Geneva Motor Show: Small cars, big appeal
- Deon Schoeman
- Life, etc
- 13 Mar 2014 (South Africa)
As the first major event on the international motor show calendar, the Geneva Motor Show is more important than its compact format suggests. From global brands to boutique producers, Geneva attracts the who’s who of the automotive world. But despite the upmarket aura of the show (and the city), the small cars were the big news. By DEON SCHOEMAN.
Geneva has always been a special motor show – not only because it’s hosted by one of the most elegant (read expensive) cities in the world, but because the harvest of significant new models is particularly high, especially as far as European marques are concerned.
Compared to Frankfurt or Paris, it’s also a lot more compact, which means that there’s more new motoring metal per square metre in Geneva than at any other motor show.
The Geneva is also the show traditionally chosen by the premium brands to unveil their top-end newcomers – not surprising, considering the considerable economic stature of Geneva’s residents. But while that trend continued this year, the real Geneva stars were a selection of cutting-edge compact cars, proving that bigger isn’t always better.
THE SMALL CARS
The brightest star in Geneva belonged to the all-new Renault Twingo. The boxy, boisterous newcomer breaks the minicar mould by reverting to the rear-engined, rear-wheel drive layout popular among small cars before Sir Alec Issigonis created the Mini.
But there’s more to the Twingo than nostalgia: it’s shorter and lighter, but more spacious than its predecessor, while the 66kW, 900cc turbo engine ensures plenty of vim. The 8.9 metre turning circle means it’s manoeuvrable, too.
The more conventional but decidedly upmarket Peugeot 108 was another minicar highlight. Proving that demand for smarter, smaller cars is on the rise, the 108 is a departure from the cheap and cheerful ultracompact norm, preferring a more elegant exterior treatment, with decidedly upmarket interior to match.
While European buyers will get to choose between three-door and five-door versions, the SA market is likely to stick to the five-door, powered by a one-litre, 60kW three-cylinder engine. A fold-back canvas sunroof will be an option.
You’d never believe that the 108 shares its underpinnings with the Toyota Aygo, which looks radical, sporty and decidedly youthful by comparison.
The edgy aesthetics are in line with the current Toyota design language, and are part of the brand’s efforts to create a stronger visual presence. The one-litre engine is good for only 50kW though.
The previous Aygo took a long time to reach SA shores, but the newcomer will be much quicker off the mark and should arrive here before year-end.
As before, Citroën is the third shareholder in this latest collaborative minicar platform, and predictably, the C1 styling has more in common with the 108 than the Aygo.
That said, the Citroën treatment is more eclectic and more individual. Like the Peugeot, European buyers get to choose between 50kW and 60kW three-cylinder engines, while local availability has not been confirmed.
This is Suzuki’s successor to the Alto, which also competes against the C1/Aygo/108 triumvirate. Expect a solidly built, frugal and well-equipped model that lives up to Suzuki’s strong brand reputation.
The one-litre engine is based on the current Alto unit, and the gearbox is a clever auto unit promising slick, efficient shifts. There’s no word on local release, but given that the Alto is an established player here, there’s no reason why the Celerio shouldn’t be offered here, too.
THE SPORTY CARS
Abarth 695 Biposto
Still small, but hardly cheap and almost uncompromisingly sporty is the Fiat 500-based Abarth 695 BiPosto.
The name relates to the two-seater interior, complete with racing buckets and harnesses, while the 140kW 1400 turbo engine has enough muscle to propel the little Italian to 100 clicks from rest in under 6 seconds.
A handful might make it to SA, but the price tag is likely to be on the wrong side of half a million rand.
Audi S1 Sportback
Still staying with compact models, the latest addition to Audi’s S-car family is the S1 Sportback, which is also the first quattro model in the mainstream A1 range.
With its two-litre TFSI turbo engine good for 170kW, the little hatch should be a real flyer, with quattro providing the traction to match. The six-speed manual gearbox will add to the fun, while there’s a choice of three-door hatch and five-door Sportback models. It will reach South Africa in the second half of the year.
Alfa 4c Spider
The Alfa 4C has been hyped for almost a year now, but the first units will finally reach SA in May, and supply will remain extremely limited. The coupe will be joined by a canvas-roofed Spider next year.
Essentially identical mechanically, the Spider will suffer a 90kg weight penalty, although Alfa says the car will be as torsionally rigid as the hardtop.
Whether the soft-top will boost production and thus ease the long waiting lists remains to be seen, but you can be sure it will be even more expensive than the expected R800,000 asking price the coupé is expected to command locally.
One of the biggest drawcards at the Geneva expo was the all-new, third-generation Audi TT. The car displays Audi’s increasingly angular and aggressive design language, creating a more masculine and muscular look.
