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Geneva motor show 2015 review by Gavin Green

Published: 05 March 2015

► CAR's veteran reporter looks back
► Full Geneva motor show review
► The hits, the misses. No punches pulled

Just when you thought supercars couldn’t get any more powerful, any faster, or any more hardcore, along comes another Geneva motor show.

900bhp not quite enough for you, sir? Then how about 1000bhp (give or take)? Seriously, who are these supermen (and at least one lady) who think the standard P1 is just a touch too feeble and whose pleas persuaded McLaren to launch the P1 GTR  – which incidentally belts out 200bhp more power than Lewis tames every other Sunday? McLaren boss Mike Flewitt assures me ‘there was more than one P1 owner who wanted extra performance’. They’ll sell about 40 GTRs at over £2.2 million each.

200mph not fast enough? There were multiple new ways to go faster, all showcased at Geneva. (By McLaren, Ferrari, Aston and Lamborghini among others.)

Porsche 911 GT3 a bit too anaemic? Then, welcome to the hard rock GT3 RS. Fabulous Cayman GTS a bit too effete? Real drivers, of course, will choose the Cayman GT4 (below), still a fast car bargain – like all Caymans – at just over £60,000. Aston Vantage a bit too soft? There’s a new GT3 version for those who like firmer kicks from behind and below. (All 100 are sold out.)

Porsche Cayman GT4

And of course the normal Lamborghini Aventador – with ‘just’ 690bhp to excite – needs a 740bhp SV iteration for owners who like their raging bulls to be a tad more aggressive. 

As we’re in Switzerland, whose national industry is money, little wonder there were manifold temptations on how to spend it. Aston Martin, which was in a feisty mood under new boss Andy Palmer, showed a striking new 800bhp hypercar named after an old British bomber (the Vulcan) that costs £1.5 million (plus taxes – not that people pay too much attention to them here in Switzerland). Only 24 will be built and Palmer told me he expects them all to be sold out ‘very soon’.

Geneva motor show 2015: celebrating the supercar

You may have detected a trend here? Yes indeed: this year’s Geneva motor show celebrates supercars – and the faster, pricier, more eye catching and more extreme the better. 

No matter that you or I can’t afford any of them. Geneva is about entertainment, not buying. It’s a four-wheel theme park not a giant car showroom. Ogle, dream and enjoy. 

The star supercar? It has to the Ferrari 488 GTB (as proved by the crowd it attracted for its unveiling). How on Earth can you improve on one of the finest and most gorgeous mid-engine supercars of all time (the outgoing 458)? Well, here’s how! Shame its V8 is now turbocharged rather than normally aspirated, which will surely mute the 458’s crackerjack throttle response. The new car may be faster, but I’ll be surprised if it’s any sweeter or more engaging to drive.

Ferrari 488 GTB at Geneva

The new limited-edition McLaren 675LT promises to be even quicker than the 488. It’s also, by some margin, the meanest-looking Big Mac yet born from the fast-breeding 12C family. Although I do wonder how long those Formula 1-style front wing end plates will last in peak hour traffic. 

Meanwhile, getting a little closer to the real world, the planet’s most underrated mid-engine supercar, the excellent Audi R8, finally gets a Mk2 follow-up. No doubt it will drive brilliantly – it’s essentially a Lamborghini Huracán wrapped in tasteful Audi sheetmetal, after all. Shame it looks so Audi generic. I’m sorry, Audi cars may be beautifully proportioned and oh-so-carefully designed but they are becoming too predictable to be desirable. Audi needs to be braver, especially for its top-end sports car.

A key R8 rival, the new Honda NSX, makes its European debut in Geneva. It looks clean and compact, advanced in both style and spec. I just hope a supercar that’s built and conceived in Marysville, Ohio – better known for the production of fertilisers than fast cars – can carry forward the dynamic reputation of the wonderful made-in-Japan original.

Another American supercar, the Ford GT, also took its European bow in Geneva. Hats off to Ford for proving, yet again, they can play with Ferrari when its engineers put their minds to it. (Just as they did with the late ‘60s GT40 and with the previous GT supercar of a decade ago). No other mass maker, apart from Honda, can do so with this conviction.

Skoda Superb the star ‘real-world’car

Turning from mid-engine supercars to big-lung front-engine coupés: British darlings Bentley and Aston Martin both sprang concept car surprises. The new Bentley EXP10 Speed 6 is a graceful and slender car, a welcome return to form for Bentley at Geneva after the blingy and bloated SUV concept disaster of three years ago. Energetic Aston Martin – three new cars at one show! –  previewed the DBX ‘sports crossover’. It looks more like an elevated and pumped-up coupe than a high-speed truck; apparently the production version will have four doors but will otherwise look similar. Does this mean it will be called a Lagonda? I hope so – Aston Martins should surely remain as two-door sports cars.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, where were the ordinary cars, for those with average levels of bank savings, driving confidence and testosterone?

There weren’t many. Geneva, as is so often the case, is more about the catwalk than the high street. My favourite ‘real world’ new cars were the elegant and astonishingly spacious Skoda Superb saloon – why buy an A6 or a Passat? The new Citroën Berlingo – unpretentious practicality meets comfort and value. And the new Honda Jazz, latest version of one of the world’s most intelligently packaged small hatchbacks. 

My favourite ‘affordable’ concept? The comely Nissan Sway, likely precursor to a much better Micra.

Honda’s welcome comeback

Honda had a particularly strong Geneva show. On top of the sensible Jazz and sensational NSX, we saw the bonkers-fast Made-in-Britain Type R Civic hyper hatch with Boeing-size rear wing for added styling drama and fast lane intimidation. Here is a car maker desperate to rekindle its Mansell/Senna/Prost/Surtees racing roots, after a lost decade of making mostly dullards. 

Another car maker rediscovering its sporting mojo is Ford. On top of the Ferrari-baiting GT, there was a tempting new Focus RS, complete with launch control, ‘drift’ button, four-wheel drive and ‘more than 316bhp’. It’s the latest hot car from Ford’s new Performance division, proof that the Blue Oval hasn’t forgotten how to make desirable fast cars for everyone. (Remember the Sierra Cosworth, the Escort Mexico and the Capri RS2600, to name but three tasty old timers)? 

Ford GT makes its European debut

This year’s Geneva show is all about power and prosperity; style and speed; design drama and hard driving. A reinvigorated car industry is shaking off the pessimism of the past six years and, briefly, ignoring the significant challenges of tomorrow. (Of EVs, CO2 emissions etc, there was little talk to spoil the party.)

It was all escapism, of course, a fiction brutally exposed as we were all stuck in crawling traffic heading back to our lakeside hotels after the cars and canapés of press day stopped flowing. Never mind, this is a must-see Geneva motor show, a four-wheel fantasy presented by a car industry returning to swaggering good health. 

The Geneva motor show, held at the Palexpo exhibition centre next to the airport, runs until 15 March 2015.

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience

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