2019 Geneva Auto Show Hits, Misses, and Revelations

The best, the worst, and the stuff we learned at this year's Geneva Motor Show.

Prominent as it is, Geneva's international motor show is getting hit by the question of relevance, just like Detroit, Paris, and all the rest. Indeed, Tier 1 suppliers, amateur racing clubs, and hopeful startups are starting to fill in the spaces of Geneva's Palexpo voided by OEMs like Volvo, Ford, Opel, and Jaguar Land Rover—all of whom skipped this year's event.

Meanwhile, the cottage hypercar makers and the "mainstream" exotic and supercar manufacturers are still engaged in a horsepower war, with the magic number hiked up to 1,500 this year. But more than ever, this year's show is about pure battery electrics going mainstream, whether as a performance-car power alternative or as a way to commute cleanly through urban areas. As the Polestar 2 takes the space behind the location of Volvo's old stand, Elon Musk's sycophants still see Tesla's future as the sole proprietor of potentially profitable premium electric cars. And by the way, the Jaguar I-Pace designed by Ian Callum's team has snagged the World Car of the Year trophy at this year's show. But Jaguar skipped the show, so rather than see the I-Pace, we took in this stuff instead:

HIT: Bugatti La Voiture Noir
On the Bugatti stand, "The Black Car," an evocation of the Type 57 Atlantic, was pretty nice from the tip of the nose to about the center of the rear wheels. Then it turned to electric red excrement, despite the boss of the brand saying that there was not an excess line on the car. I guess he didn't look. Nice profile to this one-off, which has reportedly been sold for $12.5 million, plus another $6 million or so in taxes. Swell. A hit, I guess. —Robert Cumberford

MISS: Bugatti La Voiture Noir
When I approached this car, it was from the back, and I thought it was fantastic—but then the turntable completed its inevitable spin, and it was all I could do to keep from running in abject horror. It looks like a radioactive giant insect from a 1950s sci-fi movie. And what's with the silly silver stickers on the tires? One of them was peeling off, which is not a good look for a $12.5 million car. (Seriously, for this much money you can't get a wheel with an aluminum or carbon-fiber extension? Come on, Bugatti!) Thank goodness there's only one being made and it's already sold—hopefully it'll be whisked away to a garage somewhere where the public won't have to see it. —Aaron Gold

REVELATION: Le Voiture Noir is a Hit, at least for Bugatti
I was thinking of how this car has such nice proportions, at least compared with the Chiron Sport and the (Are we not men? We are…) Divo on the stand when the marque's president, Stephan Winkelmann, told the assembled crowd "there is not one line too many," on his one-off. "I imagine I can find a few extra lines," Robert Cumberford remarked. "Yes, but," I responded, "it looks long and low instead of stubby." The question is, were Bugattis ever really, truly pretty cars?—Todd Lassa

HIT: VW ID Buggy Concept
Yes, it's terribly impractical, but it also looks like a heck of a lot of fun, and according to Volkswagen design chief Klaus Bischoff, pretty much what you see will be headed to the U.S. in two years, sans doors and roof, too. Bischoff envisions the fully electric Buggy as a classically styled dune-runner type of vehicle, and believes they could sell as many as 5,000 a year if demand warrants. He also says it's going to be "attainable and not just a car for millionaires." Given its volume and mission, Bischoff says it will be built using Volkswagen's new MEB platform as the basis, but production will be offloaded to a third-party company. VW has always been known for offbeat vehicles and we can't wait to see how this turns out. —Mike Floyd

I thought it was cool enough that VW did an electric dune-buggy concept, but as I gazed at the thing, it occurred to me that it looked pretty darn production-ready for a concept car. It's riding on the MEB platform, which we saw in disembodied form at the Chicago Auto Show. The lights are in the right places, the windshield frame and roll bar look pretty robust, and it probably wouldn't need doors, which would allow for some pretty substantial crash beams. I could just see it, in rear-drive electric-powered form, with a roll-up canvas bikini top in case it rains, as an all-weather rival to the Miata and the Wrangler—and, as you read above, our editor-in-chief got word that it will be produced and it will come to the States. It's always good to be a Californian, but some days are better than others. —AG

REVELATION: My problem with the VW I.D. Buggy Concept
Congratulations to VW for making this as a concept, but if it wants to be true to the original, shouldn't it just wait for some Bruce Meyer-esque character to make it as a custom aftermarket model? Wouldn't that subvert the need to meet all the safety/crash regulations?—TL

