By on March 3, 2010
This is the news from the Lake Wobegon car show, where all the vehicles look beautiful, all the engines are low-emission, and all automotive managers are above average. No wait, this is Geneva, probably the world’s most important car show. The rest of the opening sentence is true, though — at least, that’s what public relations would have you believe.

Let’s start, for no particular reason, with Porsche. Here’s something akin to a Porsche joke. The majority opinion among journos is that the new Cayenne has a “Korean-car’s butt”, in other words a generic, nondescript appearance. Ask a Porsche guy about it and in the unlikely case he’ll answer your question (I posed it in the most polite terms possible, so he did), he’ll say they redesigned the rear end to appeal more to Chinese tastes. This, from an Austrian-sounding fellow… What else is there to say about the new Cayenne? Well, it weighs less than before, and has a grand total of 52 buttons on the dashboard, which at least proves that Porsche isn’t listening to Jack Baruth.

I’d like to say something about the new VW Touareg, and if ed(itor) Ed forced me to, I’m sure I could (but he didn’t, so I won’t). The thing is, the Touareg is not so much a car as it is a cash cow for VW; if TTAC was about car industry finance, there’d be a lot more to report. In other news from Geneva, VW is forcing its staff to wear Rupert Pupkin suits, which they do like champs. And VW is showing the Polo Cross. Don’t laugh: you’d be cross too if they forced you to wear stilts.

Everybody in Geneva’s swarming around the Audi A1. I wanted to scream: settle down everybody, it’s just a Polo in drag! It brings to mind a recent mini-scandal whereas it was uncovered that BMW briefs its dealers to say: “Vorsprung Durch Technik is dead — there has been no technical innovation at Audi since 1997”. On the other hand, I like the clambshell styling of the A1, since it reminds me of NSU’s of a time long gone.

Skoda is another successful brand within the VW empire; it used to be about excellent value for money. So I was surprised to see the Fabia Combi RS. It’s a superhot very small station wagon. So, station wagons have come full circle? A long time ago, they were utilitarian but rough vehicles that made children and dogs vomit. For a while, they were family-friendly; apparently it’s back to making life uncomfortable for passengers again.

Speaking of family-friendly, I was prepared to diss the Opel Meriva: who really needs suicide doors? (Except for a suicidal, of course). But then I got into the Meriva on display and thought of some old people I know. My verdict: it really does make a difference. Opel claim is easier entry and egress, but here is another additional advantage I can think of: the front-hinged door probably makes it a lot easier to install a child seat. One more definite plus: minimization of potential harm to a bicyclist. I know several bikers who were hospitalized after hitting a suddenly-opening car door. Make the door open the other way, and the biker just hits the flat steel surface.

So kudos to Opel, and good luck. (See, we can write nice things about GM!)

What is wrong with Mazda? The new 5 looks like a Ssannggyyonng, for crying out loud. Just compare the rear of the 5 to that of the Rodius and you’ll see what I mean. The 5’s front is all zoom-zoom smiley while the sides try hard (with little success) to integrate the swoopy-creasy stuff we’ve seen on many a recent Mazda concept car. Next!

The Mitsubishi ASX, as a smartly-styled CUV based on the Lancer, could be a pointless exercise but at the planned low price point of 18.000 Euros, it looks like very good value for money.

Admittedly, it will be undercut by the Dacia Duster (cue to Plymouth fans: start to weep). The Duster is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it is the first Dacia that does not have an utterly depressing interior. Secondly, it offers a new take on the CUV biz. The CUV formula is usually simple: take a car, put it on stilts and add 4WD, = charge a steep price premium. Dacia does that too — but the price is still super-low! (Net, in Europe, probably less than 14k Euros). Does it make any sense at all? Strangely, it does: the Duster looks OK from a few yards away, all Dacia’s drive well under speeds of around 80 mph, and off-roaders are not about having the most modern high-tech anyhow.

Dacia belongs to the Renault Group, which you wouldn’t guess if you saw the Renault Gordinis here in Geneva. I like old European sporting brands such as Abarth, Gordini and AMG — who doesn’t? The first two are presently being awaken from a long slumber, and make special driver’s cars that are more aggressive, have more bite and rasp, than other hot hatches. Do they fit into the present day, where every family car has sporting pretensions? I think so.

Another new Renault is the Wind, a small, two-seater droptop. Jeremy Clarkson will probably say it’s a bit Ginger Beer but since four-seater cabrios are torture to the rear passengers, and the Wind has an ingenious, simple roof construction, I give it a thumbs-up.

Back to CUVs.The Mini Countryman is another roomy, surprisingly useful new car. I made myself comfortable in the front, then got out and sat in the back, and could swing one leg over another — that’s how spacious it is. Headroom is excellent too. It even looks good (if you like the way Minis look). From a pure packaging point of view, the Un-mini comes close to the brilliance of the (forgotten with justification) Austin Maxi. I’d probably feel silly driving a Minimax, but then, I’m not a soccer mom. I’d probably feel silly paying the hefty premium a Mini commands — but I’m cheap.
Immediately after sitting in the Countryman, I hit my head when I tried to board an Alfa Romeo Giulia. Holy cow, what a triumph of style over just about everything else. It looks very impressive on the inside (if slightly anodyne from the outside), but I had to crook my neck to sit in any of the four seats. Giulias of yore were angular, looked contemporary even after being built for a dozen years, and were both functional and sexy. One might ask, does big man Sergio Marchionne ever find the time to sit in one of his new cars?
Indeed, I could have asked him that, because soon after he arrived at the Fiat booth to give a bear hug to John Elkann. Both Sergio and the Fiat heir presented Fiat’s new two-cylinder, turbocharged, camless engine. Multi-air is a real advancement and I personally cherish two-cylinder cars. But beware of a company that develops revolutionary technology but can’t install reliable cam belts.
No, it’s not the photographer’s fault: the Nissan Juke looks like an insect. It gets even worse (really?) when you see the rear three-quarter view: there is this bulge, and there is this giant gap between the wheel and the fender. They say SUV drivers unconsciously dislike beauty; if this car is a success then I will agree with them.
The new Infiniti M also has bulges, but looks elegant. A spokesguy told me the headlights were inspired by “kabuki eyes” and that the general shape was “kinda futurist-hippie”, but then bit on his tongue and said management would rip his head off if I quoted him. Euros will get Diesel engines, everybody worldwide will enjoy the hybrid versions, and hopefully the M will drive as good as other Infinitis.
The Volvo S60 may not be as good a drive as the Infiniti M, but it is sure a fantastic looker. I had a chat with its designer Oerjan Sterner, who explained that the new car lost its P1800-inspired shoulders to make it appear lower. His brief was to make it the sportiest Volvo of all. But isn’t everybody doing sporty nowadays? Well, the S60 in addition incorporates Volvo brand values — safety and greenness, as it were (and indeed, it has a fantastic electronic system to prevent all collisions with pedestrians at speeds below 25 km/h). So, Volvo means sportiness, safety and greenness. Just like everbody else! But to their credit, one could say that Volvo is above average.
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13 Comments on “Geneva Part Two: The Cars of Lake Wobegon...”

  • avatar

    Any thoughts on the Alfa Romeo 2uettottanta??

    I believe it’s the best looking car in the show.

  • avatar

    The vehicles at the Geneva show, like any car show, range from excellent to excrement. Mr. Schwoerer’s pictures are consistently superb. Kudos to Martin & Ed for allowing us to be there.

  • avatar

    Nice write-up, and very nice photos. Geneva is interesting to see what is going to be taking Europe by storm, but I can’t even begin to figure how it is in any way close to being the world most important car show, or for that matter, even in the top three.

    Considering how most of the brands and cars shown will never be sold in the US (which despite the past year’s anomaly with China, is still the worlds most important, if not strictly the largest, car market), or, for the sake of argument, sold in China either, the show is really only important to Europeans and those living in countries that import a lot of euro-market cars. NAIAS, Tokyo, Las Angeles, New York, and possibly even Frankfurt rank up higher on the ‘important auto show’ list, at least IMHO.

    The Renault Wind was one of the most interesting vehicles on exhibition to me. If it has a solid roofline and a back seat it would look very similar to an updated Honda CRX, and is really what Honda should have gone for with it’s somewhat mis-styled CR-Z concept.

    • 0 avatar
      Tricky Dicky

      It’s a matter of opinion, but I would say that Europe has the strongest level of competition in the world (criteria of diversity, number of manufacturers, maturity of market, size of OEMs, variation in driving environments), which creates the environment where cars have to be good to survive.

      As Europe seems to be the most progressive region in terms of regulating vehicular emissions, Europe also seems to be making really solid powertrain advances. I’m not dismissing the efforts and achievements in other regions whilst saying this. It’s just an observation.

      And thirdly, European tastes in terms of design and branding seem to be growing in acceptance around the world. Many people look to Europe as a sophisticated place and they aspire to the brands that Europeans enjoy. I mean, slap an Italian sounding name on the coffee and it must be good quality right? No one gives their coffee Turkish names do they (and the quality there is just great). I mean, most Americans just have to hear someone speaking in a British accent and they stereo-typically think that person is both intelligent and stuck up, probably neither of which are true ;-)

      And lastly, Geneva is kind of a neutral place to show in. Germany meets France meets Italy. If you go to Frankfurt, you really feel like you are in BMW/ Daimler/ VW dominion. You can’t move for Frankfurters and greasy food. In Geneva you have the neutrality of Save the Children and UNHCR and that pretty fountain with the Jura mountains on one side and the Alps on the other. It feels so much more upmarket.

  • avatar

    Martin, are you going to do set on the F800?

  • avatar

    Fantastic, another Lake Wobegon Connoisseur! And your tweak on the punch line is great! I can’t wait to read the whole article to see which car is referred to as The Norwegian Bachelor Farmer of the Show! Surely, the over-the-top weird Alfa must have been styled after some “conspicuous consumption” at the Chatterbox Café!

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    I got back from Geneva last night. Woke up after four hours because my subconscious told me I am an idiot who cannot tell one Fiat heir from another.

    Here’s a correction: John Elkann, who is on the photos, has a clean vest. It was his brother Lapo who has had problems with the authorities in Italy. My apologies to the Elkann/Agnelli family.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    Whoa, the Fabia RS is certainly vera handsome. But, like the Ibiza FR and the Polo GTI (same drivetrain) it seems to be DSG only. In a segment dominated by manuals.
    Horrible idea.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Just my guess: the Meriva’s suicide doors were lighter/cheaper than putting in sliders.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    The editor has deleted my Elkann mistake, thanks Ed.

    Jems86: I missed the Alfa. Damn! Thanks for telling; it looks swell.

    TrickyDicky: I agree! As I do with Mirko (as usual).

    Gimmeamanual: I wrote a few words about the F800 in the first article.

    tsofting, rodehardputupwet, NulloModo: you are too kind!

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    You can delete my correction too.

  • avatar

    Hi All,

    I found Geneva to be a parade of Co2 numbers on doors, Green paint and some very nice looking bodywork.

    My slideshow of the Press Day 2 Geneva 2010.


  • avatar

    Top pic.. girl needs to eat a cheeseburger.

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