GENEVA – We all love the Geneva show. It’s on relatively neutral ground. The first press day is so packed with product and concepts that we need the second day just to catch up and see everything. Despite all that, our design editor, Robert Cumberford, didn’t find much of interest.
“This is one of the least imaginative Geneva shows I’ve been to,” Cumberford insists. “There simply isn’t anything new and exciting in production cars, for me.”
Indeed, some of the most innovative designs came from French automakers that don’t sell cars in the United States. Meanwhile, such past groundbreaking designs as the Audi TT and the MINI Cooper prove that at Geneva, it’s all downhill after the first big splash. So without further ado, here are Automobile Magazine’s hits, misses, and revelations from the 2014 Geneva auto show:
HIT: Maserati Alfieri
Star of the show.
I have to say it’s the Maserati. It’s nice. Real nice. –Robert Cumberford
First, it was nice to be at least a bit surprised about a design that hadn’t leaked out. Second, the Alfieri is supposed to be an indication of Maserati’s new design direction, and anything that cribs from the Pininfarina-designed 1954 Maserati A6 GCS is going in the right direction. Design chief Lorenzo Ramaciotti said he was “overcome by emotion” when the silk came off the sensuous coupe Tuesday. In a bit of press conference bombast, Maserati said it “intended to break the shackles” of conventional sports car design. Hyperbole, for sure, but at least someone’s talking about design breakthroughs for a segment other than luxury crossovers. CEO Harald Wester hinted the car would get both V-6 and V-8 power from the Ghibli and would come in under the Gran Turismo, with a base price in the $110,000 range. That means an average transaction price of $150,000. As long as Wall Street continues to binge on corporate profits, Maserati will have no trouble selling out the car. – Todd Lassa
MISS: Jeep Renegade
“Looks like a Korean Jeep.”
It’s way too complicated to be a straightforward, go-anywhere Jeep. It’s got a fancy DLO on the side. It’s got stuff everywhere. The backend is a mess, and the frontend has some coded vertical slots that say “Jeep” but headlights that don’t. – RC
HIT: Jeep Renegade
What a modern Jeep is.
I think it looks kinda cool. – David Zenlea
Perhaps I’m jaded by the Jeep Compass and Patriot, which I drove at a press event when they first came out some years ago, but this first B-segment Jeep seems fairly coherent, with good interior quality and styling. And perhaps it’s because of Land Rover’s direction with such models as the Range Rover Evoque, but unibody, transverse-engine cute-utes don’t bother me anymore. I don’t think it’s a home run, but it’s as true to its brand as any new, small thing I’ve seen lately. Let’s hope it’s a real off-roader, even if no one uses it that way. – TL
REVELATION: Volvo Estate concept
What happened to the company’s safety dance?
The Volvo Coupe concept that made such a splash at the Frankfurt auto show last September makes a handsome two-door wagon with 2+2 seating, orange seatbelts and wool carpeting, and black-on-white patterned seatbacks. It even has a Swedish game called “kubb” under the rear load floor, which is a transparent material with the game’s instructions embossed on it. On the other hand, Volvo says it’s proud that it eliminated most of the knobs and dial controls on the dashboard in favor of a large touchscreen tablet. Interior designer Robin Page says that “not having to deal with buttons and other controls for a growing number of functions is like being freed from a pair of handcuffs.” Easy for a designer to say, but try operating such controls on your morning commute without looking away from the windshield for seconds at a time. What happened to Volvo’s safety reputation? – TL
HIT: Mazda Hazumi
The next 2.
This concept, yet another handsome execution of the Kodo design language, becomes the Mazda2 as soon as it grows real door handles and mirrors. Like the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6, it looks more like a rear-wheel-drive European car than a front-wheel-drive Japanese car. That’ll be a huge advantage for the new 2 in Europe, where the Bsegment is more significant than any other. For the U.S. market, the most significant change in the 2 will be its point of assembly. The car will be built at Mazda’s new factory in Mexico, which has recently started churning out North American Mazda 3s. That should insulate the brand from sharp currency changes. – DZ
HIT: Lamborghini Huracan
Best-looking Lamborghini since the Miura.
It’s much more subtle. And much more intelligent. – R.C. to Filippo Perini on the show stand, where the Lamborghini design chief gave our design editor a detailed walk-around of the car. Last year, Cumberford skewered Perini’s Veneno show car.
It sits three deep along with one slightly ridiculous Aventador, attempting to atone for decades of teenage male poster art. – TL
Unlike many of my colleagues, I’m not prejudiced against front-wheel-drive cars, even from sporty brands. I recognize that BMW needs the profits and sales volumes that only front-wheel-drive cars can earn so that it can subsidize ambitious investments like Project i and playthings like the M3. That said, I am having a lot of trouble warming up to this front-wheel-drive car. The cab-forward proportions and tall roofline scream “dumpy utility vehicle.” Perhaps BMW designers should spend some time studying the Mazda Hazumi concept, which looks more like a BMW than this vehicle. The name adds insult to injury, muddying the already confusing split between the brand’s odd-numbered sedans and even numbered coupes/four-door coupes. — DZ
It’s an okay people mover. It doesn’t say BMW to me. It doesn’t have any compelling reason for anyone to buy it. Except for the badge, perhaps, and some people will do it based on that. I wouldn’t. – RC
HIT: Renault Twingo
Better than Twingo II, not quite Twingo I.
