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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

2014 Geneva Motor Show Roundup Part 1

Giugiaro Clipper Concept doing its thang
The famous Italian design house is owned by VW these days (they did the original Golf, don't you know). This is a 6-seat EV
It's that time again, folks! The most interesting and important motor show of the year has kicked off in Geneva, Switzerland. As this is neutral ground, it's a chance for every car company (primarily European ones and the EU branches of those further afield) to have an equally-sized presence with concepts and production previews - or even finished cars - that will give you an idea of what to expect from them this year, in the years to come, or never. Let's take a look at some of the more interesting and/or important ones, in no particular order.





Volvo Concept Estate
Oh yes, this gorgeous car really exists, in all its brown glory. It isn't a fantastical rendering or anything like that. It's a tribute to the old 1800ES, a shooting brake version of their, erm, "saintly" P1800 sports coupé of the 1960s, but the Concept Estate (itself a shooting brake version of the Concept Coupé from last year) also previews what the next Volvo V70 will look like. It's safe to say that in the transformation from Jalopnik Orgasm Generator to production estate car it will gain a longer wheelbase, two more doors and a less glassy boot floor. Likely to stay will be the Tesla Model S-style giant touchscreen and the styling, which is clean, modern and lovely. It's a nice reminder that cars can still look new and stylish without having a hundred surfaces and creases all over them, a look which you might spot a few times as you scroll down. As the "Concept XC Coupé" that previews the next XC90 in similar fashion also shows, this is Volvo's new look for all their forseeable cars in the future... until it gets old-hat and they change things up again. Hopefully that will take a while.

I just wish they could build this exact bodystyle and sell more than twelve of them. Pending how it drives, a shooting brake like this is borderline perfect. Performance with practicality!

Unlike......



Koenigsegg One:1
Let's stick with cool Swedish cars for a mo, because while Volvo is doing brown shooting brakes, the real madness in Sweden comes from the mighty Koenigsegg, builder of the most badass hypercars... In The World. Their latest effort is also their strongest. Based on the Agera R, the One:1 is so-named because it has a power-to-weight ratio of 1:1. That's one metric horsepower (PS) per kilogram, or to put it another way, 1000PS/tonne. Let me just put that into perspective for you with the power/weight ratios of some other current hypercars:

Porsche 918 Spyder: 530PS/tonne (541PS/tonne with Weissach Package (-35kg))
McLaren P1: 656PS/tonne
LaFerrari: approx. 767PS/tonne (no official weight figure, apparently 1255kg dry)
Bugatti Veyron Super Sport: 653PS/tonne
Pagani Huayra: 555PS/tonne

The only thing that comes close is the Hennessey Venom GT, and that's not technically a production car (it's registered as a Lotus Exige - which it's based on - for legal reasons). Otherwise you're looking at the Ariel Atom V8 at 909bhp/tonne or the insane Caparo T1 from a few years ago, which actually had an unparallelled 1223bhp/tonne but was completely undriveable on the road because it only had any usable grip when the F1-esque body was generating downforce, which meant going faster than you realistically can on a B-road. The Koenigsegg is at least a reasonable shape and meant as an extreme road car, rather than an "F1 car for the road."

So while everyone's going crazy over the 918/P1/TheFerrari three-way battle for ultimate performance, Koenigsegg has, as usual, quietly blown them all away, with their latest evolution of what was originally the 1996 Competition Coupé (CC). The main body shape may not have changed much in 18 years, but everything else is vastly different. The 5.0 twin-turbo V8 that's evolved in that time from a 4.7 Ford unit to essentially their own engine design (since the 2006 CCX that spat The Stig off his back garden) is now throwing a staggering 1360PS (1341bhp) at the rear wheels only, via a 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox. To keep it from taking off, it has active aerodynamics - as is the fashion these days - which help it generate 610kg of downforce at 160mph, ten more than the McLaren P1 and about the same as an FIA GT3 racing car. However, beyond that it becomes about balancing stability with low drag as the One:1 starts looking towards a top speed that could well be as high as 280mph, eclipsing the Venom GT that recently went 270mph down a runway (not an official record, but yes, faster than a Veyron SS... just). No official figures exist, but Koenigsegg says that the One:1 can go from 0-250mph in around 20 seconds. Ho. Lee. Shit.

