Frankfurt auto show hits and misses

The sheer, jaw-dropping, knee-buckling, gargantuan size of the Frankfurt auto show has to be seen to be believed. This isn't an exhibition center; it's a small planet. We're not sure how L.A. reporter and car guy nonpareil David Undercoffler got around to see everything, but he most definately did. Herewith, his hits and misses. Fair warning: Dave doesn't hold back.

HIT: Mercedes-Benz S-class cabriolet

Mercedes-Benz S-class cabriolet

What better way to double down on all that Mercedes brand mojo these days than with the company's first full-size convertible since 1971? The droptop is graceful and elegant - with a dash of swagger. Mercedes dealers in the smile states should be salivating.

HIT: Ferrari 488 Spider and Lamborghini Huracan Spyder

Ferrari 488 Spider

One has a turbocharged V-8 and a folding hard top, the other a snarling V-10 and a soft top. Ferrari's packs 660 hp while Lambo's offers 602 hp. Both Italian hair dryers were painted blue and absolutely stole the show, even if they can't agree on how to spell convertible.

Lamborghini Huracan Spyder
 

HIT: BMW X1

BMW X1

Not only did this tidy crossover make its auto show debut in Frankfurt, BMW also used it to schlep weary journalists from one end of the complex to the other (a trip that would span ZIP codes, if Germany had them). It was a smart move. While the earlier X1 was prized for its size and packaging, the thing just looked weird. No more.

MISS: Porsche Mission E

Porsche Mission E

Let's make it clear ... we're definitely fans of 600 hp, 0 to 60 mph in less than 3.5 seconds, and fast battery charging. And kudos to Porsche for finally designing a four-door car with a rear end and a silhouette that's as sexy as the 911's (looking at you, Panamera). But the front of this concept car is like looking at a Pixar character from Wall-E. A one-sixteenth-scale version could be vacuuming our living room right now. How do you say "Back to the drawing board" in German?

HIT: Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo

Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo

Since this car is named after a video game, and appears in pixelated form in one (Playstation's "Gran Turismo"), it's fitting that the car is a 14-year-old's dream. In pictures, the thing looked like something the spoiled adult son of an oil tycoon might buy himself after a bender in Vegas. But in person, we're smitten - you can stare at this concept for hours and not get bored. We tried.

MISS: Bentley Bentayga

Bentley Bentayga

Call us hypocrites. The same reason we liked Jaguar's F-Pace (clever application of brand styling to a new type of vehicle) is exactly why the Bentayga falls short in our eyes. Sure, the EXP 9 F concept SUV that Bentley trotted out a few years ago was panned by everyone with eyesight. But now that we have the milquetoast production Bentayga, the boundary-pushing EXP 9 F is starting to look pretty good.

HIT: Jaguar F-Pace

Jaguar F-Pace

Jaguar needed to be careful getting into cousin Land Rover's territory with crossovers, and this is the perfect way to do it. Kudos to Ian Callum (is there a finer designer?) for making Jag's recent design language work on the brand's first-ever crossover. The vehicle works ... at least aesthetically.

HIT: Honda Project 2&4 concept

Honda Project 2&4 concept

Mom hates it; we love it. Picture a folding chair duct-taped to the side of a four-wheel, open-topped motorcycle. The numbers spell F-U-N: 212 hp, 893-pound curb weight, a 14,000 rpm redline and a six-speed, dual-clutch transmission. It has the power of a MotoGP bike (literally … the 999 cc, V-4, four-stroke engine was developed for the GP racing series) and the safety of a Ziploc bag. Life insurance sold separately.

MISS: Mercedes-Benz Concept IAA's retractable cowl

Mercedes-Benz Concept IAA

In person, the sultry, four-door coupe is interesting, though, as one observer said, "It looked like it wasn't finished." Inside, it previews the E class that will debut next year (and looks like the current S class), and the brass at Benz say the outside foreshadows future models. But the retractable cowl - which will never see the light of a dealership - ended up looking like a cheap parlor trick.

HIT: Honda Civic Tourer Active Life Concept

Honda Civic Tourer Active Life Concept

The only things more European than cycling and station wagons are diesel engines and chain-smoking cabbies. So it's no surprise this car has no chance of coming stateside - they'd sell 12. Still, we couldn't help falling for the European Civic wagon's retractable in-car bike mounts, complete with built-in bike pump and integrated workbench.

MISS: Alfa Romeo Giulia's cloverleaf/interior

Alfa Romeo Giulia

It's a tight race for which bothered us more: the shoddy interior of the new compact sports sedan or the massive cloverleaf the brand is gluing to its performance models. We get that the shamrock is a heritage play by Alfa. (The company has been painting them on its racing/performance models ever since an old Italian guy in the 1920s won races with one on his car, and then died in a race when it wasn't on his car.) But do they have to be so large? And the interior is troubling. You don't bring a knife to the gunfight between German brands for interior supremacy, especially with your eye on the U.S. market.

HIT: Nissan Gripz

Nissan Gripz

While we're still coming to Gripz with this concept's name (no we're not; we hate it), it's hard to argue with what this concept stands for. Nearly the identical size as Nissan's Juke - which has a huge fan base in Europe - the Gripz uses sports car pizazz to lure speed geeks to the crossover world.

HIT: Mazda Koeru

Mazda Koeru

The tiny-Japanese-automaker-that-could managed to elbow its way into the Frankfurt conversation with this five-door concept crossover/wagon thing, even if no one is quite sure what it will turn into on the production side. The hope is that while the Koeru concept is too small for the redesigned CX-9 expected at November's L.A. Auto Show, the styling carries over.

HIT: Audi e-tron quattro

Audi e-tron quattro

Elon, you've been warned. Audi took a swing at Tesla's Model X crossover with a big 'ute of its own. The e-tron quattro concept is slated for production in 2018 and packs a 310-mile range, up to 500 hp and 590 pounds-feet of torque. And minus a few too many design flourishes on the e-tron's nose, it's a good-looking rig.

MISS: Kia Sportage

Kia Sportage

Just as Babe Ruth struck out every now and again, so too must Peter Schreyer and his design team. We couldn't tell what inspired the squished-bug look up front, but it looks like someone drove the clay model into a wall and then Kia froze the design. It's not good when you're looking forward to the midlife refresh of a vehicle that isn't for sale yet. Since it's largely the same as the recent Hyundai Tucson - the handsomest cute ute around - this surprised us.

HIT: Harald Krueger's good health BMW's new boss took a worrisome tumble on stage during the opening press conference of the show. Fortunately, he was conscious when he left the stage, and we're happy and relieved to hear he's doing fine now.

You can reach David Undercoffler at undercoffler@crain.com -- Follow David on Twitter: @autonews_west

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