GENEVA – Like political satire and actual politics, it’s beginning to get harder to tell the difference between the outrageous concepts and low-volume exotic cars from tiny under-capitalized cottage automakers, and volume models from established automakers. It doesn’t help that every other vehicle at this show is a big, slab-sided ultra-luxury sport/utility coupe, an electric performance car, or a sharp-edged supercar. But Geneva is everyone’s favorite international auto show, and held on neutral territory, to boot. That means Hits, Misses, and Revelations is overflowing with an embarrassment of automotive riches. To wit:
Hit: McLaren 720S
Most exciting British sports car since the E-Type Jag.
— Robert Cumberford
As the first McLaren ever developed as a purpose-built successor to an existing model, there’s a lot riding on the 720S. Good on McLaren for fully overhauling arguably its most important supercar, with 90 percent new parts and a design that’s both stunningly futuristic and aware of its roots in the historic F1 road car. If driving dynamics live up to our expectations, McLaren will have Ferrari on its heels more than Enzo could ever have imagined.
Supercar makers typically load us up with spectacular specs, then try to wow with a design that kind of looks like a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, or a Le Mans racecar. This one’s specs include bespoke 710-horsepower 4.0-liter turbo V-8, and a 56-percent increase in downforce over the P1. The body essentially consists of two skins and it channels air between them for the most comprehensive aerodynamics on the street. Absorb all that, then feast your eyes on a mid-engine, cab-forward hypercar that resembles a modern McLaren-BMW F1 with an extended tail.
Lighter, faster, more slippery, more powerful — what’s not to love? The proof will be in the driving, naturally, but I’m definitely looking forward to some seat time in this latest take on the Super Series.
Revelation: McLaren’s upcoming three-seater is going to be outrageous.
I saw a preliminary rear-three-quarter sketch of the car, which is beginning production in 2019, and I’ve already ticked my calendar with an enormous red marker. McLaren is right to call this beast an F1 successor — it looks like a grounded spaceship. McLaren will build 106 units, with just over 30 for the U.S., where it won’t even be street-legal. Owners will be able to drive it under a Show or Display license and be limited to 2,500 miles per year on public roads. McLaren is saying it’ll cost about 1.9 million British pounds.
Miss: Ferrari 812 Superfast
Remember when front-engined Ferraris were gorgeous?
When you’re a brand like Ferrari, every single new debut needs to be mind-blowing. This one is decidedly underwhelming. It’s neither as beautiful as the F12 Berlinetta nor as intensely expressive as the F12tdf. With just a few years left until this model is replaced with a hybrid, the 812 should have been a more fully conceived and considered effort. I’m sure it’ll drive majestically and sound incredible, but part of being Ferrari is nailing every detail, and the 812 just doesn’t meet the bar for me.
Revelation: The V-12 isn’t dead, yet.
In a Q&A at the Ferrari stand, CEO Sergio Marchionne said the 812 Superfast won’t be the maker’s last naturally aspirated, non-electrified V-12, despite (then-) company execs who essentially said otherwise 10 years ago. “Some customers will always want a V-12,” Marchionne said.
Hit: Aston Martin Valkyrie
Smaller, faster, new and exciting, and totally useless, of course. But intriguing.
Revelation: Aston Martin is getting serious about performance.
Between the new AMR performance sub-brand, the upcoming Valkyrie hypercar, and a new architecture on the horizon, Aston’s prospects as a home for real performance and not just flamboyant luxury have never looked better. I approve.
Miss: David Brown Automotive Speedback GT
David Brown, no relation to David Brown, once-owner of Aston Martin as recognized in the ‘DB’ in Aston model names, makes artificial Aston Martins of yore. Strange? Yes. Why? DB-5-ish shape, 550-hp Jag V-8.
Hit: Mercedes-AMG Concept GT
Gets the side surfacing better than two generations of Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, though the “our grille is bigger than Maserati’s grille” grille almost looks a bit out of place. The “four-door coupe” sub-segment is, frankly, getting a bit long in the tooth, and it’s time for some talented young designer to give us something new in this segment.
The GT shape translates itself surprisingly well to four doors. Given AMG’s successes in tuning and developing its latest generation of unique sports cars, my hopes are high for this four-door’s dynamics and sporting ability, especially wrapped in the best AMG and Mercedes can deliver in terms of style, sophistication, and luxury.
