Geneva– Here on Switzerland’s notoriously neutral ground, Volkswagen’s show stage provided an English comedian the setting for a puckish protest of the Dieselgate scandal. The comedian, wearing coveralls with the VW emblem and carrying a wrench, walked on to the stage where board member Juergen Stackmann (yes, the company is reaching deeply into the executive bench) was introducing the new Up Beats (offered only with a gas-powered I-3 or as an electric vehicle) and said he was placing a “defeat device” under the car.
“It’s a brand new car, it does not need fixing,” Stackmann, apparently unaware of his statement’s irony, said as the comedian was escorted off the stage, reports The Telegraph. The London newspaper identified the prankster as Simon Broadkin, who came to prominence last year when he showered then-Fifa president Sepp Bladder with dollar bills during a televised press conference.
We also heard of a similar prank at a gala VW Group party the night before the press conference, possibly involving Broadkin again, that went unreported. Broadkin’s prank, or pranks, failed to overshadow the show’s Zeitgeist of outrageous supercars, amped-up ultra-luxury sedans and new crossovers that made more visual noise than any protest. Here’s what Simon missed …
Hit: Bugatti Chiron
You can argue with some of the design details, and I know you will. But in most every respect the Chiron represents the absolute pinnacle of engineering excellence. And it proudly does it all without using any form of hybrid power. The 8.0-liter quad-turbo W-16 is the internal combustion engine in perhaps its ultimate form, something we may never see again in the hypercar realm.
Miss: Bugatti Chiron
A heavy-handed, Teutonic misappreciation of the Bugatti family’s Italian sensibilities, redirected toward misperceived Chinese sensibilities.
Hit: Bugatti Chiron
Bugatti’s ne plus ultra range-topper isn’t the moonshot Galibier project originally envisioned as the Veyron successor, but considering that the just-unveiled Chiron packs 1.5 times the output of the original Veyron, it’s safe to say the boys in Molsheim haven’t exactly been resting on their laurels. The 1,500-horsepower halo car has already sold a third of its projected run of 500, a decent start considering its $2.6 million starting price. When the production run is complete in 8 years, Bugatti boss Wolfgang Dürheimer says, the Chiron will transform the VW sub-brand from a loss leader into a profit center.
Miss: Bugatti Chiron
Nothing exceeds like excess, but that can be said for other cars here that cost far less than the $2.6-million Bug (see Lamborghini Centenario). There’s nothing about this objet d’showoff to which I can relate, but I guess that that’s the point.
Hit: Pininfarina Hydrogen GT concept
The idea of using the hydrogen tanks, strongest elements in the car, as side impact protection is disconcerting, but the overall surface development is exquisite, in the long-term style of the house. The windshield and side glass, rendered in black in this non-functional model, is perfect, with a graceful perimeter and the widest point of the transparency at exactly the lowest point of the sill profile. It was designed in plan view, with two intersecting triangles giving it a sort of wasp waist. Unrealistic, but extremely nice.
Hit: Opel GT concept
This rakish, clean, simple and properly sized sports car provides an elegant antidote to the performance cars that prevail at this show. It recalls the GT of the late-‘60s/early ‘70s – actually, most Opels of that era, when the brand was a credible BMW competitor – without looking retro. It’s my pick for hit of the show. I’d insist that General Motors should build the little rear-wheel-drive coupe, including as a Buick (!), except there’s no room in its tight segment led by the slow-selling Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86/Scion FR-S.
Miss: Italdesign Giugiaro concept
Despite a very nice if not fully refined cabin (by Carsten Monnergen, designer responsible for some of the best Audi interiors ever), this elongated shape is a little awkward, and very much impractical, with the body overhanging the bumper faces on both ends. Made up from elements that went directly from milling machine to finished parts without the hand-polishing and subtle revisions that a good design always takes, it suffers from the four-month rush to presentation caused by upheaval in the VW Group as heads were rolling in the emissions cheating scandal.
Revelation: No self-driving Ferraris
When asked if Ferrari will ever think of adding autonomous technology to its cars, FCA head man Sergio Marchionne was refreshingly blunt: “Not on my watch. Over my dead body.”
Miss: Porsche 911 R
The non-turbo flat six and manual-only spec is just-right, but the car has too many stripes. Two horizontal stripes, in orange just above the rocker panels, would have been enough.
Hit: Porsche 718 Boxster and Boxster S
They should cost less than the old six-cylinder Boxsters, but probably won’t. The turbocharged four-cylinder engines are lighter, simpler, more powerful and emit less CO2. And the cars are likely to be more agile.
Hit: Citroen E-Mehari
Before I could ask what it was, a show stand representative set me straight. “It’s not a concept,” she said. The “100-percent electric” Citroen E-Mehari is the perfect, modern-day four-seat beachmobile, and its another example of why this brand has, once again, the most interesting and advanced design aesthetic in the automotive world.
Revelation: At an event this week on the eve of the Geneva show, Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller was the anti-Sergio when it came to his view on autonomous technology. Mueller said the company “will make a massive thrust toward fully autonomous driving,” and expects self-driving tech to go mainstream soon.
Hit: Subaru XV concept
Tipped to be the 2018 Subaru XV Crosstrek, it’s more handsome than the first-generation model, if it comes to market unchanged. It probably won’t be available with a stick-shift, though.
Miss: Maserati Levante
Some time back, when talking about the less-than even moderately handsome Kubang SUV, parodying the bandit in the cult film “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” who tells Humphrey Bogart, “We doan need no steenking bodges,” I claimed that “we don’t need no steenking Maserati SUVs.” I was right then, and despite changes to the good, we don’t need them now.
