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22 March 2018 23:40 (South Africa)

Motoring: Geneva Motor Show – is the world’s most glamorous auto expo losing its lustre?

  • Deon Schoeman
    Deon Schoeman
  • Business

For decades, the Geneva International Motor Show was the one motoring expo you didn’t want to miss. More intimate than Frankfurt, more glamorous than Paris and more meaningful than Detroit, it was permanently inked into the motor industry’s must-do calendar. But things are changing. By DEON SCHOEMAN.

As motor shows go, it doesn’t get much more glamorous than the Salon International D’Automobil Genève. Resplendent in the very heart of First World opulence, surrounded by secretive banks and bespoke watchmakers, it’s the premier showcase for the industry.

But things are changing. Even for carmakers, the expense of displaying their wares and technologies in a way befitting the brand has become prohibitive.

Some argue that the money could be better spent in more innovative, more effective ways. Opel is one of those, opting not to join the Geneva fray. Most of its new models made their debut in 2017, so there would have been very little to show.

But even as far as world debuts are concerned, this year’s Geneva show offered slimmer pickings than expected. There was the usual sprinkling of outrageous concepts and sports cars, produced in tiny numbers, and of very little relevance to the real world motoring world.

That said, electric mobility was arguably the show’s strongest trend, with Jaguar’s all-electric I-Pace attracting lots of attention, while Volkswagen’s ID Vizzion and the Porsche Mission E Cross Turismo stole the concept car limelight.

But it’s clear that the relevance of big international motor shows is dwindling, and that carmakers are looking for alternative avenues to showcase their new models and technologies. The emergence of virtual reality could well become that alternative.

For now, though, there was lots of gleaming sheet metal to see and many tyres to kick in Geneva. Here are 10 of our favourites.

Audi A6

The all-new A6 could well be Audi’s most accomplished medium sedan ever.

At face value, the styling is predictable: scaled-down Audi A8 with a bit of extra, visual muscle. The big grille and slim LED headlights get an A6-specific treatment, while the sleek roofline and pronounced haunches hint at dynamic talent.

As we’ve come to expect of Audi, the real highlight is the interior, which mixes hi-tech with user-friendly ergonomics more effectively than its luxury car rivals. It’s futuristic without alienating its occupants, and promises cocooning comfort.

Talking of tech, connectivity and efficiency are leading themes, with the A6 using a 48V electrical system to allow for mild hybrid operation.

The engine offering for South Africa remains unconfirmed, but expect 2.0-litre and 3.0-litre turbodiesels, and 3.0-liltre turbo petrol. Quattro all-wheel drive and even four-wheel steering are on offer on senior models, while word has it that the new A6 is a real driver’s car, despite its size.

It should reach SA showrooms early in 2019.

Jaguar I-Pace

The British brand’s first all-electric car continues Jaguar’s aggressive model offensive. With a 90 kWh lithium ion battery on board, the I-Pace promises an operating range of 475 km, which should go a long way towards addressing range anxiety.

Charge time depends on the charger employed, but it should take less than two hours to get to an 80% charge using a 50 kW charger

Powering the I-Pace are two lightweight electric motors – one for each axle – effectively endowing the car with all-wheel-drive. Total system output is 295 kW, which allows a 0-100 km/h sprint in less than 5 seconds.

Similar in size to the XE sedan, the I-Pace is surprisingly spacious inside, despite the need for battery stowage. The aesthetics are SUV-inspired, but sleeker than the F-Pace and larger than the E-Pace.

It could well be launched in SA in 2019, adding further momentum to the need for a public charging infrastructure.


BMW’s new-generation arrives sooner than expected, and is based on the new X3 SUV, launched late last year. The theme is the same: the X4 is the sportier, coupé-inspired sibling of the more spacious and arguably more practical X3.

As a result the Gen2 X4 is larger and wider than the original, while the aesthetics also reflect BMW’s latest design trends, including larger and more upright kidney grilles, framed by more prominent faired-in headlights, with eye-catching daytime running lights.

The fastback rear, a previous X4 trademark, has been retained, but the rear view is more cohesive, with nicely integrated LED tail lights, and a prominent diffuser on sportier models. Big wheels look best on the new X4, adding to its muscular stance, if not to its ride comfort.

The interior benefits from the X4’s increase in size, but compared to the X3, rear accommodation remains compromised by the tapered roofline. That’s the price you pay for a sportier image. The suspension should be suitably sportier too.

Expect the engine offering to mimic that of the X3, with a choice of turbodiesel and turbo petrols, including the range-topping X4 M40i. The X4 should arrive in SA later in 2018.

