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My Completely Arbitrary Highlights of the Frankfurt Auto Show

September 16, 2009

So the Frankfurt Auto Show (aka Frankfurt Motor Show, aka Internationale Automobil Ausstellung) is unfolding this week in, you guessed it, Baltimore Frankfurt. As auto shows go, it’s a pretty big one, second only to Detroit, and so a lot of important vehicles tend to get trotted out and shown off.

I’m not about to cover everything, but I wanted to highlight a few of the new rides that grabbed my attention. If you want full coverage of every ugly-ass supercar mod job and retarded city car concept, be my guest. But this is my blog, and hence, my list.

The Obligatory New Hotness

The Ferrari 458 Italia. Doesn’t really need anything in the way of a description. It’s a Ferrari. And a particularly awesome one at that.

Ferrari 458 Italia

Ferrari 458 Italia

The Most Ridiculous Cross-Branding Exercise

The Fiat 500 is many things. Stylish. Teensy. Italian. But one thing it’s not? A Ferrari. And branding one so makes about as much sense as a Rolls-Royce-inspired Mini. Oh, wait.

Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari

Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari

The Return of the Gullwing

The Mercedes 300SL is one of the most iconic vehicles ever produced. Probably up there with the 1965 Mustang, the original Jeep, and the Volkswagen Beetle. And yet the design has been left alone for decades. Not anymore. This year, Mercedes finally took the wraps off its gullwinged SLS AMG.

Mercedes SLS AMG

Mercedes SLS AMG

Full disclosure, I find most Mercedes cars (and SUVs) as dull as dirt. Yes, they’re very nice. Yes, they’re luxurious and full of all kinds of Teutonic wizardry. But, to my mind, today’s Mercedes lineup lacks soul. The cars are like Sub-Zero refrigerators. Very high end appliances. They are cars meant to be ridden in, not driven.

That said, I can’t help but be impressed by this 571-hp monster of a car. After all, if you’re going to build a supercar, you may as well build it right.

Flyweight

How do you improve on the small, light, highly chuckable Mazda MX-5? Make it even lighter. Yeah, it’ll never see the production light of day, but one can dream.

Mazda MX-5 Superlight Concept

Mazda MX-5 Superlight Concept

Double Trouble

Speaking of small and light, Mini is showing off two basically production-ready models at Frankfurt – the Mini Coupe and Mini Roadster. Both represent sleeker, two-seat versions of the Mini Cooper, one with a hardtop, the other with a ragtop. And knowing Mini, both will be an absolute blast to drive.

Mini Roadster and Coupe Concepts

Mini Roadster and Coupe Concepts

Personally, I’m very happy with how Mini is going about expanding its lineup. The Clubman and yet-to-be-named crossover in one direction, and the Coupe and Roadster in the other.

The Hottest Hatch

The next iteration of Volkswagen’s Golf R is dropping the Audi-sourced 3.2L V6 in favor of a seriously tuned version of the company’s awesome 2.0L turbo-four. The result? More power than the lesser GTI, with less weight and better weight distribution than the previous R32. All in all, the changes spell FAST. As in, 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds fast.

Volkswagen Golf R20

Volkswagen Golf R20

Hail the Imports!

If you haven’t been paying attention to Ford lately, you’re missing out on what may be one of the most massive product and strategy shifts in automotive history. Over here, we tend to snicker at Ford’s car offerings. Or we did. The refreshed Fusion is seriously competitive if mid-size sedans are your thing, and the new Taurus is a big improvement over what came before. But it’s what’s coming that’s really exciting. Over the next few years, Ford will start selling the same great models it sells in Europe over here. The first will be the subcompact Fiesta, followed by the next-gen Focus (which will be unveiled in Detroit in January), and then, apparently, this Focus variant, the Grand C-Max. Yeah, it’s basically a mini-minivan, but as far as minivans go, it’s a pretty appealing one, and since it’s based on Ford’s C1 architecture and will be packing one of the new EcoBoost engines, you can bet it’ll offer a better driving experience than what’s out there now.

Ford Grand C-Max

Ford Grand C-Max

Swede-ness

Saab. You can’t really help but feel sorry for the Swedish brand-that’s-not-Volvo. It’s recent history has been dominated by bland, uninspiring, not-really-competitive cars, and some of the most cynical badge-jobs in history, such as the Saab “It’s Really a Subaru WRX” 9-2X and the Saab “It’s a Chevy Trailblazer” 9-7X. Yeah, there have been some awesome concept cars, but they’ve never translated to production. But with the new Saab 9-5 and a new owner (Swedish supercar builder Koenigsegg), we may be witnessing a rebirth.

Saab 9-5

Saab 9-5

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