MISS: Linea Diamante
On the Quattroroute magazine stand was a model of a car designed ages ago by architect Gio Ponti, one of the founders of their stablemate Domus magazine, as a contrast to whatever was being foisted on the public at the time. Fiat 1800 anyone? The point of this car, called the Linea Diamante, was to have more room inside in the fashion of Alec Issigonis's Mini, but like almost all architect-designed cars, the intellectual content was greater than any attractiveness—of which it has none. It was a miss then, it's a miss now.—RC

HIT: Polestar 2
I don't care what the technology is like and whether it's powered by batteries, gasoline, or hydrogen-infused Jell-O—this thing is drop-dead gorgeous and I want one. —AG

A highly appealing Tesla Model 3 fighter that's just gushing with modern Swedish styling. The interior is warm and familiar, even with the cutting-edge tech going on in the center dash. And it made its debut just in time for another Elon Musk implosion in Silicon Valley. —TL

MISS: Hyper-horsepower supercars
The supercars/hypercars/et al are kind of stupid. I was amazed that every €1 million-plus unit was said to have been sold out before announcement, suggesting that ultra-exclusive manufacturers are contacting their clientele in advance and telling them that they're about to miss the boat. That has worked for Ferrari, and now others are using it. Hundreds of multimillion-dollar cars in garages all over the world, never on the road. Misses, all of the stupid things. —RC

REVELATION: Taking our sweet time, thank you very much
"We are not concerned about being late, we are concerned about being the best," Ferrari CEO Louis Camilleri said during a roundtable with journalists at the Geneva show, on timing for the arrival of the marque's first-ever crossover, slated to appear in 2022. Ferrari is well aware of the controversy surrounding the development of the vehicle, and knows that it must be an extraordinary offering in order to quiet the critics. No need to rush, then. —MF

HIT: Citroën Ami One Concept
Yeah, it's kind of silly looking, but in a Citroën kind of way. Like the Fiat Centoventi concept, it's designed to address issues of how we will buy, lease, rent, or share cars and trucks in the future. The two-seat, 98.4-inch-long box has a rear-hinged door on the driver's side and a front-hinged door on the passenger side. The lithium-ion battery is good for a 28-mph top speed and 62 miles of range, which fits into a special class of car in France that allows anyone age 16 or older to drive it, even without a license. Robert tells me such miserable cars in France are rolling chicanes. Still, I'd like to see Citroën juice up the battery packs and motor, and maybe raise the top speed to 60-75 mph, or so. Citroën says the Ami One is supposed to do for city dwellers what the 2CV did for farmers. So why not produce it as a real city car?—TL

HIT: New Renault Clio and Peugeot 208
What struck me most about the show was the fact that the two rivals for bestseller in France, the Renault Clio (above) and Peugeot 208 (below), are actually decent-looking. Nothing dumb or offensive, so even if I'm not entranced, I'm not sick at heart. That's good. HIT and HIT. —RC

Hit: Peugeot 208
A hit for me, at least compared with the bland Renault Clio. A really clean, modern design on a car that's probably a half-size too small for Pug's return to the U.S., but the next 308 ought to adapt this design language in time for the relaunch on our side of the Atlantic. —TL

Peugeot's premiere is everything I want from a French car: Quirky, attractive, and vaguely futuristic. And probably abysmally built, but since it won't be sold in the U.S., that's not our problem. Yet. The 208 is good looking on the outside, and the interior features a funky two-layer video dash with a cool holographic effect, though the flat-topped steering wheel—which must be adjusted low if you want to see the speedometer—could turn out to be really annoying. Available in models from eco to sporty, the 208 should be a hit with the home market, and it makes me excited about the prospect of Peugeot's return to the USA. —AG

HIT: Fiat Centoventi concept
I'm not much for this concept's retro-Panda styling. Fiat design of the 1970s and '80s was too Bauhaus-boxy for me after the cool midcentury panache of cars like the original 500. But this is one of two concepts here that go beyond future design and consider the way we might use cars. (See also Citroën Ami One, above.) Fiat chief Olivier Francois says the Centoventi will arrive from the factory in minimalist style, in terms of its interior and equipment. The owner, or borrower as the case may be, can switch around the passenger seats, exchange accessories and painted body panels, have dealers change out battery packs "in five minutes" (which I'll believe when I see it), and even 3D-print their own trim and accessories. While everyone else is trying to add content to hike car prices, Fiat is trying to make it simple and cheap while cutting production complexity. A 50-watt solar panel powers a reconfigurable tailgate that allows the car-sharing borrower or the owner to send messages to other drivers (though the downside to this is obvious), and the EV's range is claimed to be up to 500 kilometers, or about 310 miles. The only issue for us is whether Fiat has enough of a future in the U.S. to see a production version of this car imported. I wouldn't count on it. —TL

HIT BY MISSING BIG: Mansory
If you know what Mansory is and what it does to high end cars, you're probably asking yourself if I fell on my head. Stay with me here. It's the pure outrageousness of its creations, the way it uses color and applies bodywork adornments that usually have people gagging at and ragging on what they do—yours truly among them. But as I gazed upon the bizarre, muted lime-green sheen of the poor Mercedes-based Apertus Edition (thankfully a one-off), it hit me that this is why I love coming to the Geneva show. No other show in the world offers more diversity of the worldwide car culture, no matter how tasteful or dreadful you may find the cars on display. —MF

REVELATION: And the Annual Mansory Award goes to . . .
Rolls-Royce. Even from 20 paces away it was clear this brand's collection of overpriced beasts is devoid of good taste. —TL

MISS: Chelsea Truck Co. Flying Huntsman
This attempt to re-create the look of the Series 1 Land Rover fails miserably. The headlights are too small, the hood is too round, and the fenders too square. To me, it just looks wrong—unless I'm mistaken, and the look they're going for is a Jeep CJ that's been partially eaten by a Land Rover Defender and is pleading to get out. If that's the case, they nailed it. And what's with the name Flying Huntsman? Do they need to try to so hard to make it sound British? Why not call it the "Wot Ho I Say Old Boy Cuppa Tea Cheers Mate"?—AG

HIT: Suzuki Jimny
I first saw this latest iteration of the classic Japanese small-j jeep and thought this is what upper-case J Jeep should have built instead of the Renegade. Now I'm sure Jeep should have built this along with its Renegade. —TL

MISS: GFG Kangaroo
Dumb again, but it was undeniably well-executed. As it should be by Giorgietto and Fabrizio Giugiaro. Which even justified the Kangaroo name. For me, one of the very best things Giorgietto ever did back in his Bertone days, was the Alfa Romeo Canguro. It was one of his favorites, too, as he pulled his original layout drawing of its nose out of a file cabinet in his office to show me quite a few years ago. Nice, if useless, cars. —RC

HIT: Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake
I don't really need to explain this one, do I? What a shame we won't get it in the United States. —AG

MISS: BMW 7 Series
Now injected with collagen!—TL

HIT: Mazda CX-30
Two cars in one: thick black platform you're not supposed to notice, and a sleek, slim painted upper body with elegant surfaces. Makes one think of a short actor in boots with thick soles and heel lifts. But a hit, I suppose. —RC

I'm sure there will be many arguments about the CX-30, whether it belongs in Mazda's lineup, where it belongs in Mazda's lineup, and why the company didn't name it the CX-4, or the CX 3½, or something like that. Let's step back from the controversies and just look, because this may be the most attractive SUV Mazda has yet made—and that's no small feat. With its smoothly contoured sides and full fender cladding, the CX-30 looks the most like the design concepts Mazda has been showing for years. If it drives well—and I have absolutely no reason to believe it shouldn't—this could be a hit in the marketplace as well. —AG

MISS: Mazda CX-30
I'd call it a clean design if not for the heavy black cladding, which looks nearly twice as thick on the rockers and wheel openings as they are on the CX-3 and CX-5, as if it's trying to mask something. Too much lower body surface versus the upper body daylight opening, perhaps?—TL

HIT: Honda e Prototype
I already put the original version of this car on my Hit list when it debuted at last year's Frankfurt auto show, and now that I've seen the near-production-ready version, I'm even more of a fan. It's not just the e's old-school Civic duds I love, but it's interior, with black plastic and wood reminiscent of those earliest Civics. Honda has even arranged the climate controls in a surprisingly accurate imitation of the Civic's two-dial AM radio. The e Prototype also proves that Honda can make innovative cabins that don't look like they were penned by a middle-school student. What a shame this car isn't coming to the U.S.—if Fiat can shift the 500e (Los Angeles is crawling with them, albeit due to their ridiculously low lease prices), I'm sure Honda could sell a bunch of these . . . though who knows if the e's cute looks could survive the strengthening needed for ever more stringent U.S. crash standards. —AG

I'm hoping the e Prototype isn't slated for the U.S. solely because of the camera sideview mirrors, and that Honda will eventually give in and bring it here, just as it did for the Fit years ago. I fear the company figures Americans won't drive anything that's not a utility vehicle, and that it's working on some sort of HR-EV for us instead. —TL

MISS: Piëch Mark Zero
A distressing compendium of styling cliches, the utmost in banality, this electric car has nothing going for it apart from Daddy's well known—not to say notorious—name. (One of the company's founders is Ferdinand's son.) For effrontery it could be a hit. But in dismal reality, a miss. —RC

