What we learnt from the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show

Frankfurt Motor ShowWe didn’t just look at cars during our three days at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show. We spoke to people. We asked questions. We listened.

And we mused… here are some of the things we learnt while out in Germany at Europe’s biggest (and most feet-punishing) motor show.

Audi isn’t worried about China

Sales in the world’s biggest new car market, China, are down big time in 2015. Many brands rely on China for ever-growing sales, not least Audi. So is its CEO Rupert Stadler panicking? Not a bit, he told us – and he fully expects the market to recover more quickly than the naysayers are currently predicting…

Jaguar is swelling with confidence about F-Pace

Jaguar’s execs are beaming here at Frankfurt: they know the F-Pace has gone down a storm, and know they’re able to back up the car’s smart appearance with the nitty gritty of pricing, emissions and practicality. It’s Jaguar’s 80th year in 2015: seems the year of the cat is about to seriously gather (F-) pace…

Volkswagen isn’t afraid to do bold styling where necessary

With the Volkswagen Golf, you know the new one is going to look rather like the old one. Same with a Polo, same with a Passat. VW isn’t tied to evolutionary styling though: the Tiguan compact SUV was looking plain in a sector full of ever-bolder rivals – so the new one dials up the visual clout accordingly. We didn’t expect it to, but it really stands out and looks great.

MINI is getting a new look

MINI’s bold and brash colourschemes have had their day. The brand’s going up and Frankfurt debuted its new style: serif fonts, ‘flat’ logo design and modern-look dealers with exposed brickwork and aged materials. Hipsters are going to love it.

The Honda UniCub is brilliant

We rode Honda’s UniCub at Frankfurt. It’s basically a moving seat you control by subtly leaning forward, back and sideways. And it’s fantastic. Honda says it’s idea for lengthy museum tours: we say it’s perfect for reporting on Frankfurt as you move around and between stands…

There’s hope for Alfa Romeo yet

We sat in the new Alfa Giulia and we were impressed: it stood up to scrutiny and seems more than able to challenge the premium feel of the German brands. It’s another test passed for the make-or-break small saloon: do the BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE have an Italian arch-rival lurking in the wings?

Audi car design is too subtle for car photographers

Yawn, yawn, it’s the new Audi A4 and it looks just like the old one, yawn. Frankfurt woke us up though: in the metal, the new car does look fresh and crisp. Much more so than in the official images. Time for a new in-house snapper, Audi?

The new Infiniti Q30 feels just like a Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Even before you’ve got into the new Infiniti Q30, you’re thinking ‘Mercedes-Benz A-Class’. The door handles are the same. The dials, the same. It has the same single column stalk, heater controls, electric window controls, steering wheel… this is all encouraging, but have we already learnt how the Q30 drives before we’ve even driven it?

Ford almost stole the show with a price announcement

On the eve of opening press day, social media streams lit up: Ford had confirmed the Focus RS was a 165mph car capable of reaching 62mph from rest in 4.7 seconds, most amazingly of all, costs less than £29,000. We learnt to never underestimate the blue oval…

Skoda would love to make a Superb vRS

Skoda’s long said it won’t make a hot Superb vRS. There’s no market for such a car. Doesn’t stop it dabbling though: the SportLine has the lowered suspension, big wheels and bodykit tweaks that make it a vRS in spirit. We love the contrast black rear gurney spoiler, just like that on a BMW M5. Don’t forget, you can get it with a 280hp Seat Leon Cupra engine as well. The cut-price M5 challenger that will never be…

Relief: the Bentley Bentayga looks good…

We’ve been fearing the production version of Bentley’s ugly EXP 9F ever since it was first shown back in 2012. Would it be horrible? Well, the production car’s here, and we learnt… it’s rather lovely, actually. Not everyone will adore it but, in the metal, it works, and the detailing is exquisite.

… And its designer is happy to accept the EXP 9F concept was wrong

We spoke to the designer Sang Yip Lee (who joined after they showed the EXP 9F, notably…). The concept wasn’t a proper Bentley, he said. It was too boxy, trying too hard to be a Range Rover, lacked subtlety. All correct. “But that’s why we did a concept,” he added. “To make sure the production car was perfect.”

