Our top 10
* Editor John McIlroy names his show stars * New models from BMW, Citroen, Mazda and Ford * Verdict: 'A show of product, not promises'...
The Geneva motor show is always a useful springtime barometer of how confident the car industry is feeling - and this year's event provides yet more proof that increased optimism in car buyers is going to be met by a raft of new model launches that could appeal to the masses. Car manufacturers know that we're keen on buying again - and they're falling over themselves to make sure their product is fresher than their rivals'.
So while Geneva did have its usual mix of outlandish concepts, stupendous supercars and downright weird customisations, it also had more humble undertones. This was a great motor show for general appeal, with small cars (Citroen C1, Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 108 and Renault Twingo), family cars (face-lifted Ford Focus and Citroen C4 Cactus) and people-carriers such as the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer.
There were also those looking not too far into the distance. Honda brought its ultra-aggressive Civic Type R concept - although the fact that Seat used the show to publicise a new lap record for front-wheel-drive cars around the classic Nordschleife race track provided proof that the Japanese company could do with launching the hot Civic this year, not in 2015.
The same could be said for Volvo, which teased again with a further concept - this time an estate tourer - that hints strongly at how the Swedish brand is going to develop its next generation of interiors, starting with the forthcoming XC90.
Jaguar was looking ahead too, announcing that its rival for the BMW 3 Series will be called XE, confirming that it will be revealed later this year, and released the first picture. Skoda also flagged future intent with the striking VisionC concept - a pointer to a more stylish Octavia 'four-door coupe', not to mention elements that will appear on the next Fabia.
Fact is, though, this Geneva felt like it was about product, not promises. Which is why almost all of our our top 10 cars of the show are founded very much in production models - or, indeed, about to go on sale.
Here are my favourites, in no particular order:
Mazda Hazumi (Mazda 2)
A concept car? Certainly. Far away from the production model? Not a bit of it. Forget the sci-fi side mirrors and Mazda's stunning Geneva show car really is the next generation of its rival for the Ford Fiesta - and that makes the Hazumi a very significant model indeed.
The next 2 will adopt this latest take on Mazda's design language, then, with extreme body surfacing, a prominent front grille and tail lights that look as though they've been given a good old-fashioned, painful pinch.
The under-the-skin tech should stack up too, with Mazda's SkyActiv weight-saving and efficiency measures helping even the concept's 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine to emit less than 90g/km of CO2. We'd expect even the petrol editions to dip under 100g/km.
The cabin builds on the progress achieved by Mazda on its latest 3, with a sharp, angular fascia, a head-up display and a slightly 'stripped-out' appearance that should make it feel more airy.
How long do we have to wait? Expect the production car at the Paris show this coming autumn, with UK sales starting in early 2015.
Geneva wasn't short of new city cars (see below), but Renault at least deserves some credit for offering something different with its latest Twingo. The new model shares much of its chassis with the next generation of Smart cars - and since that brand has a tradition of being rear-wheel drive and rear-engined, so is the Twingo.
Mind you, Renault isn't exactly going to scream details of the odd layout from the rooftops; instead the firm will concentrate on the benefits that the rear-engined format brings, such as better packaging for the front passengers and, most notably, a tiny turning circle of just 8.65 metres. That's more than a metre less than the turning circle of the latest Mini, and it reinforces the Twingo's position as an urban runabout.
The Twingo will be powered by either a 1.0-litre three-cylinder motor producing 69bhp, or Renault's 0.9-litre turbocharged unit, producing 89bhp. It certainly looks manoeuvrable, given the antics that the drivers got up to on the stand during the official reveal - and there are some neat tricks in the cabin, such as the dashboard clip that allows you to turn your mobile phone into a more integrated touch-screen device.
We do wonder about the packaging, though; the space under the bonnet isn't available for luggage, there's no full-size spare wheel and the high boot floor means a capacity of around 200 litres - or around 50 litres less than a Skoda Citigo. You can see what some of our readers thought on video here.
The other potential stumbling block? Price. There's no confirmation as yet, but Renault kept talking about the car as a rival for the Fiat 500 instead of the likes of the Citroen C1, Seat Mii and even Hyundai's i10. That could mean a starting price of around £10,000 - which would put the new baby Renault squarely in the sights of the king of 'baby premium' the VW Up. Still, it promises to be a fascinating novel option in an already crowded market.
BMW's show star was undoubtedly one of its less rakish designs - but that doesn't mean the 2 Series Active Tourer doesn't have real potential to shake up the family car market. The new model has the potential to sit between conventional MPVs like the Mercedes B-Class and regular family hatchbacks like the VW Golf.
BMW's offering is not much longer than a Golf, in fact, but it delivers an impressive amount of interior space; there's plenty of room here for four six-foot adults, and even with the panoramic sunroof fitted, there's decent headroom for everyone too. The dashboard is more deeply scalloped than traditional BMW layouts, too, giving the front cabin a particularly airy feel.
