Shoemaker Does Paris
I arrived at the Paris Mondial de L’Automobile too late for the press days. Big mistake. My first attempt to gain entry to the second largest auto show in the world fell on a weekend. I could barely squeeze through the entry gates, let alone get up-close-and-personal with the more attractive models. So I retreated into the Metro, vowing a working week return. Monday morning proved a bit more relaxed, although by midday the crush returned. Luckily, there were a few machines worth the scrum.
I’ve been fascinated with the mid-engined Audi R8 since it first appeared as a concept two years ago. Seeing it in the flesh, I wonder for whom the schnell tolls– other than eccentrics like me. Although the German supercar’s pricing has yet to be released, it will probably live in the neighborhood of $100k; which is rarefied air for an Audi. Still, if Ingolstadt keeps production volumes low, the price tag would make some kind of sense. If not, well, Audi’s historical problems with cliff face depreciation make an “investment” in an R8 seem as dicey as real estate south of North Korea’s lower border.
This is perhaps the first Audi where the oversized grill is pleasing to the eye. (Or maybe I’m just getting used to the brand’s open mouth bass look.) The R8’s overall dimensions are quite compact; the vehicle’s height seems much lower than even the new TT. The basic proportions are spot on. But I still can’t get over the large plastic shroud behind the side windows. It may have something to do with an eventual cabriolet model– or the German automaker’s determination to match the Toyota FJ’s trendy blind spot. It’s the only exterior blemish in an otherwise svelte and sexy design.
The R8’s powerplant gleams through its Ferrari did it first glass hatch. After much conjecture, the German roadster ends-up with the new RS4’s 4.2 liter, 420 horsepower FSI V8. So quipped, the R8 promises zero to 60 sprints in the low 4’s. Industry wags continue to suggest that the R8 will eventually holster a V-10 borrowed from the [Audi owned] Lamborghini Gallardo. Perhaps not. The move would undercut the Gallardo’s price and exclusivity, and deny the R8 the V8 growl it needs to intimidate Porsche’s blown six.
Meanwhile, the R8’s interior looks far too pedestrian, too similar to the TT. The high seat bolsters make for an awkward entry. Still, I look forward to driving and possibly owning Audi’s first retail supercar.
The Peugeot 908 RC was the most striking and sinister sedan at the show, obviously influenced by the Maybach-based Exelero coupe. The French beast is powered by a 5.5-liter twelve cylinder diesel engine that generates 691 horspower and 885+ foot pounds of torque. The 908 promises astounding performance and something resembling reasonable fuel economy– adding a bit of environmental luster to the brand's RC sports models.
Obviously, French carmakers enjoyed premiere placement in the show venue. There is no question that they design cars with flair. If the French (and the Italians) can find a way to add the build quality that Toyota has introduced to the American market, the imports might even find some sales success stateside. The Citroen C-Metisse is a bad example. While I love the name and admire the front wheel-drive diesel-hybrid powertrain, I found the car's styling too similar to the Dodge Magnum wagon– whcih is not a good design benchmark for a foreign car.
Speaking of odd design, the VW Iroc concept, meant to be the precursor of a new Scirocco coupe, looked strikingly similar to the silly Skoda Joyster. Take one Joyster and bake in the oven for an hour and out comes the VW. The choice of electric green– an homage to the "viper green metallic" paint offered on the 1976 VW Scirocco– did not enhance its appearance one whit. The twin-charged four-cylinder powerplant is supposedly good for 210hp– about the limit of what you'd want through the front wheels.
Watch out for Alfa though. If the Brera, GT and Spider are any indication, this marque is going to be a lot more important in the world market. If their cars don’t break or rust, if their US dealers don’t treat customers like merde, the cars’ long-awaited return stateside might actually work. The Italian vehicles would certainly benefit from the fact that all the folks who are old enough to have first hand experience with Alfas are too old to remember how bad they were.
There was only one place I could find wide open spaces at the biennial Paris auto show: the General Motors pavilion. Seems that the French, like the Americans, have diminished interest in what was once the world’s most stylish and innovative automobile producer. Until GM can figure out how to Earl-up their designs and power their engines using pomme frites and mayonnaise, Renault, Peugeot and Citroen have little to worry about. Fortunately, I ran pretty well on the stuff, with help from some fine Bordeaux. Salut.
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I agree with Steve_S. Now, does that 500HP V12 turbodiesel from the Q7 fit in there? That would be interesting :)
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