The Jag struts its stuff on the catwalk

Gavin Green visits the Geneva motor show, an opulent exhibition for Europe's richest car owners

The traffic queuing to get into the Palexpo exhibition centre was appalling last Tuesday. It was the first day of the Geneva motor show, when all the industry big wigs attended. I wonder if any of them stopped to contemplate the absurdity of a show which saw numerous highspeed sports and luxury cars being unveiled, while the real problem facing motoring worldwide was staring at them on a smog-bound Swiss motorway?

The Geneva Show has never been about serious issues. That's what the Frankfurt and Tokyo Shows, run by those dour Germans and Japanese, are all about. Geneva is a fashion show: an exhibition of good-time motoring for Europe's richest nation which, conveniently, has no motor industry of its own.

It's convenient because there are no nationalistic biases at Geneva. The Germans can't banish everyone else's motor industries to far-flung pavilions as they do in Frankfurt, only for the Japanese to reciprocate in Tokyo. Geneva is neutral.

Perhaps that's why the British, who have no large locally owned car maker of their own either, are so at home here. For the last four years, British- based makers have dominated the Geneva Show.

Last year, the MGF was the star. This year was Jaguar's turn. Its new XK8 was the perfect Geneva icon: stylish, glamorous, expensive and, in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant to future motoring needs.

Set to replace the ungainly 20-year-old XJS when sales start in October, the XK8 is a pounds 45,000, 155mph ego-massager for the rich. It's handsome, in a retro sort of way, and is further proof of the revivification of Jaguar under Ford. Sales volumes are likely to be handsomely up on the old XJSs.

Although it replaces the XJS, it's really more of an E-type successor - that seminal Sixties sports car that was unveiled at the Geneva Show exactly 35 years ago. The XK8 is more of a sports car (like the E-type) than a lazy boulevard cruiser (the XJS's forte). It is too conservative in style to be accurately compared to the E-type: that car, back in 1961, must have been far more eye-catching than the XK8 is today. It was a radical step forward, instead of a handsome update of an evolutionary styling theme. Nonetheless, the XK8 promises much. It is powered by Jaguar's new V8 engine, a 290bhp 4.0-litre unit to be built by Ford in Bridgend, Wales. That engine will shortly be the mainstay of the entire Jaguar range. It will be fitted to the XJ saloon series in late 1997, replacing the current straight-six and V12 units.

Back in the real world, Mercedes unveiled its long-awaited twin successors to the marvellous old E-class estate, favoured school-run transport in Britain's leafier suburbs. The new E-class is bigger than the old wagon, with a particularly sizeable rise in fore-aft load space. The clever, child rear seats and numerous utilitarian features of the old E (dog guard, luggage blind, completely removable back seats etc) all remain.

The new C-class estate, on the other hand, is smaller than the old E, and cheaper, too, with prices starting at about pounds 20,000. It's as much "sports" estate as luggage toter, but still should be big enough for the needs of most families. Both new Mercedes estates hit the UK in the summer.

Mercedes also unveiled its new V-class people carrier, built in Spain. The roomiest and plushest people carrier yet unveiled, the Spanish-built vehicle is also one of the ugliest: it really does look just like a converted van. Geneva also saw the European debut of the AAV 4x4 Mercedes concept car, precursor to the M-class Mercedes off-roader to be built in Alabama. UK sales start in two years. It's aimed at the Land Rover Discovery.

The other big news in the German corner was the comeback of the Beetle. VW announced that its Concept One show car - a Beetle for the Nineties - which was first unveiled two years ago, will go on sale in 1998 at about pounds 10,000. And it will be called the New Beetle. It'll be built in Mexico alongside the old Beetle, still assembled in Mexico and Brazil.

Although undeniably cute, the New Beetle is also very contrived: a triumph of fashion over clever design. Underneath the Beetle-like body lurks the floorpan and mechanicals of a Volkswagen Golf, which will doubtless prove superior on the road. America, where there is still lingering fondness for the old Beetle (Love Bug movies and all that) will be one of the biggest markets.

Ford showed a small coupe concept car called the Lynx, forerunner to a Vauxhall Tigra-sized new baby coupe. Honda had two fine new production cars: the CR-V is a Toyota RAV-4-like 4x4 that eschews that old macho off-road nonsense for car-like styling and practicality, while the SSM is a handily sized, two-seater roadster gunning for the MGF. It also had one duffer, the new Legend, a styling parody of the excellent Lexus that's bound to be a sales flop in Europe. Even more disappointing was the little Citroen Saxo, which will eventually succeed the AX. It's just a Peugeot 106 in drag.

Another French maker, Renault, launched Geneva's cleverest new car. The Scenic is a mini-Renault Espace, a five-seater, multi-purpose "one-box" vehicle based on the mechanics of the fine Megane hatchback. It looks great, is versatile, will cost from about pounds 12,000 when sales start early next year (a bargain), and was that rarest of Geneva offerings - a genuinely fresh slant on motoring.

Given that it's an Escort-sized car that can seat five adults in comfort, the Scenic may even make a modest contribution to easing traffic congestion. It proved that the car industry is working on new solutions and helped give a tinge of common sense to the party-time atmosphere that invariably pervades Europe's most enjoyable motor show.

The Geneva Motor Show, Palexpo exhibition centre (next to the airport) runs until17 March.

News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

    £120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall