Everyone loves the Geneva show. Although it’s grown steadily in scale over the years it remains manageable in size. All the manufacturers that count – not to forget a legion of coachbuilding and customising operations, some respectable and others wackily “out there” – are there in force, as well as industry movers and shakers such as Fiat heirs John and Lapo Elkann and the company’s chief executive Sergio Marchionne (the latter dressed as always in his trademark sweater). And if you’re fortunate enough to attend on the first of the two media days and you’re quick on your feet, you can catch the launch of new models one-after-the-other in a rolling timetable of press conferences that begins just after 8am and lasts until well into the afternoon.
Zero emissions and self-drive vehicles were predominant themes at this year’s event, and there was the usual complement of concept cars, which predictably ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Yet despite the green pretensions of most car makers, a lingering predilection for old-school power and speed – in other words, the internal combustion engine – was rarely far from the surface.
On the Mercedes-Benz stand, one of the biggest at the show, the C-Class line-up was completed with the announcement a Cabriolet variant. The new car, which should arrive in Asia just in time for autumn, is heavily based on the design of the Coupe but comes with a classic fabric top, as opposed to the folding metal roof of its BMW 4-series competitor. Although it’s not yet certain which engines will be available in Asia, the choice of petrol units at launch will stretch from a 1.6-litre four-cylinder with 154bhp to a twin-turbo, 3-litre V6 producing 362 horses in the AMG C 43, the latter also featuring 4-Matic all-wheel drive as well as Merc’s admirable nine-speed G-Tronic transmission. Eventually topping the convertible C-Class range will be a pair of AMG C 63s offering wind-in-the-hair fun plus absolutely shattering performance.
After fitting turbochargers to the vast majority of its 911s, Porsche sought forgiveness from the purists with the introduction at Geneva of the naturally aspirated 911R, a hard-core, lightweight, strictly-two-seat coupe that recalls the street racer of the same name launched way back in 1967. The new R features the 4-litre, 493bhp, six-cylinder boxer motor that’s used in the current 911 GT3 RS, but to delight the traditionalists the boffins at Porsche’s Weissach skunkworks have also developed a new six-speed manual gearbox, which is the sole transmission available on this model. It’s not all back to basics, however, as the chassis features rear-wheel steering as well as carbon-ceramic brakes. The 911R weighs in at 1.37 tonnes, which though not exactly feather-light is a good deal slimmer than a regular Carrera, while maximum speed is claimed to be 323km/h – a genuine 200 miles per hour.
If the star of the Geneva show were judged strictly on looks alone, then it would have to be the Aston Martin DB11, one of the sleekest, purest and most beautiful forms ever to be imagined by the company’s design team under head creative honcho Marek Reichman. This new DB develops the design language previewed in last year’s DB10, which was specially built for the Bond movie Spectre, but with several aerodynamic tweaks thrown in, including an active rear spoiler. It also features a new body structure and is powered by a totally re-engineered twin-turbo, 5.2-litre V10, whose 600bhp offers sub-four-second, 0-100km/h acceleration and a top whack in excess of 320. While the eight-speed automatic box does seem a trifle old-school against the multi-clutch arrangements of its rivals, dynamics have been significantly improved thanks to new steering and suspension, as has the interior, which now benefits from Daimler-sourced TFT screens and touchpads. It’s a thoroughly modern Aston – almost.
Scintillatingly fast though the Aston is, it’s a slowcoach compared with the Chiron, Bugatti’s insanely over-the-top new hypercar that makes its predecessor, the Veyron, look almost sensible. Priced at around €2.6 million in Europe – we’ll have two, please – and with an eight-litre, quad-turbo, 16-cylinder engine that produces the best part of 1,500bhp, it’s described by Bugatti as being the “world’s most powerful, fastest, most luxurious and most exclusive production super sports car”, and who are we to naysay them? Doubtless it’ll be the preferred wheels of oil sheikhs across the Middle East, who’ll clearly be immune to the speeding fines that a top speed of around 420km/h would otherwise be likely to attract.
At the other end of the scale, we absolutely loved the Abarth version of the new 124 Spider on display beside the main Fiat stand. A mildly breathed-upon version of the Italian car giant’s take on the fourth-generation Mazda MX5, with different sheet metal and a turbocharged 1.4-litre Multi-Air engine beneath the bonnet, it weighs a little over a tonne, offers 50:50 weight distribution and promises the purest motoring fun imaginable. Power approaches 170bhp, which should be enough to get the tail out on bends, and there’s the choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a sequential paddle-shift auto. Even juicier though was the 296bhp 124 Rally variant standing beside it, a car that had me – and everyone else who saw it – drooling like a kid in a sweetshop.