Paris motor show: so fast, so proud, and so avant-garde

From funky new hatches to outrageous supercars, the Paris show found the world's car makers on their mettle. John Simister finds himself equally emboldened
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Indy Lifestyle Online

If you're reading this section of The Independent, there's a chance you like cars. You might even be noting, with relief, the loudening death-knell for the misguided tyranny and extortion of speed cameras (something all independently thinking people should welcome).

Maybe speed in itself isn't the demon after all. Maybe it's just the inappropriate use thereof, something intelligent drivers have known all along.

So I make no apologies for celebrating the two stars of last week's Paris show, a pair of supercars any car-lover would covet. First off, unveiled on the eve of press day, the Audi R8. Among the skyscrapers and glitz of La Défense, Paris's financial district overlooking the city below, the throng saw headlights in the distance arriving at the climax of film footage representing a traffic-free drive from Le Mans, where Audi's diesel-fuelled R10 won the 24-hour race in June. The headlights streaked down the hill and on to the stage; behind them was the R8, and out of it stepped multi-champion Jacky Ickx, who then went on a lot about teamwork, harmony, clouds and sky.

The R8 is a mid-engined, aluminium-structured sports car aimed, pricewise, straight at the Porsche 911. Its 4.2-litre, 420bhp, V8 engine comes from the Audi RS4, and it has the style of a flatter, angrier Audi TT. It's truly a lovely thing.

So is the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, a car surrounded by more motor-show photographers than any other. We've seen this shapely, metallic red car before (Frankfurt 2003, to be precise), at which point it was just a concept car. Then Alfa said it would be made, then it wouldn't, and finally it would again. Its 4.7-litre V8 engine is an Alfa-modified version of a Maserati engine built by Ferrari (a fine game of happy Fiat families), and Maserati will build the 500 examples in Modena.

You might think it strange that Alfa Romeo would create such an extravagant car, but the idea is for it to be a glamorous standard-bearer. There should be little problem in selling all the 8Cs at £100,000 apiece, left-hand drive only. The Dutch importer reserved 10 as Alfa CEO Antonio Baravalle finished his speech, the Australian importer 20. And a wealthy Parisian ordered two, one for his collection, one to drive.

Fast, and yet faster. Over on Peugeot's stand we were introduced to not one but two 908s. The glamorous, glitzy one was a menacing four-door coupé dripping with luxury and powered by a V12 diesel engine set behind the cabin. This 908 RC was a concept car, of course, designed to draw attention to the real 908, next year's Le Mans race car.

At the opposite end of the excess scale was the 207 ePure, a preview of the imminent 207 Coupé Cabriolet but using a fuel-cell powertrain. Here was a concept car rooted in reality, something less easy to say of Citroën's C-Métisse and Renault's Napta, both with flamboyant variations on the gullwing door.

The cute little Renault Twingo passed the UK by first time around, but the new one, to be launched next year, comes here as a proper supermini to slot under the enlarged new Clio. There'll be a choice of 1.0 or 1.2-litre engines, the latter being turbocharged, and later on we might see a Renaultsport version that's like the concept car. The UK takes half of all Renaultsport products (Mégane 225 and Clio 197), incidentally, despite our speed cameras.

And the Renault Koleos? This soft-edged 4x4, loosely derived from an eponymous concept car, will be made in Korea by Renault -Samsung Motors on a Nissan X-Trail-derived base. Well, it's a small world.

Another Korean company was shouting its Euro credentials as it revealed the production of its European-designed (in Germany by a Frenchman), European-made (in Slovakia) Cee'd. Its name, tortuously, combines the CEE of Europe (it's what the French call, or used to call, the EEC before it became the EU) with the car's internal Kia code name, ED. The apostrophe indicates the loss of an "e", because it would be ridiculous to have three "e"s. Thank goodness the resulting name isn't ridiculous after all.

The Cee'd is a tidy Golf-size hatchback, and is joined by both a design study for a three-door (called, yes, pro_cee'd) and by a Hyundai version, Amejs. That should slip easily off the tongue.

Rather more dubious names came from Nissan, showing the production version of the Qashqai hatchback/4x4 crossover that replaces the Almera and will be built in the UK, and Toyota, whose Corolla replacement abandons the old name and is called Auris.

BMW showed the new Mini, already driven by us in prototype form . Volvo had the production version of the style-object C30 (next week's road test), and Honda showed a new CRV of such curious looks that it ought to have been among the Chinese exhibits, of which the Great Wall 4x4 ("Independent Suspension!", "Five Speed Manual Transmission!", "Rugged Quality Build Luxury!") was the most lost in every sort of translation.

And over at Ford stood the car that once would have been headline news, such was its past importance to the British roadscape. Nowadays, though, the Ford Mondeo is a diminished force in Europe. The Mondeo looks tough and dynamic, with trinkets of brightwork to lend "premiumness" (so says Mondeo Man, programme director Steve Adams) while keeping Ford values of, yes, value. But it doesn't look as tough as the Iosis X concept, which is - yes - a crossover based on the ubiquitous Ford Focus platform. If Nissan can do it with the Qashqai, Ford might have thought, then we can do it too. Faux 4x4s: unfortunately it's the future.

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