GENEVA, Switzerland — This city has a population of 198,000. According to our shuttle driver, approximately 120,000 cars enter and exit Geneva every workday, from small towns in nearby France and from Swiss suburbs. The irony of holding everybody’s favorite auto show in a town that epitomizes modern urban congestion is not lost on us, especially during the 45-minute evening rush hour drive from the auto show to our hotel. All those 200-mph supercars inside the Geneva Palexpo are going nowhere fast once the show is over and the garage doors are opened.
Automakers are doing what they can to assure us that the future of mobility is bright. The 2018 Geneva International Motor Show has all the concept cars that didn’t appear at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, and they’re mostly electric vehicles with high levels of autonomy.
Take the Volkswagen I.D. Vizzion. The Passat-sized sedan, riding on the automaker’s MEB electric platform, will reach the market by 2022 and will be capable of a technology upgrade to Level 5 full autonomy within a few years after that, says VW chief Herbert Diess.
Renault unveiled its EZ-Go concept “car,” which essentially is a very nicely appointed driverless electric-powered minibus. It’s designed to be sold as either a shared “last-mile” urban transit connector vehicle or as a privately owned car, suggested company chief Thierry Bollore’.
Mercedes-Benz, already a leader in autonomous car development, unveiled its new vehicle subscription service. Subscribers will be able to change Mercedes models up to 12 times a year within a specific class (so if you pay for the C-Class subscription, you’ll be able to choose C-Class sedans and cabriolets and GLC-Class SUVs, for example), Britta Seeger, marketing and sales chief for Mercedes-Benz cars, explained. The service is rolling out in Europe first, but will appear in a select U.S. city sometime soon (and we do hope your city is selected). It is called the Mercedes Me Flexperience. Finally, there’s a new synthetic automotive word that’s more annoying than “infotainment.”
And with that, here are our impressions of this year’s Geneva Motor Show …
HIT: BMW Concept M8 Gran Coupe
When BMW shows a “concept” like the M8 Gran Coupe it showcased at Geneva, you can bet the car will be built. BMW’s new design language, which has been highlighted recently by the Z4 and 8 Series concepts of last year, has been very well received, and the upcoming M8 will continue to build on that momentum with a mix of aggression and style using elements of the base car and the M8 GTE race car that recently hit the track. Expect it to rip with at least 600 horsepower.
HIT: Mercedes-AMG GT four-door
Up to 630 horsepower in GT 63 S form, in a four-door “coupe” with a Panamericana nose that manages to look as much like a sedan version of the AMG GT sports car as possible, despite that the two share no platform nor body parts. And the rear seat has adequate headroom for near-six-footers without the need for an awkward roofline as on the first-generation Porsche Panamera. The second generation Panamera had better watch itself.
HIT: Lagonda Vision
Laser projection taillights, completely feasible for production. Lift up roof over rear seats. Electric vehicle possibilities emphasized. Car is length of Rolls-Royce Ghost, but with more interior space than the Phantom.
MISS: Lagonda Vision
My first impression was, “nice lines, nice proportions.” But when the car spun on its turntable to where I could see two grownups lounging in the back seat, I couldn’t get it out of my head that this is a cartoonishly large car, especially for an Aston Martin. Consider, instead, the Rapide sedan, which has no rear headroom. But if you get to crawl into the back seat of a sedan with such looks and dynamics, who cares?
HIT: Philippe Starck Bentley Power Dock
Prominently featured on the Bentley stand was the familiar-looking Bentayga Hybrid and Philippe Starck’s unexpectedly gorgeous Power Dock. When’s the last time an electric charger stole thunder from an electrified sport ‘ute?
With its ovoid form and gently dimpled contours, the Power Dock defies what we expect an industrial object to look like, combining simple functionality with an intriguing, gotta-touch-it sculptural aspect. Starck told Automobile it took two years to complete the project not just because of the complexity of its shapes, but because of challenges in meeting the device’s stringent technical requirements. Functional beauty? A win/win in our books.
Is an awful thing, with huge interior volume allowing for an autonomous driving hell vehicle.
MISS: BMW X4
Oh, another crossover/utility four-door sport coupe, eh? Meh.
REVELATION: Generic supercars
There is a tremendous difference between a Miura and a Pantera. There is little or no difference between today’s wannabees. On a big black stand with no plants, no signs, and no people, there was a bright yellow supercar. I couldn’t recognize its identity, although I knew I’d seen its shapes before. Turned out to be the Hennessey Venom, and who cares?
