Every other year, the car industry gears up for the legendary Frankfurt auto show. This year’s show, which opens to the public on Saturday and runs through September 27, showcases some 210 new car launches. (The press got an advance look.) As in past years, BMW, Audi and Mercede-Benz built lavish display halls larger than most schools. (Audi even has a room dedicated to the Quattro brand carved out of ice).
So what stood out the most this year? German offerings, no surprise (with the possible exception of British Bentley and French Bugatti, which are both owned by the Volkswagen Group and therefore fair game). Radically sexy bodies and even more radical technologies are teases—promises, we hope, of the future to come—soon.
Sexiest supercar: Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo
When car makers invent a new car to star in Sony’s PlayStation racing game Gran Turismo, it’s usually all science fiction and zero running parts. Not Bugatti. While on the surface the Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo is a wickedly winged beast, underneath the outrageous carbon fiber body is a very real race car. In fact, Bugatti’s designer director, Achim Anscheidt, says it is also a peek at where Bugatti intends to push the design of its next supercar.
“Most concept cars are just a lot of visual noise,” said Sasha Selipanov, head of exterior design. “We wanted to create something that sticks in your mind and is so memorable you could go home and draw the lines yourself.”
And what lines they are. The dramatic side swoop that doubles as a much-needed engine cooling air inlet. The center spine that runs the length of the car and creates a stability fin. The mean, eight-eyed horizontal glare of the headlights. Every detail conforms to a “form following performance” standard, according to Selipanov. The same lines are echoed within, as is the intense focus on performance. The fine-nap suede used on Formula 1 racing shoes lines the seats and other touch points to hold the pilot in place. Two curved screens—one in the steering wheel and one mounted to the steering column—give the driver a nearly 180-degree view of the track around him, thanks to multiple exterior cameras.
Bugatti hasn’t released performance numbers on the tweaked rear-mounted W16 engine, but the company estimates that the Vision GT can hit 447.56 kph—178.1 mph—numbers that trounce the current production-car record of 170.49, held by the Hennessey Vemon (and a title Hennessey wrested from Bugatti’s last supercar, the Veyron).
Now that the Veyron’s run has ended—Bugatti says it has sold all 450 produced—let’s hope the wait isn’t too long for a real look at its successor.
Best concept cars
Porsche Mission E
The German sports car king unveiled a four-door sports sedan that manages to stun with its 918-supercar looks, impress with multiple breakthrough technologies and performance specs, and improve on all current electric car standards. It’s the vehicular equivalent of a MENSA super model who happens to be an Olympic athlete.
The basics: Mission E’s drive system, based on Porsche’s Le Mans-winning 919 prototype, is powered by two electric motors that can achieve zero to 60 in less than 3.5 seconds and has a 310-mile range. The 800-volt system is lighter and charges faster than those used in cars like the Tesla Model S; the four-door can reach 80% charge in 15 minutes. All-wheel drive and all-wheel steering promise to deliver pure Porsche driving dynamics.
Inside, gauges and displays all automatically adjust to a driver’s seat position. Top-level functions such as navigation and phone can be operated with hand gestures and eye-tracking. Favorite feature: an emotion meter/reader in the rear view mirror captures and measures a driver’s relative level of fun and enjoyment—data that the car saves and makes easy to share on social media.
With a resume like that and only Tesla to trounce, let’s hope Porsche is secretly well down the road for production.
Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile (IAA)
At first glance, the Concept IAA is simply a stunning silver bullet—an S-Class-sized four-door coupe. But there’s more to it: It’s Mercedes’ latest exercise in aerodynamics, and with a coefficient of drag of just .19, it’s the German automaker’s slipperiest silhouette yet.
Push a button or accelerate past 50 mph, and the IAA literally shape shifts, with segmented sections that extend from the front and the tail of the car, lengthening it by more than 15 inches. Louvers in the grille can move, side gills redirect air flow and active wheel rims become flush—all to help the IAA most effectively cut through the air.
There are plenty of future systems on board, too, such as so-called “Car-to-X technology,” which the company says allows the IAA to “look around the corner” and avoid accidents by sharing information with other cars and data sources. And steering-wheel-based touch controls allow the driver to hover over and operate multiple functions in a compact and safe—as in hands on the wheel—space.
Audi e-tron Quattro
This luxury sport SUV concept gives a glimpse of a future production electric model, which Audi says could be out by early 2018. It runs on three different electric motors that combined offer 310 miles of range (same as sibling brand Porsche’s Mission E concept). The Quattro has 429 hp, with the ability to tap additional power up to 496 hp for short bursts. Those numbers are bad-ass enough, but it’s the torque that is the truly mind-blowing number: 590 lb ft—which in plain English is a ridiculous amount of off-the-line grunt. Audi says top speed is 130 mph. Note the lack of side mirrors, which will be replaced by cameras to decrease wind drag. Active aerodynamics will also help the Quattro slip through the air with less resistance at higher speeds and therefore remain highly efficient.
Best new production luxury vehicle: Bentley Bentayga
Bentley’s first luxury SUV, the Bentayga is based on the new and technology-studded Audi Q7 platform, which means it has the chops to handle real off-roading—offering, according to the company, at least 90% of the rock-crawling and sand-swimming capabilities of a Range Rover, the Bentayga’s primary competitor.
But to focus on those abilities is to miss the point that Bentley has opened up a new category of vehicle, the ultra luxury SUV. The company claims that with its new, more efficient Crewe-built 600-hp W12 engine, the Bentayga is the fastest and most powerful SUV on the planet. The numbers are impressive: a zero to 60 of 4 seconds and a top speed of 187 mph. And the Bentayga has the world’s first electric active roll control technology, which uses a separate 48-volt system to counter body roll instantaneously and deliver that buttery Bentley ride—no small feat in such a large (7,000 lb) vehicle.
Bentley has focused tremendous attention on every detail from hidden headlight washers to an optional folding rear event seat. Inside, the sumptuous interior can be customized with nearly infinite color and material combinations and add-ons like the leather-bound Mulliner picnic basket (complete with crystal, china and a fridge) that tucks into the innovative fold-out rear cargo space. If that’s simply not high-end enough, there’s a $150,000 diamond-studded, machined-gold (white or rose) Breitling Mulliner tourbillon clock that can be fitted into the dash, which self-winds when the Bentayga is parked.
With Lamborghini, Maserati and Rolls-Royce coming to market with their own SUVs soon, Bentley has set a high bar for the competition.