WHILE it may be their home turf, German manufacturers look to be outshone at the Frankfurt auto show this week by Korean brand Kia's new concept car.
Starting today, Frankfurt is one of the most important motoring events of the year for premium brands as they preview their products for the next 12 months.
But as the likes of local brands Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi get set to reveal their new products, Kia's Niro concept car will be one of the most visited stands during the 12-day event.
The Niro showcases a dramatic crossover design featuring spectacular "butterfly" doors and what the company describes as an "almost counter-4x4 image".
Conceived at Kia Motors' Frankfurt design studio, just down the road from where the show is being staged, the Niro has been designed under the guidance of Kia's chief designer for Europe, Gregory Guillaume.
Sitting on an all-new platform that will form the basis of future B-segment products from Kia, the Niro is set to target the crossover market, but in a different way, according to Guillaume.
"Ten years ago people wanted understated style in the SUV market, but increasingly as more people migrate to the B-segment they are looking for strong character and individuality," he said.
The most eye-catching element in the Kia Niro design is the dihedral "butterfly" doors that open into the roof panel and swing up high, with low-set flush handles.
Another unique feature is the innovative 4x4 powertrain utilising Kia's turbocharged 1.6-litre "Gamma" engine, with a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission. While the engine drives the front wheels, an electric-hybrid system powers the regenerative braking.
As a likely competitor for the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, the GLA is the first Mercedes to be available with the brand's latest generation all-wheel-drive system, known as 4MATIC, with fully variable torque distribution as an option should you want it.
The GLA has an "A Class on steroids" look to it, with bulging arches and haunches. However the car still manages to retain distinctive A-Class cues like the front grille and spoilers.
The first model to be launched at Frankfurt will be the GLA250 with a 2-litre turbocharged direct-injected four cylinder petrol engine putting out 155kW and 349Nm of torque.
Performance should be brisk with Mercedes promising the GLA250 will take 6.4 seconds to reach 100km/h from a standstill. A seven-speed-dual-clutch transmission will be on hand to help fulfil this promise. Stop-start technology and 18-inch alloys will be standard equipment too. While rumours of a GLA45 AMG continue to float, production of the GLA250 is likely to begin at the start of 2015.
Another local hero, BMW, will be using the auto show for the official presentation of the new i8 hybrid sports car. Closely following the styling first seen by the i8 concept from the 2011 Frankfurt show, the car still retains many features from the initial prototype. The flamboyant scissors doors are here to stay, as is the low-slung sports car profile, reminiscent of the 1990s 8 Series coupe, with blue trim accents and a rising kink near the rear.
The interior shows many elements of a driver-focused cabin, such as BMW's traditional iDrive control module, a flowing facia design, large infotainment screen and electronic LCD gauges to boot.
The i8 will use an electric motor similar to that used in the smaller i3, but overall grunt is naturally more generous. This is down to a mid-mounted 1.5-litre twin-turbo three cylinder petrol engine, putting 170kW to the rear wheels, while a 96kW electric motor sends power to the front. The petrol engine provides charge for the battery pack.
The combined power output is rated at 226kW.
A six-speed transmission should help BMW's estimation of a zero to 100km/h time of 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h. BMW also estimate the combination of small petrol and electric oomph will return 2.9l/100km - incredible for a car with sporting prowess. The i8 is expected to go on sale next year - though no word on when New Zealand will see it.
Audi is removing the wraps off the sport quattro concept at Frankfurt with the style showing clear lineage back to the legendary rally cars from the power-hungry Group B era of rallying. Its short, chunky stance and aggressive lines certainly look the business and act as a fitting homage to the original car.
The beating heart is a 4-litre twin-turbo V8 mated to an eight-speed transmission with quattro all-wheel-drive. The unit is assisted also by a lithium ion battery pack and what all this equates to is an impressive 515 kW, 800Nm of torque, a top speed of 305km/h and 100km/h reached in 3.7 seconds.
The sport quattro can also drive 50km on just the battery, allowing the driver to get a mere 2.5L/100km.
The cabin is vastly overhauled with much of the usual Audi-ness replaced with sharp lines and plenty of carbon fibre.
Weighing 1850kg, the sport quattro concept is no lightweight, but a production version would be a car to be reckoned with.
One of the most eagerly anticipated unveilings this year has to be the Jaguar C-X17 concept. The sketches Jaguar has released as a teaser for Frankfurt show their all-new SUV design will be something quite unique.
A statement released by Jaguar says: "The concept illustrates the diversity of vehicles that could be produced using this architecture, which underpins the innovative future of the Jaguar brand."
Tail light clusters show clear hints of F Type. A swooping, almost coupe-like outline, steeply raked windscreen and flowing lines show on first impressions the C-X17 could be more biased towards tarmac rather than riverbeds.
Whilst it is still not yet confirmed whether or not this will be a production reality, it will be interesting to see if this all-new cat will sink its claws into its rivals in this very competitive market.
And of course, no motor show is complete without a Ferrari. In this case, it is a lightened, more powerful and more hardcore version of the 458. Called the Speciale, which means "special" in Italian, it is Ferrari's latest version of its mid-engined unplugged V8 range which started with the 360 Challenge Stradale and 430 Scuderia.
Overall weight has been cut down by 90kg and more power is lurking in the engine bay. An extra 28kW from the 4.5-litre V8 engine to give you 445kW at a bloodcurdling 9000rpm.
In terms of speed, Ferrari claims a zero to 100kmh sprint time of merely three seconds, 0.1 quicker than the Mclaren MP4 12C. Ferrari also claim the Speciale devours their Fiorano test track in 1 minute 23.5 seconds, making it 1.5 seconds faster than the old 430 Scuderia.
New features to enhance aerodynamics and downforce are apparent - a new rear diffuser for downforce and larger air vents front and rear to enhance cooling.
The Speciale also features "Slide Slip Angle Control". This new electronic system, Ferrari says, will monitor the car's slip angle with extreme precision, allowing the driver to pull off the most amazing sideways action with no fear of crashing.
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