Finally, there's active noise cancellation, and interestingly, the new titanium exhaust and improved turbocharger housing will be 3D-printed. Only six cars will ever be made and they're all sold. I need it to be in Gran Turismo 7...

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Door trim panels do not line up with the ones next to them. 2/10 WOULD NOT BANG
Mazda Hazumi Concept
One car I can almost guarantee will be in Gran Turismo 7 is this, the Mazda Hazumi Concept ("Hazumi" is Japanese for "to bound" or "to spring up"). Well, it'll either be this or a third-generation Mazda 2 that will look a lot like this. With its pen-stroke creases, short overhangs and a face like a baby Pokémon, it's a handsome little thing for sure, and as the production version will almost definitely be based on the next-gen Ford Fiesta it will be fun to drive as well, while being cheap and reliable. What more can you ask for? That interior? Maybe that's going a bit far, but the cabin has been pushed as far back as possible to try to balance the nose-heavy weight distribution inherent in all front-wheel-drive cars. I don't know when the next Mazda 2 will be upon us, but probably within the next 12-18 months if they're doing a preview concept for it. Look forward to it. If Mazda's new 3 and 6 are anything to go by, it's going to be very good.

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Toyota Aygo / Peugeot 108 / Citroën C1
Also very good, back in 2005, were the Toyota Aygo and its Peugeot-Citroën siblings, the 107 and C1. In the Aygo we had a small, cheap car that was cleverly-designed, good to drive, tough enough for car football and trendy to boot. In the other two, we had marginally cheaper alternatives with different faces and tails to the Toyota. Bumpers and lights are cheap and easy to shape differently, see, so you can have three different models that are identical from the front axle to the rear, but have their own identity at each end. They ruled the A-segment for a few years (the Aygo even tied with the Bugatti Veyron for 2005 TopGear Magazine COTY), but now the mighty VW Group has taken over with the Volkswagen Up-Exclamation-Mark, SEAT Mii and Škoda Citigo. All three names are lame, but the cars offer German quality and engineering for a low, low price. How will the Japa-French coalition respond? See above. The orange one is the Toyota, the red-on-white one is the Citroën and the other one is the Peugeot.

All aesthetics are subjective, of course, but if I'm choosing between these three I'm going for the Peugeot straight away. The C1's headlights are just too weird, like they did the skinny Picasso-style horizontal ones first and then someone just stumbled in drunk and slapped two massive circles over the top. Which ones are even the main ones? They clash. It's ugly. As for the Toyota, just like last time they've gone slightly further with the whole "unique identity" thing than the Frenchies, but this time that has meant attacking the whole thing with black tape to hide the identical windows and give it an "X" motif at the front. To me the rear angle in the third picture looks like it could be a Fiat, the side looks messy and the front looks like, again, a scrappy little Pokémon. I'm not liking the X motif...

This trio of cars will be powered by 1.0-litre 3-cylinder engines, just like every other A-segment car these days. It'll produce 68bhp, 70lb/ft of torque and less than 100g/km of CO2. In the Peugeot you can also have a 1.2-litre, 82bhp triple if you prefer, which I think I would. The cars will also weigh just 840kg, which is lighter than a brand new Lotus Elise, so 82bhp is actually very appealing. Also appealing to some is the option on the French cars of an "open top" version with a sardine-tin sliding fabric number akin to a Fiat 500C, Citroën DS3 Cabrio or a 2CV Dolly. Expect prices to start under £10,000 (unless you're American, in which case you'll never see these ever) and end above £10,000. The Peugeot will be on sale in the UK in July.

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Renault Twingo Mk.3
My third and final sensible small hatchback to report on is this, the new Renault Twingo. If you're suddenly trying to choose between this and the above trio of cars, and you enjoy driving, then let me settle this immediately with the Twingo's USP: The engine, gearbox and differential are all... in the back. Why the hell doesn't the Fiat 500 do this?! Under the boot floor you will find either a 1.0 naturally aspirated 3-cylinder engine like the above trio, making 70bhp and 67lb/ft, or a 0.9 turbocharged unit making 90 horsepower and 100lb/ft of twist. The five-speed manual gearbox then sends power to the rear wheels.