The real tricks start once you play with the rear seats; they can slide forwards and backwards to free up more cabin space or focus on luggage capacity, and the angle of their backs can also be adjusted if you've got an awkwardly shaped parcel that you want to slot into the boot.
The boot itself is well shaped, with a wide, tall aperture and plenty of useful hooks and tethering points - not to mention an extra storage area (with organising panels) under the floor.
The standard boot space is 468 litres (86 litres more than a Golf's), but with the 40/20/40 rear seat folded down this increases to 1510 litres - or a little more than BMW's 3 Series Touring.
Throw in the latest three-cylinder diesel and petrol engines (the cleanest editions will be emit less than 100g/km of CO2), plus the option of four-wheel drive with selected motors, and the 2 Series Active Tourer looks like one of the most interesting BMWs for a generation - since the original X5, in fact.
The Audi TT is such a design icon that radical change for the small coupe is pretty much inconceivable; what occurs is simply evolution, and that's what the latest version represents. Even so, it was undoubtedly one of the most significant launches of the show.
If the TT's exterior doesn't represent a radical rethink, the cabin does. Audi has done away with conventional instruments and replaced them with a single 12.3in screen whose display can be configured to the driver's tastes (including a rev-counter and speedometer that can be expanded or shrunk via steering wheel controls).
It's a stunning achievement that has to be seen in the flesh to be appreciated, with a high-resolution display and gloriously seamless transitions in the graphics (Audi has been working with computer chip company nVidia on this); if you've ever experienced the stutter of a chugging car infotainment system, you'll know how big a difference this can make to the user experience.
Frankly, the TT will sell on its fascia alone, then, but the numbers are pretty impressive too, with more power and better fuel economy across the line. There will be three engines at launch - a 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel, a 227bhp 2.0-litre petrol and a 306bhp 2.0-litre petrol that threatens to outdrag a Porsche Cayman S. The diesel emits just 110g/km of CO2, but the 227bhp petrol looks respectable even in four-wheel-drive form, at 159g/km.
Audi also sprung a surprise by unveiling the TT Sport Quattro concept, the result of a race between the VW Group and Mercedes to produce the most powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Set the specific task of beating the A45 AMG's 355bhp, Audi's engineers have ramped up the concept's motor to 414bhp - a quite astonishing figure for such a small engine.
The concept won't be transferred directly to production - but its motor could end up at the heart of a 'TT Clubsport', a high-cost, 'extreme' lightweight version developed for the track and homologated for the road. Given that Audi claims a 0-62mph time of 3.7sec for the even the concept, it's fair to assume that a lighter race-bred version could crack the 3.5sec mark.
Toyota Aygo / Peugeot 108 / Citroen C1
The original Aygo, 107 and C1 were unmistakably three different versions of the same car - but it's harder to level the same accusation at the new trio (even though only Peugeot has decided to give its successor a new name). Peugeot has gone with a natural evolution of the old car's looks; Citroen has tried to mix cuteness with the slim-headlight design first seen on its latest C4 Picasso; and Toyota has gone radical, with a dramatic front-end treatment that's apparently meant to evoke the spirit of Japanese youth culture.
The differences go beyond the exterior styling, too. All three manufacturers will offer different elements of personalisation (Toyota in particularly is making big claims on this front) and while the Aygo is available with a three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol engine only, its French stablemates will also be offered with a 1.2.
The cabins are harder to split, admittedly, with the same basic dashboard design, a central touch-screen and, it must be said, a narrow, deep boot whose capacity falls short of what's on offer in a Hyundai i10 or VW Up.
Still, none of the three brands has released details on pricing and there are indications that at least some variants will start at under £9000 - with PCP offers looking more aggressive than that. Each of these three arrivals has the potential to be a worthy contender for your cash.
The Mini Clubman has long been the oddball of the Mini family - neither an effective estate nor a compact hatchback, and with the curious 'Clubdoor' which opens out into traffic in right-hand-drive markets such as the UK.
The new Clubman, previewed at Geneva ahead of sales starting later this year, is an altogether different animal. It is, in effect, a proper Mini estate, with a longer wheelbase than the regular hatchback; indeed, it's actually longer than the biggest Mini in the current line-up, the Countryman SUV.
Instead of two-and-a-half doors, the Clubman switches to a regular layout, with two doors on each side. It does keep the old model's complex pair of rear doors, though, instead of a conventional hatchback; we suspect Mini's market research revealed that existing Clubman buyers have become quite fond of this feature.
Mini hasn't released any boot capacities, but the smart money is on a figure of around 400 litres with the rear seats in place; that's more than the Countryman's, and not far off double the space on offer in the latest Mini hatchback.
The Clubman may not appeal to Mini purists, but it is a more effective execution than the car it replaces. Better still, the Clubman is based on the new Mini's chassis - which means that it will get the latest engines and, we'd hope, the new model's more accomplished ride quality. One thing's for sure: if you're after a Mini with space, we'd be holding fire and waiting on this instead of going anywhere near the existing Countryman.
In sheer numbers, the biggest new model of the Geneva show was easily Ford's face-lifted Focus, which aims to deliver the sort of razor-sharp handling that so defined the first generation of the car when it goes on sale later this year.
