FRANKFURT — European automakers converged here in September to face off head-to-head on several fronts — most notably small cars and luxury models.

But they also brought a bevy of image-changing concepts, as many hope to put some long-lost luster back into their brands.

The mood of the show was subdued as a result of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but many of the key new vehicle introductions and concept unveilings — an estimated 57 in all — took place in the hours before news of the devastation hit here.

European buyers looking for their next entry-level car had an easy time comparison shopping, as no less than four key new models in the segment — including the VW Polo, Ford Fiesta, Citroen C3 and Fiat Stilo — took their public bows here.

Although all four feature modern, rich looking designs with well-tailored interiors, the C3 — the smallest in the bunch at 152 ins. (385 cm) in length — arguably is the best looking. Engine offerings include the new range of 4-cyl. diesels developed by Peugeot SA and Ford Motor Co., and the small car is crammed with safety features, including six air bags (two curtain), antilock brakes, automatic wipers, electronic parking assist and power child safety locks.

Volkswagen AG's new Polo, with its rounded headlamps, resembles a mini Mercedes and comes in four trim levels, with gasoline engines ranging from a 1.2L 3-cyl. to a 1.9L gasoline 4-cyl., plus two direct-injected turbodiesels. Safety features include electronic stability control and a full complement of air bags.

The new Ford Fiesta is being counted on to continue a turnaround of fortunes begun with the earlier introduction of the Mondeo. Fiesta, which gets a large dose of Focus styling cues, grows a bit to 154 ins. (392 cm ins.) for easier rear access and boasts an extensive engine lineup that tops out at the 98-hp Duratec 1.6L 16-valve 4-cyl.

Saying Ford is “thinking big about the small car market,” Ford of Europe Chief Executive David Thursfield calls the Fiesta the first in a new family of small cars due between now and 2003. Importantly, the cars now will be available with the PSA-Ford 1.4L common rail diesel. On sale in early 2002, Fiesta will be produced in Cologne, Germany, and Valencia, Spain.

Like the Fiesta, Fiat Auto SpA's stylish Stilo is being counted on heavily to drive success in Europe. Sales of the new small car, which replaces the Bravo/Brava in Fiat's line and offers a choice of three gas and two diesel powerplants, are forecast at 350,000 in 2002 and 400,000 by 2003. Features include reclining rear seats and radar cruise control.

Slugging it out at the top end of the market was the new Mercedes SL and BMW 7-series. The technology-crammed SL — it gets electronic braking and active body control — was fairly well received, but the new BMW flagship got a remarkably cool reception. Many were unimpressed by the Bavarian automaker's emerging styling direction, with a few industry veterans even daring to call it ugly. Company officials and dealers also have some mild concerns about how the car's new ultra-sophisticated I-drive — which aims to be a step up from General Motors Corp.'s OnStar entertainment/concierge service package — will be accepted, even among BMW's typically tech-savvy buyer base. Dealers and salespeople apparently are being trained on how to educate new owners on how to use the complex system. BMW also rolls out a long-wheelbase version of the car due next year and promises hydrogen powered versions of new 7-series, probably around 2004.

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. unveils its Primera flagship, bowing first as a sedan and wagon with a 5-door hatch to come next summer. It will be built at the Sunderland, U.K., plant. Volumes are forecast at 120,000 units per year. Nissan is still mulling whether to offer the new Primera in the U.S. as an Infiniti.

Nissan also contributed to the concept barrage, as many automakers look to recast their images here and give strong hints of future styling direction. Nissan's contribution included the Crossbow, a large luxury 4×4 and the mm.e, a compact city car seen as a prelude to the next-generation Micra.

Audi AG took the wraps off the Avantissimo, an A8-sized, muscled-up wagon concept that features a 430-hp bi-turbo V-8, glass roof, air suspension and fingerprint identification system.

Other hints of things to come included the Fiesta-based Ford Fusion small crossover concept; Opel Signum2 crossover that's likely to replace the current Omega line; the Saab 9X, a BMW M-Coupe type sport sedan/pickup that could make it into production in some form; Tridion4, the basis for Smart's first 4-seat, 4-door sedan due in 2004; and the Jaguar R-Coupe, the first complete Jag developed since Ian Callum was appointed director of design in 1999. The 4-seater, which foreshadows Jag's new styling direction, boasts the big proportions and wide stance of classic Jags from the '50s and '60s. Critics applauded the concept's sensuous curves, but criticized its me-too styling. Jaguar also announces its next-generation flagship XJ sedan will be the company's first mass production model to feature an aluminum-intensive body structure.