Road Cars

Mission accomplished

Porsche springs surprise on show rivals | by Andrew Frankel

It was a fine effort. Jaguar, as it has done so many times before, came to Frankfurt planning to whip the rug right out from under the feet of the domestics. But would the production version of the F-Pace, a car already shown in barely different concept form, really get the job done? As Jaguar’s first SUV it was newsworthy enough, but it was felt something else was needed. So in front of the world’s press and bearing the risk and unimaginable consequences of it going wrong, an F-Pace was driven down a ramp and up into an arcing loop-the-loop, the world’s most expensive rollercoaster carriage. It pulled over 6g on the way up and its speed dropped to just 15mph at its fully inverted summit. A new Guinness World Record was the least Jaguar deserved.

But at a motor show, the best PR stunt in the world (and it was up there) cannot yet trump a genuine rabbit out of a hat: a car no one even knew existed, let alone expected to see. These days and indeed for many years almost all new cars are not actually unveiled at motor shows but drip-fed to the media for weeks in advance so that, by the time we actually turn up on press day, almost nothing is left to the imagination. Back in 2010 Porsche stunned the world when, without so much as a press release of warning, it launched the concept version of what would become the 918 Spyder. And now it’s done it again.

Everyone thought Porsche’s big news would be the second generation of the 991-series 911, with its all-new twin-turbo 3-litre engine fitted to the base Carrera and Carrera S. What no one was expecting was a 600bhp, electrically powered four-door saloon called Mission E to appear on the stand. And like almost all Porsche concept cars, this one is destined for production in only slightly modified form. It should be with us before the end of the decade.

The Mission E is best seen as a rival for the four-door Tesla Model S. Powered by two electric motors driving an axle each, and fuelled by lithium-ion battery packs, the Mission E is claimed to embody lessons learned both from the hybrid 918 Spyder and the Le Mans-winning 919 racer. Together the engines generate 600bhp, enough to thrust the two-tonne Mission E to 62mph in just 3.5sec and it will reach 124mph from rest in less than 12sec. More impressively still, the Mission E is claimed to provide a real-world range of more than 300 miles.

Bentayga sales on song

In the meantime another VW-owned company, Bentley, was rejoicing in the fact that it has sold more than a year’s production of its curiously styled and even more curiously named Bentayga SUV. Whatever you think about the looks or the idea of a Bentley off-roader, there seems little doubt it will become the best-selling Bentley in history – and in short order, too.

Driving sales right now is the fact that there really is nothing in the least bit like it out there. It is the most powerful SUV you can buy and, at 187mph, it has the highest top speed. It has easily the most luxuriously appointed cabin and, when the seven-seat option becomes available, it will become the most practical full-sized luxury SUV in the world too.

For now the car is available only with a completely reworked 6-litre W12 engine that comes complete with 600bhp, both direct and indirect injection and cylinder deactivation, but a V8 diesel will arrive next year, followed by a petrol-electric hybrid of either 3-litre V6 or 4-litre V8 configuration depending on forthcoming legislation coming from China, which should be by far the largest market for the car. Bentley is also known to be working on a higher performance version with close to 700bhp, to be known predictably enough as the Bentayga Speed.

Merc’s clever aero

Not to be outdone, Mercedes-Benz produced a striking concept called IAA (Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile, above) whose party trick is to elongate by 40cm above 50mph and deploy sundry other aero devices to lower its drag co-efficient from an impressive 0.25 to an unprecedented 0.19.

The car is important for many reasons: it previews both future Mercedes-Benz design language in general and the silhouette of the next CLS coupé generation in particular. The trend for moveable aero devices is growing and suggests a time when cars automatically adapt to their environment, offering a low-drag configuration for motorway work, high downforce for the track and simple elegance with everything retracted when the car is parked.

Backstage, executives were also talking about Mercedes models not yet seen in public, none more thrilling that the next generation of E63 AMG saloons and estates. AMG boss Tobias Moers says these BMW M5-rivalling cars will be “not an evolution, but a revolution, and in every way”. So expect not just wild performance from a 4-litre V8 boasting at least 600bhp, but better handling, ride, refinement, fuel economy and emissions. It will also be four-wheel drive only, though I am assured by Moers it will still drift at will. With that much power, weight no greater than the current two-wheel-drive versions and four-wheel-drive traction, the 0-60mph sprint is expected to come in below the 3.5sec mark.

Nissan gets a Grip(z)

Fans of great old Datsuns will be interested to know the Z-car might be about to head off in a different direction. The Nissan Gripz concept is a sharp looking, ultra-sporting compact crossover designed to test public reaction to such a car forming the next generation of Z mobiles. Nissan is believed to be keen on the idea because the traditional market niche in which its coupé and roadster Z-cars have hitherto sat is small in turnover and smaller in profit. By contrast, and as the resounding success of the Qashqai and Juke have shown, crossovers are no longer short-term fads, but mainstream models that are here for the duration.

Aston turns up to 11

Aston Martin might not have had a stand in Frankfurt, but that didn’t stop its top brass coming here and confirming one of the industry’s worst kept, most guessed secrets, namely that the DB9 replacement is to be named DB11.

The all-new car arrives early next year, toting brand-new bodywork said to be far more modern than the DB9 while unmistakably Aston Martin, and an all-new chassis, albeit still of bonded aluminium construction. Power is certain to be provided by a heavily reworked version of its long-serving V12, though it will not be long before Mercedes-AMG 4-litre V8s with an Aston Martin calibration arrive.

The DB11 name was chosen first because DB10 was already taken by the 10 cars built for the new James Bond film Spectre and (as with its predecessor, which skipped DB8) Aston wants to signal that the car has taken a bigger leap forward than a mere single digit number change would suggest.

Big guns wait for Geneva

Aston Martin was not the only supercar manufacturer having a quiet Frankfurt. McLaren was similarly absent while Ferrari and Lamborghini chose only to reveal convertible versions of their 488 and Huracán supercars. The thinking among such manufacturers is that major new product would get lost in this vast show, where both Mercedes-Benz and Audi were so keen to demonstrate their corporate firepower they booked not simply stands but an entire hall each. The supercar constructors will be back in force at Geneva in March, where Aston is likely to show the DB11, Ferrari the F12 Speciale, Lamborghini a limited-edition supercar to commemorate the centenary of Ferruccio Lamborghini’s birth and McLaren further versions of its 570S entry-level supercar.

Ford focuses on RS

Ford’s contribution to Frankfurt was to reveal full details of the already announced Focus RS. It was known the car would have four-wheel drive, but Ford confirmed also that its 2.3-litre four-cylinder motor pushes out 345bhp, enough to propel the car to 62mph in 4.7sec.

It will be priced at £28,940.

As a comparison, the class-leading Volkswagen Golf R costs £33,585 in five-door form, offers 295bhp and needs 5.1sec to reach 62mph.