Geneva motor show reviewed by Gavin Green

Published: 06 March 2019 Updated: 06 March 2019

► 2019 Geneva motor show review
► Gavin Green casts a critical eye
► Star cars, themes and trends

This Geneva motor show was as notable for those who weren’t there, as those who were. No Land Rover (no new Defender!), no Ford (no new Focus ST!), no Jaguar (no Car of the Year winning i-Pace!), no Volvo (no electric XC40!) and no Vauxhall/Opel (probably no loss). 

If such notable car giants can boycott the greatest motor show on Earth, due to hard times (Jaguar, Land Rover, Vauxhall and Ford) or lack of customer interest (Volvo), then maybe car shows really are going the same way as the twin-choke carb and four-on-the-floor. 

Honda e Prototype pick of new electric cars

Still, there were plenty of good cars on hand, many of them electrified. The pick was the new Honda e Prototype, a funky little electric city car that proves – contrary to recent fears – that Honda hasn’t lost the plot. 

Honda e Prototype: cute Hondas are back!

Honda’s recent knack for clutching defeat from the jaws of victory has been uncanny. It got out of Formula One a year before its car won the world title, rebranded as a Brawn. It threw away its great sporting foundations (wonderful first NSX, Type R, S2000) when it suddenly stopped making sports cars. It pioneered hybrids (with Toyota) before abandoning them – just before hybrids became popular. 

Honda has rarely missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. 

Don’t miss our full A-Z of every new car at the 2019 Geneva motor show

But the e Prototype – like the new NSX, like the latest Civic Type R, unlike most of its mainstream range – suggests the innovative flame is reignited if still not exactly burning bright. This pre-production car (’98 per cent there’) isn’t as pretty as last year’s Urban EV concept and not as well packaged. But it’s still special. Let’s hope Honda doesn’t blow it (again) by making it too costly: guidance suggests it could be priced from £35,000, a sum that has prevented BMW’s i3 from fulfilling its potential. 

Fiat’s return to small-car form

The other stand-out electric car, and the best concept of the show, was the Fiat Centoventi, a brilliantly conceived modular baby car. It has cleverly reconfigurable seats, a tray for a ‘dash’ that can carry or mount a host of gadgets (plus a simple pad-style instrument binnacle), interchangeable body panels and it can quickly swap and add batteries, increasing the range from 60 miles (fine in town) to 300 miles (fine for the country). It’s also highly space efficient, making masterful use of its compact EV powertrain. The little fluffy black-and-white bear in the concept car’s centre console clearly shows Fiat’s intentions: it’s the new electric Panda. 

Fiat CentoVenti at the 2019 Geneva motor show

It’s a welcome sign that Fiat is returning to what Fiat does best: making great small cars. The lack of bespoke baby electric cars on sale today is a disgrace. Most makers prioritise more profitable but far less eco friendly electric UVs. At least Honda and Fiat look set to correct that.

There was also an all-electric version of Peugeot’s stylish and impressive new 208 hatchback. Along with the striking Mazda 3, the 208 was the mainstream star of the show.

New SUVs of all shapes and sizes

The press conference themes were invariably green and electric. But as so often, the car industry was talking clean but acting dirty. Despite the self-righteous words, the average new car sold in Britain (and Europe) gets more fuel consumptive and more CO2 belching, partly due to our growing love affair with SUVs. 

Bentley Bentayga Speed: the trend for bigger, faster SUVs shows no signs of abating

New 2.5 tonne trucks on display, perfect for taking the kids to school, included the big-mouth BMW X7 (joining the new gob-stopper-grille 7 saloon). There was also the new Bentley Bentayga Speed (above) for those who want an SUV that can do 0-60 in under 4.0sec and 190mph, and who think the normal Bentayga needs a bit more styling attitude. 

There was a pointless performance R version of the SUV Volkswagen T-Roc – if you want to go fast and have fun driving this mechanical configuration, just buy a Golf R and save on the bulk. There was another new VW parts-bin identikit Skoda SUV, the Kamiq (where do they get these daft names?) that reminded us all, yet again, how much we miss the Yeti.

Lagonda is the stand-out electric SUV

Aston Martin, as usual, was energetic at Geneva, and unveiled the Project 003 (below), following on from the Valkyrie (Project 001) and the Valkyrie AMR Pro (002). Think of this new hypercar as a Valkyrie with a boot, on sale from 2021. Mind you, Aston hasn’t delivered the 001 and 002 yet, so a follow-up does seem a touch premature. Even further away is the other mid-engined car it previewed, the Vanquish Vision concept. Powered by a V6 hybrid, this will take on Ferrari’s mid-engined V8 supercars.

The Aston Martin Project 003 at the 2019 Geneva motor show

They shared stand space with a new Lagonda All-Terrain SUV concept. Unlike the DBX prototype of a few years ago and the dreadful Benz SUV-based Lagonda proposal of 2009 – both forceful hints that sports car companies should stick to making sports cars – this new Lagonda is sleek and low slung, without the slab-sided bulk that makes most XL SUVs look about as dainty as an Ocado delivery van.

It’s futuristic and massively spacious. ‘It’s the first electric car that really uses the packaging advantages of an electric powertrain,’ design boss Marek Reichman told me. He said it is ’75-80% there’ and would be the first production Lagonda when deliveries commence in 2022. 

A new Ferrari stars at Geneva. Again…

The Geneva show is best known for its glamour and glitz and little wonder the biggest crowds were around the new F8 Tributo, another impossibly lovely and achingly desirable new Ferrari. Whoever thought the 488 GTB needed replacing?

Ferrari F8 Tributo: the Italians still now how to steal a show

Well one reason is that McLaren challenges so hard, and its new Spider version of the 720S was the best new British sports cars on show, proof of McLaren’s amazing rise from newbie supercar maker to genuine Ferrari rival. If you wonder why Ferrari feels it may need a faster and meatier (720hp) supercar, look no further than the (720hp) McLaren 720S Coupé that’s been outpacing, if not outclassing, the 488 GTB for the past year.

Don’t miss our full A-Z of every new car at the 2019 Geneva motor show

By Gavin Green

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