This is the year the future arrived at the Frankfurt auto show. Yes, there are plenty of interesting and significant production debuts—Bentley’s new Continental GT, BMW’s new X3 and M5, Porsche’s new Cayenne, Hyundai’s small Kona crossover, and Ferrari’s Portofino, to name a few—but the buzz is all about hybrids, electric vehicles, and autonomous driving. This is the Frankfurt show where Mercedes-Benz, the company that—with some justification—claims to have invented the automobile, announced it would soon be building an electric-powered one that didn’t have a steering wheel or pedals.
Loud, colorful, and with the swaggering might of the German auto industry on full display, Frankfurt 2017 is indeed an auto show to remember. Here are our picks of the best from the show floor.
There are faster hypercars. There are sexier hypercars. But there has never been a road-legal hypercar with an actual Formula 1 powertrain. Only Daimler, rich, powerful, and at the top of its game, could have the audacity—and the technical know-how—to create a car such as the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE. It shares most of its powerpack with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas grand prix racer that took Lewis Hamilton to victory in the 2015 Formula 1 World Driver’s Championship, and with more than 1,000 hp on tap, it will be quicker than a Bugatti Chiron to 124 mph. The mere fact this car exists at all, complete with an airbag in the F1-style steering wheel and an air-conditioned cockpit, is cause for celebration. It’s the car at Frankfurt everyone wanted to see. —Angus MacKenzie
As a child of the ’60s, I’m exceptionally drawn to this car’s true four-door pillarless door glass design. Sure, there is zero hope of providing adequate side-impact protection this way, but c’mon! Concept cars are supposed to be flights of fancy. I also love all the raw innovation in this design, from the “brightwork” surrounding the side glass that indeed glows with a remarkably uniform white LED light to the seat fabric, which consists of 100 square meters (!) of black fabric that ends up looking a bit like shag carpet or something. This car is yet another milepost along the Korean automaker’s road from a “fast follower” copying designs and trends to trendsetter. We should be so lucky as to get anything nearing this car’s coolness on American roads in the near future. —Frank Markus
Star of the Show: Kia ProCeed Concept
The Kia Proceed is liquid lust in hot red. The four-door wagon concept looks like it is racing down the street even as it sits stationary on the stand. Unfortunately it will not be in motion on U.S. streets because this concept hints at the next generation of Kia’s Cee’d family for Europe. The look is clean and elegant with beautiful proportions. The hood actually appears shorter than it is alongside the long body with no B-pillar and the sharkfin trim at the C-pillar. Inside, there’s a tangle of shaved and unshaved ribbons on the seats: 100 square meters of black fabric in total. —Alisa Priddle
Jaguar says it’s planning a one-make race series for the forthcoming all-electric I-Pace, and to prove the point it showed a concept of what the race car would look like on its Frankfurt show stand. Except the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy isn’t exactly a concept. Keen-eyed showgoers comparing it with the I-Pace concept will notice the race car has different exterior mirrors, different side windows, and slightly different styling around the rear hatch. They’d also notice the creases in the bodywork aren’t quite as sharp as those on the white concept and that a pair of wipers are nestled at the base of the windshield. Yep, hiding in plain sight on the Jaguar stand is the production version of the swoopy I-Pace. Strip away the rear wing, the side skirts, the race-face front fascia, and the racy wheels and tires, and you’ll see exactly what the twin-motor I-Pace with around 400 hp and an anticipated EPA-rated range of about 220 miles will look like when it launches in the second half of 2018. —Angus MacKenzie
At last, Bentley’s gran turismo gets the extravagant proportions it deserves, courtesy of the new VW Group MSB architecture it shares with Porsche’s Panamera. MSB, which is VW Group’s front-engine and rear- or all-wheel-drive architecture, has allowed Bentley design boss Stefan Sielaff and his team to place the front wheels ahead of the engine, giving the new Conti GT the extended dash-to-axle ratio that’s been a hallmark of great British sports and luxury cars since the 1920s. The new Conti GT looks lower, sleeker, and more luxurious than its pug-nosed predecessor, with crisply tailored surfaces. Inside is an interior that ups the Bentley ante for knurled metal, rich leather, and beautifully finished wood, and it does it in a thoroughly contemporary manner. —Angus MacKenzie
