On home turf
German brands dominate, as the drive to green picks up speed
FRANKFURT, GERMANY — It has been16 years since I have attended a Frankfurt Motor Show. It always conflicted with the Targa Newfoundland rally race, which I was forced to miss this year.
Nothing is a good substitute for Targa, but at least there was something to keep me busy.
As you might expect, the show was all about electric this, electric that, despite nobody being able to tell us where all this electricity is going to come from.
As you also might expect, Frankfurt was dominated by the German brands, each trying to prove it’s greener than the next guy.
The Volkswagen Group, by far the largest manufacturer in Europe and one-two with Toyota worldwide, came close to dominating this year’s show, with significant entries from almost all of its many brands.
Volkswagen itself, still smarting from the diesel issue, offered (among many ‘mea culpas’ from its CEO Matthias Müller) a number of new cars and concepts, most of which we won’t get.
The I.D. concept is a cute-looking Golf-size batterypowered hatchback, which still looks many years from becoming a reality.
One huge slice of the North American market that VW hasn’t yet attacked is pickup trucks. Now that they have a big SUV in Atlas, can a pickup be far behind?
Probably not, because the refreshed Argentina-built Amarok looks too small to compete in our market, although it is sold in large parts of the RoW (Rest of World).
If VW wants to make some serious money, they should back off this electric stuff and spin a pickup off the Atlas.
Porsche pumped up its recently unveiled all-new Cayenne SUV with the Turbo edition. The twin-turbo 4.0litre V8 generates a thumping 550 horsepower and 557 pound-feet of torque, sufficient to launch it from rest to 100 km/h in an amazing 3.7 seconds. Hardware- and interiorwise, it is similar to the recently launched Panamera.
The new truck is the classic “longer-lower-wider,” but to me, it actually looks smaller, probably due to its clever styling. Expect the usual multiple engine choices as the vehicle is rolled out.
Audi’s new A8 is lightly restyled but gains significant increases in power and fuel economy, and improved driver-assistance systems.
Has Audi ever made a rear-driveonly car? Not that I can recall, but at Frankfurt, they showed the reardrive R8 RWS (nope, not RWD as you might expect).
The intention is to intensify the driving experience, which in other words makes it a bit scarier than the full-time, four-wheel drive R8. There will only be 999 copies of each of coupe and convertible body styles made. Whether any Canadians will be lucky enough to get one remains to be seen, but it is apparently coming to the U.S., so we can hope.
Likewise, I was not able to confirm if we’ll get the RS 4 Avant. A gorgeous 450 horsepower four-wheel drive station wagon? What’s not to like? Except maybe not enough people are smart enough to want it? The third modern-generation Bentley Continental GT is based on a shortened version of the platform used in its cousin, the Porsche Panamera, although Bentley engineers are quick to point out that they shared in the development of that platform.
As such, it gets lots of aluminum body parts for a weight reduction of some 100 kilograms. Mind you, it is still a very heavy car.
The “launch engine” — and I use that word advisedly — is the traditional 6.0-litre W12, producing 650 hp and 664 lb.-ft. of torque. The V8 will follow in due course. New suspension makes this not only the bestriding Continental ever, but also the best-handling. The Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster is as you would expect the droptop version of the Aventador coupe. Essentially, it’s the same mechanicals, with the 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12 engine slamming 730 hp and 509 lb.-ft. of torque through a seven-speed dual-clutch manumatic transmission to all four wheels.
The extra 50 kg of weight adds a tenth to the 2.9 second 0-100 km/h sprint time of the coupe, a sacrifice I’d be happy to make for the joys of optional open-air motoring.
Amongst the madness of all the battery-powered cars at Frankfurt was one breath of, literally, fresh air. Turns out Mercedes-Benz has been playing around with fuel cells, and unveiled a close-to-production GLC F-CELL SUV.
It produces 200 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, and because electric motors develop peak torque at zero r.p.m., performance will be lively, indeed. And 4.4 kg of hydrogen stored in two tanks provide a range of some 437 kilometres, more than any current battery-powered electric, and that number doesn’t drop as the temperature does.
