Paris motor show 2012 review by Gavin Green

Published: 28 September 2012

That glorious British summer – of gold medals and diamond jubilees and Paralympic glory, of Wiggo and Mo and Hoy’s joy – is not over. It has moved to Paris where instead of meaty athletes and brave Paralympians, we find a new Range Rover and - finally! - an F-type Jaguar to steal the French and German car industries' glory. Did you know that little JLR is now the fastest growing car maker in Europe? Heavens above, there was even a new derivative of the Mini to get the union flags fluttering faster.

The Range Rover, E-type and original Mini are, of course, probably the three greatest British cars of all time, so new versions were bound to get the Canons clicking. The only disappointment was that the Jaguar and Range Rover were unveiled on a far flung stand, a lengthy walk from the show's hub (populated by the French and German cars, of course), and a surly reminder that Britain is not at the heart of Europe. Opposite them, to drum in their reclusion, were too tiny French electric car makers and a company called Virus selling model cars.

New Range Rover and Jaguar F-type

The Range Rover was regal and grand, a clever evolution of three successful generations of noble vehicle. It looks much sleeker of line and sharper of cut than the outgoing model, unbelievably now a decade old. The big news was the composition of the metal, rather than the look of it. It is made of aluminium, the first SUV so crafted, and the weight saving is up to 400kg. Thus a new V6 diesel version is now as sprightly as the outgoing V8 diesel, and notably more fuel abstemious, of course.

The F-type has the mission impossible job of replacing the E, very probably the greatest looking sports car ever. Even Enzo Ferrari said so. Sensibly designer Ian Callum has avoided any retro touches – not even the long phallic bonnet or the dainty oval grille – and has come up with a shape that's as new as it is clean. Of all the new cars at Paris, this is the one I most wanted to get in and drive off the show stand, so that must be a good sign.

McLaren P1 is successor to brilliant F1

Or perhaps, if I wanted to go even faster, I would have chosen the new McLaren P1, another British Paris star, similarly cold-shouldered to a far flung stand (just opposite JLR, as it turned out). The P1 replaces the F1 as McLaren’s ultimate car, and you can’t get much better pedigree than that. While the existing 12C, marvellous drive though it is, is perhaps a touch undramatic of style, the P1 has all the visual drama of a Lewis Hamilton overtaking manoeuvre. I love its lowness and smallness. I bet it’s a brilliant drive, too.

Few technical details were forthcoming, but with all those inlets and intakes there’s a lot of horsepower being cooled. The talk is of peerless aerodynamics and of GT sports racing performance. Given McLaren’s track record, that’s quite easy to believe.

The only bad portent was the stand location. Lotus had exactly the same site two years ago, for its nonsensically over-the-top unveiling of a decade’s worth of ‘new’ cars, none of which (predictably) are now likely to happen. I had the gravest suspicions about that absurdly swaggering show, complete with strutting celebs and big-name ‘advisers’. McLaren, fortunately, just had serious people like Ron Dennis and MD Antony Sheriff on hand. You truly believe that this is a British sports car company that can deliver.

The Paceman: Mini multiplies, again

Our other British star – never mind that it’s engineered in Germany (like all Minis), built in Austria (like its near twin, the Countryman) and was promoted on stand by young Germans desperately trying to look British ­– was the Paceman, the seventh member of the BMW Mini family. This iteration is essentially a coupe version of the ungainly looking Countryman – think of it as a sort of Mini Evoque. It all seems a bit contrived. The more Mini manifestations emerge, the more I only like the normal hatch.

BMW and Audi show best concepts

The best design concept? Probably BMW’s Active Tourer, which previews its new front-drive architecture and a really convincing production-ready mix of sportiness and functionality. Technically, Audi’s Crosslane Coupe concept (it’s the new Q2) was deeply impressive, a lightweight aluminium and carbon spaceframe chassis meets plug-in hybrid powertrain (super efficient three-cylinder engine plus two electric motors).

The French, not always the most upbeat of people, had a whole host of economic reasons to consider their champagne glasses half empty, and still draining. The papers were full of doom and gloom. Renault’s pretty new Alfa-esque ooh-la-la Clio should have improved the national mood, never mind that rear seat space has been sacrificed; while the new Peugeot 208GTI looked the part, although we’ll have to see whether it can deliver.

Meanwhile the British heroes, consigned to their faraway stand – out of sight, perhaps, but certainly not out of mind – were brimming with confidence. All we needed was Mo and his Mobot to complete the national rejoicing.

By Gavin Green

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