The European debt crisis, talk of the European Union’s demise, the shadow of recession… none of these could dampen the spirit of the thousands-strong media contingent that flocked to Geneva’s expo centre for the 82nd international motor show. And as usual, it was worth the effort. By DEON SCHOEMAN.
By global standards, the Geneva Motor Show is an easy one to cover. Compact and logically arranged in an exhibition centre located directly next to Geneva’s airport, it entails a day trip for any motoring hack based in Europe. Perhaps more importantly, Geneva always dishes up a feast of new cars and technologies, with just enough of the exotic and the extravagant to add a vital veneer of glamour, while still steering clear of political incorrectness.
It would be an impossible task to cover each of the more than 150 premieres at the show. Besides, not all are relevant to the South African market. Instead, I’ve selected a Super Six show stars that, in my opinion, represented the most significant releases in Geneva.
It was an open secret that Audi’s A3 would make its world debut at Geneva, so there were no gasps of surprise at the classy hatchback’s unveiling. Nor does the car represent any major visual departure from the existing shape or configuration.
Initially offered in three-door guise only, the A3 looks tailored and athletic, and despite gaining slightly in dimensions, it’s lighter than the outgoing model. Indeed, saving weight was a significant overall theme at Geneva, as auto makers strive to make their cars more frugal.
But the really important aspect of the new A3 is the cabin, which represents the first real step forward in cabin design at Audi since the debut of the A7 Sportback two years ago. The sense of style and quality so inherent to the brand has been retained, but the look is fresh and more intuitive.
Photo: The A3 will be availabe in South Africa before the end of the year.
It also incorporates a particular focus on connectivity and in-car services, with Internet and Google-based navigation integrated into the control systems.
The A3 uses an array of petrol and diesel engines, most of which will be familiar from the current range. These include the VW Group’s 1.4-litre forced induction unit, as well as the obligatory 1.8 TFSI turbo petrol unit and the stalwart 2.0 TDI turbodiesel.
Equally predictable is the transmission choice, encompassing six-speed manual or seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch units, with the latter fast becoming the more popular option among car buyers in Europe.
The new A3 arrives in South African showrooms before the end of the year, with a five-door Sportback and a sporty four-door sedan due next year.
Mercedes-Benz has never really come to grips with building compact, mass-market cars. The current A-class has only been mildly successful, and frankly, is too dumpy and utilitarian to wear the three-pointed star with any measure of conviction.
The Smart project, which Mercedes-Benz reluctantly took over from its Swiss watch-maker originators, is notable only for proving that really small cars with dubious performance and truly horrible gearbox can still be viable if focussed on big-city commuters. But it won’t ever wear a Mercedes badge.
All of which explains why the A-class is such an important car. And thankfully, it looks up to the task.
Photo: The A-class is what makes Mercedes stand out.
Compared to its tall and ungainly predecessor, the new A is a much sleeker, sportier and dynamic car that, Merc hopes, will add zip and brio to the A-class image. It was certainly one of the real head-turners in Geneva, and as it happens, will be targeting the Audi A3 as one of its key competitors.
The most important change is moving away from the sandwiched floor construction that was a major aspect of the first A’s enviable safety standards, but which also dictated the tall stance. The new car has more conventional underpinnings, allowing a low-slung silhouette that immediately creates a sporty impression.
While still nominally a four-door hatchback, the shape and proportions are more coupé-like, which also adds style and aspiration to the design formula. The interior oozes premium class, with an approach that remains true to the brand’s Teutonic ethos, but also expresses a modern and intuitive design.
The drivetrain options are extensive for European customers, but local buyers will get a smaller selection from which to choose with a stronger bias towards petrol engines, especially since relatively clean diesel with a 50ppm sulphur content remains unavailable in large parts of SA. The A-class should arrive locally in the fourth quarter.
A Geneva Motor Show without the unveiling of a serious exotic machine simply wouldn’t be the same and in 2012, it was Ferrari that did the honours unveiling the Italian sports car maker’s most powerful – and fastest – production car ever.
The F12berlinetta (and that’s not a spelling error) flashes from zero to 100km/h in 3.1 seconds, arrives at 200km/h just 5,4 seconds later, and has a top speed in excess of 340km/h. The all-new 6,266cc V12 engine under the bonnet is rated at 545kW ad 690Nm, representing an eye-watering power to weight ratio of 357kW/ton.