DS still doesn’t know how successful it’ll be

Citroen’s DS brand going alone was a brave move, and one it seems even they’re not sure how successful it will be. Previously they’ve told us they had no idea how well it’d work in the UK, now here in Frankfurt they’re telling us they have no sales projections as they’re still establishing themselves as a brand. A car company always has sales projections… Why don’t they want to tell us?

Bentley’s going to remain the world’s largest producer of 12 cylinder engines

The Bentley Bentayga is getting an almost all-new version of the W12 engine, with TSI direct fuel injection and cylinder deactivation. Production is being centralised in Crewe and, with Bentley targeting overall sales volumes of 15,000 cars a year – many of which will be W12s – its title of being the world’s largest producer of 12-cylinder engines seems safe for a while yet.

Vauxhall/Opel has managed to spring a surprise

The Astra hasn’t been a car to get people excited for decades. The Mk2 Astra of the 1980s was the last novel and standout model, so not much was expected from this one. And that’s why many who’ve seen its stylish, confident lines and Germanic interior are so surprised by it. Some American visitors have even been suggesting a Buick version needs to be developed double-quick. Lesson? If you want to get on people’s radar and turn around your image, start by getting the product right.

Lancia lingers pointlessly on

Lancia used to be quite a large brand. But it hasn’t been for years. Now it’s dying a slow, pitiful death which makes motor shows like this something of an embarrassment. The range is now down to a single car, the aged Ypsilon, and the fact there’s nothing new to show makes its far too large stand an irrelevance. We didn’t learn anything new from Lancia because there is nothing new. It’s sad, but it’s pointless.

It IS good to be bad

Bond drives an Aston Martin. They tried giving him a BMW for a bit, but that didn’t convince. For car makers keen to get in on the franchise, providing a car to Bond is a no-go. Bond baddies, though? Ah, now there’s an opportunity. And who’s the brand that thinks it’s good to be bad? Why, Jaguar. Cue a fleet of orange C-X75s for Bond’s nemesis Hinx to race in the upcoming film Spectre, and a few Land Rover Defenders and Range Rover Sports thrown in for good measure. Good to be bad indeed.

The scale of premium brand’s dominance

In the compact saloon sector – Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class – those three German brands take 80% of the market. The multitude of rival models fight over the remaining 1 in 5 customers. Gives a little context to Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia sales…

The boss of Fiat had better things to do

Fiat-Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne cancelled his visit to the Frankfurt Motor Show at the last minute, leaving journalists cued up to interview him twiddling their thumbs. The reason was important business with the unions in America. So we didn’t learn anything from him.

Modern car exhausts are works of art

Akrapovic is a Slovenian exhaust manufacturer famed for its motorcycle systems but more recently making waves in the car world. It had some of its high-end systems on display: they’re amazing pieces of sculpture. They look more than ever like musical instruments and it’s no wonder cars such as the Porsche 911 GT3 RS and Lamborghini Huracan sound so good.

The new Toyota Prius actually demands a closer look

The Prius has played the role of pantomime villain at the Frankfurt show, with its bold styling making it a soft-touch in a world that champions the fast and the glamorous. But actually, if you stand and look at the Prius, the design pulls together. And face it, the Prius is styled like that for a reason. In a bold prediction, we reckon the Prius will win over most of its detractors.

Citroen has rediscovered its mojo

How refreshing to see a brand so confident in its own skin. Modern Citroen seems to have a clear sense of direction and a knowledge of its position in the world. The C4 Cactus is a perfect demonstration and the brand could easily build its operations around this wonderful model. Right now, Citroen has the upperhand over DS.

We’re going to miss the Suzuki Jimny

One day, we’ll attend a motor show without a Suzuki Jimny. With the Land Rover bowing out in 2015, the Jimny is one of the last remaining vehicles of the old guard, a friendly and familiar face in shows filled with wild and outlandish concepts. It may be dated, but it still has a place in the world. And Suzuki will find it very hard to replace it.

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