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2019 Frankfurt Motor Show: Roadshow's favorite debuts

Wild concepts, frugal EVs and high-power supercars come together on our list of Frankfurt's best debuts.

Mercedes-Benz EQ concept teaser, Frankfurt 2019

Once every two years, the Frankfurt Motor Show earns its reputation as one of the biggest auto shows on the planet. Hundreds of manufacturers spread thousands of cars across the sprawling Messe Frankfurt am Main. While there's never a shortage of forgettable fare out there, the 2019 iteration offered a healthy selection of amazing machines.

This year, the overwhelming trend is electrification. That itself is nothing new, but an impressive number of the more interesting EV entrants in Frankfurt are either production-ready or nearly there. That means our emissions-free future is getting closer -- but don't tell that to the Greenpeace protestors massing out front.

In addition to the nearly there stuff, Frankfurt 2019 also featured many more forward-looking machines, like the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS, which shows us the future of electrified luxury, and the Audi AI:Trail and its radical look at autonomous off-roading. These are a just a few of our favorites.

Read our complete 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show coverage.

Audi AI:Trail Concept

Audi's latest concept combines my two favorite things: Cars and drones. The AI:Trail is able to deploy a flock of five drones (or is it a murder of drones?) that can relay camera feeds back to the driver or illuminate the night with floods.

The concept itself is a rugged electric crawler with four electric motors -- one for each wheel. AI:Trail claims to balance 13.4 inches of ground clearance with a surprisingly low center of mass thanks to its low-slung battery pack good for about 304 miles of overlanding range.

Of course, the "AI" in "AI:Trail" alludes to the automaker's target of Level 4 autonomous on-road driving for the concept. It doesn't stop there. Audi is also aiming at Level 3 autonomous off-road driving on forest trails, which would allow you to relax and enjoy nature, if not for the buzz of five drones.

-- Antuan Goodwin

BMW Concept 4

Yes, OK, I know, I know. The BMW Concept 4's grille looks like a big set of buck teeth and many of you probably can't get past that fact. But oh, dear reader, I encourage you to do so, because there's a whole lot to love here. This is a shapely, luscious coupe that's aggressive and shapely without being too overwhelming.

Dimensionally it looks far more svelte than the current 4 Series, which again helps give it a more aggressive feel, while the outrageous rear diffuser -- which almost certainly won't make it to production -- certainly leaves a strong impression.

Functionally there's nothing too shocking going on here, it's basically a design preview, but perhaps the best news is that BMW indicates this not only hints at the next 4 Series, but also the i4. How exactly the company will differentiate the two remains to be seen (bigger teeth for the EV?), but if the i4 winds up looking like a normal car, and a normal car that looks this good, methinks it's going to sell a hell of a lot of them.

-- Tim Stevens

Hyundai 45 EV Concept

I didn't expect to be won over by the Hyundai 45 EV concept, but it's such a clean piece of design and such a radical departure for Hyundai that I can't help but give it my personal best in show.

Frankly, on some level, it feels a bit weird to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Pony, a hatchback that was, by all accounts, a pretty miserable piece of engineering.

That model never made it to the US, but I'd be happy to see this cleanly surfaced, almost 8-bit origami five-door hatchback on our streets. It looks different than anything on the road today (not just for Hyundai), feeling almost more 1970s Italian concept car than anything particularly Korean in nature.

It'll be interesting to see if Hyundai does more with this design language, or if the 45 is a one-and-done show car. Here's hoping its influence lives on.

-- Chris Paukert

Volkswagen ID 3

In the wake of Volkswagen's yes-we're-still-talking-about-it Dieselgate scandal, the automaker is going all-in on an electrified future. The ID 3 you see here is the first major step in the brand's next direction, riding on a totally new platform that'll soon underpin a whole range of EVs.

First and foremost, the ID 3 is as cute as it is functional: The tall hatchback has lots of rounded-off details. The First Edition is powered by a 58-kilowatt-hour battery good or about 260-ish miles of range (based on the European WLTP cycle), but two more powertrains will come online later. On the low end, the ID 3 will have a 45-kWh battery with 205 miles of range, or a 77-kWh battery good for about 342 miles. The ID 3 won't be a slouch, either, with 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque on tap.

Now, the buzzkill: The ID 3 won't be sold in the US. Instead, we'll be getting the crossover-shaped ID 4, a production interpretation of the ID Crozz concept. We'll also be getting the ID Buzz-based electric van, too. And even that's only the beginning of VW's new EV onslaught.

-- Steven Ewing

Now playing: Watch this: VW ID 3 proves popular at the Frankfurt Motor Show

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS Concept

If you like your future with a dash of three-dimensional LED light displays, the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS signals a bright future.

Like just about every other electric car that isn't aiming for value, the EQS carries two electric motors. In this case, it produces more than 469 horsepower and 570 pound-feet of torque. Don't bet on it being angled toward performance, though.

Of course, there is some connection to reality here. While much of what you see won't actually make it to production, the EQS is slated to become the second battery-electric Mercedes-Benz to enter series production. It should be worth the wait.

-- Andrew Krok

Land Rover Defender

Sure, most off-road nerds like me were hoping the new Land Rover Defender would be a body-on-frame SUV with solid front and rear axles. Did we get it? Nope. But what we did get might be just as good.

The air suspension on the Defender gives it 11.5 inches of ground clearance and some killer off-road geometry, with approach, breakover and departure angles of the longer-wheelbase 110 coming in at 38, 28 and 40 degrees respectively. Add in plenty of wheel travel and articulation and the Defender will most likely be more capable than 95% of the off-road SUVs out there.

Of course, Land Rover knows most of its customers won't take the Defender off road, so its ruggedness is tempered by plenty of commute-easing driver's aids like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and a new head-up display. This Land Rover may not be the Defender we wanted, but it just might be the Defender we need.

-- Emme Hall

Now playing: Watch this: The new Land Rover Defender is futuristically old-school

Lamborghini Sian

"Aggressive," "obnoxious" and "batshit crazy" are all words I would happily use to describe the most "Lambo" Lambo that Lambo has ever Lambo'd. And I adore it.

Not only does it have enough angles to keep Pythagoras happy, it's packing freaking supercapacitors under the hood that are paired with a monstrous V12 engine. That's some space-age goodness right there, and it means this electrified bull produces some 819 horsepower.

With only 63 being made (all of them are already sold) and a price that's sure to float into the millions, this isn't a car for everyone -- but it is a car destined to adorn the walls of teenagers' bedrooms the world over. More importantly, it shows that Lamborghini's move towards electric efficiency doesn't mean it's lost that balls-to-the-wall madness we know and love.

-- Andrew Hoyle