Sunday, March 05, 2006

#19: The Geneva Motorshow

Super bumper edition for you in the meanwhile, however...

The Geneva Motorshow

Life isn’t like the movies. If it was, Saab might actually have the intention to build the concept they’re currently showing at Geneva.

The Geneva motorshow this year is big. Always a prestigious event, 2006 has scored heavily in the exciting cars stakes with unveiling’s from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Koenigsegg, Spyker (actually scratch Spyker; they’re showing an SUV that stands a good chance of redefining vulgar in any pictorial dictionaries out there), Pagani – all that sort of crowd. You’re going to be able to read countless proper accounts of the event in any number of automotive publications, so I’m going to go ahead and just pick out my highlights.

The Saab plays an important part. I was hanging out with one of my fellow aj students, and, what with him being a bit of a Saab fanboy, we spent a quite a lot of time on their stand. No tightly-clad (there wasn’t so much of the scantily in evidence anywhere – this is a high-class even, don’t-you-know) show-girls for the Swedish arm of GM; just a bunch of their production models, a GM promo about bio-fuel involving a give-away plant in a tin, and easily the best-looking concept car in the building – the Aero X.

Part of the reason we spent so much time on the stand was my colleague’s interview with Anthony Lowe. We also got right onto the turntable with the Aero X, complete with a Lowe guided tour. The car is intended to function as a way for Saab to try and figure out what the hell they’re doing with their design language, rather than preview any form of production ideal. Lowe seemed concerned that Saab may be losing it’s distinctiveness, and offered such a blank-page project as a way of getting this back. There are some neat details to support the vehicle’s role here – the ice-block rear lights, echoing those currently being well received on the 9-3 Wagon, for example – but really it is completely dominated by the way you access the passenger space.

It seems a funny project for Saab to be taking on, but it seems that they are not happy with the current method for getting in and out of a sportscar – low rooflines, wide sills, currently it’s a bit of a kafuffle. Their solution’s the old raising-roof clamshell, where the top of the cabin moves up and forward allowing entrance with ease – just step on in. Not exactly new, but brilliantly executed, with bits moving here and there in order to get themselves the most out of the way, and functioning so well it was easy to imagine it as production reality. Lowe suggests this unlikely anytime soon – simply on the basis that given current technology it would be too easy for critics to say the system was good enough – but is obviously immensely proud of the finished result, and hopes to see it explored as an option for the future. Aero Xcellent…

Speaking of concept cars and Xs, Mitsubishi rolled out their Concept X design study for the next generation Evo. Since everyone was paying attention to the model reclining full length in their other concept – the EZ, which appears to be some kind of VW Microbus for the Judge-Dread generation… – at the time I had no trouble clambering all over this beautiful monster. Easily my second pick for concepts (third would actually be the EZ, it was immensely cool looking for something the shape of a housebrick) this is also packed full of cute details. Rocking carbon-fibre for the roof, an interior with buckets all round, screens in the seatbacks, enough metal to blind a hip-hop artist, and a cylinder in the back that was either NOS or a fire extinguisher, externally the Evo-X kind of looks like a shark that someone lopped the tail off and stuffed full of steroids before jamming on some wheels. Phat with a spelling I’ve never used before. It also had this funky bracing like a flattened rollcage, including a central spar reminding me of the GTR concept that Nissan showed a while back. Want one.

Other concepts that stood out for me: the 207 RCup, a badass Peugeot hot-hatch concept that’s probably too extreme to be feasible; the Honda Civic Type R Concept, which was exactly what it says on the tin, and very…yellow – as many have commented already, what happened to Championship White? Honda also showed the FCX hydrogen fuelcell vehicle – pretty; the Rinspeed zaZen natural gas Porsche, although it stood out for being garish, rather than great – Swarovski crystals in the tail-lights, etc, etc – but I like the fact it looks a little like an origami 959 with a jetfighter canopy stuck on top; hidden in the hospitality suite, Lamborghini’s new Miura was worth seeing, if only to wonder why; Aston Martin showed the Rapide – was very amusing watching an adult man fitting himself into the back seat, when he closed the door he was practically sat with his head between his knees; and finally, the Geneva Mini Traveller concept, which was all Red Cross for cars – a mechanic’s van with old Lucas paraphernalia and a press pack cartoon of it as a race-car support vehicle towing an original. Too cute.

Alright, back to reality. Of a sort. Seriously, if you were me, what sort of cars would you be looking at Geneva. I mean, I could have done the whole press conference thing, but…well, that can wait until I ever get a career doing this. More to the point, given that almost all of the unveilings had already been previewed on the internet and so, this sort of show is now more of a public than a press event – so you could say I doing what most people would do. However, as it happens, I did kick off the day with Mercedes at 8am – Smart revealing a more hardcore Brabus ForFour first, then onto the AMG show that was the MercB conference proper – caught GM and made a deliberate effort to attend Lamborghini, but aside from that it was an exercise in avoiding the crowds rather than being devoured by them. So, let’s talk performance cars, shall we…

Actually, AMG came close to having the best car there as far as I’m concerned. But perhaps tellingly – given the repetitive nature of the German horsepower one-upmanship parade – this was the 1971 Spa race-winning 300SEL 6.3 V8, complete with an engine note that could fell trees and obviously fresh from some well-deserved TLC, the smell of unburnt fuel it left in the air was almost worth the price of the plane ticket on its own. Absolutely fantastic looking thing, all bug-eyed with spotlights, bright-red paint, and resplendent with the full leather interior it was still wearing in spite of the rollcage. I resisted the temptation to ask when this new model was going to be on sale.