Ginetta called. It wants its rejected design drawings back. At least the model name is on-point. —TL

Hit: Kia Imagine Concept
Time was when concept cars were rolling representations of designers' dreams, and not just thinly veiled versions of future vehicles. The Imagine is an old-school concept, a flight of fancy with suicide-style rear doors, minimal shell seats, a light-up grille, and a funky dash made of individual stand-up video screens, even though a more cynical person might say it looks like a bunch of surplus Galaxy S6 phones glued to a plinth. Seeing this car brings me back to my favorite concept car, the 1951 General Motors LeSabre (often attributed to Buick), a vision of the future with dreamy elements like a rain-sensing power top and heated seats. —AG

HIT: Toyota Supra GT4 concept
The standard Supra was a hit for me at Detroit, so how can I not count the version designed to easily take to the track? The IMSA GT4 series is a quickly growing racing series that can take the sting out of the irreversible move toward autonomous vehicles. —TL

MISS: Pal-V Flying Car
You know why we don't have flying cars? Because they look like this. —AG

HIT: Alfa Romeo Tonale concept
In heaven, the joke goes, the Italians design the cars. I forget what the French, Germans, and Americans do, but the point is this is a rare example of a compact crossover "concept" (it's headed for production) that doesn't suffer from looking like a boring box with a few ill-advised design flourishes. Yes, you can do fender cladding without making it too big. And because I can't hate on every sport-utility. —TL

MISS: DeVinci
An extremely offensive and badly executed collection of various old-car ideas, fronted by a wood-themed radiator shell, some models with bare wheels, some with cycle fenders attached with clumsy brackets athwart the airstream. Awful miss. —RC

REVELATION: Tata makes some pretty cool cars
I always assumed that Indian automaker Tata built nothing but cheap cars with papier-mâché bodies and two-stroke pollution-pump engines for the home market, but its stand at Geneva proved me wrong. Alongside its new mini-SUV concept, the H2X, Tata showed the new Altroz, an attractive subcompact hatch with angular styling and a surprisingly plush interior. Tata also showed a new seven-seat SUV called the Buzzard, which I would buy just for the name. (Turns out it also has cars called the Zest, Sumo Gold, and Safari Storme—yes, Storme with an 'e,' because Tata, bitches!) I'm pretty sure we're about a billion years away from Tata coming to the U.S., but if it does, sign me up for an Altroz. Oh, and a Buzzard, just so I can say "Lunch? Sure. Let's take the Buzzard!"—AG

MISS: Nissan iMQ concept
If Nissan's iMS Detroit concept provided a hint of the next Maxima, the iMQ surely is the next Murano. I like the prospects for the next Maxima. —TL

HIT: Peugeot E-Legend Concept
Yes, it debuted last fall. So what? Forget about all those swoopy four-door "coupes" with which the Germans are so obsessed: This is what a coupe is supposed to look like, with a long, flat hood and a proper trunk. The E-Legend meets at the intersection of the 1970s and today, with stick-thin roof pillars and sharply angled LED lights. I took one look at this car and my heart melted. Want, want, want. —AG

If this car in production form is headed to the U.S. as Peugeot's halo for its return, all I can say is, "Vive la France!"—TL

MISS: Subaru Viziv Adrenaline Concept
We can all pretty much make the imaginary leap from concept to production vehicle: Theorize real bumpers, mirrors, and door handles; expand the lights a bit to make governmental standards; dial the wheels back a bit; and you have your production model. Do that with the Subaru Viziv Adrenaline Concept, and what do you get? The production version of the current Crosstrek. Er, Subaru, it's traditional to show the concept car before the production version, not the other way around. —AG

REVELATION: Carlos Ghosn is out of jail, almost, and I lost this sticker . . .
I found this sticker on a staircase between the Renault and Toyota stands (it should have been on the other staircase, between Renault and Nissan) on Tuesday. By Wednesday, I couldn't find it again. This is my only proof. —TL

HIT: Geneva Auto Show
I've been told for years what a lovely show Geneva is; this was my first time in attendance and it was better than I expected. The most amazing part of Geneva is the seemingly random mixing of blue-collar brands, high-end luxury, aftermarket genius, and millionaire's-toy supercars. More than that, though, is the way they lay out the show: There are no mile-high stands at the center of the show, just signs for each automaker hanging from the roof. It's what auto shows used to look like before marketing departments figured out they could fit walls of LED screens together like giant Lego sets. What a great way to enjoy the world of cars!—AG