The key reason for this is that this car is jointly-developed with Smart, who surprisingly still exist. Seeing as Smart have always put the engine in the back (apart from the misguided ForFour they did with Mitsubishi), Renault have had to do the same with the Twingo, which shares its underpinnings with the upcoming Smart ForTwo. Weirdly though, the Renault seats four, and does so better than it did previously. The wheelbase is 13cm longer than before, giving rear passengers more knee room than in any other A-segment car (the smallest segment, in case you hadn't guessed by now). You also get 219 litres of storage space at the back and 52 litres of extra hiding places for iPads from "other storage solutions" that presumably include a small boot in the front, where lesser humans than your good self would expect to find the Twingo's engine. The dashboard is clean and simple, featuring a touchscreen display and plenty of apps and multimedia gubbins that, to be honest, I'm not really interested in. I just want a Renaultsport version with 150bhp and a 6-speed gearbox!! That would be the world's happiest donut machine!

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McLaren 650S Coupé & Spider
OK, enough hatchbacks. It's supercar time. This is the new McLaren 650S. While the three words that Chris Harris associates with the British company's epic P1 hypercar are "very new thing," the three words one might associate with the 650S on first sight is "parts bin special." If you know your McLarens (and why shouldn't you? There are only two of them...) then you'll spot that this appears to be a 12C with the nose of a P1 grafted on. I promise you this is not photoshop trickery, but an actual official quartet of images of an actual official new model. What it is, is the answer to the Ferrari 458 Speciale and other assorted one-up supercars that will come along later like a Lamborghini Huracán Superleggera or Audi R8 GT or whatever. It's more powerful than the 12C it essentially is, with that 3.8 V8 twin-turbo making 650PS (641bhp) and 500lb/ft of torque, up from 625PS (616bhp) and 442lb/ft, sent through a faster and smother 7-speed DCT. Usually cars like this are lighter, but they haven't told us the weight yet. I doubt it'll be any heavier than the 1300-1350kg of the 12C, though. 0-60 is a tenth of a second faster at 3.0 seconds, while it can now get from 0-125mph half a second faster at 8.4 seconds. The Spider weighs 40kg more thanks to its folding carbon fibre roof, but it's no less rigid because the body is non-structural. It is, however, 0.2 seconds slower to 125mph and "only" goes 204mph flat-out while the coupé goes 207mph.

The reason they've stuck the P1 nose onto the 12C is a very McLaren-y reason: it works better aerodynamically. In fact, it's a major contributor to the 24% increase in downforce at 150mph (the carbon fibre "door blades" running along the sill also help), plus the 650S has a better (read: faster) turn-in than the 12C and thus better handling balance at speed. And yet the drag coefficient is the same. Plus the all-LED headlights from the P1 last longer and use less energy. Other changes include stiffer springs and an updated "ProActive Chassis Control" system that separates out drivetrain and suspension adjustment modes. Ooooooh. Inside it's basically the same as the 12C but with alcantara (car-speak for "sporty suede stuff") instead of leather.

McLaren say that the 650S is also quieter and smoother than the 12C as well as faster and more powerful and better in the corners. It'll cost £195,000 when it goes on sale, or £210,000 for the Spider. Why bother with a 12C at all, then? Well, they'll keep it in production for those that can't quite afford a 650S, as the 12C is about £20,000 cheaper. However, it's just lost all its coolness thanks to this car being superior in every way... other than originality. Why not at least restyle the headlights so it doesn't look so lazy as a design?

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Lamborghini Huracán LP610-4
If the mix-and-match styling of the McLaren doesn't appeal to you, then how's this? This is the long-awaited replacement for the Lamborghini Gallardo (2003-2014), a car which accounts for more than half of all Lamborghinis ever sold, at 14,022 units (about 4022 of which were probably special editions...). The Huracán has some big shoes to fill, then, and design-wise I think it does so. It has once again done without the scissor doors so readily associated with the Sant'Agata-based company - blame the upcoming Audi R8 Mk.2 that it shares a platform with - but aside from that it's a handsome modernisation of the Gallardo that draws on many of Lambo's recent models and concepts while ending up as a design all of its own. It's not quite as mad to look at as it could have been, but then this is their "mass-market" car (hey, it's all relative), so they have to make it appealing to boring people too, unfortunately for those who prefer the Veneno and Egoista.