Total favourite, however, has to be the Koenigsegg CCX. Koenigsegg still hold the official record for world’s fastest road car with the CCR – as the Veyron hasn’t been tested yet; they had a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records on their stand. The CCX aims to go even faster, and meet US type-approval. A fabulous piece of engineering at apparently any cost, it even features carbon fibre wheel rims – a world first on a road car, and helping give it the lowest unsprung weight of any current supercar, so they claim. [Jalopnik has the full press release online here.]

The carbon fibre was being let loose all over the place – but king of the weave was undoubtedly Pagani, showing the Zonda F ragtop in bare carbon finish. Evo this month reports that’s a £28,000 option, but up-close you can see why: the finish is perfect. Getting it all to line up that way must take a special sort of effort, so no-wonder it commands a special sort of price. Beautiful interior, as ever with Pagani.

It’s amusing that following an entirely scientific poll conducted on what I’ve seen so far online, most people did what we did and completely avoided the Ferrari stand when trying to get a picture of the new 599. It was much easier to get a photo and a close-up on the Pininfarina stand, where they had one finished in a far more tasteful shade of Ferrari red than the ruby metallic over by the rest of the prancing horse collection. Thoughts on the rest of the car? Well, it’s big. Styling is much what you’d expect from a modern Fezza, although certainly an improvement on the 612 (and anyone who says the 599 looks better in the metal obviously hasn’t seen the photography in – again – Evo, where they’ve more than done it justice with some spectacular shots). Ferrari’s these days aren’t really my thing – but I suppose that I may change if I ever get to drive one.

Lamborghini, Porsche, BMW and Audi – the other big names showing big performance were notable for different reasons. Lamborghini created the biggest maul when they whipped the covers off the LP640 Murcielago; the desk for the press kits was uncomfortably close to the car – it’s a wonder no-one died in the crush. The 640 looks like a batmobile finished in that curious shade of gloss primer grey, a colour choice which suggests they wanted people to concentrate on the performance rather than the flamboyance. It was nice enough – the rear lamps, for example, have this Lotus Cortina triangled circle thing going on which will look amazing in operation I think – but perhaps due to that colour it seemed as subtle a weapon as a mace, too much the brute to be cool. And the damn thing is so big; I’d be asking them if they could fit that new 6.5 lump into a Gallardo.

But at least I noticed – which is more than I can say for Porsche. They had the new 911 Turbo there, which is so crammed full of wicked technology (variable geometry turbo – great fun) that if they manage to crowbar anything else in the average arch-villain won’t need a secret hide-out anymore, he’ll just buy one of these. However, the main show car was in a shade of silver that did nothing for it, and everyone’s a little taken aback by those Wolverine wheels. More problematic, I must have walked past the Cayman (again, unfortunate colour choice of a rather weedy yellow) half a dozen times before I even noticed it was there. It just looks like a 911 that’s been a bit ill. What’s the point? Apparently they had the new 911 GT3 there as well, but oops, somehow I missed it. Hmmm.

BMW’s new breadvan, the Z4 M Coupe, look more like the previous M Coupe than I expected – on the basis that it is muscular and awkward. The M cars seems to be having problems with their alloys at the moment, too; like the M6, the M Coupe looks a little let down by the wheel design. Audi was weirdly all about the new A6 Allroad, which sort of gave the impression they couldn’t bothered. The RS4s were all there, though, including the new cabriolet; this is the thing that Audi does better than any other manufacturer, badassifying their cooking models, and the drop-top is no exception. More strangeness in the propeller/turbine theme running through their display – no-one seemed to know what this was about, including the official Audi people we asked. If anyone’s got an explanation I’d be glad to hear it. They did also have a block of ice with a Quattro logo imbedded in it, if that helps…?

Quick mention for Gumpert, who were hiding in the basement (amongst the accessory vendors) with their Apollo. I wouldn’t like to say for sure but I’m guessing they’re a little strapped for cash, given the (presumably, and in comparison) cheap stand, and the press material on plain hand-titled CDRs. The car, complete with acidic orange finish, seems to be further along now, with a really nicely finished interior and door openings cut further into the roof to improve access. Glad to see it there – the flying fist of current supercars. Less of a mention for Lotus, who’s new Europa is, erm, well, it’s an Elise beaten with an ugly stick.

I’m going to end with Alfa Romeo. A lot of people seem to be having an orgasm over the Spider. That’s their prerogative. I can’t quite figure out why, but Alfa’s styling isn’t hitting the spot for me at the moment – it’s a little slab sided and squinty, or maybe I’m just awkward. Oh well.

Those were the best bits of Geneva for me as far as the cars themselves were concerned – feel free to ask about anything I haven’t mentioned.


"I Travel at Extreme Speed": The Koenigsegg CCX @ Jalopnik

#14: Let's go retro [internal]

T#19: Can you feel the fibre of my fabric? [internal]

More pictures to follow. Hopefully.


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