Frankfurt Auto Show 2015: First Impressions

Renault Megane Frankfurt 2015bThe All-new Renault Mégane at Frankfurt.

After BMW CEO Harald Krueger collapsed during the very first Press Conference at the Frankfurt Auto Show (he’s okay), the rest of the first Press day went smoothly and I give you my first impressions: what surprised me, what stood out and what disappointed me. If you only have time for 15 Frankfurt tidbits, don’t look further. A selection of 25 photos out of 600 I took today – double the amount of two years ago, so you only get the very best and relevant. Remember to click on any picture to enlarge it.

1. Renault got its mojo back

Last year at the Paris Auto Show, #1 French manufacturer Renault left me frankly disappointed: ill-focused in its obsession with the slow-selling new Espace and miles behind German manufacturers that seemed more excited to be in Paris than the locals (See Paris 2014: Has Renault lost its mojo?). In Shanghai last April, I found Renault presumptuous and fluffy (See Auto Shanghai 2015: The Highlights). But here in Frankfurt it all clicked into place: the all-new Talisman actually looks premium and its station wagon variant, unveiled today, can now play with the big boys in Europe. But it’s the all-new Mégane, also unveiled today, that bluffed me: arriving a few months after the Talisman allows it to look like a ‘small Talisman’ (as opposed to the Talisman looking like a large Megane) and the interior perceived quality is a quantum leap above the previous generation. The Tesla-esque touch screen and eye-level display are elements the all-new Opel Astra can only dream of (see further down). With the Kadjar, Espace, Captur and Twingo, all very current and consistent design-wise, the Renault range is starting to look mean. And I like it.

Mercedes IAA Concept Frankfurt 2015Aptly named Mercedes IAA Concept

2. Mercedes still does it best

As it was the case two years ago, Mercedes dominates all other Frankfurt exhibitors head and shoulders with a gigantic 3 level-exhibition hall that could place as a museum. The SUV onslaught is real with the new GLC making its debut, as well as the C-Class Coupe and S-Class Cabriolet. The IAA Concept inaugurates a new design language that I wouldn’t mind seeing on the carmaker’s future models. Top-of-the-range Mercedes-Maybach S600 delivers the goods, the mood is quietly confident and I am impressed once again.

Smart Fortwo Cabrio Frankfurt 2015Smart Fortwo Cabrio

Smart Forfour Frankfurt 2015Ambitous? Advertised cargo for a Smart Forfour…

Disco Smart Fortwo Frankfurt 2015Disco Fortwo. That’s an idea…

3. Smart sees big

Not satisfied with monopolising the attention with its exhibition hall/museum (see above), Mercedes is also pushing the Smart brand, and not just a little. The second half of its hall dedicated to the two-model brand means its surface is larger than Volkswagen, an outdoor area with animations and a cap-painting artist (?) plus a large area in the Brabant stand displaying “tailor-made Smarts”… All-in-all, I counted no less than 50 Smart Fortwo and Forfour displayed at the Show! Mercedes means business. Smart business.

Borgward BX7 Frankfurt 2015Borgward BX7

4. Borgward is still(re)born

The Borgward press conference was packed to the rafters during this first Press Day. Not surprising: Borgward is a German brand initially founded in 1929, forced into liquidation in 1961, but resuscitated by the founder’s grandson Christian Borgward and the financial backing of Chinese truck manufacturer Foton. Yes but. The initial trepidation fast evaporated as soon as the design and the unfinished interior of the BX7 SUV were unveiled. It looks and feels like a Geely, which isn’t such a bad thing anymore (see my coverage of Auto Shanghai 2015 here) but relaunching a German brand in Germany with a Chinese vehicle and a misleading “accessible premium” positioning could only end in tears. How to kill (again) a brand in one day.

Opel Astra Frankfurt 2015aMuch ado about nothing: the all-new Opel Astra.

Opel Astra Martin Winterkom Frankfurt 2015Poker-faced Martin Winterkorn inspecting the new Opel Astra

5. Opel launches a disappointing Astra

A lot of song-and-dance on the Opel stand with swish black surfaces and colourful, fast-moving and eye-hurting visuals. But the Opel Astra, on top of displaying an evolutionary exterior (as did the Corsa last year), shows unbelievable laziness inside: a part of the central console dislodged itself and stayed in my hand when I touched it (truth – don’t tell anyone, I left it there), and the glovebox is non-existent because Opel had the genius idea to put a… cd-player there? Really Opel? The all-new Mégane is going to eat you alive.

