The Best (and Worst) of the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

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Frankfurt’s legendary auto show is winding down this week, with fewer than expected debuts and almost none of the surprise guests that many were hoping to see from Porsche, Audi, Bentley, Volvo, BMW and Ford.

There are at least a half-dozen Volkswagen Group projects that the auto world is eagerly anticipating, but it seems the continuing grey clouds in the forecast is delaying projects left and right. Not only is there not as much cash to invest in so many simultaneous projects, the market climate is all wrong to launch most of these models in the usual ’as soon as possible’ fashion.

The Lamborghini Cabrera was a no-show, as was the Bentley Falcon, Porsche Macan, Audi Q7 and many others. The new XC90 was nowhere to be found on the Volvo stand, while the promised flood of VW crossovers seems to have slowed to a drip.

Even so, there were still plenty of spotlights and smoke machines for the cars that did make their grand entrance.

The BMW i3 and i8, the Renault Initiale Paris, the Audi Nanuk and Sport Quattro, the Jaguar Crossover Concept and the S-Class Coupe all brought some serious glamor to the stage. Fiat’s 500L Living was also hiding awkwardly in the corner, while the Volvo Concept Coupe finally brings some new blood to the snooze-fest Swedish lineup.

The best and worst are all in this list, but you will have to click past the jump to see which were the heroes, and which were the zeroes.

The Best Debuts from the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

Here’s an important article caveat. We mention this now during the Best section because things do take a turn toward the bottom of the list. This auto show wrap-up is meant as a light-hearted and satirical reaction to some of the concepts. Better lighting and detail tweaks will certainly enhance any of these cars that are close to production.

BMW i8

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Wow. The i8 is really gorgeous, which was much less than a sure thing based on the original concepts, subsequent details released, and unending blue panel edges that scream Eco as loud as a fog horn. A poor mimic of the Porsche green for the 918 Spyder’s highest-tech components, the BMW outlines really hurt the BMW X5 eDrive as well.

Luckily, the i8 wears a deep tuxedo black paint that is as rich as its $135,000 base price. This is the real deal production car arriving next summer, and it has all the looks to battle the R8 and 911. The thin tires are almost completely shrouded, hiding their slim width measurement and emphasizing the huge 21-inch rims instead. It all works for the i8, but then how did it all go so wrong for the i3?

Audi Nanuk

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Nanuk of the North! The Audi Nanuk is a pleasant surprise, as it appears ready for sale very soon with all the mid-engined attitude of the R8, but with enough ground clearance to hit the off-road trails. Hard. The Nanuk will be one wild rally-style special.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe

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The S-Class Coupe is a huge improvement over the CL-Class that has been a lardo commuter car for way too long. Its styling is broadly reminiscent of the new S-Class sedan in the scalloped fender treatment, but the nose is far more futuristic and the rear end has a lot of new mojo in its creases.

The Most Average Debuts from the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

Volvo Concept Coupe

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A stunner though it is, the time span between the Concept Coupe and the rollout of its nose design on production models is short. In fact, the new S60 and V60 have some of the Volvo Concept Coupe’s style in their new grille appearances.

Unfortunately, the S60 is a really ugly facsimile of the Concept Coupe’s nose. Usually, it takes about a year for a beautiful concept to become a dull and tired production reality.

But seeing the two next to one another on the Volvo stand is quite discouraging.

Jaguar CX-17 Crossover Concept

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Meh? Is that a good sign for this important new step in Jaguar’s 80-year quest to find some reliable sales and revenue? The blue color is interesting, and the car will surely be a hot seller. But somehow this leaves us colder than Jaguar’s new winter testing facility in northern Minnesota.

Jaguar’s irritating PR strategy of leaked — but then unconfirmed — photos basically botched the whole debut. The absurd CX-17 concept name does not help.

The Worst Debuts from the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show

Audi Sport Quattro

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Dear friends and colleagues, we must inform you that the gorgeous white Quattro Coupe concept from a few years ago is deceased. It was horribly burned beyond recognition, but the Audi boffins were able to pull this yellow hunk of something from the wreckage.

A tail like the Alfa-Romeo Brera and headlights that look like the gross half of the Phantom of the Opera’s face, the Quattro Coupe whose simply beauty the world admired, is no more.

A high ride height spoils any track fantasies, but is far too low to be a crossover. The new Sport Quattro in yellow needs to be thrown back into the fire.

Renault Initiale Paris

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A lavishly decorated purple Espace minivan is not exactly most people’s dream launch vehicle for a new luxury brand. As though Renault did not have enough on its plate with its floundering EV investment, a lineup of dullards, and a distracting glamor project with Alpine: the Initiale Paris is absurd.

The plan ahead of the show was widely believed to be an Espace crossover seating seven people. This is what the market desperately wants.

Minivans are actually the perfect platform donors for crossovers, as proven by the huge sales stats from the Honda Odyssey’s two boys: the Honda Pilot and Acura MDX. Even for the airport and Chinese executive limo market, the Initial Paris is a big disappointment.

BMW i3

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After so much buzz and incessant photo leaks, new wraps to disguise the looks, and a testing program that saw more miles than any previous BMW: the i3 is one ugly duckling.

How could BMW sign off on this styling for their billion-dollar baby? Such a ferociously and aggressively ugly design did not win Smart’s Fortwo any friends in the U.S. market, and the i3 seems like a similar runt of the showroom litter. Except this runt starts at $43,000, and goes up quickly from there.

Brilliant though its layouts and compact, rear-mounted electric motor and range extender gasoline engine, the i3 is uglier than even the genetically-modified mutant pumpkins that its color resembles.

Volkswagen e-Golf

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The e-Golf runs silently as a 100-percent electric vehicle. Batteries are hidden in every crevass of the chassis, but the whole thing is just so boring. Despite some nice new LEDs in the front bumper, the whole thing is just a pointless waste of effort, it seems sometimes. The eGolf will hopefully have some active safety tech as standard, because it is putting us to sleep already.

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class

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Cosmetic surgery nightmare? Lap band explosion? Gained back the weight oddly after extreme liposuction? How did the cute and perky CLA-Class become this deformed oddity?


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A bit of a motley crew this year at Frankfurt, with unhappy executives tight-lipped and appearing vaguely fearful for their jobs. This is make or break time, and even the top marques in Germany are feeling the heat.

How tense was the show this year? Fiat’s Marchionne canceled both of his scheduled press conferences just the day before, packed up, and left.

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