Photo: The F12berlinetta is Ferrari’s most powerful and fastest production car ever.
The front-engined, rear-wheel drive machine is a Ferrari in the classic coupé mould, with a very aggressive appearance dominated by the long, swooping nose. It’s also surprisingly compact, suggesting wieldy handling to go with all that straight-line speed.
Combining reduced weight with optimised aerodynamics, the F12berlinetta is also less of a gas-guzzler than one would expect, achieving a relatively frugal fuel appetite of only 15-litres/100km in the combined cycle, while CO? emissions come to 350g.
The cabin is trimmed in Frau leather and reflects both tradition and advanced technology, with carbon fibre finishes for the air vents and dashboard elements. Pricing remains unconfirmed, but is somewhat irrelevant for mere mortals.
Silly names remain a well-established Geneva trend, and the Opel Mokka is another example. Fortunately, this new compact SUV doesn’t have to rely on the badge for its appeal: the all-terrainer mixes clean, purposeful lines to a cleverly packaged cabin big enough for five.
Two petrol and a single turbodiesel engine option are linked to front-biased permanent all-wheel drive system. In normal, on-road driving conditions, all the motive power is transferred directly to the front wheels, which also happens to be the most efficient mode.
However, when the going gets a little more slippery, for instance when negotiating sand or snow, an increasing amount of urge is sent to the rear wheels, providing 4×4-style traction. Opel claims the delay that often goes hand-in-hand with this process is minimal, allowing the Mokka to respond instantly to varying conditions.
Photo: The Opel Mokka could be the brand that brings Opel back to the fore.
Frankly, though, the Opel is unlikely to be good for anything more than good gravel roads in the SA context – an urban warrior with some mild off-road traits, but certainly not a gung-ho bundu-basher. That said, advanced driver assistance systems add to the SUV’s cutting-edge aura.
The interior is nicely packaged, with just the right mix of equipment and materials to appeal to a wide audience, although in Europe, the target market is young, adventurous and lifestyle-orientated. If the car comes to SA, the emphasis is likely to be more on family buyers.
From the local perspective, though, the Mokka’s biggest challenge will be to overcome the indifference towards a brand that used to be right up there with VW 15 years ago, but seems to have waned in appeal and stature after a succession of indifferent cars. The Mokka could be the vehicle that turns the brand around.
There’s every indication that the new Porsche Boxster could be the Zuffenhausen brand’s most significant new model since the Cayenne. The two-door sports car looks fantastic, with a much more purposeful design that’s matched to mid-mounted flat-six drivetrain.
The standard engine is a 2.7-litre six-potter good for 195kW, while the S version gets a 3.4-litre with 232kW on tap. Initial European test reports suggest involving dynamics and a thrilling drive – all for half the price of a 911.
Photo: The new version of the Boxster is likely to be just as hard-core and appealing as the 911.
That doesn’t mean the new Boxster will be cheap, while the local importer’s strategy of high specification, together with the effects of import duties, means it will be even dearer in SA. But the price tag will still be significantly lower than the latest 911, which certainly makes it more accessible and more volume-driven.
The previous Boxster, while a fine and hugely underrated car, simply couldn’t shake a reputation for not being as hard-core, or as appealing, as the iconic 911. The new version is likely to change that. It has a far stronger, more individual character with a shape that is unmistakably Porsche, but also proudly Boxster.
The cabin remains strictly for two, but ergonomics and switchgear have benefited from the progress of the 991-generation 911, making for a more intuitive driving office than before. The roof is simple, lightweight and fully automated, ensuring that wind-in-the-hair motoring is only the press of a button away. Sales start next year.
If one accepts that electric cars are an inevitable part of the world’s motoring future, then the real trend-setter at Geneva was the new Renault Zoe, a purpose-designed electric car linking advanced technology to a sub-R150,000 asking price – in Europe.
Photo: The Renault Zoe is an electric car that could become mainstream.
It may look like a concept, but this is a production model with a range of more than 200km, multiple charging options and a clever multimedia system that uses a 80mm touch-screen. It seems set to take Europe by storm, but we’re not sure that there’s enough power in SA to welcome electric cars yet. DM
Photo: The Ferrari F12berlinetta was the most exotic car unveiled at this year’s Geneva Motor Show.
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