VW Tiguan GTE Frankfurt 2015Or not.

6. Volkswagen recycles

They don’t look bad, but they are starting to look dangerously the same these Volkswagens. A little bit like in China. The all-new Tiguan looks like a bumped up Passat. You have to look twice to distinguish the new Touran from the Sportsvan. The Polo and Golf are starting to fuse with each other (but that’s not new). All looking very powerful and confident, but I am still looking for an ounce of sex-appeal at Volkswagen.

Seat Cross Sport Frankfurt 2015Seat Cross Sport Concept, a happy model and a happy DJ

7. Seat is the cool VAG Group kid

Next door to Volkswagen on the Seat stand, slick southern european deep house music was being blasted by a resident DJ and everyone looked relaxed and happy, including the starlets posing next to the cars. Still searching for a true identity on the European market, Seat found it at the Show. The mood was welcoming, hip and unassuming. Now about the lack of truly new cars… Further along was Skoda, starting to look more and more like a young Volkswagen with a lot of rigidity in the stand layout and the cars exhibited and, surprisingly, a lot of make-up on the starlets. Note I didn’t use the word tarty. Or did I.

Alfa Romeo Frankfurt 2015

8. Alfa Romeo is back

The Giulia is aggressive, good looking and sounds like a leopard with manflu. Finally, Alfa Romeo is back. Looped panoramic video footage surrounding the stand and amping up the engine’s sexy raucous voice, slurry and aloof starlets and fiery colours are all on-brand, but I couldn’t help but thinking this leap forward (remember the Mi.To? Or Giulietta?) may be more on-point in the U.S. than in Europe. Sales will tell the tale very soon.

Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo Frankfurt 2015a“Look into my eyes, not around the eyes…”  Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo Frankfurt 2015bIndecent proposal  Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo Frankfurt 2015cFrench origins and initials tattooed on the body.

9. Bugatti reinvents outrageous

If I didn’t have to walk around each and every one of the 11 exhibition halls to take pictures and interview carmakers, I would have gladly stayed on the Bugatti stand, blissfully hypnotised by the Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo – an avant-look to the future Chiron – in its royal blue robe. Every curve, every detail, every look at every turn: perfection has found its car and it’s outrageously beautiful.

Bentley Bentayga Frankfurt 2015bBentayga eyes 

Bentley Bentayga Frankfurt 2015aA decidedly China-friendly interior

10. Bentley aims at China

The Bentley Bentayga SUV is finally here, and it look as out of place on the Bentley stand as the Cayenne did on the Porsche stand back in 2002. Meaning: who cares. As the Cayenne and now Macan has done for Porsche, the Bentayga will lift Bentley into a different sales category, and it looks like Bentley interior designers have their eyes firmly set on China: what’s with the fake-looking wood decoration and orange leather? Me no likey.

Lexus RX Frankfurt 2015bAll-new Lexus RX

Lexus RX Frankfurt 2015aSurprisingly cosy: Lexus RX interior

11. Lexus is growing on me

At every Show appearance, the Lexus NX has left me with a nauseous taste in the back of my mouth. It’s therefore with great surprise that I can say I don’t mind the NX-inspired new generation RX. The exterior seems just a tad tamer to be acceptable in comparison (or I really got used to the NX, already common on Sydney streets), and whereas the NX interior is screaming at you to leave the cockpit, the RX is surprisingly cosy. Lexus is growing on me.

Peugeot Fractal Frankfurt 2015Peugeot Fractal

12. Peugeot plays the sporty card in Germany

Unveiling of the 308 GTi, looped videos of the 208 Pikes Peak and the 2008 Dakar, dimmed lights, black surfaces and red cars: Peugeot has metamorphosed into a sporty brand for the Frankfurt Auto Show. To try and show the Germans how it’s done? An interesting move.

Toyota C-HR Concept Frankfurt 2015Toyota C-HR Concept

13. Toyota finally jumps on the small SUV bandwagon…

Where Volkswagen perdures in launching ever more expensive/larger SUVs, Toyota looks like it’s getting ready to unveil a sub-RAV4 compact SUV to battle with the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Juke. That’s a good idea (an euphemism) because China needs this car yesterday. Make that last year.

Toyota Mirai Frankfurt 2015That look…

Toyota Mirai Interior Frankfurt 2015Toyota Mira interior

14. …but the Mirai is still ugly.

Today is the first time I actually take the time to investigate the Mirai, which I elected the ugliest car in the world this year, as I was too busy covering the Chinese carmakers at Auto Shanghai 2015. Verdict: still ugly. From every angle. Only the interior was ‘interesting’. Not appealing. Just ‘interesting’.

Kia Sportage Frankfurt 2015

15. Kia improves again

Just as the current generation is gaining an insolent 15% year-on-year in Europe (7 months 2015), Kia unveiled in Frankfurt the new gen Sportage, and the improvements are glaring. The interior is getting smarter, more generous and more sophisticated by the minute and gives off a clear impression of accomplishment. Kia being located in Hall 9 along with a few other Asian carmakers, this was the perfect opportunity to compare interiors as objectively (and quickly) as possible. Notwithstanding the price differences, Kia can be proud to only trail Honda and distance Mazda, Mitsubishi and Suzuki. Explanations: the Honda HR-V surprised me with its refinement and smarts (cup holder becomes bottle holder with a click), the Mazda CX-3 looks the best but is very uneven with a surprisingly cheap clang of the glovebox opening, the Mitsubishi Outlander and ASX (same interiors) betray their recent overhaul by being decidedly unpractical with no room for smart phones for example. Suzuki is a notch below, and deserves clarification: the all-new Baleno unveiled in Frankfurt seems destined solely to India with a very basic interior featuring a show-off  oversized touch-screen in a Chinese carmaker fashion.

New Sausage Frankfurt Auto Show. Picture courtesy Auto Plus“All-new sausage”

We finish on a touch of humour, courtesy of French weekly Auto Plus.

Upcoming are interviews with Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Dacia and Renault, so stay tuned!

This Post Has 25 Comments
  1. I’m sorry but who are you to decide whether the Astra is not going to do well in Europe? You don’t even live in Europe. The Opel Astra is an icon here in Europe and it will sell well in both large countries like Germany, Spain, Italy and UK as well as smaller countries like Holland, Poland and Croatia.

    The Astra is a completely new car, looks great and has a solid image in Europe. So i’m sure it’ll do well, better than the Megane at least like it usually does.

    And if you talk about cars with no personality, why do you praise VW’s?

  2. @Matt:
    Your hate against Opel at all and especially the new Astra is ridiculous. The new Astra is a completely new car from top to bottom. The engineering started with a blank sheet. It is lighter than ist predecessor (up to 200 kg!), it offers only the latest generation of engines, technologies, the competition in this class can only dream of like the new matrix LED lights or Opel Onstar and an LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. It is smaller then the las generation while offering more space on the back seats and in boot. The interior quality has still been approved by many car magazines as above average.
    I haven’t seen the new Mégane so far but the material used in in interior looks absolutely crappy compared to Golf, 308 or Astra for example.

    1. Hi Les – many thanks for your note. Always great to have varying opinions, that’s the whole point of a blog!
      Only comment I’d have on your note is you say “I haven’t seen the new Megane”. I have, and that’s why I’m writing what I’m writing in this report. I stand by it, Opel is doing it wrong with the Corsa and Astra, its two best-sellers in Europe. These cars have no personality and Opel is in great need of some.
      All the best,
      Matt

      1. It is a huge difference between writing “much ado about nothing” (which simply doesn’t reflect the reality) and only pronouncing your personal and very subjective opinion.
        Time will tell if Opel is really doing wrong with its cars. For the moment it seems that they are doing it right.
        Btw you can’t compare the Corsa E with the new Astra. Corsa was a major facelift while Astra is a completely new car as I tried to explain in the comment above. Maybe the Corsa wasn’t the best solution as it is still underpinned by the old platform (nevertheless it has a completely new chassis, new interior, new exterior, new infotainment, new engines and so on) but the new Corsa F is expected to arrive shortly in 2018.

      2. Matt, I have been there and I tried to sit in both of them – Megane and Astra. Megane is good looking guy, however. I was very (VERY) confused from teslalike touchscreen. It has ugly graphic and… it is really complicated to use. I was trying to do ordinery tasks with aircon, music, car settings… all that I am doing almost every longer ride… and was very sad… because… Actually I was sitting in Talisman… I was sad because I was thinking that this car could fight with Passat however not with this… and in Megane… the same touchscreen… and Megane was very small inside – like 308. It is something that is typical for french cars these days… And Astra. I do not like Opels… however this was like fresh air compare to Megane. Inside it was all clear, logic and easy to use. Aircon, media, settings… And much more room in rear. Megane is better looking guy… However I would never buy one… because of ergonomy and lack of space in rear. Not everyone needs some personality of his car. And VW is bestsellingbrand in Europe because it prefers those small details instead of design. Touran is looking like Sportsvan… But it does not change the fact that this is the best (or one of them) family car in Europe these days.

