The star cars of the 2015 Geneva motor show
Our stars from the 2015 Geneva show, including models from Ford, Lexus, Honda, Skoda and more, as picked by our man on the ground...
There are bad motor shows, good motor shows and great motor shows - and this year's Geneva show was definitely a great one. To stand out from the half-dozen other expositions held throughout the year, you need a solid mix of new production metal but also enough future-facing concepts to get us all excited about the next decade. Oh, and the odd surprise doesn't do you any harm either.
Geneva 2015 had all of that. There was everything from production models like the new Skoda Superb and Renault's Kadjar SUV, and near-production concepts such as the Infiniti QX30 and the Seat 20V20, right through to toe-in-the-water show cars like Aston Martin's outlandish DBX and the Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6.
This was definitely an event, then, that showed how manufacturers are going to try to use wave after wave of new product to maintain the sales progress that they've seen over the past few years. The people who benefit are the customers since we'll have greater choice, better quality and higher efficiency than ever before. Small wonder that the vast majority of those who filed out of the Geneva show halls had smiles on their faces.
Here, in no particular order, are the cars that stood out for us.
A sister car to the 2014 What Car? Car of the Year, the Nissan Qashqai, the Renault Kadjar drew widespread praise for managing to look reasonably different from its stablemate. From the front, at least, the Kadjar looks like an inflated Renault Captur, which is no bad thing, although it does appear to have inherited the Clio's thin and wide tail-lights.
The Kadjar is a crucial model for Renault as it tries to regain sales lost to some of the premium German brands, not to mention the ever-improving models from Kia and Hyundai. On the basis of a quick poke around the car on the Geneva stand, it ought to stand a decent chance of success; it's as least as practical as the Qashqai and will share plenty of its mechanical components with that car too.
Whether that means the same UK-honed chassis and steering set-up as the Nissan remains to be seen. Even if the Kadjar is a bit less focused and a bit more focused on comfort, it ought to find buyers, however.
The outgoing Skoda Superb was something of a behemoth anyway, so we've been wondering how the Czech brand could improve upon its range-topper without creating something as long as a Mercedes S-Class. Geneva has provided the answer: they've kept it roughly the same size but have been much more clever with the packaging.
This generation of Superb switches to the same set of core chassis parts as many VW, Skoda, Seat and Audi models - and the engineers have taken advantage of the gains offered by this new set of components to reduce the front overhang and increase the amount of shoulder- and headroom for rear passengers. The amount of legroom remains roughly the same as the old car's, but then, the Superb wasn't exactly lacking in this department before anyway.
Throw in clean 1.6-litre diesels and a particularly tempting 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol that can switch off cylinders to save fuel, and this Superb has the potential to be every bit as much of a bargain as its predecessor.
Incidentally, the Superb isn't likely to be the most expensive car in the Skoda line-up forever, meanwhile; there's a seven-seat SUV due at the end of 2016 that is likely to sit just above it in the range.
BMW 1 Series
Ostensibly just a facelift, the new BMW 1 Series looks the best crack yet at a small hatchback from the German manufacturer. For starters, it now actually looks like a BMW; the slightly awkward bread-van profile remains, but the headlights and, in particular, the tail-lights make it look much more like part of the same family as the 3 Series and 5 Series.
That's probably enough to guarantee the 1 Series extra sales, but the car also gets upgrades to its interior finish and infotainment options, plus access to BMW's latest range of three-cylinder petrol engines and four-cylinder diesels. The cleanest edition will be sub-90g/km on CO2 emissions; even the 116d automatic will be under 100g/km.
This was one of the more subtle launches at Geneva, then, but it could also prove to be one of the more significant.
Vauxhall's new city car looks like everything it needs to be: smartly styled, neat inside, with enough practical touches to give it a chance against such impressive rivals as the Hyundai i10 and Skoda Citigo.
The Viva gets a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with 75bhp, putting it right in the ballpark of those city car rivals. The range looks extremely easy to understand, with only a couple of trim levels and relatively modest options list.
The car should start at just under £8000, but even fully-specced Vivas won't go much beyond £11,000. More importantly, finance rates should start at less than £100 per month. The city car market has become a fantastic place to buy a car in the past few years; Vauxhall's entry looks set to make it even more appealing.
Speak to your local Nissan dealer and he'll privately admit that the current generation of Micra has been something of a disaster - a global car forced into Europe without enough reworking to give it a chance against ever-improving competition. It has undoubtedly done serious damage to one of the most respected names in the small car market.
Nissan will try to play catch-up with a new generation of Micra that's due in the middle of 2016; the Sway is our first sight of what it might look like. It's an edgy four metre-long hatchback, with aggressive surfacing on the flanks and a huge deep grille in the middle of a chiselled front end.
The main thing is that the Sway concept could bring fresh impetus to the Micra badge. Even with a few corners rubbed off, this could be one of the most distinctive small cars on the market. If Nissan can make the required leap in interior quality, it may be enough to reclaim former glories.
Honda Civic Type R
The power games of hot hatchback manufacturers entered a new phase at Geneva, with Honda launching the most powerful front-wheel-drive hot hatch seen yet: the Civic Type R.
The new Type R mates turbocharging technology with Honda's famed VTEC variable valve timing to produce 306bhp and 295lb ft of torque.The front suspension uses lots of trick geometry in an attempt to reduce torque steer, and Honda is claiming some pretty serious rigidity gains from the stiffer rear set-up too. It's a manual only, by the way; no automatic or dual-clutch version will be offered.