MISS: Sbarro 4×4+2
Hard to know where to begin with this one, so we’ll just leave this right here for you to puzzle over as we did. Maybe they should stick to making pizza.
It looks like an electric concept that Porsche might have drawn back in the days of the original 901-model 911, with none of the bulky body heft of virtually every modern car. In that regard, it’s the opposite of both the Tesla Model X and the S.
MISS: Porsche Mission E Cross Turismo concept
Huge knobby tires. It’s really a strange beast. Hard to grasp its place in the world.
HIT: Hyundai Le Fil Rouge concept
As I approached this car for the first time, I thought Le Fil Rouge was a concept pointing toward a new, elegantly organic design direction for the Genesis luxury brand. Former Bentley and General Motors designer Sungyup Lee’s first effort as chief designer for Hyundai is that good. In a few years, a battery-electric midsize Hyundai sedan with Level IV autonomy will look something like this.
REVELATION: Grilles on EVs
The Lagonda electric car shape was generated by the technology, unlike the Tesla Model S, which is an internal combustion-powered car shape with a fake grille (early in the production run), rather like air-cooled Franklins with big fake radiator grilles. The Jaguar I-Pace is exactly like the design for a petroleum internal combustion engine-powered vehicle even if it’s on a different platform, supposedly.
HIT: Giant Peugeot Lion
There seemed to be no real reason to do this, but then again, there was no reason not to do it, either. We need more 20-foot tall brand logos on auto show floors. Bravo, Peugeot, you win the prize. For what, we don’t know.
HIT: Peugeot 508
A pretty handsome midsize sedan, even if its “four-door coupe” styling is everywhere these days. It would make a good candidate for Peugeot-Citroen’s return to the U.S. But please, PSA, leave the diesel versions at home.
You can forgive the I.D. Vizzion’s ridiculous name and incongruous shag carpeting, but the deeper issue is how this four-passenger concept’s nondescript exterior doesn’t quite make us dream of a Level 5 autonomous future. Suicide doors and ultra-flush cabins are cool, but those features have also become a de rigueur part of self-driving concepts. The disappointing part is the adherence to three-box design and this concept’s more-than-striking resemblance to a Tesla Model S. Let’s encourage designers to push the boundaries of exterior styling a la Lagonda’s brilliant Vision Concept and not curtail ourselves by vestiges of the past. We do, after all, live in the future.
REVELATION: McLaren and Alpine are preparing for autonomy, too
McLaren unveiled the Senna GTR and Alpine introduced the A110 GT4, an FIA-spec sports racing car based on its A110 Cup spec series racer. The McLaren Senna GTR is a supercar, and the Alpine A110 GT4 is a sports car for rich customers who want to play semi-pro driver on weekends, now. But some time in the future, when the streets are jammed with VW I.D. Vizzions, Renault EZ-Gos and Rinspeed Snaps, the only way to practically and maybe legally drive will be to autonomously trailer your Senna or GT4 to your local club racetrack. Bring lots of money.
HIT: Nissan IMX Kuro
It’s actually pretty nice — distinct panels are clear-cut and surface-simple. Lot of slots, but harmonious overall
HIT: Nissan IMX Kuro
Either Nissan thinks Americans would rather buy soft crossovers that look like butch trucks and Europeans are happier with soft crossovers that look like tall cars, or that’s reality. Whatever the case, the IMX Kuro got to go to Geneva, while all we got in Detroit was the lousy Xmotion concept.
REVELATION: Marching to the Beat of a Different Jaguar
Running into celebrities at manufacturer VIP lounges isn’t uncommon at Geneva, but it’s a rare occasion when said celebs have a sincerely relevant link to the brand. Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain’s restomodded 1984 Jaguar XJ6, which shared floor space with the brand’s latest/greatest cars and concepts is the musician’s third XJ, and became a collaboration with Jaguar Design Studio Director Wayne Burgess (a rocker in his own right) who guided the musician through a process that included the refinishing, replacement, or redesign of more than 4,000 parts.
Finished in a metal flake mauve McBrain calls “infinite purple,” the sedan features smoothed out front and rear bumpers and flared and re-profiled front and rear wheel arches housing 18-inch wire wheels wrapped in 235/45 Pirelli rubber. Front and rear suspension components were upgraded and rear dampers were switched to adjustable units.