This is the first Discovery to get Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations treatment. The SUV gets a version of Jaguar Land Rover’s 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 engine, tweaked to generate 517 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. The SUV has an eight-speed automatic transmission and a two-range transfer box. Not only will it be quick and powerful on the road, but the SVO team also gave it more ground clearance to go anywhere. The winch is standard, and it will be hand-built at the SVO technical center with some unique body panels once it becomes available in 2018. —Alisa Priddle
I never liked the California’s Nicki Minaj junk-in-the-trunk design, and the fact that this one’s basic hard points have changed so little yet the overall look has transformed so thoroughly—and looks equally fabulous, hard top up or down—is a real testament to the design geniuses now employed within Ferrari (not at go-to design house Pininfarina). The fact that its twin-turbo V-8 gets a 39-horse bump to within kissing distance of 600 hp is just icing on the amaretti cake. —Frank Markus
Best Concept Car: Borgward Isabella concept
The gorgeous two-tone coupe, with the darker blue on top and a lighter shade below, has lines along the hood and headlights that are reminiscent of the original and stunning Isabella from the 1950s and early ’60s. But this concept is a statement of new elegance and beauty with its sculpted sides and stylized greenhouse providing a fresh side silhouette with a C-pillar that passes over the body. In addition to the wraparound taillights are headlights in an intriguing pattern that makes a yin yang pattern of Nike swooshes. Inside is a three-piece steering wheel that is appealing its simplicity and a touchscreen that cascades down from the center of the dash. Elements of the Isabella could make its way into future sedans from a company that has resurrected the past with this emotional design. —Alisa Priddle
With its clean, simple surfaces and fenders flared over big wheels at each corner, the Honda Urban EV riffed on classic European hot hatches of the ’70s and ’80s, like the original Volkswagen Golf GTI and Peugeot’s 205 GTI. With a look and feel very much inspired by product design principles rather than styling whimsies, the tiny Honda—it’s 4 inches shorter than a Fit—is a welcome breath of fresh air from a Japanese automaker whose recent production-vehicle designs have tendered to suffer from too much surface entertainment. Honda boss Takahiro Hachigo says the Urban EV previews a brand-new EV platform from the company, and a production version of the car will be on sale in Europe in 2019. —Angus MacKenzie
Oh dear. This one looks like the design team just stood back and said, “Welp, there’s gonna be no hiding the fact that this is a great big gigantic SUV, so let’s just own its gargantuan-ness.” Every design detail seems to have been chosen to accentuate the vehicle’s vertical bulk, from the disturbingly tall and toothy interpretation of the double-kidney grille to the giant L-shaped fender vents and rear fascia details. The incredibly fine pillars on the greenhouse end up looking insufficient to support the bulk of the body should the truck ever turn turtle. Here’s one we’re eager to see changed substantially on its way to production. —Frank Markus
Inside the spectacular Mercedes exhibit hall—which is arranged just like its museum in Stuttgart, in the round and spiraling down from several stories up—was a naked chassis of the highly anticipated F1-inspired hypercar. But after studying the front and rear suspension for 10 minutes or more, I could not for the life of me work out how the pushrod-actuated spring-damper units worked. That’s because both of them interconnect both pivot points. I look forward to watching an animation of them in action. —Frank Markus
This concept takes integration a step further: The car talks to the house, and the two become one. The demonstration shows the autonomous car with an interior where passengers face each other. Once at home, the car raises on a giant round pedestal to the inside of the home where it doubles as another room of the house, and the two can share their energy, with electricity flowing to whichever needs it more. It is an extension of Renault’s long-running well-being theme, updated to a new tagline: French design, easy life. As a car, it is self-driving and a quick one with 670 hp and 487 lb-ft of torque. —Alisa Priddle