The fuel-cell technology means the F-CELL uses a lithium-ion battery that’s about a tenth the size of a battery-powered car, which reduces cost and the huge political and environmental issues involved in mining lithium.
Refuelling options for hydrogen are still an issue, but there is more hydrogen around than most people think, and if a tenth of the money being wasted on battery recharging stations were put into hydrogen stations, we’d all be much better off, much sooner.
At the other end of just about every spectrum was the other key Mercedes debutante, the MercedesAMG Project ONE concept, driven onto the stage by none other than Mercedes’s three-time-and-counting Formula One racing champion, Lewis Hamilton.
This car apparently sprung from the fertile imaginations of Mercedes-AMG engineers who wondered, “What if you started with a Formula One hybrid engine and built a road-going car around that?” So, they did.
In addition to the car’s F1-derived 1.6-litre V6 gasoline engine (with an astonishing 11,000 r.p.m. rev limit) and two electric motors from the race car which, combined, pump about 800 hp to the rear wheels, the Project ONE also gets two more electric motors, each tossing more than 161 horses to the front wheels for total power over 1,100 horses — should be sufficient.
The car could also run some 40 km on the battery alone, as if you could ever resist sticking your foot well and truly into it for that long.
Mercedes didn’t confirm this at the reveal, but a British magazine reports that some 275 copies will be produced starting in 2019 (also starting at over $3 million a pop) and that if your deposit isn’t already in Mercedes’s hands, you’re too late — they have all been spoken for. Too bad. And my piggy bank was almost full.
BMW’s stand has apparently been way over in the west end of the fair grounds for some years now, but it was my first time there. If I’d have known, I’d have bought an airline ticket, or at least waited for the free shuttle instead of hoofing it over there. It was worth the haul.
They showed the new M5, based needless to say, on the recently released 5-Series. A twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 stuffs 600 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque (from as low as 1,800 r.p.m.) through the standard four-wheel drive system. This later unit can be switched to rear-drive at the driver’s whim if he or she wants to have some tail-happy, sliding fun.
The third generation X3 also debuted. As a former two-time BMW owner and road racer, I still can’t wrap my mind around a BMW truck. Can millions of buyers be wrong?
Jaguar was a bit late to the SUV party, which didn’t harm them in my books. But the F-PACE has been a huge hit, so the next-size-smaller EPACE is a natural.
They may have put themselves in a bit of a box with that name, because some people think the E-PACE is an electric vehicle (No, that would be the I-PACE. Go figure).
In its basest form, E-PACE will be a front driver; I doubt we’ll get that one. More powerful versions will drive all four wheels.
A range of 2.0-litre four-cylinder Ingenium diesel and gasoline engines will be available; I was unable to confirm our engine program, but I’m guessing we’ll get the same engines as F-PACE, namely a 180 hp Diesel, and 247 and 295 hp gasoline variants. The interior will look familiar to anyone who’s been in the FPACE, but that’s no bad thing.
Ferrari seldom fails to bring some excitement to Frankfurt. This time, it was the Portofino, the heavily reworked, albeit related, replacement for the California retractable hardtop convertible.
Largely due to reworked structure, it loses some 73 kg, and with 591 hp, 38 more than before, 0-100 km/h under four seconds is a snap. Redone suspension promises both better handling and improved ride. Can’t wait.
To fully understand how far you’ve come, you need to know where you started. A couple of cars at Frankfurt did that for me.
One was the massive 1967 Mercedes-Benz S600, the “Grosser” Mercedes. And they mean “grosser” in the nicest possible way. This car has been restored by Brabus and if you have to ask how much it is . . .
The second, considerably more affordable, was an original Volkswagen GTI, the one styled by Italian maestro Giorgetto Giugiaro, and the car that started the entire “hot hatch” craze when it debuted in 1976.
Looks as good today as it did then, albeit it’s tiny.
Couldn’t help but wonder — which cars that were unveiled at Frankfurt this week will be on display at the show 40-50 years down the road?
If you could figure that out, buy one — as soon as you can.