Superwagons, EVs, and autonomous 4x4s wowed us at the Frankfurt Auto Show

Held biennially, the Frankfurt Auto Show is the biggest event of its kind in the automotive world — literally. The town-sized convention center it takes place in consists of numerous buildings spread hundreds of yards apart. Its importance in the car world is equally immense. It’s where automakers from all over the spectrum convene to display their wildest designs, their most advanced electric cars, and their quickest performance models.

This year’s edition of the show didn’t disappoint. Audi introduced two new models with supercar-like performance, as well as a futuristic prototype that off-roads autonomously, and uses a drone to light up the trail. Land Rover finally resurrected the Defender — and it looks like it was worth the wait. Volkswagen showed the tip of its electric car iceberg,  and Lamborghini entered the hybrid segment. Hyundai also sent a heritage-laced concept car fresh out of its design center.

Read through our recap of the show to find out more about the exhilarating cars we checked out on the show floor.

2020 Audi RS 6 Avant

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Ronan Glon

Audi kept its high-performance wagons away from the United States for decades. This policy changes with the fourth-generation RS 6 Avant scheduled to arrive in American showrooms during the 2020 model year. On paper, it sounds like it was well worth the wait. It’s based on the Europe-only A6 Avant but it receives a 4.0-liter V8 engine twin-turbocharged to deliver 600 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. Quattro all-wheel drive comes standard; how could it not?

The wagon benefits from several suspension, brake, and chassis enhancements to help the driver make the most of the 600-horse cavalry under the hood. And, while previous RS 6s have worn a relatively discreet design, the newest model stands out with a loud, aggressive look characterized by headlights from the A7, and a much wider stance. The tech features we know and love from the regular A6 — including the MMI Touch Response infotainment system — come standard on the RS 6.

Audi also unveiled the second-generation RS 7, which wraps a low-slung body around the RS 6 Avant’s powertrain.

Audi AI:Trail concept

2019 frankfurt auto show highlights from audi hyundai land rover porsche dt aitrail concept
Ronan Glon

Most autonomous concept cars are designed to remain on the pavement, whether it’s in cities or on highways. Audi took the technology off-road with a concept named AI:Trail. The electric design study shows how adventurers could explore the great outdoors in a distant future. Its wheels are pushed as far out as possible to reduce the approach and departure angles, and it can drive through a foot and a half of water thanks in part to 13.4 inches of ground clearance, and 22-inch wheels wrapped by massive, 33.5-inch tires.

Each wheel gets zapped into motion by an individual electric motor, a layout which represents a new evolution of Audi’s time-tested Quattro all-wheel-drive technology. The drivetrain’s total output checks in at 430 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. Audi’s simulations show the AI:Trail has a 250-mile driving range on the pavement, or a 155-mile range on the trail. Top speed checks in at 81 mph, though you probably don’t want to reach it on the Rubicon Trail.

BMW Concept 4

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Ronan Glon

BMW began the process of separating the two- and four-door variants of the 3 Series when it renamed the former 4 Series in 2013. It dialed in a few additional degrees of separation by introducing a concept called simply 4 in Frankfurt. The design study hints at what the next 4 Series will look like, and we don’t see a lot of 3 in it.

Its grille is huge; it’s even bigger in person, believe us. The love-it-or-hate-it look falls in line with BMW’s recent designs, like the facelifted 7 Series and the X7, and it helps differentiate the 4 from the more elegant-looking 3 Series. Pry your eyes off of it, and they’ll follow a long, plunging hood that hints at an equally long engine positioned between the fenders. Production plans haven’t been confirmed yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see it in showrooms before the end of 2020.

Hyundai 45 concept

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Ronan Glon

The star of Hyundai’s display at the Frankfurt Auto Show was an electric concept car named 45 that puts a digital spin on one the 1974 Pony, the first car it developed in-house. The heritage-laced design hides a forward-thinking electric powertrain likely made using production-bound components, though technical specifications weren’t announced. We might never see the 45 in showrooms, but the company explained the design study sheds light on what its upcoming EVs will look like.

The concept wasn’t the only new Hyundai on display in Frankfurt. The South Korean firm also showed its first electric race car during the event, plus a lighter, sharper variant of the high-performance i30 N.

2020 Land Rover Defender

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Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

All eyes were on Land Rover as it unveiled the long-awaited, second-generation Defender. It took the torch from the much-loved (and much-missed) original model, but stylists resisted the urge to take the truck in a retro direction. It’s not as boxy as before, and its front end adopts a softer-looking design that borrows styling cues from other 4x4s in the Land Rover family. It nonetheless keeps a rear door-mounted spare tire to create a visual link with the British company’s illustrious pass.

Tech is finally part of the package. ven entry-level models come relatively well equipped with features like a 10-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, a seven-inch digital instrument cluster, LED headlights, and a six-speaker sound system. The best news is that the Defender will return to the United States in 2020 after a very long hiatus.

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS

2019 frankfurt auto show highlights from audi hyundai land rover porsche dt mercedes benz vision eqs 1
Ronan Glon

The Frankfurt show gives German automakers an unrivaled chance to shine because it’s held on their home turf. Mercedes-Benz took advantage of being in the spotlight to unveil a concept car named Vision EQS that previews an electric, S-Class-sized model scheduled to enter production in the early 2020s. Over 1,000 LEDs characterize its design; one day, they could be used to communicate messages to pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists.

Don’t look for a V8 engine under the hood. The EQS gets power from a pair of electric motors that jointly deliver 469 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque. Mercedes quotes a 435-mile driving range thanks to a massive battery pack. The motors are relatively compact, and the battery is under the floor, so interior designers were able to carve out a living room-like space decked out with the high level of technology Mercedes is known for. The EQS offers four seats, and individual touch screens installed in the door panels keep the occupants connected.

2020 Porsche Taycan

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Ronan Glon

Developed to take Porsche into the electric car segment for the first time, the Taycan is a high-end, high-performance sedan that has the Tesla Model S in its crosshairs. It was previewed during the 2015 edition of the Frankfurt auto show with a concept car named Mission E, and it hasn’t changed a whole lot over the past four years.  The concept car-like design hides a fully connected, nearly buttonless interior with up to five touchscreens, and standard Apple Music integration.

Porsche pegs the Taycan’s output at over 700 horsepower in its most powerful configuration, so it should be quick enough to peel your face off. Engineers designed the powertrain to provide repeatable performance, meaning it won’t go into limp mode after a few high-speed runs. And, an industry-first 800-volt charging system will ensure it charges as quickly as it accelerates.

Volkswagen ID.3

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Ronan Glon

The ID.3 isn’t the first Volkswagen electric car, but it’s the model that will move the firm’s electrification offensive into the fast lane. This Golf-sized hatchback rides on a new, modular platform called MEB that was developed specifically for EVs. It’s flexible enough to underpin anything from a dune buggy to an SUV, and it can accommodate several drivetrain configurations ranging from a small battery pack that zaps one motor, to a much bigger unit that puts two motors into motion. The innovations will continue inside, where the ID.3 pack Volkswagen’s most high-tech interior to date. Digital Trends notably liked the infotainment system.

There’s a catch: Volkswagen won’t sell the ID.3 in the United States, where buyers normally shun hatchbacks. However, the MEB platform, the electric powertrain, and the in-car technology will all find their way into American-bound electric cars during the 2020s, including a crossover tentatively called ID.4. Some of them will even be built in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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