Frankfurt motor show 2013: our top 10 cars
* Europe's biggest car show * New models and concepts from all major brands * Read our pick of the bunch...
The Frankfurt motor show is a biennial opportunity for Europe's manufacturers – in particular the German brands – to flex muscle and remind those in the American and Chinese markets that this is still a hotbed of creation and innovation.
This year's event is no different. There are significant launches, including the Audi A3 Cabriolet, the Hyundai i10 and the Mazda 3. There are 'preview concepts' such as the Citroen Cactus, Ford S-Max, Jaguar C-X17 and Smart Fourjoy.
Then there are pure showpieces such as Audi's Sport Quattro concept and the Volvo Concept Coupe - pointers to future trends, but no more than an outside bet to ever make production.
In all cases, this is a show with more hits than misses, and yet more promising signs that the car industry as a whole is trying its best to harness what economy recoveries there are in the world by bringing fresh, appealing, desirable products to market. We all stand to benefit from that.
Here, in no particular order, are our top 10 cars of the show:
One of the Frankfurt show's most significant launches was one of its smallest cars: the new Hyundai i10.
The latest generation of the popular city car is longer than before, in a bid to trump the class-leading VW Up on cabin space. On top of that, Hyundai is being bullish about interior quality and refinement; senior execs were quick to claim that the i10 is two decibels quieter at idle than the Up.
The new i10's styling is unlikely to set pulses racing, but it is a very neat reworking of what's gone before and an undeniably smart entry to the market. The cabin is more impressive still, with a tidy, modern design, textured plastics everywhere (all hard to the touch, as with the i10's rivals) and the promise of some 'big car' equipment, such as climate control, electric window controls for all four doors beside the driver, and heated front seats.
We were particularly impressed by the sense of space in the rear cabin, where the i10 felt at least as roomy as a VW Up, if not a little more capacious. Margins are tight in the city car market and since the i10 will still be sold as a value proposition, we'll need to wait to see how much Hyundai wants to charge for it. If early hints of 'around the same as the current car' are fulfilled, then this could be another hit.
One of the most impressive unveilings at Frankfurt was the Citroen Cactus, a concept that gives a good idea of a production car that will arrive next spring as a rival for the Nissan Qashqai.
The Cactus – or C4 Cactus, as the road car will be called – is designed to offer sophisticated simplicity, in the same way that an Apple iPhone doesn't have many buttons but is perceived as upmarket. The Cactus looks like a small SUV, although its slim passenger area means that in fact you're sitting at roughly the same height as in a Citroen DS3 supermini.
It does have some novel touches that will make production, too, such as Airbump, a rubberised finish on the door panels that's designed to resist the sorts of scrapes and bumps you get in supermarket car parks.
Inside, there's a bench front seat that's supposed to encourage conversation between the front passengers (it's amazing how it does actually feel more like a sofa than a car seat) and a dashboard that has a grand total of four proper buttons – and three of those are for the automatic gearbox.
In short, the Cactus looks like a bold statement from Citroen – and if the promises being made by high-ranking officials are kept, the production car will be remarkably close to what was on show at Frankfurt. That could give the French marque a real challenger in the pseudo-SUV category.
Jaguar kept insisting that its C-X17 SUV is only a concept, but few at Frankfurt would dare to suggest that it's not already destined for production. How many show cars have full door seals and mirrors, for example?
The C-X17 is 4.7 metres long and 1.65 metres high, so it's a little longer and lower than a BMW X3. The Jaguar looks very much a crossover instead of an SUV, though – an effect that's probably due to the tapering roofline and particularly narrow side glass.
The car will be available with four-wheel drive, although the system defaults to rear-wheel drive until it detects that extra traction is required.
The C-X17 proved one of the true stars of Frankfurt – and that's important because it isn't just a preview for an SUV road car. Jag insiders say the styling gives a strong clue on how the company's forthcoming rival for the BMW 3 Series will look. If that proves correct, then the signs are encouraging.
Forget the concept touches, such as the extravagant glass roof design and the absence of door handles: Ford's show star previewed the next S-Max, and it shows real promise.
Many car buyers have moved away from traditional MPVs towards SUVs in recent years, but the S-Max is the car that has bucked that trend. It's the MPV that people buy when they don't want the world to know that they need family practicality.
The next S-Max looks set to build upon that. Ford's designers have managed to build in seven-seat space, including a trick second row where the middle seat can fold forwards to become a huge centre armrest, but if one of these cars were to come up behind you on a motorway, you'd be hard pushed to say it wasn't a saloon until it had passed you. That's quite an achievement.
The only possible variable is the way it drives. One of the reasons the current S-Max has been a hit is that it doesn't drive like an MPV; it offers real involvement and enjoyment. Much of that is down to its chassis underpinnings, which are taken from the Mondeo. However, both of the new generations of these cars are due to get a heavily revised set-up, and only time will tell if it delivers.
Kia Niro concept
Kia sources kept insisting that the Niro is 'just a concept', and there's no doubt that the scissor doors won't make production, but there's just as much evidence that it, or something similar, will arrive as a rival for the Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur within a couple of years.