Other unique bits include a conversion to more graceful Series 2 XJ door handles and bullet wing mirrors, enhanced sound deadening and air-conditioning, flush-fitting twin fuel fillers, and a one-off audio system with guitar-amp inspired machined aluminum control knobs. We shiver to think of the metric tons of money it took to execute the project, which involved 3,500 man-hours of labor at Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works in Coventry.
Whether McBrain’s restomod was a self-funded commission or a factory-sponsored endeavor to promote the XJ’s 50th anniversary, the end result is a revelation of the manufacturer’s ability to execute a personalized, museum quality restoration that departs so significantly from stock.
HIT: Subaru Viziv Concept
Subaru has been working up some really solid concepts of late, and the Viziv is the best yet, with angles in all the right places up front, chunky fender flares and a take on Subaru’s trademark hood scoop. It’s an aggressive, yet modern looking design that Subaru would be well advised to push out basically as-is.
It used to be that Subaru would show a nicely designed concept predicting a future model, and then the realities of production would result in something less than handsome. But the latest Impreza and Crosstrek are reasonably attractive, and now it looks like the next WRX/STI might benefit from the compact models’ looks. Better news is that the Viziv Concept hints that the WRX/STI could be offered in hatchback form again.
MISS: Subaru VIZIV Concept
Six-sided grille frame, five-sided wheel openings front and rear, three-side headlamp openings. Decent looking, but excessively complex surfaces, retro hood scoop, really convoluted head lift gate shape.
The second car on Volvo’s “60” platform is the largest, widest, and important to this pick, the lowest wagon in its class by overall height, which at this point includes very little that is sold in the U.S. Volvo isn’t expecting the crossover- and sport/utility craze to turn soon—after all, the automaker makes bags of money on the XC90 and XC60—but if anything on the road draws modern customers back to the station wagon, this will be the car.
MISS: LexusUX 250h
A seven-sided headlamp flanking “that grille.”
MISS: Lamborghini Urus
I can give the Urus a pass because Lamborghini has done an SUV before, but I can’t forgive its uninspired, Aventador nose on a Q7 body look.
REVELATION: Supra achieves the perfect balance
Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer for the all-new Toyota Supra project and the man behind the GR Supra Race Car Concept that made its debut at Geneva, is also responsible for the Toyota 86, so he knows how to tune a front engine, rear drive car. He told Automobile Magazine that a key goal of the new Supra was that it must achieve a perfect 50:50 front/rear weight balance.
From the sound of it, the team has nailed the brief. He also said that the car must have a straight six, all but confirming that BMW’s 3.0-liter turbo will be the featured engine. The Supra will not come with a manual transmission, which is a surprise to virtually no one. We’re betting Toyota’s 10-speed automatic will be fitted to the car.
MISS: SIN Cars Sin S1
Loops & lines & struts — a horrid composition of no esthetic value whatsoever
REVELATION: The autonomous minibus we need, and/or want
Though from the outside it’s not much more than a box on wheels, the Renault EZ-Go, with its swoopy bodywork and laid-back seating has enough jenais se quois to fit in well on your average Paris boulevard. Rinspeed’s Snap, conversely, looks seriously upright and industrial and thus more space-efficient, perfect for the crowded streets of Manhattan or Shanghai. It is not the autonomous connector bus we want. It’s the one we need.
MISS: Eadon Green
Looks like a badly customized 1930s car of some indistinct make only a Kustom lover would think of spending time and money on executing. Think Nash Layfayette coupe transmogrified.
REVELATION: New brands and electrification
The Geneva show was the coming out party for no less than three new brands that have formed from the ribs of long established automakers. Aston Martin has revived its Lagonda nameplate and says it will be an all-EV proposition designed for extreme luxury. Its Lagonda Vision concept fit the bill, with some of the most comfortable looking seats we’ve seen in a motor vehicle, and top hinged rear doors that allow occupants to stand up and strut out, and a design that takes advantage of EV packaging to maximize space.
We’ve already previewed Polestar, which is the electrified offshoot of Volvo. This was the first time it had a presence at an international auto show, and the brand showed off its sleek Polestar 1, which features a plug-in hybrid.
Then there’s Cupra, an offshoot of VW Group’s Seat. The Spanish-flavored Cupra has several conventional offerings, but the car that stood out the most was a concept called the Cupra E-Racer that looks ready to hit the circuit thanks to a full motorsports setup.
REVELATION: Fewer cars, more cafes
There were many blank spaces. No Opel, no GM USA. Fiat in a tiny little booth; many exhibit spaces devoted to bars and cafes.