Geneva Recap 2005

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March 4, 2005

By: Gavin Conway, UK Correspondent

Geneva Motorshow might be the most chilled-out event on the calendar thanks to its small size and easy accessibility at Geneva airport, but that doesn’t mean there’s any less razzle-dazzle. This year is no different as the press conferences go into overdrive, flashing pyrotechnics competing with booming sound systems, acrobats soaring overhead, women gyrating in spangly shorts and men-in-suits putting their expensive media training into practice. Most opt for the open-armed trust-me stance, which is rarely convincing but looks good on a big stage.

And this promises to be one of the best shows in many years, as there are a record number of new-car launches planned for Europe in 2005, with many of the contenders making an early debut at Geneva.

Seriously, this really is where genuine car guys shine. And there’s more than a few of them on the Aston Martin stand where the 380bhp, 175mph V8 Vantage has been unveiled to huge applause. Unquestionably the star of Geneva, this Porsche-priced baby Aston isn’t just the most beautiful car at the show, it’s also the most important car for Aston’s future. With a projected volume of 3000 units a year and in conjunction with DB9 and Vanquish, it’ll put Aston ahead of Ferrari in the exotic car manufacturers’ league.

The Brits are really on a roll this year, and even little old Morgan has a don’t-miss attraction on stand. Basically, 21-year-old designer Matthew Humphries took a standard Aero8 roadster and created the stunning Aeromax coupe. It’s a remarkable achievement – I mean, how many 21-year-olds rock up to the world’s most important motorshow with a car they’ve designed in just four months? The Aeromax is a one-off coupe for Prince Sturdza, president of the Banque Baring Brothers Suisse.

Humphries said to AudiWorld: “I was inspired by cars like the famous Bentley Blue Train and also those beautifully sculpted Bugatti coupes. Notice how the doors are flush – we aimed to clean up the design and to create a real feel of British handbuilt quality on the inside. Using laminated wood works beautifully in this respect.” Humprhies also made another crucial change by `uncrossing’ the Aero 8’s famously cross-eyed headlights. I reckon this kid is worth watching.

And that most British of brands, Bentley, also had a lot to talk about with the reveal of their Continental Flying Spur, four-door kissing cousin to the Continental coupe. I had a suspicion that the rear cabin might be a tad cramped compared to cars such as the long wheelbase BMW 7-Series and Audi A8, both of which can be optioned up to a price that puts them within sight of the Spur. No such worries, though, as the Spur’s rear cabin is enormous, even with the front seats set for burly six-plus-footers. Headroom is hat-wearing generous, too. The only problem I have with the car is that it looks a bit ordinary, even in the flesh. Still, this much bespoke luxury in a 195mph package will be a pretty compelling argument for those with the appropriate wonga.

Other significant Brits included Jaguar with its ALC coupe concept. Jag folk are still coming over all coy, but this is effectively the replacement for the XK coupe. In the flesh, the car looks bigger and more imposing than in pictures, and with all-aluminium construction and a V8 under the hood, I’d expect driving dynamics to be far superior to the current car.

Also flying the Union Jack is Land Rover with its Range Rover Sport, the car that’ll carry the fight to the Porsche Cayenne and V8 versions of BMW’s X5. It’s gorgeous to behold and the interior feels more sports car than SUV, but at a glance, it does look a lot like the full sized Range Rover, especially from the front.

The Italians are also out in force. At the top end, Lamborghini revealed its sensational Gallardo roadster and Ferrari the rag-top F430. For us mere mortals, Alfa Romeo pulled the wraps off the Brera coupe, which will be built on the new 159 Alfa sedan, also revealed at Geneva. The Brera, which uses the same engine range as the 159, should be a sportier car to drive than the GTV that it replaces, too.

Another full-noise launch was the new Mazda Miata. Designer Peter Birtwhistle looked endearingly thrilled when the covers came off – he’s plainly a guy that loves his job. And while I think it’s a good looking thing, I did wonder whether the new car was too cautious an evolution, not nearly as captivating as the Ibuki concept that came before. “It really is a bit like Porsche’s 911,” says Birtwhistle. “We looked at alternative designs, but in this car we have an icon and you always have to be careful how you move forward. And we consulted with owners clubs and found a huge loyalty to the look of the MX5. We also found that people wanted the `cuteness’ of the car to be maintained.”

BMW also have a huge crowd draw with the M version of the 6-Series coupe. The M6 uses the same tower of power that lives under the hood of the M5, namely a 5.0-liter V10 developing 507bhp and 348lb ft of torque. It is limited to a top speed of 155mph and will get to 60mph in 4.6 seconds, making it the the fastest-accelerating BMW road car. Wow.

Over on the Lexus stand, we took an opportunity to crawl over the new GS. It looks great in the flesh, with flowing lines and tiny little `flying buttresses’ at the rear. It has much more presence than the car it replaces, which I always thought a bit awkward to look at. Inside, it has a very sporting feel with a quite high and wide centre console. And while getting into the back is very easy with those deeply curved C-pillars, the space feels a bit cramped.

The new IS, which is based on the GS platform, was also on hand – frankly, the old one is a better looking car. The C-pillar design is particularly off-putting, and the whole thing lacks the tension and edge of the previous model. That’s not exactly what Lexus Europe Vice President Karl Schlict wanted to hear, but at least Lexus fortunes are on the rise. “Sales were up 5% last year and globally, we’ll be aiming for annual sales of 400,000 by the end of the decade,” said Schlict.

The sensational looking LF-A supercar was on stand, too. Schlict hinted that a production version of this Nissan 350Z-sized concept hasn’t been ruled out. “No decision has been taken on that yet, but that could well happen toward the end of this year. In the meantime, it’s still useful for us to get feedback from the press and public at shows like this.”

And speaking of `getting feedback’, guess who’s back? Yes, it’s the 1000bhp Bugatti Veyron, the only concept car in the world that’s been around so long that it could really use a facelift. Seems like Bugatti wheeled it out to convince us that it’s really, really going to be built. Soon. Just you wait, any minute now, watch this space, etc, etc…

No question, the huge value of going to Geneva is seeing the cars in the flesh. Press photos are notoriously unreliable because you don’t get a sense of scale, and a good photographer can work wonders with doggy motors. The Ssangyong Rodius, for example, looks pretty reasonable in pictures but is quite hideous in the flesh. And the Hummer H3 is, surprise surprise, actually quite nicely proportioned. I liked it, but the one car that was always going to over-deliver on the promise of the pictures isn’t American or Asian. It’s British and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage is also the undisputed star of the Geneva Motor Show.

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