Underneath the striking skin is an all-new chassis that blends carbon fibre and aluminium to help give it a dry weight of 1422kg, about 100kg less than the Gallardo LP650-4 it replaces and not bad for an all-wheel-drive car with a hefty engine. Said heft takes the shape of a 5.2 V10 - a reworking of the engine currently used in the outgoing Gallardo and the top-spec R8s - that produces 610PS (602bhp) and 414lb/ft of torque, which it sends to its AWD system via a new 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, or "Lamborghini Doppia Frizione" (LDF) transmission. Hands up who thinks it's an Audi S-Tronic gearbox with different software. If finding out what "double-clutch" is in Italian gave you a fizz, then brace yourself, as the newly-revised engine features Stratified Direct Injection, or... "Iniezione Diretta Stratificata." What this actually is is a combination of direct and indirect fuel injection systems that gives more power & torque and better fuel efficiency at the same time. I think Formula 1 is employing something similar nowadays. Want some more numbers? Of course you want some more numbers. 0-62mph is dealt with in 3.2 seconds, 0-125mph happens in 9.9 seconds and flat out you'll nudge past 202mph. Erm, I can't help but notice that the McLaren 650S above is faster all the way from standstill to top speed. Maybe the weight is still a bit too substantial...

Anyway, inside you'll find the usual triplet of driving modes, a fancy LCD display for infotainment and another one to replace the traditional dials. You also get carbon-ceramic brakes as standard, variable-ratio electric steering and magnetorheological dampers, which let you choose smoothness or greater body control. Oh, and a Stop/Start system, just like your new Renault Twingo! That doesn't make it as green as a Twingo though, seeing as it blurts out 290g/kmof CO2  instead of about 95, but hey, if you want a green Lamborghini, just ask to have it painted in Verde Ithaca.

P.S. It's pronounced "Ooh-ra-cAn." It says so on the internet.

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Gumpert Explosion (Yes, Really)
German supercar makers Gumpert have been in dire straits for quite some time now. The former TopGear lap record holders have gone bankrupt more than once, but now they're showing signs of hauling themselves off their deathbed with this, the Explosion concept car. I know that you know that I know that you know that we both really want to be able to go somewhere and say "I got here in an Explosion." Perhaps one day we will, if all goes to plan, because this is a "production-intent" concept car, meaning that they're showing us what they're going to do and hoping we care enough to place our orders. But here's a philosophical question you'll be asking right about now: What is an Explosion?

If you ask Roland Gumpert, he'll tell you it's a new sports coupé designed to "convey to all those drivers who love motor sports what it feels like to sit behind the wheel of a rally car." As you'd expect, then, it's all-wheel-drive, plus the unspecified engine - likely from Audi as Gumpert seem to have ties with them - is blasting out 420 horsepower and 383lb/ft of torque in order to motivate a lightweight tubular chassis and a body made from aluminium, carbon fibre and fibreglass. The result is a 0-60 time of "under 3 seconds," which makes it quicker than the 610-horsepower Lamborghini Huracán. The rally influences continue into the styling, which features a blunt, purposeful nose, tall windows for better visibility and short overhangs so you don't tear its arse off on a tree. If - and it's a big if - Gumpert stick around, drum up interest and actually build this thing, I will be very happy about it. It's set to cost €105,000 in Germany and be out before the end of the year. Maybe.

"Hey mate, guess what?"
"What?"
"...... I drive an Explosion."
"Eww, a '98 Ford Explorer?"
"What? No, I said Explosion, not Explorer. I drive an Explosion."
"What, so you bought a new GT3?"
"Whu- No! Explosion is the name! It's a Gumpert!"
"Dude if your gums hurt then you should use mouthwash and brush better."
"Ugh, forget it..."

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Maserati Alfieri Concept
While I'm showing you evocative sports coupés, here's the latest concept car from Maserati. Oh my. This is Maserati's 100th birthday present to itself, taking inspiration from the not so snappily-named A6GCS/53 Berlinetta (see - and drool - here) and named after one of the company's founders, Alfieri Maserati. The A6 racer may have inspired the proportions, but the styling itself is meant to show Maserati's future design direction. Good direction! If I'm being picky then the "face" on the front is a bit jagged for my liking, but you must surely agree that the overall shape is stunning. There's every possibility that this fully functional 2+2 previews a car to slot in under the GranTurismo and be to the GT what Jaguar's F-Type is to the XK. Smaller, tauter, sportier. Cooler. Said model would be called "GranSport" should it come into fruition and I hope it would retain the 4.7-litre V8 (453bhp, 383lb/ft) that this one has, essentially lifted from the GranTurismo (and Alfa Romeo 8C). Other possible engines include the ones in the new Ghibli sports saloon. Another cool touch is the blue wiring in the wheels, meant to reference the wire wheels of old... which weren't blue. They were silver. But it's still cool.

