The Geneva Salon has always been the show of the art house exotic, the technologically sensual. Yet it is usually able to offer a real-world manifestation of those qualities. Jaguar’s E-type was unveiled there in 1961 and Lamborghini’s Miura in ’66. This year’s show certainly has its share of ultra, ultra hi-tech speed, power and luxury, all of course deftly balanced or – more pointedly – offset by low carbon footprint technology. All to keep a rapaciously consumerist and self-centred industry at least looking environmentally-friendly.
It’s hard to know where to start first with all the power and the glory, but Ferrari is certainly as good a place as any. Its 488 GTB supersedes the 458. Lithe lines, deep scoops and knife-edged, multi-facetted surfaces – check. 200mph-plus top speed and 0-124mph in 8.3 seconds – check. Otherworldliness made manifest and very much relevant and attainable.
Staying much on the more extreme side of ‘‘out there’’ were Mercedes’ 6.2-litre AMG GT3 racer (they say there will be a road version) and Aston Martin’s Vulcan (seven-litre V12). The 24-build run of the latter will be track-only use. Both, of course, create a suitable halo of marvelousness and ultra-performance for their comparatively more mundane brand stable mates.
As an aside – thinking of the Mercedes – for those in the know, Geneva saw an indulgence in racing styling references and sub-texts; significators that gave a nod to past racing glories. The AMG’s grill, lights and domed cockpit were a throwback to the Carrera Panamericana-winning 300 SL of 1952.
Bentley, meanwhile, had a white number six on the grill of its muscular Speed Six concept – reminding us of its thundering Twenties and Thirties Le Mans winners. Good old-fashioned grunt. Ford was more graphic. They simply stuck their new GT next to the old GT40 to compare the style cues alluding to the Sixties icon. The rear flying buttresses and vented nose look just as apt on the new car, though that one is, of course, built in carbon fibre and sports some 600bhp. Price of the few made will be around £300,000.
Geneva, probably like any show at the moment, is highlighting how manufacturers – as well as buyers – are caught between some very strong cross-currents, the direction and destination of which few are very sure.
As harbingers of a radically different motoring world stand developers like Quant with its two concept models. Both are compact with liquid-like curves. They’re impressively quick. Their ‘‘flow-cell’’ electric power makes for zero emissions. All you need to do is charge the twin tanks with 175 litres – each – of oppositely-charged ironic liquid and you’re good to go for some 1000km.
Diametrically opposed is probably the two-saloon-cars-long Mercedes Maybach Pullman 600. The ‘‘Pullman’’ name evokes memories of the angular (and usually bullet-proof) Mercedes 600 limousine, once favoured by dictators the world/Southern Hemisphere over. The 523bhp V12 Baroque behemoth is sumptuously appointed.
Caught somewhere in the middle are quite a few marques conscious of strong competition and wanting to ‘‘extend the brand.’’ That usually means a half-electric, four-wheel drive, five-seating hatch-backed version of something that was once fast and singular of purpose. Porsche brought us the Cayenne (okay, no electric bits) and Bentley is about to foist an SUV on us in 2016.
Aston has decided to rely less on crusty, pin-striped gents for its income and is going after ‘‘rich/cool/attractive/American/thirty-something ladies.’’ Though we’re not told if the DBX concept it just unveiled at Geneva is aimed at them. The DBX has some exciting technologies and gadgets (no – don’t utter the name James Bond), and the sculptured interior is breathtaking.
Aston aside, there seems to be an ever-increasing raft of niche/boutique vehicles with an often mutually exclusive set of watered-down abilities and features that does little more than thrust the manufacturer’s badge – at shoulder level – at consumers.
But one car seemed – to me – to cut through all the BS. It is singular of purpose, yet practical enough to be a constant motoring companion. It is somehow one-pointed and broad in its abilities. Its performance is at once sufficient and still awesome. It is conventional yet progressive in its technology. And it looks sexy as hell. Porsche….(no, this does not mean you’re forgiven for the Cayenne)….your new 183mph, 0-62mph in 4.4seconds, £62,800 Cayman GT4 is beautiful.