Show report of this year's action-packed and extraordinary Frankfurt motor show
Steve Cropley Autocar
14 September 2011

There may never be another motor show as action-packed as this year's extraordinary Frankfurt motor show.

Blame the recession. The biennial German event is traditionally Europe's biggest by far, but for 2011 a large number of new model programmes delayed for the recession backed into the many that continued as usual, only to be hit from behind by others that were rushed forward once their backers discovered that great cars would still sell.

Each of the top German prestige marques now has its own huge stand at Frankfurt's exhibition centre - elaborate, Taj Mahal-like structures that seem completely at odds with the financial uncertainties that continue to swirl across Europe. But for the Big Three there is no slow-down. Just take Audi at the show: if you counted everything from their A5 coupe's facelift to their urban mobility concepts (via the revival of an A2 model as a baby battery saloon) you had eight or nine new products. The same went for Mercedes and BMW.

Britain's own Jaguar and Land Rover showed models that were well executed, credible and handsome. You couldn't quite believe how much an international audience seemed to care about a proposal to replace the 63-year-old Defender that sells fewer than 20,000 copies a year, yet they swarmed around it, and most comments seemed positive. The lovely Jaguar C-X16 attracted even more attention, though it had a serious drawback: its awkward positioning with the Land Rovers and away from the rest of the Jaguars.

Opinions seemed surprisingly divided on the success of the five or six Volkswagen Up versions shown on VW's vast car colony (from conventional hot-hatch to beach buggy, via five-door baby MPV) but this may have been a factor of the oppressively powerful lighting and all-pervading whiteness of the surroundings. Hard-pressed Seat and booming Skoda both showed handsome Golf-sized saloons (unhelpfully labeled IBL and Mission L respectively), while Lamborghini announced that it would make just 20 of its amazingly light, amazingly expensive all-carbon Sesto Elemento models, revealed last year. The new Porsche 911 was very much itself, complete, brilliant from stem to stern, but never showy. Against this Bentley's improved but visually similar Continental GTC seemed decidedly modest.

Honda relieved concerns by showing a Civic that kept a relationship with the outgoing model but looked less quirky. Kia, predictably, weighed in with another handsome car, a 390bhp BMW 5-series-sized creation simply called GT, built on a rear-drive platform borrowed from Hyundai.

One of the chief Frankfurt entertainments was looking for cars entirely out of character for their makers - such as Opel's terrific little RAKe, which seemed to combine jet fighter with battery-electric commuter car. GM Europe boss Nick Reilly and design chief Mark Adams both say it could be readied for production in short order.

King of unlikely cars, at least a few years ago, would have been a Maserati SUV concept that revived the name of an older one - Kubang - and used a Chrysler-Jeep platform (revisited by Maser engineers) for its underpinnings. Yet Fiat-Chrysler's irrepressible leader Sergio Marchionne stood up during the afternoon and launched just such a car, and very good it looked. It all goes to prove something every Frankfurt attendee already knew: after the recession, life is very different.

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