Making sense of the Paris motor show: a walkaround tour with Gavin Green

Published: 30 September 2016

► 2016 Paris motor show review
► Gavin Green gives his verdict
► Highs, lows... and Donald Trump 

The French hate nothing more than following America’s lead but, at the 2016 Paris motor show, I half expected Donald Trump to stare out from the driver’s seat of the show stars wearing his silly red baseball cap.

French go mad for SUVs

Many of the new cars were SUVs or, as the Americans like to call them, ‘sport-utes’. And, as we all know, ‘sport-utes’ are a breed of car that the Americans particularly love and first popularised.

Love and kisses from the Paris motor show 

New SUVs, or as the Europeans sometimes demurely call them ‘crossovers’, were everywhere in Paris. It often felt more like Cobo Hall in Detroit than the Paris Expo. 

Renault even had a pick-up…

Peugeot’s two show stars – the 3008 and 5008 – were both SUVs. Both have comely and spacious cabins, and are front-drive only. So they’re clearly meant more for the périphérique than muddy tracks in the Pyrénées. Unlike American SUVs, they’re also commendably fuel- and space-efficient, car- rather than truck-based. Meanwhile Renault had a huge posh SUV, the new Koleos, and even a big new pick-up truck, the Alaskan below (very Donald). 

Renault Alaskan

Remember, just a few years ago, the French makers didn’t sell any SUVs. Now, like fast food outlets in Paris, they’re everywhere.

4x4s for all

We had electric SUVs (including a Mercedes concept), hybrid SUVs (new Mitsubishi, new Lexus UX), big SUVs (Discovery 5, a super-size Ssangyong), small SUVs (new Suzuki, facelifted Kia Soul), medium-sized SUVs (Skoda Kodiaq, Audi Q5, BMW X2 concept, Seat Ateca) and fast SUVs (Mercedes-AMG GLC 43). I counted at least 15 new SUVs, and no doubt there were more hiding on the smaller stands. 

SUV highlights? The Discovery 5, although more rounded and posh, still appears pleasingly functional. I was worried they were going to lose the old Disco’s fantastic versatility in their drive upmarket. Plus, its delightful aluminium body means a huge weight saving over the old Disco, no doubt with big dynamic benefits.

The BMW X2: 'easily BMW's most impressive small SUV in style'

The X2 concept (above) also looks good. It is easily BMW’s most impressive small SUV in style, and likely to be the first desirable BMW ‘coupe SUV’ following the disappointing X4 and the detestable X6. Sales start in early 2018.

Micra, C3 star among small cars

Historically, it’s more common to see great small cars than SUVs at Paris shows. This year there were two highly impressive little hatchbacks, both with French roots. The new C3 (below) is a further example of Citroen breaking away from the mainstream, an appealingly bold and quirky B-class hatch that prioritises comfort, connectivity and customisation. It’s very different from rivals without being quite so wilfully contraire as the C4 Cactus.

Citroen C3 at the Paris motor show 2016

The new Nissan Micra, built in France in a Renault factory, is everything that the current dull Micra isn’t – stylish, techy and fun.

Partly designed in Nissan’s Paddington London studio, it promises astonishing tech for such a small and inexpensive car, including pedestrian detection with emergency brake, lane departure prevention and an amazing new Bose stereo surround sound. This is big BMW-like tech on a B-segment car.

There was lots of clever tech on show in Paris, too, much of it pleasingly consumer-focused, rather than grandstanding from nerdy German car engineers.

New Land Rover Discovery at Paris

Two highlights were Infiniti’s ingenious variable compression ratio engine, which offers fuel efficiency savings of up to 25 per cent (it’ll filter down to Nissans and Renaults) and the ingenious folding seats on the new Land Rover Discovery (above), configured by your iPhone. 

The future, at Paris, was electric

Apart from the rush to SUVs, the big trend was to EVs. Volkswagen and Mercedes publicly redoubled their commitments to electric cars, joining German pacesetter BMW (and Nissan and Renault, the early pioneers).

The VW I.D. at the Paris motor show

There were electric sports cars, electric SUVs and EV baby cars galore including a longer-range version of the pretty Renault Zoe. Volkswagen’s stand was a shrine to electrification, one year on from Dieselgate. How VW's world has changed since then.

The French have long been at the forefront of electric cars, of course. Their new-found love affair with the SUV is wholly less predictable. But then again, so is Donald Trump’s popularity in America.

Click here to see our guide to all the new cars at the 2016 Paris motor show

By Gavin Green

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

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