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Frankfurt Motor Show: A rich crop of concepts

Frankfurt Motor Show: A rich crop of concepts

The biannual International Motor Show in Frankfurt isn’t only Europe’s biggest automotive expo, but arguably one of the world’s most significant. The 2013 event was filled to the brim with new cars and concepts, suggesting that an industry in crisis not that long ago is well on the way to recovery. By DEON SCHOEMAN.

Motor shows are all about concept cars. Yes, they’re also the perfect platform to showcase new production models. But the real stars of any serious motor show are the weird, the wild and the wonderful concept cars.

Of course, there’s more to these one-off wonders than just drawing attention. They very often explore designs or technologies that may become a production reality in the future, and as such provide their makers with an opportunity to gauge public response before spending hundreds of millions on the final production version.

This year’s Frankfurt show had a plethora of concepts, not only underscoring the importance of the show, but also suggesting that the industry is emerging from the doldrums, and looking forward to a brighter future. While there were some important production car debuts, including BMW’s i3 and i8, the new-generation Peugeot 308, the new Mercedes-Benz S-class, Hyundai’s latest i10, and the Ferrari 458 Speciale, the concepts were the real stars of the show. Here’s our pick of the brightest of that bunch.

Audi Kanuk quattro concept

Imagine a large, sleek coupé with huge lashings of power, quattro all-wheel drive and the ability to perform equally well on and off the road. That’s exactly what Audi’s surprise concept, the Kanuk quattro concept, promises. With a wind-cheating shape penned by Italdesign Giugiaro, and V10 TDI engine good for 400kW and 1 000Nm, the two-seater Kanuk is unmistakably a sports car. But its ability traverse a variety of terrain, from smooth autobahns to sand tracks or snow-filled ruts, also underlines its crossover status.

The Kanuk’s all-terrain capability is emphasized by its air suspension and adjustable ground clearance, as well as its 22-inch wheels. Manoeuvrability is ensured by an integral steering system that sees the dynamic front steering augmented by rear-wheel steering.

A pared-down cockpit features a driver-focused layout with programmable display, rear-view LCD monitors, and inductive phone charging. Dark aluminium, grey leather and carbon-fibre are the predominant finishes. The Kanuk is an unlikely starter for production, but some of the technologies, especially the integrated steering, are likely to find their way into future Audis.

Infiniti Q30 Concept

The Audi Kanuk may be a flight of fancy, but the Infiniti Q30 Concept is the precursor of an actual production model. The concept will spawn the luxury brand’s smallest contender yet, with a shape that combines the basic outline of a sporty hatchback with both coupé and crossover elements.

The production version will also be badged Q30, suggesting that the concept is close to the real thing, certainly as far as dimensions and basic configuration are concerned. The five-door design is both muscular and athletic, with an unusual, inverted C-pillar and concealed door handles that are likely to be retained.

Infiniti is mum about drivetrains or suspension layout, but has confirmed that multiple F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel has been closely involved in the gestation of the new vehicle. The Q30 will be targeting younger premium car buyers, and will rival the Audi A3, BMW 1-Series and the latest Mercedes-Benz A-class.

Jaguar C-X17 Concept

Another marque looking to extend its footprint by adding a compact vehicle range to its model line-up is Jaguar. The British marque has been linked to plans for a smaller sedan, to fit in below the current XF, for some time, but the emergence of the C-X17 Concept has finally confirmed those intentions.

The C-X17’s form factor is not a sedan. Instead, it employs a compact crossover shape to showcase the all-new, all-aluminium platform that will be at the heart of the new range. But it does suggest that those underpinnings won’t be restricted to a sedan alone; both an estate and a SUV-styled crossover are likely to result from the new platform.

Jaguar will have been heartened by the huge popularity of sister brand Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque, which remains in short supply, proving that there is a ready market for more compact, premium crossovers. But Jaguar’s main focus in its quest for greater volumes will be on the compact sedan, set to take on BMW’s 3-Series, the Audi A4 and the Mercedes-Benz C-class. The new, smaller Jaguar is expected to debut in 2015.

Lexus LX-NF Concept

A brand that is looking to compete directly with the Land Rover Evoque is Lexus, which unveiled a compact premium SUV at Frankfurt. Hopefully, the LX-NF’s over-the-top aggression will be toned down by the time the production version arrives in two years from now.

The show car’s exaggerated geometric style lines, massively extended wheel arches, high waistline and sharp-edged light clusters are certainly both eye-catching and futuristic, but the road-going model is likely to display a smoother and sleeker execution of the LX-NF’s profile. The interior is also pure show car, with a two-zone dashboard, touch-sensitive switchgear and upholstery in a mix of black and yellow. The familiar blue instrument illumination typical of current Lexus models provides some continuity, as does the mouse-like remote touch interface.

Head turning styling aside, the most important aspect of the LX-NF is the drivetrain, which previews the latest-generation full-hybrid technology from Lexus. While details are sparse, the new system will be more efficient and more compact, allowing a saving in weight while boosting the vehicle’s operating range in zero-emissions mode.

Kia Niro Concept

Kia was another brand offering an SUV-inspired show car. Visually, the Niro was one of the most striking designs on display, and while the scissor doors will not survive the transition to production reality, much of the rest of the mini-SUV’s design should remain intact.

Styled at Kia’s Frankfurt design studio, not far from the showgrounds, the Niro is Kia’s take on the sub-segment created by Nissan’s astonishingly successful Juke. But while the bug-eyed Juke looks outlandish, the Niro’s shape captures the clean and contemporary essentials of the larger Sportage, and translates them into a more compact form factor.

Much of the focus of the Niro (and, by implication, the production it will spawn) is on upmarket tactile quality and execution, suggesting that Kia will be positioning the vehicle above the more prosaic, if funky, Juke. It certainly likely to enjoy a more elevated position than the boxier, more utilitarian Kia Soul, which was also shown at Frankfurt in updated form. No date has been set for the production version, but drivetrains are likely to include 4×2 and 4×4 options, linked to either petrol or turbodiesel engines.

Mercedes-Benz Concept S-class Coupé

Another concept that closely previewed an upcoming production model was the Concept S-class Coupé. As the name implies, it is a near-production rendition of the upcoming S-class Coupé, which will continue the Mercedes-Benz tradition of flagship grand coupés.

Not surprisingly, the concept is based on the recently launched S-class, considered by some as the most technologically advanced production model in the world. However, the coupé benefits from a sleek and elegant look that belies its size and also adds sporty appeal.

A long bonnet and the by now familiar oversized Mercedes-Benz grille are joined by tapered, LED-accented headlights, while the scalloped flanks and smooth rear emphasise the two-door’s athletic, aerodynamic presence. The interior mixes retro and contemporary elements, with a slim, floating dashboard, intricately shaped air vents and organically shape seats with fluted leather upholstery. Conventional instruments make way for an all-electronic array of displays, while aluminium surfaces suggest quality and longevity.

Under the bonnet a twin-turbo 4.7-litre V8 engine produces 335 kW and 700 Nm, delivering enough urge to ensure that the concept has the go to match the show. The production version should debut at next year’s Geneva Motor Show.

Opel Monza Concept

The Opel brand is in dire need of a true brand ambassador, and in terms of image the Opel Monza Concept certainly suggests that all is not lost for the Rüsselsheim marque. While the Monza is a concept only, it points the way forward for Opel’s next-generation production models.

The sleek, low-slung four-seater features massive gullwing doors that provide access for both front and rear occupants, while the extensive glass areas create an airy, spacious cabin. The arced roofline, wide track and low stance suggest dynamic talents, too.

But there’s more to the Monza than distinctive aesthetics. Advanced technology is a key theme, reflected not only in the projected LED instrumentation and the lightweight construction of the Monza, but also its choice of futuristic drivetrains: from electric drive with CNG-powered range extender to full fuel cell capability.

Renault Initiale Paris Concept

The pioneer of the MPV remains resolutely committed to monospace design, as epitomised by the Initiale Paris Concept, a vehicle that could spawn the next-generation Espace people carrier, but which could also become the first of an all-new premium sub-brand.

Although long and tall, the concept looks sleek and elegant, with a clean, aerodynamic shape that belies its actual dimensions. Signature LED headlights and taillights add visual interest and identity, as does the large grille and prominent Renault diamond logo. Rear-hinged doors and motorised running doors ease access to a futuristic interior with individual, shell-shaped seats and eye-catching, LED-illuminated floor. The roof is an intricate mix of glass and aluminium and depicts an aerial map of Paris, in deference to Renault’s origins.

While the concept is a precursor to a new-generation Espace, the Paris Initiale name may well be developed into a premium sub-brand. Renault is already developing Alpine as a sports car sub-brand, while its Dacia models represent affordability and value. DM


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