x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Volkswagen and Bentley reveal new metal at Geneva Motor Show

A slightly skewed timetable couldn’t stop Kyle Fortune from basking in the optimism and innovation at the Geneva Motor Show.

Bentley revealed its long-awaited SUV concept, the EXP 9 F, at the Geneva Motor Show last week and, while the vehicle was undoubtedly the main talking point, most journalists focused on discussing its questionable styling. Jason Alden / Bloomberg
Bentley revealed its long-awaited SUV concept, the EXP 9 F, at the Geneva Motor Show last week and, while the vehicle was undoubtedly the main talking point, most journalists focused on discussing its questionable styling. Jason Alden / Bloomberg

If there's one thing the Geneva Motor Show is famed for, it's the way the press conferences always run strictly to schedule. Not this year, though, as Volkswagen upset the usually metronomic timing by trying to cram so much into the tightly scheduled slots. All day the knock-on effect was felt, with the expectant jostling crowds of the world's automotive press showing remarkable patience in the wake of the peculiarly un-Swiss timings.

Much of the Volkswagen stand was dedicated to the company's new baby, the up! city car. Along with the first official outing for the five-door model, we were treated to four design studies. The swiss up! takes inspiration from the Swiss Army Knife for its customisation; the winter up! is made for fashion-conscious snowboarders; the x up! is designed for night-time expeditions (whatever they may be); and the cargo up! is a neat one-seat van. The Cross Coupé concept offered a welcome break from all the exclamation marks and we're hoping it goes into production to give the Range Rover Evoque something to think about.

That rush of model unveilings underlined an optimism that permeated the entire show. Indeed, 2012's neutral motor show is certain to go down as one of the high points for new cars. Any event where Ferrari and Lamborghini reveal some new metal (well, true in the case of aluminium with the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, less so with Lamborghini's carbon fibre Aventador J) Bugatti unveils yet another go-faster Veyron (the 1,200hp Grand Sport Vitesse) and countless wannabe manufacturers and tuning firms exhibit their take on the big players' models only serves to emphasise that.

The Pininfarina-penned F12 Berlinetta represents a return to gorgeous V12 flagships for Ferrari. It replaces the 599, though moves the game on significantly from that car. Under the downforce-producing bonnet is a new 6.3L V12 producing 740hp and 690Nm of torque. Weight is kept to just more than 1,500kg, so acceleration should be exceptional. Ferrari quotes a 0 to 100kph time of just 3.1 seconds and a top speed in excess of 340kph, making it the fastest, most powerful road-going Ferrari yet. Beyond that, its lap time around Ferrari's own test track suggests that it'll be something special to drive.

So the Italians delivered, but what of the rest of the world? Every firm seemed buoyed despite the continuing worldwide economic woes. The Japanese have found their driving mojo again, with Honda showing its stunning NSX concept and Infiniti delivering a shock with its beautiful Emerg-E. A real surprise, the sumptuously flowing lines of Infiniti's mid-engined concept are actually built around the mid-engined layout of the Lotus Evora.

If Honda and Infiniti jostled for publicity with new halo concept models, Subaru and Toyota stripped back to basics, revealing their BRZ and GT 86 twins in Geneva. Given the breadth of exotica on display, that these two simple, rear-driven, low-powered coupés were among the most talked about cars on the show floor (after Bentley's EXP 9 F, of course) is a good thing. The back-to-basics focus on fun rather than raw speed is something to be applauded. Mitsubishi bullishly revealed its new Outlander, too, the crossover and Pajero understudy looking bigger than its predecessor and promising fantastic economy with a range of plug-in and hybrid options. Mitsubishi's oft-mentioned paradigm shift into being a leader in environmentally focused models was again discussed, but took a bit of a dent, as behind the scenes insiders talked of a new Evolution model.

Why shouldn't it either as, for all the environmental posturing in Switzerland, a sizeable majority of the new models on show were performance focused? Mercedes-Benz revealed its new SL in regular and AMG flavours; Audi had its new RS 4, the slightly unhinged A1 quattro on display; and BMW its new M6, while everything from Opel Astras, Citroen DS4s and Volkswagen Polos were being offered with boosted outputs and the promise of a more enjoyable drive.

If the established players were going down the performance route, the Koreans continued their march to mainstream respectability with models that offer a great deal more than a just a great deal. Kia's new cee'd is a hatchback that really can hold its own in the busy family car marketplace, while Hyundai's stand had plenty of cars that easily rival the very best from Europe and Japan.

That huge hatchback marketplace wasn't ignored by the premium players, either. BMW's 1 Series isn't new to Geneva, but its rivals are, with Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Audi showing their upmarket hatchbacks in this burgeoning marketplace. If the A-Class represents a bold shift in positioning for Mercedes - from a space-efficient MPV-like machine to a sharply styled, shapely, youthful hatchback with an emphasis on connectivity - Audi's A3 smacked of design conservatism that had many asking whether its designers had simply enlarged the A1. It's neat, admittedly, and features an interior that aces all comers, but was very much in the shadow of the A-Class for head-turning ability.

It's hardly surprising that Mercedes-Benz has had a rethink with its A-Class, as Dr Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, predicts a near doubling of the hatchback market in the next decade. For all the sports and supercars at Geneva, the sensible still shined through. Ford's B-Max brings cleverly designed doors to the compact MPV marketplace, Nissan showed its Note replacement as the Invitation concept and even Jaguar got in on the practical act with its Sportbrake (estate to you and I) version of its XF.

Jaguar might have been getting sensible, but sister company Land Rover is having a bit of fun by showing an open-topped Evoque alongside its millionth Discovery and cool DC100 Defender concept. Officially, that wind-in-the-hair Evoque is just a concept, but we don't doubt Land Rover salesmen will happily take a deposit from you if you're interested. More British silliness came from Morgan, which mated electric power to ancient styling with batteries and a manual gearbox. Brilliant, in a way that only Morgan can be.

If Morgan is intent on retaining British heritage - with an edge - Mini tramples all over it with the John Cooper Works version of its Countryman. A massive Mini, heightened then lowered again, BMW seems intent on desecrating everything that the Mini name used to represent. That's something Porsche has been accused of with its Panamera and Cayenne models, too, but the new Boxster (and recent 911) emphasise that it remains true to its sports car principles. If there's a better proportioned car in Geneva's Palexpo than the Boxster I didn't see it, and it promises to be a sensational drive, too. With the 911 increasing in price, the Boxster's role in volume sales for the marque is hugely important.

As crucial as volume seems to be for every manufacturer, so too is exclusivity. Limited run, big price specials are very much heavy in presence at Geneva. From Audi's one-of-333 A1 quattro to Aston Martin's V12 Zagato - of which no more than 150 will be built - for all the striving for quantity there's obviously good business in coveted collectables. Much like watches, really, something the Swiss are famous for, even if for this year's show timekeeping went out of the window.