Geneva rediscovers the party spirit

Judging from the roadsters at the motor show, Europe's car industry is in a fun mood - and Rover is leading the game, says Gavin Green

Even though the weather was cold and snowy for the first few days of the show, it was still tagged the Geneva Spring. It wasn't just that it was March that made people think of spring, nor that the host of exciting new cars on display were mostly drop-top roadsters, designed for sunnier days. Rather, it was the feeling of revitalism, of rebirth.

Geneva produced cars of real optimism, of vitality; cars that were fun and fancy-free. Instead of concentrating on mere transport, Europe's car makers used Geneva to preview style statements: cars to tug emotions rather than merely move people. It was a show full of cars to make you smile.

Amazing that a decade or so after Europe, and more particularly, Britain, deserted the roadster market that it once dominated, so many European makers are re-entering the scene simultaneously. Amazing, too, that they are re-entering at a time when the coup market is in steep decline, and when sales of the only current inexpensive roadster on the market, Mazda's MX-5, are also nosediving.

Yet there they were: Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Renault and, most notably, MG, all producing attractive two-seater open-top cars, all in the £14,000- £25,000 range. And that's not the end of it. BMW, Rover's owner, will unveil its new cut-price roadster, the Z3, before the year is out and, a little further on, both Mercedes and Porsche will release small two- seater roadsters, both for under £30,000.

The MG was the star of the show - even the German, French and Italians on hand had to admit that. Britain's favourite sports car marque, dormant for 15 years, raced back with a car that owed nothing to the bone-shaking old roadsters, and everything to modernity, sassiness and high-technology. The only thing the cloth-capped nostalgists would recognise is the badge: but that was enough to have scores of fortysomethings reminiscing about their first MG Midget or MGB.

Others merely appreciated the subtle yet distinctive styling, even if some reckoned it to be too Japanese derivative. It is not a bold looking car nor a revolutionary one, not by the standards of this Geneva Show. But it is pretty, and that should tempt loads of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who don't care about trad badges to consider one instead of a GTi or a BMW3-series.

More revolutionary are the mechanicals. The 1.8 litre four-cylinder engine is said to have the most sophisticated variable valve control system ever introduced on a road car, proof that Rover learnt a thing or two from its long association with Honda. The Hydragas suspension, although a throwback to the old British Leyland days, is also a positive step, and should help the MG's handling. So should the mid-engine layout, a feature usually reserved for high-priced sports cars such as Ferraris.

Rover's boss, John Towers, is talking about a production run of 20,000 or so cars a year, and prices ranging from £16,000 to £18,500. That's a lot for a little sports car, and is much more - in real terms - than small MGs of yore, as well as being pricier than the MG's biggest rival, the MX-5. I can't see Rover having much problem selling the cars, although like any new sports car the initial novelty value may fade after a few years. A bigger threat is the BMW Z3 roadster, on sale in Britain early next year for about £19,000.

The MGF and the BMW Z3 were planned and finalised before the recent Rover/BMW deal. Given that the two companies are now effectively one, BMW probably would have preferred the MG to be a little more downmarket and the new BMW to be a little pricier, better to differentiate the two.

More immediate threats to the MGF come from the Fiat Barchetta and the Alfa Spider, and from Renault's show star, the Sport Spider. The Barchetta, Fiat's return to the cheap roadster market which it used to dominate alongside MG, is a more mechanically conventional but more stylistically adventurous machine which uses a new Fiat 1.8 engine, front-wheel drive and a Punto underbody. It's long-nosed,short-tailed and eyecatching. It will come to Britain in left-hand drive only for about £14,000.

The prettiest new roadster at Geneva was the Alfa Spider. Although it's been seen at a motor show before - the Paris Salon last autumn - the Spider is just about to hit European showrooms. British sales start next spring, at just over £20,000. Both four-cylinder twin cam and V6 engines are available, and as with all recent Alfas, it is front-wheel drive.

Renault's roadster was the wackiest, the priciest, and probably the least significant - inasmuch as not many will be built. The Sport Spider uses an aluminium skeleton to which composite plastic panels are affixed, and will be built by Alpine in Dieppe, best known for the now-deceased GTA coup. Renault is talking about a price of £25,000 for the unusual-looking beast, powered by a four-cylinder Clio Williams engine. As with the MG, it's placed right behind the driver. The production target is 2,000 vehicles, 250 of which will come to the UK, almost certainly in right-hand drive form. Whether Renault makes any more depends on demand.

At the other end of the two-door convertible scale was Britain's other Geneva Show star, the Bentley Azure. Gargantuan in size as well as in price (£2l5,000), it's based on the Bentley Continental R coup. It replaces the old Rolls Corniche, favoured wheels of the Cote d'Azur millionaire who liked to keep working on his suntan while on the move.

There wasn't much in the way of sensible new production saloons or bold new technical solutions to the world's transport problems. The only novelties the car industry served up were Opel and Mercedes concept cars that boasted modular bodies. In other words, you buy the skeleton and can rent or buy various different "bolt-on" bodies to satisfy your moods or requirements, varying (in the case of the Mercedes) from a convertible to a pick-up to an estate.

But let's not get serious: that betrays the party mood of Geneva. The car industry was having some fun, and chief party-goer was the one-time long face of the European car industry, Rover. For the first time in decades, it produced the star of Europe's most important annual car show. And led the charge as Europe rediscovered a lost art form.

The Geneva Motor Show is held at the Palexpo, near the airport. It closes on Sunday 19 March.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.


ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers / Car Movers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Recruitment Genius: Software / Web Developer - ASP.NET

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company produces a wide ra...

    Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones