Life, etc

2012 Paris Motor Show: Star cars in the City of Lights

By Deon Schoeman 15 October 2012

Paris hosts Europe’s biggest and most important motor show every second year, but when it does, the world’s auto makers pull out all the stops in an attempt to woo an increasingly impecunious – and cynical – motoring public. DEON SCHOEMAN chose four Paris Motor Show stars that shone brighter than most.

The Paris Motor Show prides itself on being the largest motor show in the world – bigger than the oh-so-elegant Geneva, bigger than the US showcases in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, bigger than Japan’s Tokyo Motor Show. And yes, bigger even than the Frankfurt expo, with which it alternates.

I’m not convinced the French auto show pips its German counterpart to the post in size terms, but the numbers are certainly impressive: an expected tally of more than 1-million visitors over 18 show days; two press days attended by some 13,000 journalists; in excess of 100 new releases – and 96,000 square metres of exhibition floor space.

Besides, the City of Lights did its reputation proud by hosting a bright and boisterous motor show, brimming with intriguing newcomers and an unexpectedly upbeat ambience, despite the Continent’s economic woes and car sales euphemistically described as slow.

Just as it is almost impossible to navigate the entire show in just two press days, any attempt at covering every new car and concept at the Paris expo would be futile, requiring the space of a fair-sized book. Instead, I’ve selected four of the show’s brightest stars.


For Volkswagen, the success of the seventh-generation Golf is non-negotiable. After all, the Golf is the measure by which all C-segment hatchbacks are judged, and it is the car that best epitomises the essence of the VW brand.

At first glance, Golf 7 looks like a modest evolution of Golf 6, which itself was little more than a facelift of Golf 5. But that’s more an illusion than reality: using an all-new modular chassis, the new Golf gets shorter overhangs, a longer wheelbase and a more upmarket, cab-forward look. A further benefit is more interior space, especially for rear occupants, and a bigger boot.

A weight-loss regimen has trimmed about 100 kg off the new Golf’s kerb mass, benefiting not only dynamics, but also overall efficiency. VW claims the Golf 7 is the greenest yet, with a range of frugal petrol and diesel engines ensuring impressive across-the-range economy.

The base-model 1.4 TSI, for instance, has a Euro-cycle fuel consumption rating of 4.9 litres/100 km, while the TDI versions can even dip below the 4 litres/100 km mark, with a CO2 emissions rating of just 99 g/km.

No Golf generation would be complete without a GTI, and VW showed a near production-ready GTI concept in Paris. Due for European release early next year, the new GTI will get an uprated 2-litre turbo petrol engine capable of 162 kW and 350 Nm. 

The trimmer Golf 7 chassis means the GTI should be more agile, with variable ratio steering adding to the car’s driver appeal. Traditional visual GTI hallmarks have been retained, including red brake callipers, a honeycomb mesh grille and large exhaust tail pipes.

The interior’s sporty ambience is underlined by the bolstered seats, flat-bottomed steering wheel, red ambient lighting, and the traditional golf ball-design gearshift knob. As in the Golf 7, there’s a touch-screen display as part of the integrated entertainment and communication management system.

Golf 7 is due in South Africa in the first quarter of 2013, with the GTI to follow about six months later.


The McLaren P1 was one of the real head-turners at the Paris Show, and with good reason. The bright metallic orange supercar concept not only looks striking, but is also destined to become a production model its makers believe will be the world’s ultimate driving car.

To turn that objective in an on-the-road reality, the development of the P1 is being conducted in collaboration McLaren’s F1 racing division. Comments that the current MP12 4C lacks soul and involvement have clearly been taken to heart, because McLaren is adamant that the P1 won’t just be fast, but will place the emphasis on a rewarding driving experience.

The mid-engined P1 is a much more dramatic car than the somewhat generic MP4-12C, but its underpinnings, called Monocage, are a development of the carbon fibre Monocell employed by the latter. The lightweight carbon fibre body panels cladding the Monocage, however, are all new.

The P1’s design is a study in aerodynamic efficiency, with the aesthetics heavily influenced by aerodynamic requirements. It also features highly advanced, race car-derived active aerodynamics in the form of an adjustable wing that can generate up to 600 kg of downforce. 

There’s even a F1-inspired Drag Reduction System (DRS) to reduce downforce during straight-line driving in the interests of improved top speed. This is achieved by reducing the angle of the wing. Active flaps in the underbody also adapt the downforce depending on the speed and the driving conditions.

The P1 is meant to be both a superior road car and a highly competent track weapon, and its active aerodynamic systems allow the driver to optimise the car for either role. 

The shape reflects those racing intentions with a look that, according to chief designer Frank Stephenson, was inspired by the aggression and functionality of a Le Mans endurance racing car. 

For now, McLaren remains mum on the drivetrain of its new hypercar, but the smart money is on a further development of the MP4-12C’s 3.8-litre V8. The unit is a proprietary McLaren design, and was always destined for a wider application. 

