2013 Shanghai motor show highlights
Most of the brand-new cars on display are from local manufacturers and none have been exported to the UK. However, many brands that we're familiar with are still expanding hugely in China and well-heeled Chinese buyers have lost none of their appetite for these imported cars – which are often far pricier than indigenous alternatives.
BMW and Mercedes chose to launch two important SUV concept cars at Shanghai, previewing the forthcoming X4 and GLA models. Citroen and VW also had new SUV show cars on display. Maserati gave us the global launch of the 5 Series-rivalling Ghibli saloon, while Audi put the interesting new A3 saloon on public display for the first time.
It was second time around for Porsche here, too. Four years ago it chose the Shanghai show as the venue to launch the Panamera sports saloon. This time it was showing us the face-lifted model, now available in long wheelbase form too, specifically for the Chinese market. The new plug-in hybrid model was also on the stand.
These are editor-in-chief Chas Hallett's cars of the show:
Mercedes Concept GLA
The Mercedes GLA is the latest addition to the new A-Class family, following the hatch and the CLA saloon. If anything it’s the best looking of the trio and it’s rightly regarded as one of the star cars at the Shanghai show.
The good news is that, despite being billed as a concept, it’s virtually identical to the final production car that will go on sale in the UK early next year. Design boss Gordon Wagener told us that it was '95% there'.
It has a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and is four-wheel drive. The real thing will have both petrol and diesel engines shared with the A-Class and will also available in front-wheel-drive form.
Maserati’s revolution starts with the Ghibli. This is the car the company reckons will kick-start its tenfold increase in sales, along with the forthcoming SUV, the Levante.
The long-awaited smaller sister to the Quattroporte is, confusingly, closer to the old Quattroporte, which has now swollen to Mercedes S-Class size. Judging by the reaction in China, the Ghibli is likely to be the more popular of the two and looks like being a formidable rival to pricier versions of the BMW 5 Series and the Jaguar XF. Particularly impressive is the quality of the cabin and the fact that it will eventually be available with a diesel – a first for Maserati.
Audi A3 Saloon
This intriguing and handsome small Audi saloon was announced just before last month’s New York motor show and was shown there to a favoured few. However, Shanghai marks its full public debut with Audi obviously under the impression that it will appeal Chinese buyers.
We can see it being a hit in the UK too. Mechanically, it’s virtually identical to the excellent A3 Sportback and it’s the same size as the original A4 saloon. If you’re currently a company car driver, the lower costs could mean that the A3 four-door makes more sense than an A4.
Citroen DS Wild Rubis
Citroen’s first DS SUV looked terrific in the metal, but considerably bigger than it does in photos.
It’s based on the DS5 executive hatch, so think of it as a rival for the BMW X3 or Audi Q5. This is why the primary target market for the eventual production car – likely to be called the DSX7 – is going to be China. However, it will be a shame if Citroen doesn’t sell this, or a smaller Range Rover Evoque-sized DS SUV in Europe.
The huge global success of the Range Rover Evoque seems to be causing a big stir among the German car makers, so you could regard this BMW X4 Concept as Munich’s answer to it. In fairness, BMW is also only scaling down the X6 to make a smaller version, based on the X3.
This is far prettier than the X6, though, and from what we know about the X3, the final production car should also be impressively good to drive. We weren't able to sit in the show car, but a peer through the window seemed to suggest there shouldn't be many worries about interior space, either.
MG's first SUV, based on the 5 hatch, was certainly drawing the crowds. Quite right, too, because it certainly looks the part.
Design sources were hinting that the final production car will be very close to this concept when it hits the market. The big question is will come to Britain? But with our appetite for small SUVs such as the Nissan Juke they'd almost be mad not to bring it here. Either way it's unlikely to go on sale before 2014.
VW Crossblue Coupe
The smart-looking Crossblue Coupe is the latest in what's now become a long line of VW SUV concepts. But it's the smartest of the lot and the clearest indication yet of what the next generation of 4x4s will look like. The concept's plug-in hybrid system – a V6 turbo petrol engine, allied to two electric motors – will certainly make the cut.
It's built using the company's new MQB architecture – like the latest Golf – but research and development boss Ulrich Hackenberg told us that this five-metre SUV is as big as any car using the MQB platform will get.
Either way, it's likely that the next-generation Tiguan will grow in size and the Crossblue probably gives big clues to the look and underpinnings of the next Touareg too.
Yes, you are reading that correctly: Ford is bringing back the Escort.
Apart from the name, though, this has no significance to the UK because it's a small Focus-sized saloon aimed at Asian buyers who don't want to pay for the sophistication of European-designed cars.
Of far more interest on the Ford stand was a new 1.5-litre Ecoboost petrol engine. This has been designed to fit in with Chinese tax laws, but it will also be a worldwide replacement for the current 1.6 Ecoboost – and be a mainstay in the next Mondeo. Figures aren't yet available, but it promises superior economy and emissions to the big Ecoboost engine.
Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid
Thankfully the long-wheelbase Porsche Panamera is going to stay in China because it would look ludicrously long in Europe. Much more welcome though is the subtle face-lift for Porsche’s performance saloon and the addition of the plug-in hybrid model, the E-Hybrid.
Porsche's research and development boss, Wolfgang Hatz, told us that plug-in hybrids are Porsche's sole bet for reducing emissions for at least the next decade. The same system will shortly be installed in the Cayenne SUV and eventually the smaller Macan SUV, which we'll see at the end of the year.
Shanghai didn't quite see the global debut of this small Mitsubishi saloon because it was unveiled in Bangkok a few days previously. The design seems fairly anonymous, but the fact that the company is making great play of its lightweight construction, efficiency and interior space bodes well for all future models.
The G4 is powered by a 1.2-litre petrol engine and a CVT 'box. However success in Europe dictates that it needs a diesel option and probably a hatchback bodystyle, too.
By Chas Hallett