The 2013 Geneva motor show provided many contrasts. In the one corner, there was the battle between Ferrari and McLaren for 'best hypercar', with Lamborghini and Porsche each trying to get their own piece of the action. In the other, there were the latest baby SUVs from Peugeot, Renault and Ford, along with useful estates from Dacia, Honda, Skoda and Volkswagen.
Geneva can be that kind of motor show. There is undoubted glamour tied up in the spring event on the shores of the Swiss lake, yet there's also enough mainstream interest for manufacturers to set out some pretty big stalls for the next 18 months. Even in a European economy that's universally acknowledged to be struggling, there was no shortage of fresh products on offer.
That's good news for all of us, because car manufacturers have obviously decided that the best way to survive (thrive, even) is to invest in better new cars that will tempt us into showrooms. Here are some of the Geneva highlights.
Dacia Logan MCV
The Dacia Logan MCV looks set to shake up the estate market just as much as its stablemates, the Duster and Sandero, have rattled established SUVs and superminis. Due on sale in June and with a price that's expected to start at just less than £7000, the Logan MCV is, in effect, an estate version of the Sandero.
Despite its supermini origins, the Logan MCV has more than 570 litres of boot space, so its load capacity is up there with a Volvo V70's and comfortably clear of even mid-sized estates such as the Ford Focus. Lower the 60/40 split rear seat and there's more than 1500 litres on offer – a stupendous amount for this price.
The Logan won’t win any beauty awards inside or out – but it's functional and inoffensive and there's no denying the amount of cabin and luggage space on offer.
The boot floor looks reasonably flat, too, and there's no noticeable lip at the rear bumper to trouble you when you're loading it up. Do you get trick folding seats that fold down at the pull of an easily accessible handle? Er, no. You do get body-coloured bumpers, though, which will represent a dash of luxury to anyone considering an entry-level Sandero.
The Ferrari LaFerrari drew the biggest crowd of press day, because a) it's the successor to the iconic Enzo and those sorts of Ferraris don't come along that often, and b) it was one of relatively few models to not be revealed in images ahead of its public unveiling.
The LaFerrari, with a price of around £1 million, mixes a 6.3-litre normally aspirated V12 engine producing 789bhp and an electric motor with 161bhp. The total combined figure on offer is 950bhp, along with peak torque of 715lb ft. Ferrari claims a 0-60mph time of less than three seconds and a barely believable 0-186mph of 15.5 seconds.
The car's aerodynamic set-up uses moveable elements in the rear wing and diffusers to create downforce, improving cornering speeds and helping to give the LaFerrari a theoretical lap time of less than seven minutes around the classic Nurburgring.
Just 499 LaFerraris will be built during a two-year programme that's expected to start before the end of this year and Ferrari claims it already has customers for the majority of the cars.
Is it going to be better than a McLaren P1? The debate is going to rage for years, long after both cars have been through every motoring pundit on the planet. For us, right now, the Ferrari has a slightly sharper look, a touch more Italian flair than its wind tunnel-optimised rival – but that's about all there is in it. Both cars have moved the game on way beyond Lamborghini's Veneno, which looks like an over-priced carbonfibre vanity project at more than £3 million.
Honda Civic Tourer Concept
You can forget the 'Concept' bit in the title; the Honda Civic Tourer shown in Geneva is around 95% of what we'll get when the production car arrives in showrooms at the start of 2014 (order books will open slightly earlier).
The latest entry to an increasingly crowded area of the market (think Skoda Octavia Estate and the new VW Golf Estate, for starters), the Civic Tourer was well received in Geneva for mixing the Civic's distinctive front end, some aggressive surface detailing along the flanks and a modern-looking tailgate.
Honda is being simultaneously bullish ('class-leading') and coy (no figures given) when it comes to load space – a sign, perhaps, that the Tourer has sacrificed just a little bit of practicality in the name of its rakish roofline. Even if that it is the case it needn't matter too much, because if you want outright practicality in this class then you might as well order the cavernous Octavia anyway.
No, a good-looking Civic wagon, equipped with Honda's new 1.6-litre diesel engine or one of the forthcoming range of more efficient petrol motors, could be a pretty tidy-looking family car with a dash of extra practicality. File this one under 'shows promise'.
