Gavin Green's Geneva motor show 2011 report

Published: 01 March 2011

What was the theme of the Geneva Show? That’s like asking for a short plot summary of ‘War and Peace’. There was no single ‘theme’. Just a stream of eye-catching new cars, more than 100 of them, varying from meaty supercars to ‘think different’ electric runabouts, from delicious new pint-sized sports cars to compelling concepts, from production ‘range extenders’ to the world’s first production diesel-electric hybrid. There was even – part sublime, part ridiculous – an electric Rolls-Royce. After the new car desert of Detroit, the tap was now back on and gushing.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a motor show with more gripping new cars. After the privations of recent recession-sapping years, the motor industry was strutting again. Take supercars, a dirty word at recent car shows, where you could have any show car colour you wanted as long as it was green.

V12 supercars make a return

Both Ferrari and Lamborghini had all-new 12-cylinder production cars, never mind that the Lambo had eco-friendly lightweight carbon tech, or that the Ferrari had 4x4 and a rear end prioritized for luggage not lissomness. Meanwhile. Aston Martin was shaking up its parts bin again and delivered new iterations of the comely DB9/Vantage family. Jaguar, celebrating 50 years of the E-type, debuted the fastest and most powerful production sports car in its history (180mph-plus, 0-60 in a touch over four seconds), the XKR-S. There was a new Maserati, Pagani and Koenigsegg too, Fast cars were once again being celebrated. You could almost feel the collective sense of relief, as the fug of green posturing was lifted.

My supercar pick? The new Lambo Aventador, Stealth Fighter-for-the-street drama meets seriously clever carbon fibre monocoque tech meets 700bhp of sheer hedonistic V12 magic.

Alfa does a Lotus

But my favourite sports car, and my personal show star, was a two-seater cut from a different cloth. The Alfa 4C, as with the Aventador, showcases new-gen carbon tech. Unlike the monster Lambo, it is small, a featherweight (a promised 850 kg in production ready guise) and uses four little cylinders rather than 12 big ones. Alfa’s Elise has a carbon composite body, as well as a carbon and aluminium chassis, and uses the excellent and tuneful Giulietta-based 1750cc turbo motor, mounted behind the driver’s back. It’s gorgeous and achingly desirable, and refreshing proof that Fiat remains committed to its flawed but flamboyant Milanese brand.

Green Range Rover and Rolls – whatever next?

There were EVs and other eco-champs galore, of course, including some unlikely Green Gods – not least a plug-in hybrid Range Rover with promised 89g/km CO2 (a production hybrid Rangie comes in two years) and the EV Rolls, the EX102 Phantom. Rolls-Royce typically brings its EX experimental vehicles to market. This time Rolls’ suits were downplaying the production likelihood. While the refinement of an EV appeals to Rolls engineers, the lack of 12 cylinders may not appeal to customers. The EX102 now goes on a world tour to gauge customer and dealer response, probably before quietly disappearing.

Of the many prototype EVs on show, my favourite was the Tata Pixel. Tata is probably the world’s most innovative manufacturer of small cars – its Nano marries brilliant packaging, visibility and value. The Pixel is a Euro-focused electric coupe concept that rides on a Nano platform yet is even shorter – and still seats four in comfort. It looks teardrop funky. But its best party trick is its ability to turn on a sixpence, thanks to innovative front steering that pivots almost to 90 deg.

Characterful carryalls

For me, one of the most pleasing ‘themes’  – and there were so many – was the rise of the characterful utilitarian vehicle. I love cars that are unpretentious carry-alls yet have big personalities.

Two stood out: the Volkswagen Bulli, a mini Microbus concept that uses a Polo platform but has an astonishingly large carrying capacity. It’s versatile too – from double bed to single seat van – and looks stand-out impressive. Plus: Ford’s new B-Max, a Fiesta-based carryall that mates good style with rear sliding doors (thus achieving an industry first). Those rear doors give fabulous back seat access. If it steers anything like a Fiesta, it will also be a hoot to drive.

There was something for everyone at Geneva. Seriously, if you’ve got a spare day, jump on an Easyjet and have a great day out. The  motor show is right next to the airport.

It isn’t a show that clearly signposts the Next Big Thing. It’s not big on stand-out themes. There is too much happening, too many disparate cars, too much variety. Rather, it’s a motor show full of intriguing and often fabulous new cars, flowing from an industry in rude creative good health.

By Gavin Green

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