Geneva 2012: the PH round-up

Geneva traditionally starts with various pre-show events teasing what’s coming on the press day and, for PH, this was the VW group evening.

Badly parked Mitsubishi just out of shot
Badly parked Mitsubishi just out of shot
It’s a huge event with much corporate back slapping and self aggrandising promotional videos that aim to convince you that VW spends as much time teaching favela kids to play football as it does making cars. Arriving (40 minutes late, thank you Swiss customs) in a conspicuously branded-up Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian, nearly reversing it into an Audi A8 limo and then parking it up among exclusively VW group product wasn’t the quietest arrival but, once inside, the first of 10 global debuts was quickly underway.

Respective brand bosses appear on stage, new model (at least, we were told the Audi A3 was new but it wasn’t obviously so) emerges from dry ice, the cameras show Piech beaming and the process repeats in rapid succession. For some reason they always put the poor bloke from VW commercial vehicles on after Lamborghini or Bugatti too.

'Divides opinion'. Or, rather, doesn't...
'Divides opinion'. Or, rather, doesn't...
Biggest splash came with arrival of the Bentley EXP9 F SUV with Wolfgang Durheimer’s already notorious boast that it displayed the best of understated British design. Tweets and blogs from the showfloor swiftly hit the airwaves, the howls of horror in response almost immediately stinging the ears of the Bentley execs, who meekly suggested the look was ‘dividing opinion’. In their dreams – opinion since the beast was unveiled seems to have been pretty unanimous, not helped by the hapless bloke with the hawk on his hand at the show unveiling on press day.

No, nor us.

Press day
So to show day. Compared with the vast halls and domestic brand willy waggling of Frankfurt, Geneva is a more manageable size but no less busy. Ducking out of the press conference schedule meant missing the Bentley falconry display, but the usual run of interviews left little time to take it all in anyway.

Toyota GT 86 meets the ancestors
Toyota GT 86 meets the ancestors
At Toyota we met Tetsuya Tada, or Mr GT86. Little comes out of these usually, but he did admit to a fondness for the Porsche 944 Turbo stemming from his time working in Germany with Toyota’s rally team. A passion that’s stuck with him and led to him declaring modern rally cars boring and a dream to see a rear-wheel-drive championship rekindling old-school sideways fun. Perhaps a one-make GT86 one even. Or something like this?

The question “why should one buy a GT86 instead of a BRZ?” was met with a non-committal chuckle but we were shown an apparent early inspiration for the GT86 – the flat-twin powered 1965 Toyota Sports 800 – and a flow chart that gave the clearest explanation of the Toyota/Subaru axis in the car’s design, development and production yet offered.

Clear now? Actually it is!
Clear now? Actually it is!
Over at Lotus there was a mix of Bahar-era glitz and some more hard-headed engineering but, trapped backstage, it was actually impossible to hear the press conference. The Exige and Elise soldier on with new variants that look fun but don’t really move the game on at all while the race cars – and Kimi – took pride of place at the front. Behind the scenes, literally and figuratively, it was talk of the range-extender and the first collaboration with a mainstream manufacturer (Nissan, via Infiniti) that could see it being adopted for production. Here’s hoping.

Go away, we're full
was the next stop, an appointment with Quattro GmbH boss Stephan Reil apparently not good enough to gain entry to the stand. “We are full,” said the man by the rope. Er… Thankfully the UK PR team were on the stand and we were ushered to one of those windowless cupboards in which motor show interviews tend to be conducted. Having explained Quattro’s role within Audi as a small, specialist department, run by petrolheads with expertise in building low-volume, high-performance variants his response to the question why Quattro wasn’t involved in the A1 Quattro was … odd. “We were busy,” he said, flatly. “And it’s not an RS model. And chassis modification isn’t our specialism.”

RS4 should feature 'character' we're told
RS4 should feature 'character' we're told
That one ducked and clearly well briefed he then went on to explain that making an RS Audi isn’t simply a case of, as he put it, “Taking everything that is high tech, throwing it in a box and say that is my new car. To make an electrifying high performance car you have to build in the character.” So how do you do that? “That’s the secret!” he laughed, before explaining having a small team – just 130 – with expertise beyond their own specialisms helps.

