi’s duo of Urban concepts could have featured here, as the automotive world readies a flurry a tiny, sub-500kg commuter vehicles. But Vauxhall’s effort, the Rake, is designed to be as cheap as possible (the suits mentioned a €12k starting price) with no carbon and just a simple steel chassis. And they say this could quite easily be in production by 2015. It also offers more weather protection than Renault’s open-air Twizy. An intriguing glimpse into our motoring tomorrows.