  3. I didn’t realize there was a Borgward family connection. That gives it a little more credibility in my eyes, though I do still wonder what’s the point.

    The original Borgward story is quite fascinating with a truly tragic finale, and even an interesting little Mexican postscript.

  4. Of the major car companies the biggest dissapointment is FCA! Yes they have the new Alfa which will be a sales flop!
    Is Fiat present at the show? Which new model have they shown?
    Any new concept?
    Zero!

  5. Sorry Matt but Mitsubishi Outlander and ASX have different interiors !
    Talking about interiors you say the orange leather was made for Chinese, I disagree, you also find it on the Rolls Dawn, and we both know it is not aimed at Chinese as they don’t buy convertibles. It is also the color you used to find on all the Peugeot Roland Garros until a few years ago !
    Last thing on which I disagree is your vision of Renault, yes their last cars look good, but the interior quality is still poor, poor quality plastics, not well adjusted, it just feels like it’s going to age badly. For the same price you can have much better.

    1. Many thanks for your note Nicolas.
      I stepped into the All-new Outlander and the ASX and I can tell you the interiors are so similar you could hardly tell it was a different model. Mitsubishi has reused a lot of interior elements of the facelifted ASX into the new Outlander.
      On Bentley, it’s the combination of colours, textures and, yes, the orange but not just that, that justify my position.
      As for Renault, have you stepped into the new Megane and Talisman at the Show? This is the basis of my comments. I agree the Captur and Clio’s interiors are disappointing, but the Megane and Talisman are quantum leaps in that regard, hence my appreciation.
      All the best,
      Matt

    2. The plastics and the interiors of all the major generalist European brands such as Renault, Peugeot, VW, Opel, Ford, etc., are all made by the same company, Faurecia. So the quality is not too much different between them. The interior of the Megane or the Talisman have good quality and soft-touch materials and the build quality looks as good as any other generalist European brand.

  6. For me, the disappointment is Seat. Weeks ago, they were rumours around the presentation of the 5th gen Ibiza, and after, Seat was teasing about a concept of SUV. At the end, we see a simple Leon with plastic protections and shiny colour… this is definitely not a SUV, and not really a concept, as it was introduced by the Scenic RX4 15 years ago.
    Seat really needs to propose an ambitious flagship, like Alfa does with the Giulia, or they will die like Lancia.
    Let’s hope for them that the 5th Ibiza, which should recall the iconic 1st generation, will have the same success, and differentiate with Skoda.

  7. Excellent reportage comme d’habitude. Le meilleur site d’info auto que je connaisse (aussi bien en français qu’en anglais).
    Et en plus, pas de langue de bois : j’adore.

    Nicolas

    1. Because he is a Renault Fanboy. Everything beside of Renault is shi..Ford, Astra, Golf has no chance -.-. Sorry, Astra disappointing because CD-Player is in the glovebox?? Serious? console dislodged itself , shure. Same story as the Astra J. And because of this 2 points, the astra is disappointing :D.
      I think de Megane looks good, but its at the same level as his competitors. I know its your opinion but its not objectively.

      1. Many thanks for your note Gian.
        I think I can hardly be described as a “Renault Fanboy”… Have you clicked on the links I mention at the start of my Renault paragraph (Paris and Shanghai Auto Shows)?
        All the best,
        Matt

  8. Extremely interesting article Matt!
    I totally agree with Megane – Astra comparison especially when it comes to their interiors.I wonder if the UK will give some extra sales for Renault, I predict 180.000 Meganes at most, will hit the EU roads next year. Frenchmen will need an ambitious 200.000 limit to feel confident in their battle with Ford for the second place in Europe. What’s your prediction Matt and which rivals will be hitted harder? Astra? 308? Focus? Will Golf lose some market share?
    Apart from that, Mercedes is gaining beauty and that pays off in sales.

    1. Glad you enjoyed Cloudbusted!
      I think the Focus and Astra will be hit hardest by the Megane. The Golf is challenged by the 308 as they are both in the ‘serious/austere’ aisle while the Megane surprisingly brings some freshness to the party. Bland Focus and Astra should suffer as a result.
      All the best,
      Matt

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