BMW M8 Gran Coupé Concept

Dubbed a concept, the M8 Gran Coupé looked very much production ready on BMW’s Geneva stand. The final version will joint the yet-to-be launched 8-Series Coupé and Convertible at the flagship end of the BMW range.

The four-door coupé carries its considerable dimensions well, thanks to a streamlined shape that is both classic BMW and unmistakably athletic. The go should match the show, too, thanks to a 4.4-litre V8 with an expected output of around 440 kW.

Besides the M8 version, there will also be models more focused on luxury long-distance touring, provisionally powered by the 6.0-litre V12 already doing duty in the 7-Series sedan.

The M8 Gran Coupé will have Audi’s new-generation RS7 and the equally new AMG GT Coupé in its sights when it goes on sale towards the latter part of next year.

AMG GT Coupé

The AMG GT was the first independently badged car by AMG, long-standing performance arm of Mercedes-Benz, and it’s been taking on its sports car rivals, specifically Porsche’s 911, with glee since its debut a few years ago.

The much-anticipated AMG GT Coupé will see the sports car maker widen its offensive to include the so-called four-door sports coupés, including the upcoming BMW M8 Gran Coupé, the expected RS version of the new Audi A7 launched recently, and of course Porsche’s Panamera.

The front end is the Coupé’s strongest angle, with a predatory grille and angry-eyed headlights, linked to cavernous air intakes. The extended roofline and fastback rear are less appealing, but allow for a second seating row with ample space and a choice of a bench or two individual seats.

The newcomer is offered in three flavours: GT53, GT63 and GT63 S. The entry-level GT53 gets a 3.0-litre in-line six with turbo and EQ boost, delivering total power and torque outputs of 336kW and 770Nm.

The other two models share a 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8, but while the GT63 makes do with 430kW and 800Nm, the S version ups those figures to an eye-watering 510kW of muscle and 900Nm of twist. Nine-speed auto gearboxes and 4Matic all-wheel drive are standard across the range.

Given the AMG brand’s performance DNA, all three models are very rapid indeed, with the GT63 S stopping the clock at 3.2sec for the 0-100km/h dash, and managing a 310km/h top speed. Even the ‘junior’ GT53 manages those benchmarks in 4.5sec and 285km/h respectively.

Peugeot 508

With profitable year-end results and the acquisition of Opel under its belt, a refreshed Peugeot seems bullish about the future. Its showpiece at Geneva was the new 508 sedan, which is taking unashamed aim at the 5-Series/A6/E-Class troika from the German luxury brands.

That it can build cars with an upmarket feel to rival the premium marques has already been ably demonstrated by the 3008 compact SUV, last year’s European Car of the Year. The 508 will want to prove that point even more emphatically.

It’s a striking four-door sedan with a sleek, almost coupé-like roofline that looks both elegant and athletic. Eschewing the large, gaping grilles so beloved of the Germans, it sports a more subtle, upright slice of brightwork up front, with deeply recessed headlights and an integrated spoiler adding visual intent.

The high, tapered waistline, rounded rear and steeply raked rear screen conspire to create a polished, sophisticated impression that’s as good an expression of French flair as we’ve seen in recent years – and let’s face it, big French cars are often more idiosyncratic than classic in design terms.

The interior is spacious and thoughtfully crafted, with ergonomics provided by the latest version of Peugeot’s iCockpit layout, which links a small steering wheel to expansive instrumentation and intuitive switchgear. The obligatory large, colour touchscreen takes pride of place in the centre stack.

The chassis and adaptive suspension have been tuned for refinement, while an extensive complement of petrol and diesel-powered drivetrains is on offer, including a hybrid version.

Whether the 508 is destined for SA shores remains to be seen. The marque continues to be plagued by a reputation for poor service here, but deserves greater recognition if it can prove a real commitment to existing and new customers going forward.

Porsche Mission E Cross Turismo

When Porsche unveiled the Mission E-Concept three years ago, it promised a low-slung, all-electric sports car with sports car-slaying dynamics and a then unheard-of 500km operating range. It sounded more fantasy than reality, even though Porsche also promised to turn the concept into production reality.

While that hasn’t happened yet (it’s expected to launch in 2019), the Mission E Cross Turismo concept proves that Porsche envisages an entire line of all-electric sports cars. The newcomer is a little taller than the original, with an extended roofline allowing more interior space, too.