This show car is actually based on a GranTurismo MC Stradale (their sportiest car), but with a wheelbase that's a whole 24cm shorter. The car itself is just under 4.6m long, ~20cm shorter than a GT but still 12cm longer than an F-Type, and 10cm longer than a Porsche 911. So it'd be considered a big girl if it took on those two, but who knows? Maybe charm will prevail. Just like the F-Type, I suspect some out there would buy it on looks alone...

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NanoFlowcell QUANT e-Sportlimousine
The tenth and final new car in this post has the strangest name and the most interesting feature. I'm not talking about the two-metre-long gullwing doors, or the significant overall length of 5.26m. Nor do I mean the 3.2m wheelbase (the distance between the axles is longer than an entire original Mini). No, it's all about the powertrain. This car is born out of the ashes of NLV Solar AG, an energy storage research company who collaborated with Koenigsegg to make the Quant Concept back in 2009/10. That car - also a gull-winged electric sports saloon - had a photovoltaic coating that worked like a solar panel, but covered the whole car in a layer of pyrite that absorbed sunlight and stored it in a battery. I was really excited by this technology at the time, thinking that it would give us long-range electric vehicles. It also helped excite me that it had four electric motors, one per wheel, each making 200 horsepower. I'll let you do the maths...

Sadly, NLV Solar went bust, but out of the ashes comes this second-generation car built by a new Lichtenstein-based company called NanoFlowcell. It makes more power, thanks to four newer, better motors. Combined they generate 680kW, which equates to 912bhp. An electric saloon more powerful than a McLaren P1?! While that's their maximum punch, in ordinary use the power output is actually wound down to 480kW, or 644bhp, to save energy. As for torque, the maximum combined output - available from 0rpm, remember, because it's electric - is 8555lb/ft.  What on earth eight and a half thousand torques feels like in a car, I cannot possibly imagine. That's more than enough to make this car pretty bloody quick even though it weighs a substantial 2300kg with full tanks. Tanks? For an EV? This is where the weird technology really gets into its stride; the electric powertrain is fed its electricity from two "nanoFLOWCELL" fuel tanks, full of a liquid electrolyte. I'm not going to pretend I understand it all, but here's a direct quote:

"It works like a combination of a battery and a fuel cell using liquid electrolyte, which is kept in two tanks and pumped through the cell. At the heart of the system is a membrane that separates two differing chemistries. A controlled exchange of charges releases energy for the electric powertrain."

So... the liquid electrolyte carries charge, goes through a filter thing and then electric power happens? Maybe? This system is meant to replace the large battery that weighs down EVs and takes up a lot of space. The charge density and power density are much higher this way, meaning that an extremely powerful and heavy car like this can go 400-600km (roughly 250-375 miles) on a charge without any range-extending engine adding complexity. Here's another dollop of mad science:

"Until now, flow cells based on redox principles have been too heavy and their energy conversion rates too sluggish for use in mobile applications [like vehicles]. This is where the nanoFLOWCELL technology opens the door to a broad palette of new technical opportunities. The improvements that have given the system such a major performance boost are the result of research into the quantum chemistry of electrolytic fluids. The most important innovation of the nanoFLOWCELL is in its significantly higher charge- and power-density thanks to an extremely high concentration of ionic charge carriers in the cell system's electrolyte."

"If sufficiently diluted, [the entirely non-toxic substances in the fuel liquid] could even be disposed of through normal waste water treatment plants."

So, er, there. I hope that helps you or someone understand it. Where they expect to get this fuel from, I don't know, so this could be another interesting dead end for these guys. Nevertheless, they plan to have prototypes on the road this year and have the car homologated in 2015 to go into production for, I assume, a very high price. Hopefully it will make more sense by then... if they reach that point.

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So there you have it, folks. Ten of the cars that have caught my attention. Depending on how I organise my time tomorrow, you might find ten more.

1 comment:

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