The all-new interior, with its digital instruments, is a particular highlight, and will find its way into most of Audi’s future models, starting with the next-generation A4.
The mainstream TT model will have a 170kW TFSI engine, with manual and S-tronic transmission options. Expect it to arrive in South Africa in time for Christmas. It will be followed by a 206kW TT-S version, as well a smaller-capacity petrols, and a turbodiesel.
The updated Scirocco finally made its debut at Geneva. The latest model is hardly ground-breaking, but gains across-the-board refinement in both technical and aesthetic terms, despite still being based on the Golf 6 platform.
The cosmetics are subtly keener, and power is up across the range, with the Scirocco R flagship matching the Golf R’s 206kW output. The normal two-litre TSI is good for 162kW. Expect it to debut locally towards the end of the year.
Jaguar XF-RS Sportbrake
It sounds sexier than an estate, but the Sportbrake is essentially the station wagon version of the XF-RS. As such, it links the very real practical advantages of an estate with the performance of a sports car.
It certainly looks the athletic part, with a lower front spoiler with integrated splitter, sill extensions, flared wheel arches, and a rear diffuser. Despite their generous size, expect the rear wheels to struggle with the full fury of the 390kW supercharged V8, which propels the big wagon to a sub-five second zero to 100km/h time.
Pity then that it’s an unlikely starter for the SA market, which no longer cares for station wagons.
THE FANCY CARS
Mercedes S-Class Coupé
Closely resembling the Frankfurt show car, the first S-class based coupé in more than a decade was one of Geneva’s showstoppers.
It’s a big car, but athletically sculpted, and combining the same cutting-edge technology as the S-class sedan with a dynamic, sporty chassis. A twin-turbo 4.7-litre V8 will kick off the range as the S 500 Coupe, delivering 339kW and 700Nm, but an AMG derivative will be added by year-end.
The F Sport version of the Lexus brand’s standalone coupé, the RC, gets a more athletic demeanour, thanks to an extrovert body kit and bigger wheels.
Under the skin, the uprated suspension can be combined with adaptive damping and rear-wheel steering. The interior gets an LFA-style instrument binnacle, F-Sport steering wheel and a full house of gear.
You need to be something of a Rolls Royce aficionado to spot the differences between the original Ghost, and the updated Ghost II.
New headlights, different bumpers and a revised bonnet all create a fresher, bolder appearance, while the interior has been spruced up with the latest tech, including connectivity on the move. The underpinnings remain unchanged, however.
Bentley Continental GT Speed
Hot on the heels of the Continental GT S, Bentley unveiled the new Continental GT Speed models in Geneva – arguably the perfect venue to attract the well-heeled clientele that the Bentley brand appeals to.
The GT Speed is the fastest Flying B yet, with the six-litre W12 now producing 467kW and 800Nm, for a 331 km/h top speed. Both coupé and convertible versions will be on offer.
The eagerly-awaited, mid-sized Porsche Macan uses some Audi Q5 bits, but around 75 percent of the SUV is original Porsche, the Zuffenhausen marque claims. The V6 turbodiesel produces 180kW and 580Nm, and is likely to be the top choice in SA.
The diesel is joined by two bi-turbo V6 petrol-engine models, with 250kW and 294kW respectively. There’s no firm pricing yet, and the first examples should arrive in the third quarter.
The all-new Jeep Cherokee is not going to please everyone – at least not as far as the styling is concerned, which is as bold as it is polarising.
But the compact SUV is promising versatility, luxury and true all-terrain talent in the case of the all-wheel drive models. It’s due in South Africa by mid-year as a three-model range, including a two-wheel drive version.
Developed in the US but built in Italy using a shared Fiat-based platform, this cosmopolitan mini-Jeep is hoping to challenge the legendary Suzuki Jimny in the go-anywhere stakes.
But it also promises ample comfort and even luxury, while an extensive list of drivetrain options, and a trendy interior, will allow a wide array of versions, ranging from hard-core off-roaders to city slickers. It’s due here early next year.
BMW 2-Series Active Tourer
Sharing the new front-wheel drive platform of the 2-Series, and powered by new three-cylinder and four-cylinder engines, the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer is arguably the most radical compact BMW yet.
As such, it may struggle to find buying support in the SA market, depending on price and specification. But it will be frugal, safe and superbly packaged – which means that the Mercedes-Benz B-Class should be worried.
Honda Civic Type R
Honda Type R fans rejoice! The Civic Type R Concept shown in Geneva may still not be the official production version, but it’s as close as dammit to the real thing.
And yes, it will be every bit as visually and dynamically arresting as the show car suggests, including that massive rear wing.