The exterior design draws at least some of its inspiration from the current Panamera Sport Turismo, even if it is slimmer and shorter, and therefore more aesthetically pleasing. The concept car interior looks futuristic, but not completely otherworldly, suggesting that at least some elements (touch screens, virtual instruments, connectivity) will remain.

The technical underpinnings of the Cross Turismo are identical to those envisaged by the original Mission E: an electric motor for each axle, electronically regulated all-wheel drive with left/right torque vectoring, and air suspension incorporating adaptive ride height.

With more than 445 kW on tap, the Mission E Cross Turismo remains true to Porsche’s sports car heritage in performance terms, with a claimed 0 to 100km/h sprint time of less than 3.5sec, while 200km/h is reached in under 12sec.

Expect the adaptive suspension and the low centre of gravity to translate into equally expressive handling, but with the ability to tailor damping and other parameters to suit personal preference at the push of a button.

Toyota GR Supra

Toyota chose to camouflage its upcoming sports car as a GT3-like concept racing machine. But look past the wild rear wing, heavily flared wheel arches and aggressive front air intakes, and you’ll get a good idea of what the new Supra coupé will look like.

One aspect of the significance of the sports car’s reveal in Geneva was confirmation of the Supra nomenclature. This will be the fifth-generation Supra, since the original made its bow as part of the Celica family in the late 1970s.

The standard, road-going Supra will obviously look a lot tamer than the GR concept, with a more than passing resemblance to BMW’s upcoming new Z4 ragtop, with which it shares a platform and drivetrain. The Supra will be a fixed-roof coupé, though.

The BMW connection also means it gets the Bavarian maker’s engines, most likely spearheaded by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine offered in 132KW and 185kW versions.

Apparently the 240 kW 3.0-litre straight-six is also under discussion, but could prove too big and heavy. If this top model does materialises it may end up being sold under the Gazoo Racing banner, much like Mercedes does with its AMG-badged high-performance models.

The “real” Supra will debut at the end of the year, suggesting that aspiring SA buyers can start queuing towards the middle of next year.

Lexus UX

Lexus joined the burgeoning premium compact SUV fray at Geneva with the world debut of the UX – a direct rival to the likes of Audi’s Q3, the Mercedes-Benz GLA and Jaguar’s just-launched E-Pace.

The huge Lexus spindle grille looks almost incongruous on the newcomer, dominating the already prominent front end, with its extended bonnet and pronounced lateral air intakes. Black-clad wheel arch extensions serve to emphasise the UX’s taller stance.

More crossover than SUV, the UX places particular emphasis on individuality and luxury, while clever packaging creates a sense of spaciousness often lacking in this segment. Lexus will be hoping that the UX attracts a younger audience to the a brand still considered too conservative by some.

The UX range is expected to make its SA debut in early 2019, and will be offered as a high-efficiency hybrid featuring a new, more powerful electric motor, while a new 2.0-litre petrol engine and an improved CVT gearbox will also feature in the local line-up.

Volkswagen ID Vizzion

You’ll have to wait at least another three years for the production version of what was arguably the most spectacular electric concept car at the Geneva expo: Volkswagen’s ID Vizzion.

The Passat-sized sedan is the fourth of six ID-branded electric concepts to be unveiled by VW, underscoring the Wolfsburg firm’s commitment to electric mobility. And the company suggests that much of the Vizzion concept’s exterior design traits will be retained in the production version.

The shape contains some elements of the VW’s Arteon luxury flagship, but is smoother and sleeker with clever LED lighting accents, an almost completely glassed-in cockpit, and generous entry via rear-hinged rear doors, and the absence of a B-pillar.

The capacious interior is unashamedly futuristic and minimalist, with a set of four, pared-down individual seats, and an almost total lack of conventional switchgear. Artificial Intelligence will be incorporated to allow for voice control of key functions.

The ID Vizzion uses VW’s modular electric vehicle platform, which locates the generous 111 kWh battery pack in the vehicle floor. As has become the electric car norm, the drivetrain consists of two electric motors – one for each axle – to allow for intelligent all-wheel drive.

Quoted combined output is 225 kW, which should make the target 0-100km/h sprint time of under 7 sec a cinch. But wait, there’s more: the ID Vizzion shown in Geneva lacked a steering wheel, confirming VW’s intention to offer it as a fully autonomous car, alongside a more conventional driving model.

Will the ID Vizzion make it to SA shores? BMW and Nissan’s pioneering electric cars have not been met with huge enthusiasm here, and it will take a concerted effort from government and electricity provider Eskom to get the electric mobility ball rolling here. DM

  • Deon Schoeman
    Deon Schoeman
  • Business

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