The Geneva Motor Show 2017 – The best and worst cars of the show

The covers have been whipped off and the car company executives returned home… here are the best and worst of the 2017 Geneva Motor Show.

WANDERING THE HALLS at the Geneva Motor Show, I lost count of the carbon-fibre rocket-sleds. Literally dozens of them, their power outputs of 370kW-plus – often double and sometimes triple that. Their makers banged on endlessly about how fast they’d go around the Nurburgring track.

Seldom have I felt more out of place on ‘press day’, the day of the show reserved for the media to get their early stories. Droves of my fellow car journalists got all frothy-mouthed by a proposed annual challenge to see which of these road-going cars was fastest on the track.

But if you ask me, that’s a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time. Such a contest wouldn’t be won by the cleverest engineering team, but by the team allowing themselves the loosest definition of ‘road-going’. My spoilers are bigger than yours, my tyres wider, my ground clearance lesser, my cabin more punishing.

The best and worst of the 2017 Geneva Motor Show

The supercars I’m salivating about are the ones that are actually designed with road driving in mind. In exchange for revving the Porsche 911 GT3’s naturally aspirated flat-six to its 9000rpm red-line, I’d agree to eat nothing but gruel for an extended period. And I predict the knee-wobblingly beautiful McLaren 720S will be sublime on the best of Europe’s mountain roads.

All these supercars certainly do set the internet alight too. But such petrol-headed catnip is of vanishingly small relevance to anyone who’s interested in what cars we’re actually going to see out there in three dimensions.

So, onto some actual star cars. And to bolt ourselves yet more solidly onto the Real Life Highway, I’m going to restrict myself to actual production machines, not concepts.

Practical Motoring‘s editor asked me to stick to five winners and five losers. I might manage it, but there might be some small diversions too. Like, I already mentioned my two favourite supercars, while pretending I wasn’t mentioning them at all.

Right then: real cars for real people…

The Volvo XC60 has most of the benefits of last year’s XC90: gorgeous interior, sensible powertrains, a noble commitment to safety. But it’s usefully more compact for an urban setting, and sharper-looking in a host of subtle ways.

More of an SUV than a crossover, the Range Rover Velar also wooed the crowds. It really is a staggering effort of visual desirability. It’s lovely inside too, and all those high-definition displays and touchable, swipable, context-dependent graphics look blinding on a show stand. You’ve just got to take it on trust they’ll work out in the hostility of actual life, with your hands grubby and the external temperatures hitting the extremes, and a spotty mobile data connection.

It was a good show for hot hatchbacks. In all honesty, driving them will usually paint you a bigger smile than a supercar. Because there are times you can floor a hot-hatch, but you’re always holding back in a supercar.

Believe it or not, Toyota showed a hot Yaris, the GRMN. Yes a hot Yaris. Stumbling into it was like finding the town librarian runs a mafia racket. It uses a 1.8-litre engine supercharged by Lotus, with a limited-slip diff and a tail spoiler you could use for a camp bed. Yes, Geneva also gave debuts to a new Civic Type R, and a new Fiesta ST, but I happen to like supercharged engines over turbos. Still, I’m willing to be proved wrong once I’ve driven them. The old Civic Type-R and Fiesta ST were works of genius: their replacements might take things to a higher level, or might burst the bubbles.

The best and worst of the 2017 Geneva Motor Show

Sitting pretty between the hot hatches and the supercars is the Alpine A110. Alpine is a division of Renault. It’s an old name, revived. Sadly it’ll be some time before Renault dealers here get sight of the new one. Perhaps never

The best and worst of the 2017 Geneva Motor Show

But I know I love it. The design is a sweet riff on the shape of the 1960s predecessor of the same name. But instead of being made from fibreglass that smells of fibreglass, it’s made of high-tech aluminium, giving an altogether more professional finish. It’s a mid-engined two-seater for approximately Porsche 718 prices. but it’s lighter, and the maker claims more agile to drive. The engine is a new Renault-Nissan turbo four. But the 718 is such a gorgeous machine to drive, Alpine has set itself a punishingly elevated bar. I wish it all the luck.

OK, to the flops.

An easy target I know, but let’s give the Mercedes Maybach G650 Landaulet the kicking it deserves. At approx a million dollars, someone’s having a laugh. And it’s not the customer. Colossally overpowered by an AMG turbo V12, this behemoth of a 4×4 has portal axles and diff locks and the undoubted ability to get further into the bush than almost anything that doesn’t have legs. But it also has butter-soft leather reclining rear seats lifted out of a limo-spec S-class. And a canvas roof, ensuring the lux trim will soon be indelibly smirched in mud and dust and bird crap.

Seems every tuning operation is having a go at the G-class as the old stager lurches towards its dying day. It’s always been a good and honest vehicle in its simplest form: add more trim and more power and it crumples under the weight of expectation.

The Aston Martin Rapide, like the G-wagen, was given a vulgar tart’n’tune job by the factory. Aston has started a new sub-brand called AMR, so the four-door got a big fluorescent stripe, a louder engine and carbon-fibre seats. The precise opposite of what it needed. It’s a sure sign this car is reaching the end of its useful life. As dignified as the run-out edition of a Kia hatch being given a louder stereo and a sunroof.

Suzuki’s Ignis is fun to drive and to behold. I’m sure the new Swift, launched at Geneva, will be equally good to use. But, erm, why so much uglier than the old one?

DS hasn’t sold enough cars yet, anywhere in the world. It needed a crossover and now it has one, called the DS 7. I’ve loved weird French stuff since I learned to drive on a Citroen CX. The DS 7 has a hilariously spangly interior design that’ll either keep on showing you new delights for years to come, or quickly drive you barmy. I expect the former. It has technical smarts too, including a camera scanning the road ahead for bumps, to set-up the adaptive suspension when the bumps hit. But the exterior styling is much less interesting. I don’t think it’ll manage to do the one thing it must: get noticed in a crowded market.

I wish the new Holden Commodore luck too. But why would GM in Oz throw its marketing weight behind a car when it’s now being made in a plant owned by a rival? The sale of Opel to PSA was the talk of the Geneva show – at least for people who could raise their thoughts beyond Nurburgring lap times.

GM’s departure from Europe smacks of defeatism. Nothing wrong with the cars. At the show Opel took the sheet off the wagon version of the Commodore, known in its birthland as the Opel Insignia Sports Tourer. It’s a proper looker and a super-useful size. A suave alternative to a crossover. But through no fault of its designers, a born loser.

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Allan Begg
Allan Begg
6 years ago

I’m waiting for an electric / hybrid Subaru

Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.