So why did the RS5 fail to hit the spot?  “We heard that criticism from some of you and your colleagues and we took it very seriously,” he said as the conversation turned, inevitably, to the steering. “I would give the criticism the headline ‘artificial driving’ and we took that very seriously … we felt it too,” he admitted. The response? Locking out the variable steering ratio on the Dynamic Steering so that when you choose Dynamic on the Audi Driver Select it stays at a constant ratio of 14:1. “It is extremely direct and this changes the character of the car completely,” said Reil. “And it’s very good, well of course, you can put it on comfort and then you have the variable steering but when you are really driving the car on a racetrack you need that clear connection between steering angle and where the wheel is and that is why we have it fixed.”

Business as usual over at Brabus
Business as usual over at Brabus
We’ll see of course, both with the revised RS5 and with the closely related RS4 unveiled at the show.

Support acts
Away from the big corporate stands Geneva has much to offer the likes of us, the tuners traditionally turning out in force.

And it was business as usual in this regard, Mansory doing unpleasant things to nice cars as is its way and Brabus levering in 800hp’s worth of bi-turbo V12 into a C-Class coupe. 230mph, in case you were wondering. And assuming the rear axle has been sufficiently reinforced to cope with the 1,047lb ft of torque and doesn’t just leave you stationary with a little heap of shredded transmission components for your efforts.

Old 911 - Ruf enhanced - PH's most wanted
Old 911 - Ruf enhanced - PH's most wanted
Ruf’s pairing of an original and restored 1977 Ruf 3.3 Turbo with a brand new 630hp, 991-based Rt 35 Anniversary encapsulated 35 years of tuned, turbocharged 911s in fine style meanwhile. The 303hp original car, tested in period by Auto Motor & Sport, has been bought back and restored by Ruf and, typically, was the car most of the PH team wanted to take home.

All of which goes to show. You can show us as many new cars as you like. But an old 911 will always grab the limelight. Predictable? Us?

The stories of Geneva

Audi RS4 and TT RS Plus
Bentley EXP 9 F
BMW M6 and other Munich offerings
Bugatti Grand Sport Vitesse
Citroen DS4 Racing
Ferrari F12berlinetta
Ford Fiesta ST
GTA Spano
Infiniti Emerg-E
Jaguar XF Sportbrake
Lamborghini Aventador J
Lotus Exige Roadster
Mercedes SL63 and A-Class
Mini Countryman JCW and Clubvan

Morgan Plus E and Plus 8
Peugeot 208 GTi Concept

Porsche Boxster

Range Rover Evoque convertible

Vauxhall Astra VXR

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (5) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Noe 07 Mar 2012

    Can't complain it's the same in every industry, even running your own interesting gigg has all the corporate shenanigans

    Where money is, if you must be, them there is always something

    Though the lambo J is the event winner for sure. Congrats lambo.

  • Crusoe 07 Mar 2012

    Distinct lack of eco nonsense this year, new v12, v10 and v8 performance cars and plenty of new hot hatches and coupes

  • Camry_Man 07 Mar 2012

    Still waiting for pictures on the Sbarro Floper III. Where are they?

  • predding 07 Mar 2012

    Nice report - thanks - saved me a few hundred quid and got the inside griff. Glad it wasnt just me who gets the same cant get past the ropes' nonsense at shows even with an invite...wallies all of 'em.

    Very funney reading Stephan Reils comments and watching him disappear up his own derriere ie if his 'specialist' have experience beyound their specialisms how come they coudnt find that simple solution for the RS5 before it went on sale...I am sure these people start to believe the drivel they are told...

  • The Donster 08 Mar 2012

    I think you're being a little harsh on Mansory, there.

    Sure, they have a reputation in the industry for destroying perfectly good cars, but - paint job aside (colour's not the best) - their MP4-12C wasn't half bad. Thought it looked better in the tin when I saw it on Tuesday than the pictures at first suggested.

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