Miss: Mercedes-AMG Concept GT
Looks like a Tesla Model S body with the nose of an AMG GT and the rear of a CLA250. There’s just no balance or harmony to this design, and it looks to create a niche where there will never be one. Swing and a miss, for sure.
Revelation: Bespoke engines are easy.
Essentially because of cheap computer capability, more specialty manufacturers are making their own engines: Fittipaldi, Koenigsegg, et al. There will be more with 3D printing.
Hit: Fittipaldi EF7 GT by Pininfarina
Emo’s dream car.
Hit: Volkswagen Arteon
This one needed to be good, and the Arteon is a worthy replacement for the CC. It’s elegant, tasteful, and probably the most desirable-looking Volkswagen in some time. The Arteon will be a handsome counterbalance for the vanilla Passat in the U.S. lineup.
Miss: Volkswagen Arteon
Trying too hard to be the poor man’s Mercedes CLS, and therefore shoots far past the elegant simplicity of the VW CC that it will replace.
Hit: Morgan EV3 electric
Captures looking old perfectly, and is perfectly charming and perfectly useless.
Revelation: It was legitimately hard to come up with misses.
Geneva was simply a sensational show this year with very few dark spots. Great design and innovation are very much alive in the automotive industry.
Hit: Range Rover Velar
Front end is amazingly aerodynamic, very round in plan view. New proportions and a nice cloth interior.
Miss: Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet
I thought Hummer was dead.
Hit: Jaguar I-Pace Concept (repainted red)
If you insist on making a sport sedan out of a truck, this is the way to do it. Excellent, truly Jaguar-like styling.
Hit: Alpine A110
What a little beauty. Gorgeous proportions, delicate French styling, a mid-engine layout, and a tantalizing power-to-weight ratio. This is one I’m devastated will never make it to the U.S.
Miss: Alpine A110
Derivative, unimaginative styling.
Hit: Alpine A110’s structure
A beautifully made alloy structure. Quite convincing.
Miss: Renault Trezor Concept
Just around the corner from the Alpine A110, this supercar concept looks like a sophomore’s effort from a design college competition. And I thought the “Speed Racer” nostalgia was so 2008.
Hit: Cameron Glickenhaus (in white)
This road version in white is really elegant and beautifully finished.
Miss: Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
Just leave the Eclipse name alone, Mitsubishi. This blatant reach into the past is kind of an insult to the enthusiasts who loved you when you still made fun cars.
Hit: Vanda Electrics Dendrobium
Most imaginative interpretation of Le Mans shapes in a roadster, so far.
Hit: Volvo XC60
Fantastic proportions, brilliant high-tech safety features, and Volvo’s smart and capable line of powertrains make me eager to get behind the wheel. Redesigning a brand’s most important vehicle is always a tough task, but it looks like Volvo has nailed it.
A couple of years ago, I called the Volvo XC90 “the future of SUVs.” Un-naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines, decent handling but not at the expense of ride, and rational, well-designed interiors and features. Now the future of SUVs is here for customers who don’t need a third-row seat.
Miss: Volvo XC60
Not really superior, just a nice car with corporate styling.
Revelation: Volvo will release an EV in 2019, most likely on its SPA platform.
In a closed-door interview, Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson confirmed that an EV is very much part of the plan and on schedule. By 2025 there will apparently be a firmly broad offering of full EVs to supplement the plug-in hybrids that continue to join the Volvo lineup each year. Sales of the just-revealed XC60 will surely fuel this continual electrification — U.S. CEO Lex Kerssemakers said that Volvo’s expansion has all been funded by its own cash flow, independent of parent company Geely.
Miss: Koenigsegg Regera
Vulgarity and retched excess beyond reasonable limits.
Hit: ItalDesign Airbus Concept
You want your flying car? We’ve got your flying car right here. And it’s the only way to fly. It’s a conventional automobile, owner-operated while on the ground, but once you want to go airborn and bypass the traffic jam, the huge, improbable drone takes over. Fewer mid-air collisions from amateur pilots texting each other. One of the silliest concept in a show full of silly concepts, and perhaps that’s what I like most about it.
Hit or Miss? Pagani
Perfectly made go-for-baroque GT cars finely detailed, superbly engineered. Hit or Miss? You decide. I can’t.
Hit: Sbarro Tracto-Sphere
Yeah, 95-percent of the appeal is in the name. It’s one of those modern bubblecars; a 1+1+1-seat glorified cycle. But the compartment in its nose stores three crash helmets. How cool is that? Okay, it’s not that cool. But Franco Sbarro’s pizza is not bad, for chain pizza.
