Geneva Motor Show 2012 round-up
Friday 09 March 2012
The Geneva Motor Show, held on neutral territory in Switzerland in the spring, always produces a bumper crop of new models, and this year's is no exception.
Among the most expensive cars, Rolls Royce showed an updated Phantom and Ferrari the new F12 Berlinetta, and the main premium brands were well represented with new models, too. Mercedes had the new SL roadster while BMW showed off the Gran Coupe, a four-door version of the 6-Series and a rival for the Mercedes CLS and Jaguar XF. The Jaguar XF is not itself a new model, but could be seen at Geneva for the first time in Sportbrake estate form. Combined with last year's facelift and the availability of new four-cylinder diesel engine options, the Sportbrake should keep the XF fresh for a few more years yet.
Three important new C-segment premium models – that's industry jargon for cars that are about the same size as a Volkswagen Golf but have posher badges – were launched at Geneva. All are central to the plans of their respective makers but one played it safe while the other two broke new ground. The safe one was the Audi A3, which looks quite like the outgoing model – a sensible decision, given that car's enormous popularity. The Mercedes A-Class and the Volvo V40, though, each represent quite a radical change compared with their predecessors – and it's no coincidence that the radical change involves making them rather more like the successful A3 than the cars they replace. First, the Mercedes. Previously, the company insisted on building cars that were quite unlike any others in this bracket; the first A-Class, launched in the Nineties, had a compact footprint and an unusual sandwich floor construction, which, among other things, represented a future-proofing measure for a possible battery-powered version that never came. The resulting tall look was carried over when that car was replaced but the new third-generation version shown at Geneva has much more conventional hatchback proportions – and is better for it. The only drawback is that, grille apart, it isn't immediately recognisable as a Mercedes. The Volvo V40 represents a similar acceptance that a conventional hatchback is most likely to catch large numbers of buyers in the C-segment. It replaces the S40 saloon and V50 estates, and the switch to a hatch format alone should be worth some sales. The V40 also has fluid good looks and a cool Swedish interior on its side.
At the other end of the C-segment, among the emerging Korean brands, Kia and Hyundai introduced their second-generation cee'd and i30 models The two cars are sisters under the skin and in their original iterations were the first cars from their makers to give the leading European models a run for their money, so these new versions need to be good. The first signs are encouraging, although most car buyers, their attitudes conditioned by decades of badge-based thinking, will probably never know just how small the gap in performance and quality between the Korean pair on the one hand and the A3, A-Class and V40 on the other, is getting.
Renault recently pruned its UK range but Geneva showed how the company plans to fill some of the showroom space vacated by now-departed models such as the Wind, Laguna and Espace. First there will be electric cars, with the Zoe super-mini and the twizy quadricycle joining the Fluence. More important, though, will be the much-delayed UK introduction of the Romanian Dacia brand, which has been doing for Renault in other markets what Skoda has been doing for the Volkswagen group. As well as the existing small Sandero and the Duster SUV, Dacia was showing off a roomy new people-carrier, the Lodgy, which could sell well if the price is low enough.
Renault's French rival Peugeot was focusing mainly on the new small 208. After a lean period, Peugeot has been fighting back with the RCZ coupé, the handsome 508 and a new diesel hybrid drivetrain, and it will be hoping that the 208 is good enough to keep up the momentum; a GTi version shown at Geneva should help. Another small car that attracted a lot of attention was Nissan's Invitation concept, which foreshadows a new small car that will be built at the company's UK plant, boosting production an employment levels there. Other highlights among smaller cars were Seat's Toledo, a small four-door hatchback with a saloon-like silhouette, and Fiat's 500L. The Toledo's compact sporty looks recall the earliest model of the same name, which is more fondly remembered than the most recent Toledo, a rather bulky people-carrier. The 500L is best seen as Fiat's attempt to emulate the success of the Countryman, a bigger version of the Mini, although visually, it probably resembles the Panda as much as the 500. Another impressive small car was Ford's B-Max; its most obvious innovation is a big practical side opening that has been achieved by eliminating the central B-pillar.
The most interesting development from the Japanese manufacturers was the imminent arrival of the Subaru BRZ and the Toyota GT86 sports cars, a joint effort of the two companies. These models are keenly awaited by fans of both brands as Subaru and Toyota need an injection of excitement or glamour at the moment; if their looks are any guide the new cars should provide quite a bit of help on that front.
In the SUV category, Land Rover showed its Range Rover Evoque convertible concept, which the company says will be the first premium convertible SUV if it goes into production, a development that seems very likely, although not immediately, given the high sales of the existing closed three and five door models. Land Rover also showed again its DC100 concept, which is designed to provide a guide to the company's thinking on a possible replacement for its rugged Defender model, which is a direct evolution of the original Land Rover that first entered production over sixty years ago. This time, the DC100 was shown with a colour scheme that has not previously been seen in Europe – a Mini-style red body/white roof combination that suited it very well. Citroën had its C4 Aircross compact SUV and Volkswagen a new version of the Cross Coupé study, while Vauxhall showed its new Mokka. The most discussed SUV, though, and one of the big talking points of the whole show, was Bentley's visually challenging EXP 9 F concept, which is supposed to be the precursor to a third model line of models for the company alongside the Mulsanne and the Continental. But Geneva wouldn't be Geneva without at least one controversy of that sort.
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