Picking a top 10 from the Frankfurt Motor Show is always a struggle – not just because there are hundreds of world debuts to pick through, but the sheer size of the Messe Frankfurt exhibition complex means you’re unlikely to see everything on display. Luckily our news editor wore his comfortable walking shoes and scoured all 11 halls to bring you the models he reckons matter the most.
1. Citroen Cactus concept
Designing a concept that looks great is a hard enough, making one that says something meaningful about the brand takes forward thinking and showing one that previews an entirely new direction for the company takes nerves of steel. The Citroen Cactus gets my nod this year for daring to be different and harking back Citroen’s core philosophies of comfort and simplicity. As technology marches on relentlessly it doesn’t mean we want our cars to become ever more confusing, and the Cactus puts a stop to that. It’s not just a fantasy either – a production version arrives in February 2014.
• Read more on the Citroen Cactus
2. Jaguar C-X17 concept
It was always likely that a car ten years in planning (Jaguar almost made an SUV based on the Ford Explorer, but thought better of it) would cause the biggest swirl of interest in Frankfurt, and so it was. Some would call the C-X17’s design predictable; I would call it predictably stunning. There’s a story under the Celestial Blue paintwork, too – the C-X17 shows the flexibility of an all-new iQ[Al] aluminum platform that will underpin a shorter-wheelbase small saloon from 2015 onwards, followed by a production version of this SUV. If the C-X16 (which morphed from concept car to the F-Type virtually unchanged) is anything to go by, you’re already looking at the production car, minus the sci-fi interior.
3. BMW i3
When a car’s being stealing headlines for years, how do you get journalist’s attention when the showroom model finally arrives? Offer them lifts around the world’s most spaced-out motor show, that’s how. A fleet of BMW’s new electric hatchback’s were put to work giving lifts from hall to hall, and it worked a treat – i3’s were everywhere I went, and when my feet could take no more, they came to my rescue. I even persuaded our shuttle driver to move over and let me drive. It’s certainly not perfect – the design will divide opinion and not being able to open the rear door until you open the front is frustrating, but the interior is finely crafted, the price is right and there’s a refreshing sense of space on the inside.
4. Volvo Concept Coupe
Let’s hope Volvo’s new Senior Vice President of Design, Thomas Ingenlath, hasn’t peaked too early. The Concept Coupe is the first of three show cars that introduce the firm’s new design language, and it’s a thing of rare beauty to behold. Flashes of the old P1800 coupe combine with ultra-modern, sculptured surfaces to create something that’s not necessarily retro, but makes you feel nostalgic nonetheless. We’ll see elements of this car in the all-new XC90, set to debut at the Paris Motor Show in a year’s time. There’s a faint hope for a production model too – it’s built on Volvo’s new Scaleable Product Architecture (SPA), so if the demand is there, there’s no reason it couldn’t be built.
5. Vauxhall Monza concept
A gullwing coupe and the Griffin badge don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but Vauxhall’s designers have pulled this one off with aplomb. Unfortunately, you’re not likely to see the Monza or something remotely like it on the road anytime soon - the purpose is to preview an evolution of the existing design language, rather than an entire new one. Expect to see elements like the slim headlights and flared nostrils on the next generation Insignia. The interior however, which uses laser projectors to turn the entire dashboard into one infinitely customizable screen, is a vision of the more distant future.
6. Kia Niro concept
Another motor show, another raft of Nissan Juke rivals, but its Kia’s effort that caught my eye. The Niro continues Kia’s rich vein of form in the design department, by applying the familiar family front end to a set of jacked-up supermini proportions. It’s had some fun too, adding ridiculous scissor doors, a stainless steel roof and a pair of bright yellow tow hooks at the back. While most concepts employ a futuristic powertrain then ditch it for production, we’re told as well as a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine the concept’s four-wheel drive hybrid system will actually be offered on the showroom-ready model, due in 2015.
7. Mercedes S-Class Coupe
There’s nothing complicated about the Mercedes S-Class Coupe (formerly known as CL-Class), revealed in concept form in Frankfurt. It takes the S-Class as a starting point removes the bodywork and drapes an incredibly beautiful three-door body over the chassis. In my opinion, Mercedes’s design department hasn’t been of fire of late (the CLA and GLA aren’t the most cohesive designs) but this car puts them right back on track.
8. Porsche 918 Spyder
McLaren and Ferrari might beg to differ, but the Porsche 918 is the most technologically advanced car on sale today. And all that science clearly works – it clocked a sub-seven minute lap of the Nurburgring recently, and could have easily gone faster according to R&D boss Wolfgang Hatz. Costing £660,000 each for the standard model, only half of the 918 production run has been sold so far, with a surprising amount of interest from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who love the digital character of the car. Investment to bring the 918 to fruition has been predictably huge, but Porsche plans to make it pay by trickling the plug-in hybrid tech down to other the other sports car in the range – starting with the next-gen 911 in 2018.
9. Ford S-MAX concept
It says concept in the name, but don’t let it fool you – the all-new S-MAX will look precisely like this when it arrives in early 2015. The styling is remarkable close to the new Fiesta and B-MAX, albeit with blown-up proportions, while the interior should edge Ford ever closer to premium competitors. One of the more unusual features is an ECG system built into the seats that can sense irregular heart activity and alert an ambulance. But at its core the S-MAX, like its successful predecessor, is a practical family car now with an added layer of desirability.
10. Audi Nanuk concept
The big surprise of the show came in the extraordinary shape of the Audi Nanuk concept. A cross between an SUV and a mid-engined supercar it could preview a brand new niche, (if interest is sufficient) to help Audi grow its slice of the mid-engine segment. The styling previews the next-generation R8 and it’s a fully-functioning prototype. There’s a new V10 diesel engine behind the driver’s head and with 550bhp, 1,000Nm of torque and 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds it certainly got supercar pace. If it seems familiar, that’s because the idea stems from the Giugiaro Parcour concept shown at the Geneva show in March.