It’s out of the ordinary with its architecture: rear-engine/rear-wheel drive is brave and, I think, good. The problem is the first Twingo, back in the early ’90s, was expressive and cute. Then a bunch of dimbulbs at Renault said, “No, no, we need something consensual.” And they did Twingo II, which was so consensual that nobody bought it, relatively speaking. They sold about half as many. Now they’ve got a four-door hatchback Twingo, which is good. The rearrangement of the elements is good, but it doesn’t capture the cuteness of the first one. It’s just another city car, and“just another” is not a real compelling sales argument for anything. – RC
It’s one of my favorites here, though probably for its engine configuration more than for its design. The Twingo is on the next Smart platform with a 1.0L or a turbo 0.9L three-cylinder under the rear load floor, and presumably neither produces enough power to turn the engine into a boat-anchor in turns. Unlike the current smart fortwo, the Twingo is available with a stickshift, and it’s got both personality and some useful storage space. I wish we were getting the car in the U.S., perhaps as a Nissan. – TL
HIT: Peugeot 108
Best of three.
This car shares its platform and mechanicals with the Citroën C1 and the Toyota Aygo. This is the secondgeneration, and all three cars premiered here together. The Toyota was the best lookingof the three last time around, and this time, the Peugeot is the best looking. It’s very inexpensive — 8000 euros (about $11,000) for the base model — and with a new Peugeot 85-hp three-cylinder engine, they go really well. The fact that the 308 got International Automobile of the Year is another sop to this dying company. — RC
MISS: Audi TT
Good-looking design, just as it has always been.
In the old days of Detroit — the ’50s through the ’70s – the TT Mark II and now the TT Mark III might have been called facelifts. It’s the danger of developing such a fresh, unique, and handsome car as the first-generation TT that the design quickly goes from cutting edge to status quo. I wish Audi had taken some chances here. — TL
REVELATION: Audi TT vs. Renault Twingo
There’s a lesson in here somewhere.
Audi could have taken the chances that Renault did with the Twingo. We’ve just seen the third generations of both cars. If Audi had done what Renault did, would the TT Mark II be a failure? Would the new one be more interesting? – TL
Idea in search of a transmission.
Infiniti got a lot of attention by stuffing the GT-R’s 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6 between the front fenders of the Q50. Now comes the inevitable question: will it reach production? Infiniti CEO Johan de Nysschen indicates that the will is certainly there.
“Look, if we were run as a dictatorship, we’d be building it now,” he says. It’s finding a way that could be very difficult. The biggest challenge may be finding a transmission that can handle 443 lb-ft of torque (the GT-R’s rear-mounted transaxle would be a tough fit in the Q50). De Nysschen adds that he doesn’t want to “run out…and buy an expensive transmission,” such as the seven-speed automatic that partner Mercedes-Benz employs in the V-12-powered S65 AMG. Then the engine would need to be extensively retuned to work with a different transmission. “That’s why it has not been done before–it’s not easy.”
Still, there’s a compelling case for Infiniti, which has struggled for two decades to establish itself as a first-class luxury brand, to go ahead with the ambitious project. — DZ
A pretty good mixture.
It tries to combine the sleek lines of a 6-series Gran Coupe with the versatility of the 5-series GT. — TL
REVELATION: Turn Seat Leon Cupra into VW Golf
A humble suggestion.
Seat is Volkswagen’s struggling regional brand in Spain, having long been rumored for euthanasia. In Geneva, Seat showed a new Leon Cupra, based on the VW Golf’s platform, that showed clean, flowing lines. Why not end Seat and make that a Golf, instead? — TL
There’s a Volkswagen stand with 10,000 Golfs on it, of every color, but it’s all the same. But they will never do that. They think there’s some magic in the Golf shape — and that that shape will save them from depradations by the Japanese or the Koreans. — RC
MISS: Porsche 919
It had better be quick at Le Mans.
To me, it’s the ugliest racecar in 25 years. It’s like they studied the ugliness. That offends me, in the sense that all previous Porsche sports racing cars were really good looking: the 962, the 956, the Spyders. This thing, I don’t care how many engineers worked on it, they could have done something for the windowline. –RC
HIT: Citroën C4 Cactus
La voiture quotidienne innovates.
The production version of this compact wagon, which appeared at Frankfurt as a concept, features Air Bump door panels, which means the doors have a rubberized centerpiece that absorbs minor impacts. The front passenger’s airbag drops down from the headliner, leaving space for a huge, top-hinged glovebox. And there’s a variety of colors and fairly rich interior materials, including matching or contrasting paint jobs for the Air Bumps. – TL
MISS: Rinspeed Autonomous Car
Needs a treadmill.
Using what apparently is a Tesla Model S body, Rinspeed teamed with several suppliers to show off an autonomous car. Its “driver” was a young, thin model lounging in the front passenger seat, which was facing rearward. (The seat has twenty different configurations.) The model won’t be this thin for long if this is the way she plans to drive around. –TL
REVELATION: The Scent of Bentley Leather
This is some kind of marketing trick.
You could smell the scent of leather emanating from the Bentley GT Speed on the stand from three or four carlengths away. It smells like well-bathed, Swedish-massaged money. – TL
HIT: Obscenely expensive tchotchkes
Wear your brand swimming.
What separates the Geneva auto show from most others is the presence of real, live rich people. Every brand makes sure to offer this clientele something absurdly expensive to take home, even if they decide not to put down a deposit on a Gumpert Explosion. Can I interest you in a 10,000-euro scale model of a Bugatti Atlantic? Or, perhaps Porsche swim trunks for 131 Swiss francs ($148)? — DZ
REVELATION: Luxury is excess.
About time for a definition.
Silly as all these extravagances seem to us regular folks, they provide important insight into what real luxury is. No one needs a luxury car, certainly not when your average Kia or Volkswagen comes loaded with premium features. The key to getting people to spend more on a car is not some special paint color or a branded infotainment system but rather, the sense that the car is a pure reward. – DZ