x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Paris Motor Show: internet steals the beauty of surprise

How the internet has robbed us of the mystery and excitement of a car launch.

The McLaren P1 unveiled at the Paris Motor Show 2012. Newspress
The McLaren P1 unveiled at the Paris Motor Show 2012. Newspress

Whatever happened to the beauty of surprises?

It seems those days are gone, in this age of the internet - at least as far as car manufacturers are concerned. It used to be that the launch of a new car was shrouded in mystery and suspense, with the final rush of excitement and exhilaration coming at the throwing back of a sheet on a glamorous motor-show stage. Cue the flash bulbs.

Not any more. The two biggest debuts of the 2012 Paris Motor Show, which opened last weekend, weren't surprises at all - photos of both the McLaren P1 and the Jaguar F-Type were leaked on the internet days before the wraps were ceremoniously pulled off the cars on their Paris stands, taking much of the drama away in the process.

Having ranted enough, it was still impressive to see both in the metal; the Jag especially, because you could clamber through the interior and under the bonnet if you wanted to. Not so much with the P1, which was in essence a show car - so far, at least.

The big McLaren was undoubtedly the star of the show. How else can you explain why such a throng of journalists would actually stick around for the 5.45pm presentation despite blistered feet from roaming the halls all day? (To be fair, the F-Type's 7.45am unveiling was also well populated, considering journalists' aversion to early mornings.)

McLaren's chairman, Ron Dennis, and automotive director, Antony Sheriff, were on hand to introduce the supercar, which is at a concept level, according to Mark Harrison, McLaren's Middle East regional director.

"We still haven't signed off yet," he said. "We'll probably see it on the road this time next year. We'll confirm whether we'll build the car near the end of the year, but we've shown it to a number of prospective clients already. We wanted to get them in and show the car and get some feedback. If they all came in and said 'we don't like it', then we'd have second thoughts, but it's all been good."

It's a radical design, in particular the rear end, and especially when the humungous wing is deployed, which will help to contribute to an astounding 600 kilograms of downforce - and not even at the car's top speed. But the whole shape is a matter of function before form.

"When you see the car, you'll see it's almost in between the MP4-12C and a Formula One car, in aerodynamic shapes," said Harrison. "It absolutely follows the design; every inlet and outlet and shape generates downforce, so it behaves like a race car. It's completely driven by function, which is to move air.

"The goal of the P1 is to be the fastest car in the world around a race track. It's built like a race car."

Of course, like the MP4-12C and its Spider variant that shared space with the P1 on the stand, the supercar's body will be all carbon fibre, a McLaren specialty. And though a powerplant has yet to be announced - at least, publicly - expect close to 1,000hp that will be helped along by some sort of kinetic energy recovery system electric hybrid powertrain. You can also expect a price tag of around US$1 million (Dh3.7m) - still less than Bugatti Veyron levels.

"But the price is a price for a reason," said Harrison. "You're buying the most exciting supercar in the world, the most technologically innovative supercar in the world, the most dynamically capable supercar in the world. So we'll only make a limited amount, around 500. To make a car like this costs a fair bit of money, so if you're only going to make a short run of them, they'll have to cost a fair bit to buy."

Porsche disappointed a few people by not bringing the sultry 918 race car, but it surprised all with the Sport Turismo Concept. It's a hybrid-powered variant of the Panamera, but with more of a wagon rear than the current car's androgynous lump.

An insider said the design was a good bet to be the next-generation of the Panamera, which should be out in a couple of years after a mid-model refresh next year. It's a good thing, too, because the concept looks much better than the current model.

On a slightly less glamorous side, Volkswagen had one of the largest displays at the show, and it was all for one car - the new Golf (which had also been leaked on the internet days before). No fewer than 10 of the redesigned hatchbacks were on display, and the only other car bearing a VW badge on the stand was a Phaeton hiding behind a wall. Obviously, the German brand is pinning much of its hope in Europe on this new hatch, and why not? While it's not vastly different from the current model - in fact, the interior looks identical - it's still rather handsome. And underneath that body, VW engineers managed to shed about 100kg from the car, which will help it to achieve better fuel economy than the model it replaces.

There were a few other concept cars from various manufacturers, most of which will never see the road. One, however, was retro-radically cool - the Sbarro Eight Concept, a hot-rod-styled coupé built by students in just eight weeks at Espera Sbarro Montbeliard School of Design. And while it has the looks of a 1950s-era roadster - with a modern edge, of course - its purpose is primarily to showcase the modern technology available to automakers today, such as a tablet computer interface and wireless mobile phone charging. All of that is backed up by a Maserati-sourced V8 engine capable of 360hp. Vastly impractical, but very desirable nonetheless.

And it was such a pleasant surprise to see it, too.