With a proposed 208kW driving the front wheels only, linked to a bespoke suspension and an aero kit designed to deliver stability and downforce, the Honda could just become the hottest of hatches, bar none. The production model should finally see the light next year.
Here’s another show car with very real production model intentions. The Mazda Hazumi may look futuristic, but the proportions, shape and silhouette are fairly accurate indicators of what the next-generation Mazda2 will look like.
It’s likely to offer Mazda’s new, clean-burning 1,5-litre turbodiesel engine as one of the drivetrain options. Expect the production version to arrive in 2015, which also mark Mazda’s independence from Ford in the South African context.
There’s a lot of cutting edge tech in Hyundai’s Intrado concept car. It’s unusually aerodynamic for a crossover, features a strong but lightweight combination of carbon fibre and lightweight, high tensile steel, and employs a new construction method that allows for easier body repairs.
In the best concept car tradition, the crimson interior is pure science fiction, while the drivetrain employs an emissions-free hydrogen fuel cell.
The arresting design is by Peter Schreyer, who now heads up both Kia and Hyundai design – but don’t expect this one to reach showroom floors anytime soon!
Mini Clubman Concept
The Mini tradition of showing near production-ready concepts continued at Geneva with the unveiling of the Clubman Concept.
Based on the new, third-generation Mini, the Clubman gets a more conventional four-door layout, instead of the 2+1 configuration of its predecessor. In addition, the extended wheelbase allows more interior space and an improved luggage capacity.
Expect a production version of the concept in the not too distant future.
Volvo Estate Concept
Volvo’s run of head-turning concepts continued at Geneva with the Estate Concept, showcasing not only the clean, smooth design themes of its predecessors, but focussing in particular on an all-new interior design approach.
Conventional switchgear is replaced by a tablet-like input device in the centre stack, which Volvo believes offers a more intuitive user experience. It may well debut in next year’s XC90 SUV replacement.
Maserati Alfieri Concept
At face value, this striking Maserati concept celebrates 100 years of the marque, and is named after one of the six Maserati brothers that founded the company a century ago.
In reality, however, the concept could spawn a more affordable (at least by Maserati standards) 2+2 coupe based on the Ghibli platform, and powered by a 3,0-litre V6 turbo.
Rinspeed is a Geneva institution, known for its wild and whacky concepts.
The XChange autonomous electric vehicle looks pretty normal, because it is based on a Tesla S, but it’s an autonomous car concept, meaning it drives itself while the occupants watch TV, surf the Internet via LTE, or catch up on their email.
Not an immediate reality, but not outside the realms of possibility, either.
Mclaren 650S Spider
McLaren’s third supercar slots in between the recently launched P1 hypercar and the established MP4-12C, and is offered in both coupé and spider configurations.
Effectively a 12C on steroids, the new supercar has 478 kW and 678 Nm on tap, and employs some P1-derived technologies. Apparently, it also offers a more emotive drive … and so it should be, given its claimed zero to 100 km/h sprint time of three seconds flat, and a top speed of 331 km/h.
First there were supercars. Then hypercars. And now Swedish brand Koenigsegg has produced what it calls a megacar – the Koenigsegg One:1.
With 1,000kW of power and 1,300Nm of torque, this is a hard-core machine, and only six will be built. It features advanced active aerodynamics, F1-style carbon fibre construction, and is powered by a bespoke five-litre V8 engine with twin variable geometry turbochargers.
The One:1 weighs just 1,360kg and reaches 400km/h from rest in just 20 seconds, while braking from 400km/h to zero takes only 10 seconds.
Ferrari California T
A lot less extreme, but also much more user friendly is the updated Ferrari California T, with the T indicating that it’s now powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.7-litre engine in the interests of efficiency and reduced emissions.
That aside, the 412kW on tap still confirm that this every inch a supercar, while the new design features a larger, hungrier grille, cleaner flanks and revised exhausts.
The latest California retains the mix of elegance and muscle that made the previous car such a head-turner – but the question is whether it will still sound as good as its normally aspirated predecessor.
Perhaps the most anticipated reveal at the Geneva show was that of the Huracan, Lamborghini’s long-awaited successor to the Gallardo. It’s a hard act to follow, but the Huracan looks the part: cleaner and sharper than the brutal Aventador, and wieldier, too.
Using a hybrid aluminium/carbon fibre construction, the Huracan is powered by a normally aspirated 5,2-litre V10 engine that’s rated at 449 kW. Drive is to all four wheels via seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. A manual transmission is no longer offered.
Adaptive suspension is standard while the interior is a big step up from the ageing Gallardo’s dated cockpit. Local agents Imperial Collection should have the first cars before the end of the year. DM
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