The Kia Provo made headlines for all the wrong reasons, with a name that got the Daily Mail foaming at the mouth and prompted more than one wag to suggest that the marketing slogan would be 'No surrender' and that a 'Bogside' special edition would be a near-certainty.
It was a pity, really, because there was much to admire in Kia's take on a trendy, urban city car. It sits on a shortened version of the Kia Rio chassis and is very much a Korean take on the Fiat 500 and modern Mini, with a strict 2+2 seating layout and a distinctive design with a wrap-around windscreen, deep flanks and 19-inch wheels.
The concept is four-wheel drive, with a 1.6-litre petrol engine driving the front wheels and an electric motor at the rear axle; presumably the latter could easily be dropped if the car were to get the green light.
We hope the Provo changes its name, but makes production. Kia has made huge strides in design over the past four or five years, as proven by its first hot hatchback, the neat, purposeful, sophisticated Proceed GT, which also made its debut at Geneva. Now it should have the confidence in its own brand to sell an entire model on style and image alone.
Is the new Nissan Note really a regular supermini as the company is claiming, or is it just a slightly more radical take on the mini-MPV recipe? We suspect it's really the latter, but that doesn't mean there's not a place for Nissan's new small hatchback.
The latest Note gets an undeniably more appealing exterior look, which sticks admirably close to the styling of the Invitation concept car shown at Geneva two years ago. Its interior finish is less impressive, though; piano-black centre console aside, the fascia plastics can best be described as robust.
Inside, there's plenty of rear head- and legroom for six-footers and the back seats can slide forwards and backwards to prioritise either cabin or boot space. The boot floor can be set to different heights, too.
Perhaps more significant is the Note's level of safety kit, which includes blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, moving object detection (useful when reversing) and an all-round parking assist camera (you can view different angles on the central screen).
It strikes us, though, that these features are of more appeal to the sort of older clientele who favour mini-MPVs such as the Honda Jazz and, er, the outgoing Nissan Note. A potentially useful, British-built small family car? Sure. A serious Fiesta rival? We remain to be convinced.
The Peugeot 2008 looked every bit a worthy rival for the Renault Captur (see below) at Geneva, with striking looks that build on those of the 208 supermini on which it's based. If anything, the 2008 looks like more of an SUV than the Captur, with a slightly more upright stance and twin chrome roof rails.
A pure soft-roader, with no four-wheel-drive version planned, the 2008 will be powered by three-cylinder petrol and four-cylinder diesel engines; expect the cleanest of those to emit 98g/km of CO2. Two higher-powered versions of the three-cylinder petrol, with a turbo, will be launched soon after the car's introduction.
As with the relationship between Captur and Clio, the 2008's cabin is very similar to the 208's – including that car's smaller, low-set steering wheel (we're not fans) and, on a more positive note, its high-quality interior finish.
It will be intriguing to see how Peugeot prices the car in the UK, particularly against the Captur, Nissan Juke and Vauxhall Mokka. Lower estimates suggest a starting price of as little as £13k, which could look like a bargain; we'd be more tempted to suggest a figure of 'from £14k'. Even at that, the 2008 could look like a lot of car for the money.
Qoros concept cars
The Qoros 3 and 3 Cross are by far the most credible European-focused offerings to come out of the Chinese manufacturer – and they drew widespread praise from mainstream rivals (tinged, in some cases, with a touch of self-interested concern) at Geneva.
The 3 is a saloon around the same size as a Volkswagen Jetta. It has been styled by Gert Hilderbrand, the man responsible for the current generation of BMW Minis, and marks a cohesive, almost-handsome departure from the awkward- and generic-looking models that have come out of China so far.
The Cross Hybrid Concept drew praise in particular – but all of the Qoros models on display had neat touches, like 8-inch touch-screen controllers and built-in smartphone docks. The car maker may need to work on the engine line-up, mind you; interesting though the range of three-cylinder and four-cylinder petrol motors sounds, Qoros will miss out on a lot of sales if it doesn’t offer at least one diesel.