Ford engineers have taken the deft brilliance of the latest VW Golf to heart, and introduced a number of measures - including re-profiled dampers and re-calibrated power steering - in a bid to 'win back the handling crown'.
We'll have to wait until we drive the Focus to see if they've succeeded. We can tell you already, though, that the new car's cabin is a clear step forward. Gone (thank goodness) is the seemingly random scattering of buttons in the middle of the Focus's fascia, replaced by a neater, more sophisticated design that makes better use of multi-function controls (and the latest Sync II interface). The car is cleaner, too; a petrol edition will dip beneath 100g/km of CO2 emissions, and there are efficiency gains of up to 19% in the diesel line-up. The cleanest edition will emit just 88g/km, in fact.
The styling gets a tweak, too, with Ford's new corporate grille, slimmer headlights and different tail-lights.
None of these modifications reinvents the wheel, but then the Focus has continued to sell in huge numbers, despite increased competition from the likes of the Golf, Skoda Octavia, Seat Leon and Mazda 3. If the handling has been improved without ruining the ride quality, then Ford's family hatch should still be high up most shortlists.
Geneva wouldn't be Geneva without a bit of glamour, but while Ferrari wheeled out its new turbocharged California and Lamborghini gave a public debut to the extreme Huracan, Maserati won its fair share of admirers with the neat Alfieri, a concept that's considered extremely likely to make production.
The Alfieri is a 2+2 that's based on the Granturismo MC Stradale, but it's considerably shorter; this is a potential rival, after all, for the Porsche 911 and Jaguar F-Type. It still has the Granturismo's 4.7-litre V8 engine, though, producing 460bhp, so there should be enough performance on tap for the Alfieri to live with its British and German rivals.
The car's looks are closer to the Jaguar's than they are the Porsche's, but the Maserati's propositions feature a slightly longer bonnet. The back end is particularly effective, with slim lights perched on top of huge shoulders that flare over the rear wheels.
Maserati hasn't confirmed any production plans, but they were making enough noises about this car 'not just being a design study' to suggest that it could replace the Granturismo in the line-up within the next couple of years. We hope it does; judging by the reaction at Geneva, the Aflieri could represent an important step in the rebirth of this classic brand.
Volkswagen hasn't committed to building a small SUV just yet - but high-level sources say the firm is gearing up for an attack on the crossover market, and the T-Roc concept that it showed in Geneva gives a strong hint on how one of the most pressing additions to the range could look.
The T-Roc is smaller than VW's existing small SUV, the Tiguan, so it could go up against models such as the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur. It's based on the same kit of chassis components (called MQB) that sit underneath the latest Golf and Audi A3 - so it could easily be offered with four-wheel drive. Indeed, the concept uses that transmission set-up, in partnership with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission and a 2.0-litre diesel engine producing 181bhp.
Other engine options in the MQB line-up could also be offered, including 1.6-litre diesel motors and 1.2-litre turbocharged petrols.
The concept's removable carbonfibre roof panel would be ditched for production, of course, and two rear doors would need to be added - but the headlights and front grille treatment could signal a new 'family look' for VW's SUVs.
VW isn't likely to stop with the Juke rival; it's also working on a smaller car (previewed by the Taigun concept), as well as a larger SUV for the US and new generations of the Tiguan and Touareg.
Citroen C4 Cactus
The C4 Cactus had actually been revealed before Geneva, but this was the public debut for Citroen's radical re-think on a family hatchback. It gets a sophisticated, 'clean' look on the outside (including Airbump, moulded plastic bubbles designed to protect against car park scrapes) and what's designed to be a comfy, welcoming environment in the cabin. The overall effect is admirably close to the original concept; they've even managed to keep the feel of a front bench seat (it's meant to feel like a sofa).
The car's underpinnings are shared, in part, with the successful DS3 hatchback, but the basic chassis has been stretched to make the C4 Cactus a real four-seater. Legroom won't be a problem for adults in the rear - although headroom could be more of an issue. The Cactus is considerably lighter than many of its rivals, with a starting weight of less than a tonne, so Citroen has already confirmed that its best CO2 emissions figure will be an impressive 82g/km.
The biggest Cactus-related announcement at Geneva, in fact, was the price: it'll start at 14,000 euros in continental Europe, and while Citroen UK hasn't issued a figure yet, the smart money would suggest a starting price in British dealers of just under £13,000.
Citroen is also planning two types of 'fixed-cost' payment plans; one will allow you to pick and mix insurance, servicing and roadside assistance, and roll them into the monthly cost with your chosen spec of car. The other features a lower fixed monthly fee and makes use of the car's connectivity to charge by the kilometre (or mile); it could even adjust your monthly insurance bill, depending on mileage.
Citroen hasn't committed to adopting these sales models in UK dealers, but sources acknowledge that 'numbers are being crunched'. They do have a little bit of time to get things sorted, in fact, because - frustratingly - the C4 Cactus won't land in British showrooms until the autumn.
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