Miss: Maserati Levante
Miss: Audi Q2
It’s not that the Q2 is all that bad. At first glance it looks like a perfectly capable vehicle. But this endless parade of crossovers sliced into seemingly every conceivable niche is getting out of hand. Even more so is the marketing spiel that goes along with them. The flashing of ‘Urban Hipster’ on the screen complete with pictures of said hipsters during the presentation was absolutely ridiculous.
Revelation: It’s no XC90
Yes, it’s Volvo’s most handsome car in, probably, decades and yes, wagons are Volvo’s thing. But the new V90, like all modern station wagons, doesn’t have enough vertical interior space for a third-row seat. You can take two or three extra passengers in the XC90, which makes its turbocharged/supercharged 2.0-liter four all the more efficient, and it will far outsell the V90 in Europe as well as in North America. The Volvo V90 is a very good looking car, but it’s going to be a low-volume halo for the brand.
Hit: Volvo V90
Long, low, and reassuringly plush inside, the Volvo V90 wagon unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show signals that the Chinese-owned Swedish brand can and will carve a viable niche for themselves amidst a sea of bulky crossovers.
Yet another spin on the crossover, at least the drop-top T-Cross offers a mostly unique perspective. Its boxy design appeals to me, and it has a playful look to it. Does the world need more convertible crossovers? Probably not, but if forced upon the market, this is one I could live with.
Hit: Aston Martin DB11
While there’s a natural temptation to root for the underdog, plucky Aston Martin deserves particular sympathy because it has taken more than its share of lumps over the years. If the new DB11 is any indication, the British brand should finally earn the respect it deserves thanks to the model’s modernized drivetrain, reimagined design language, and reworked interior. Though its bulbous haunches recall the seven-figure One-77, the DB11’s silhouette is otherwise refreshingly executed, as are long awaited creature comforts like the Mercedes-Benz-sourced multimedia system. As for Aston’s first-ever turbocharged engine (a 5.2-liter V12), we’ll reserve judgment until our first drive.
Revelation: Electrification won’t replace diesel
Mercedes-Benz is investing 2.6-billion euros on new diesel technology for a modular four- and six-cylinder engine family, even as diesels “haven’t made good headlines, recently,” Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said at his company’s press conference. Meanwhile, Mercedes also announced it is investing 500-million euros in a new battery factory in Kamenz, Germany, to expand its electrified car capabilities.
Now this is more like it. When the base model Fiat 124 Spider, a car underpinned by one of our all-time favorite cars, made its debut at last year’s L.A. auto show, reaction was muted. It was OK, but it didn’t exactly wow me. The Abarth version is a different story. It has been upgraded significantly in the powertrain and handling departments, and it looks meaner, more Italian, less Miata. It remains to be seen if changes are for the better, but from my view on the Geneva show stand at least, it is.
Hit: Fiat Abarth 124 Spider
Somehow, the Abarth trim, with its flat-black hood and rear deck, transforms the Fiata Spiata. The deep red paint on one of the two showcars helps, too – it’s a true red, more like the launch red of the 1990 NA Miata than the Mazda family metallic red available on the ND MX-5 platform donor. Abarth engine tuning adds just 10 horsepower to the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo’s 160. While the standard Spider’s styling and automatic-only Lusso trim level suggests a more relaxed ride than the Miata’s, the Abarth 124 Spider will be edgier than its donor.
There are inexplicable criss-crossing creases all over and the side glass profile is clumsy enough to make your teeth ache. In general, it is fussily overdone in most aspects. Fortunately, it is not cast in stone, and could be cleaned up nicely. Let’s hope that happens. The size is good, and it’s a Honda.
Hit: Honda Civic five-door sedan prototype
I don’t think Honda will clean this one up. It looks much like the production Civic sedan, but in hatchback form, it wears the swoopy lines better.
Hit: McLaren 570GT
The 570GT introduced in Geneva reveals a previously unexplored side of the company. With its elegant, leather-lined “touring deck” and E-Type-esque, side-hinged rear window, the grand touring-focused 570GT not only shows how far the brand has come since it launched its road car lineup with the MP4-12C, the GT reinforces the company’s estimates that the 570 lineup will double production output at its Woking factory.
Revelation: A Pug for audiophiles
The Peugeot Fractal hot hatch concept, with two rear-hinged suicide doors, features an acoustically insulated interior for better hi-fi sound, and to keep out the whine of the concept’s electric power.
Hit: The Geneva Boutique
Geneva is the greatest auto show in the world. Why? The amazing amount of boutique brands that come to the show with their one-off dream machines and the companies who take existing cars and either make them better or make them worse. Nowhere else will you see such a magical automotive menagerie. Some of them are here one year and never seen or heard from again, which is almost always for the best. Others, like Pagani, Koenigsegg, Italdesign, Touring Superlegerra, and Pininfarina, are always here and always have something interesting on their stand. The Chinese have been making inroads lately. This year’s dreamer is Techrules, touting a fantasyland EV supercar with more than 1,000 hp. Another Chinese outlet scooped up the bankrupt ashes of the Gumpert brand, renamed the company Apollo and showed off a new maniacal project. Closer to Switzerland is the Italian brand Rimac with its Concept S, another EV-powered monster with a claimed 1,365 horsepower and 226 mph top speed. And then there are the tuners, making all manner of exotic creatures born from existing models. There are established names like Brabus, BMW Alpina, Ruf, ABT and others, who mostly keep it classy. Then there are the Kahns and Mansorys of the world, who often do unholy things to cars. Good, bad, or otherwise, Geneva is always fascinating, due in large part to these companies and the unparalleled variety they bring to the show floor.
Revelation: Which brand can more quickly trade away good taste for profit?
On the Bentley stand, the extended wheelbase version of the facelifted Mulsanne tried to out-Rolls Rolls, while on the Rolls-Royce stand, the Black Badge Ghost sported a black and purple interior.