For the P1, the twin-turbo engine is likely to be uprated to deliver around 600 kW, while a dual-clutch gearbox is the most likely transmission option, especially since it will allow seamless, rapid sequential gear shifts using shift paddles.

The Paris concept will evolve into a production version, set to be unveiled at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, where well-heeled buyers will also be able to place their orders. Production is expected to be limited to no more than 500 units, and we can only guess what the price tag will be.


Jaguar took the launch of its long-awaited F-type roadster so seriously that it rented the chic Musée Rodin in Paris for a pre-show unveiling of the compact two-seater, and commissioned singer/songwriter Lana del Rey to write and perform a song dedicated to the F-type at the event.

If that sounds over the top, it is – but then, the F-type has been the most hyped addition to the Jaguar stable ever, and merely launching it by pulling off the covers at the Paris Show would have been decidedly anti-climactic.

Fortunately, the F-type is every bit as attractive and desirable as the pre-launch publicity suggested it would be. For starters, it’s very much a Jaguar in the best traditions of long-time Jag design chief Ian Callum. 

One could be tempted to describe it as a scaled-down XK, but that’s not the case. The two cars share the same design language, but the F-type’s shape expresses the litheness and agility of a real sports car, rather than the more generous, waftier proportions of the XK.

The F-type looks poised and aggressive in a feline sense, and while it’s not even remotely related to the iconic E-type in aesthetic terms, it evokes a similar emotional response. It’s a car that makes the heart beat faster.

Low weight, a theme embraced by an increasing number of auto makers in the interests of efficiency, is another leitmotiv, with generous use of aluminium reducing unsprung mass and overall weight. An improved power-to-weight ratio and superior chassis responses are among the beneficiaries of this approach.

The two-seat cockpit confirms the F-type’s driver-centric approach by positioning the passenger seat slightly behind the driving position in an asymmetrical configuration that Jaguar calls one-plus-one. 

For now, the F-type only comes in roadster form, with three derivatives on offer: the F-type, F-type S and the F-type V8 S. Powering the first two is a supercharged all-aluminium 3-litre V6, with respective power outputs of 250 and 280 kW. The familiar supercharged 5-litre V8 in the flagship F-type is good for 364 kW and 460 Nm.

With a kerb mass of around 1,600 kg, performance should be rapid, and Jaguar’s official stats confirm this. Even the so-called entry-level F-type blitzes the 0-100 km/h sprint in 5.3 sec, while the more powerful S trims that time by 0.4 sec to 4.9 sec. The V8 S despatches the test in just 4.3 seconds.

The eight-speed auto gearbox seems a little at odds with the hardcore positioning of the F-type, but I’m sure the wizards in Coventry have come up with the kind of swift and incisive shift action a car like this deserves.

The F-type order book is already open in SA, although there is no exact launch date: March 2013 seems to be as good a guess as any. Strong worldwide demand means that the new Jag is likely to be in short supply globally. A hard-top coupé version will follow a year or so later.


Paris wouldn’t be Paris without at least one French star, and in 2012 the new Renault Clio 4 is it. The new subcompact has the onerous task of upping Renault’s sales volumes around the world, and is also the first to debut a new Renault design direction.

The car looks less compact than expected, and exudes a level of sophistication not usually associated with this segment – although the same could be said of the Peugeot 208, which is a direct Clio 4 rival.

Penned by new design boss Laurens van den Acker, the new Clio is a more grown-up car, but with a stronger personality than before. The need to underline its identity in a crowded, competitive segment is an obvious design objective, conveyed via a bold front end with a slim sliver of a grille and expressive headlights.

Even in normal guise, the Clio has a certain level of designer appeal, with a more progressive presence than its tidy but hardly exciting predecessor. The same approach is prevalent in the cabin, which swaps blandness for style, distinction and an upmarket aura.

Chic surfaces, daring finishes, a touch-screen display, and clever packaging are deft touches that elevate the Clio’s cabin beyond the usual small-car standards. Clearly, Renault has realised that the buying trend has created a subcompact buyer with more discerning tastes.

Engines in Europe will focus on small-capacity turbo petrol and turbodiesel engines, all designed with economy in mind, while Renault’s dual-clutch gearbox also feature as a further efficiency measure. At this stage, it’s not clear which drivetrains will be offered in SA when the Clio launches during the first half of 2013.

Renault also showed a Renault Sport version of the Clio in Paris. Finished in bright yellow, the hot hatch is powered by a brand new 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, instead of the normally aspirated 2-litre mill employed before.

With 150 kW and 240 Nm, the Clio 4 RS promises to be a real pocket rocket – and a giant-killing one at that. A six-speed, dual-clutch gearbox will be the only transmission option, while two chassis set-ups – Sport and Cup – remain on the option list. DM


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