Still, it was an impressive debut nonetheless. When asked at his press conference if he was worried about Chinese brands, Fiat Group boss Sergio Marchionne replied very simply, 'Yes. I have been for some time, in fact.' Qoros may just be the first evidence of why his concern is well-founded.
The Renault Captur was one of three baby SUVs at Geneva – and one of the best resolved. This area of the market, for jacked-up superminis, is going to expand rapidly over the next couple of years, with at least half a dozen fresh arrivals to join models such as the Nissan Juke and Vauxhall Mokka.
The Captur is unashamedly derived from the latest Renault Clio and it's no worse for that; in fact, you could argue that its proportions are even more pleasing as a result of its slightly increased ride height. Renault's stand layout included a number of colour options, including all three roof colours (white, black and orange).
It will also get that Clio's engines, so expect a choice of 1.2-litre or 0.9-litre petrols, and a 1.5-litre diesel.
The cabin is very Clio – perhaps a little too much so, if anything – but at least that means it gets that car's decent materials, infotainment system and equipment levels.
In fact, the Captur looks altogether more premium than the Ford Ecosport. It appeared in 'European trim' at Geneva, but its origins as a car originally developed for the low-cost South American market are still too obvious.
There was no shortage of luxury in Geneva, but not all of it was tasteful. That accusation couldn't be levelled at the Rolls-Royce Wraith, which brought another side to the super-luxury market with a rapid coupe that promises a more agile driving experience.
The Wraith is shorter than a Ghost (by more than 10cm) and it gets a stiffer, more focused chassis set-up. Even the steering weights up at speed; this is a Rolls-Royce, which (whisper it) demands to be driven.
The overriding impression, though, was still a car that's as much an immaculately finished piece of moving jewellery as it is a vehicle. You get Phantom-quality hide inside and delightful wood panelling that's inspired by boating, but also has a faint echo of the wood-panelled walls of your local Conservative club.
If the finish and materials aren't enough, the Wraith is also the most powerful car ever built by Rolls-Royce. Its V12 engine has 624bhp and 590lb ft, enough to take something of this size and weight from 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds. It's hard to imagine something being terrifying and impressive at the same time, but the Wraith manages it.
VW Golf Estate & Skoda Octavia Estate
There were few surprises in the VW Group area of the show, with the three-door Seat Leon SC, an Audi A3 e-tron and a pair of mid-size estates that could carve themselves out a fair chunk of the market in the next few years.
The VW Golf Estate is 30cm longer than the hatchback and has 605 litres of boot space with the seats up; that can be extended to 1620 litres. It looked a neat, practical solution – and it's an efficient one, too, since the MQB chassis underpinnings save a useful amount of weight over its predecessor. The 1.6-litre diesel Bluemotion edition has 109bhp but returns average economy of 85.6mpg and 87g/km of CO2 emissions.
The Skoda Octavia Estate has the Golf trumped on practicality, though, with 610 litres of standard boot space that can be extended to 1740 litres; that's a full 140 litres up on a the capacity of a Volvo V70, the traditional 'big estate'.
We're looking forward already to pitching the two estates against each other – though your choice may ultimately come down to a mix of dealer convenience, brand loyalty, Target Price and whether you want more standard equipment (Skoda) or, potentially, the more sophisticated chassis set-up of the faster Golfs. There really is that little to choose between VW Group products these days.
2013 Geneva motor show cars
Here are the latest launches and new stories direct from the Geneva motor show.
Alfa Romeo 4C
Aston Martin Rapide S
Audi S3 Sportback
BMW 3 GT
Bentley Flying Spur
Citroen Technospace - C3 Picasso preview
Dacia Logan MCV
Honda Civic Tourer
Hyundai Grand Santa Fe
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Kia Ceed GT and Proceed GT
Maserati Granturismo MC Stradale
Mercedes A45 AMG
Nissan 370Z Nismo
Porsche 911 GT3
Renault Clio RS
Renault Scenic XMOD
Seat Leon SC
Skoda Octavia Estate
Suzuki crossover based on S-Cross concept car
Toyota FT-86 Open
Vauxhall Adam Rocks
Volkswagen Golf GTD
Volkswagen Golf Estate revealed
By John McIlroy
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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