Everything on the stand, especially the weird Tracto-Sphere tandems.
Miss: Peugeot Instinct
Who needs a grille bigger than a Lexus’ and a chopped-top station wagon body? Absolutely silly. It’s a pretty car, all the same.
Revelation: My instincts about Peugeot’s concept…
My first reaction to the Peugeot Instinct concept was “miss!” and I wasn’t sure why. When I saw the deep-draw side surfacing, I thought, “hit!” Then Robert gave me his opinion, and my opinion gelled. The concept’s profile would have worked with a rakish coupe roofline, but it fails with the upright hatchback/wagon D-pillar. Oh, and, by the way, like most of the concepts here, the Instinct is designed as some sort of electric, or electrified vehicle. I couldn’t say for sure, because I didn’t get a translation device, and unlike Robert, I don’t understand French.
Miss: Koenigsegg Segura
Big, clumsy and unconvincing on any basis.
Hit: Bentley EXP 12 Speed 6e
Style, style, style. This is a gorgeous object, let alone gorgeous for a car. Electric power may not work for the client base, but the exterior design works for anyone with a pulse. The copper accents, the diamond-tufted wood, the oxblood leather, the sculpted forms. Bentley needs to build this, or, perhaps more precisely, I need Bentley to build this.
Sleek lines, and even better than the coupe.
Miss: Bentley Supersport
It’s painted red and black, like a Vignale Ferrari from 50 years ago. Really?
Miss: The Bentley Stand
Last year, the Rolls-Royce Black Badge models on the Geneva stand singed my eyes with their Trump Tower take on “class.” This year, the Rolls stand shows restraint. Bentley has picked up the gauche mantel and run with a purple-and-gray Bentayga that towers over the display.
Revelation: Size doesn’t matter.
Bentley’s concepts have been gorgeous lately, and they don’t have to be enormous, either. The most surprising thing about the sensual EXP12 6e is its small footprint. It’s like a Mini Superleggera got overhauled in the world’s fanciest tannery. The little roadster is simple and refreshingly clean on the outside, while perfectly representing the illustrious ultra-luxury of a Bentley concept car with its leather, wood, and knurled metal everything.
Hit: Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo
There’s no better way to welcome the newly attractive Panamera into the world than with a stately, mega-fast wagon. I’ve never wanted to own a Panamera this badly.
The Panamera wagon (or “Panagon,” as I’ve been calling it) Porsche should have built the first time around is as gorgeous, practical, and assuredly ballistic as we’d always hoped.
Hit: Audi RS5 Coupe
It’s a hit in terms of its elegant simplicity of forms, and clear marque identity.
Miss: Audi RS 5 Coupe
It’s sure to be a blast to drive with all that horsepower, but the look of the new A5, as well as its S and RS counterparts, still hasn’t grown on me. It bears all the hallmarks of committee design, with none of the raw sex and flow of its de Silva- penned predecessor. Less than gorgeous looks might not a dealbreaker for some cars, but for a luxury performance coupe, style is not optional.
Hit: Honda Civic Type R
Given the excellent platform the Type R has to build on this time around, Honda’s hottest Civic promises an excellent smiles-to-dollar ratio.
The wait was long, but it was worth the anticipation. Visually the design is as wild and crazy as a proper Type R should be, and its performance promises to seriously shake up the hot hatch space in the U.S. Even more compelling is how Honda is positioning the Type R — it’ll be sold fully loaded for about $36,000, which is several thousand bucks less than the VW Golf R, Subaru STI, and Ford Focus RS.
Miss: Pininfarina Hybrid Kinetic Group H600
Probably designed for China. “Make us a Maserati-Tesla that’s like a Buick.”
Miss: Rimac Concept_One
An all-electric supercar is a nice idea, but it ought to look special, not generic. Lamborghini-inspired boring shape.
Revelation: Three-pedal manuals still have legs, but they’re weak in the knees.
Purists rejoiced at the return of a three-pedal manual gearbox in the new Porsche GT3, but it’s a shallow victory. At the Marchionne Q&A, a young fanboy who said he’s passionate about the brand and races the cars sometimes, said he wants to buy his own Ferrari within five years. “But I want to buy a manual. What are the possibilities?” Marchionne replied: “We will sell you a car from our classical side.”