The Niro is a dramatic-looking small SUV that takes Kia's recent angular styling to new extremes; there is certainly an element of 'stealth fighter' about it, particularly in the show car's paint finish.
The production model won't be quite so dramatic, but Kia's recent history is one of taking show car looks and translating much of what they represent into something you can see in the showroom. If even half of the Niro ends up in dealerships, the Korean manufacturer could have another hit on its hands.
Volvo Concept Coupe
Volvo's show star is unlikely to make production in the near future, but it was significant nonetheless because the Concept Coupe shows that the Swedish manufacturer finally has a fresh design language.
Volvo has been struggling with its own identity since it was taken over by Chinese manufacturer Geely a couple of years ago, and earlier attempts to integrate the brand's heritage into a future look have been clumsy.
The Concept Coupe is an altogether more coherent effort, though. We can see how many of its design elements, including the front end and those slim-yet-powerful tail-lights could end up in Volvo saloons and SUVs in the years ahead. Given that the first model on the agenda is the next generation of the ageing XC90, this could prove a significant breakthrough indeed.
Suzuki has a history of making neat small cars; the past few generations of Swift have been particularly strong contenders, in fact. So its entry into the fast-growing small SUV market with the Nissan Juke-rivalling iV-4 was one of Frankfurt's more significant debuts.
The iV-4 is a concept, but most expect the production car to retain a fair chunk of its looks. The iV-4 is slightly longer than a Juke, at 422cm, but wider and a full 10cm taller. That makes it look much more like an SUV than a jacked-up supermini – and its chunky styling adds to that effect.
We'd expect some of that muscularity to be toned down a little for production, although elements such as the honeycomb grille and the sharply angled headlights are likely to stay.
The iV-4 will make production by 2015, and it'll be made at Suzuki's plant in Hungary. Front- and four-wheel-drive variants will be available, and if some of the Swift's strengths can be transferred to this new bigger brother, this could be a very credible left-field choice in the increasingly crowded small SUV market.
Infiniti remains a mystery to most car buyers, but Nissan's premium brand is hoping to break down a few more barriers by going after the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class with the Q30.
In fact, the Q30 sits on a slightly modified version of the A-Class's chassis. It's nearly 170mm longer than an Audi A3, but 83mm wider and 50mm taller. The firm thinks that its slightly higher seating position (37mm higher than in the A-Class) will make it a rival for not only premium hatchbacks, but also some mild crossovers like the new Mercedes GLA.
The Q30 will be built in the UK (Sunderland) and it's due on sale within the next three years. The concept on display at Frankfurt is supposed to be a decent representation of what we'll see in showrooms, and if that's the case then this could be the most convincing Infiniti to date. It features a strong front grille and two pronounced creases along the side that do a good job of breaking up what would otherwise be pretty slab-sided looks.
Question is, who will buy it? Infiniti says it's targeting younger buyers - but with the VW Golf becoming ever more premium, Audi and Mercedes slogging it out with A3 and A-Class and a new, front-wheel-drive BMW 1 Series also on the horizon, the Q30 will need to deliver on its show car promise if it's to feature on many buyers' shortlists.
Nissan took the covers off its new seven-seat SUV at Frankfurt – and the X-Trail also gives us a hint on the styling of the next generation of Qashqai that's due early next year.
The Qashqai+2 is being dropped from future line-ups, so buyers wanting seven-seat practicality will be encouraged to go for the X-Trail. If they do so they'll end up with a neat but large SUV that carries a particularly strong headlight and grille treatment at its front end, including extensive chrome strips and daytime running lights.
The X-Trail runs in front-wheel drive most of the time, but it can switch to four-wheel drive if conditions get slippery (and you can lock it into that set-up if you know you're going to need extra grip).
The car features some neat practical touches, such as wide-opening rear doors and a split-height boot floor that allows you to store a stroller and still have a flat space for shopping above it.
It all added up to one of Frankfurt's most significant production launches. The biggest obstacle, in fact, could be the absence of the Qashqai name that has been such a huge hit in British dealerships. Nissan obviously believes that X-Trail's greater practicality will win it customers who want more space than that offered by even the new Qashqai.
Amid the hullaballoo over its admittedly pretty S-Class Coupe concept and the fact that a lightly modified S-Class had just driven itself over a 70-mile route in Germany, it was easy to forget that Mercedes did give a production car its debut: the GLA.
The GLA is a beefed-up version of the popular new A-Class, although it is pushing it slightly to call it an SUV; think of it as an 'A6 Allroad' take on the family hatchback instead of a full-blown off-roader and you won't be far wrong.
In any case, we'd expect the GLA to have considerable showroom appeal when it goes on sale in December. It's not too long to be cumbersome (4.4 metres) and you do get that slightly elevated driving position that's proven so popular in recent years.
The engine line-up will be familiar to anyone who's looked closely at the latest A-Class, with a choice of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, and should you want your GLA to have greater ability when the going does get slippery, four-wheel-drive versions will be available.
The only question mark could be how the car rides; we've been critical of the comfort offered by its sister models, the A-Class, B-Class and CLA. However, we'd still expect anyone in the market for an Audi Q3 and BMW X1 to give this new rival a second look.