The performance figures are pretty staggering; Honda claims the car can reach 62mph from rest in just 5.7sec and a top speed of 167mph. That's full-on sports car performance, really, from a five-door hatchback costing just less than £30,000.
The rest of the car looks set to back up the extreme performance, with ventilation gills stitched into the bodywork, huge front wheel arches and the mother and father of all rear wings. I've no doubt it'll be a blast around the Nordschleife or at your local race circuit on a track day; whether it's genuinely feasible to live with on on an everyday basis without having your chiropractor on speed dial is another matter.
It seems like we've seen a hundred Infiniti concepts come and go at global motor shows, but the fledging Japanese premium brand may just have a hit on its hands with its Geneva star: the QX30. The show vehicle was ostensibly a concept, but few expect it to change much for production. That means that Nissan's premium brand should have one of the most striking small SUVs on the market when it does arrive in showrooms in 2016.
The concept uses a rear-wheel-drive chassis set-up, but the production car is much more likely to be offered as a four-wheel drive. That'll pitch it against more expensive version of the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, as well as Lexus's recently launched NX. While previous Infinitis have struggled to sell, particularly in Europe, it's easy to see how the well-resolved design of the QX30 could find buyers in a market where emotional appeal is one of the key factors.
While previous Infinitis have struggled to sell, particularly in Europe, it's easy to see how the well-resolved design of the QX30 could find buyers in a market where emotional appeal is one of the key factors.
Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6
A little bit of fantasy here - for now, at least. Bentley's two-seat sports car was undoubtedly one of the Geneva showstoppers, with a stunning rethink on how the British brand's cars can look and, well, a boldness in just showing the thing that would have been scarcely inconceivable even five years ago.
It didn't meet with universal approval from showgoers; some criticised the bold headlights and grille treatment at the front end. However, the bare concept of a lighter, more agile Bentley (offering a six-cylinder option, as well as the firm's trademark V8, most likely, ) did get people excited.
Bentley has its hands full developing an SUV, of course - the Bentayga, which should arrive in showrooms early in 2016. However, the EXP 10 Speed 6 gave us a tantalising glimpse of what could come after it. Of all the Geneva concepts, it was the one that really set tongues wagging.
Like Renault, Seat has needed a family SUV for years but while the French manufacturer was able to show off its Kadjar and open the order books, its Spanish rival was still showing yet another concept of how its 4x4 could look.
Still, if the 20V20 is anything to go by, the Seat SUV could well be worth the wait. The sharp, angular styling seemed to transfer the company's design cues well; there's enough Seat Leon in there to keep brand fans happy, but enough height and presence to appeal to those who want something a bit more butch.
The Geneva car was large enough to be a seven-seater - a sign that such a variant is indeed under development. However, we'd expect the first Seat SUV to be a smaller, five-seat model. If it retains enough of this car's pizzazz then it deserves to do well. It can't come quickly enough.
Officially, Lexus's LF-SA concept is only that: a show car designed to celebrate the firm's 25th birthday by taking a punt on what it might be producing 25 years from now. Unofficially, well-placed sources will admit that Toyota's luxury arm is considering a smaller, premium baby model that would give it a genuine rival to the Audi A1 and Mini.
The LF-SA looks a bit more radical than either of those cars but then, it's also a way of Lexus finding out what the public is prepared to buy with its badge on the front. The production car would almost certainly be longer, and probably a bit lower, although Lexus's strength in the SUV market could mean that its premium baby would be a Nissan Juke-like baby 4x4 instead of a regular supermini.
It must be said that the LF-SA isn't confirmed for production at all. That means that even if the green light is given on the back of positive Geneva feedback, a car like this isn't about to appear in showrooms for at least four years. However, it definitely felt 'right' to see Lexus trialling it. I can certainly see how a baby model from the brand, probably using hybrid technology, could be a sales hit in larger cities.
You'd be hard pressed to notice much difference in the looks of the revised Peugeot 208, which made its public debut in Geneva. The French brand's Fiesta and Polo rival gets a revised front grille, redesigned headlights and LED tail-lights, flashes of extra chrome and fresh alloy wheel options. A major overhaul it is not.
However, there are some significant adjustments inside the cabin, where the 208 gets improved leather on its steering wheel and better-quality materials on the dashboard. The 7in touchscreen infotainment system gets an upgrade too; it now offers MirrorScreen - Peugeot's version of MirrorLink - allowing you to run apps on your telephone but control them through the car's central display.
Under the bonnet, meanwhile, there's a refreshed line-up of engines that brings Peugeot's appealing 109bhp turbocharged three-cylinder petrol unit (as seen in the 308), and revised diesels that can emit as little as 79g/km. None of these mods drew gasps from Geneva showgoers, but they may be enough to bring the 208 back into the frame if you're looking at a Fiesta, Polo, Fabia or Corsa.
Ford Focus RS
Senior sources at Ford are quietly confident that the latest Focus RS will prove a more enjoyable car to drive on British back roads than the racetrack-tuned Honda Civic Type R, after the two hot hatchbacks squared up across the Geneva hall.
The third generation of the Focus RS gets a turbocharged 2.3-litre engine producing more than 316bhp (Ford hasn't released a precise figure yet) but unlike the Honda, it tries to put that grunt down through all four wheels instead of just the front ones.
The Focus looks more subtle than the Civic, but it's still aggressively styled for a five-door family hatchback. Ford engineers have also included 'fun' elements like a launch control system and a 'drift' button that will tell the car's four-wheel drive system to allow more sideways action than it otherwise would.
No prices have been released, but the Focus should come out with a price that's not a million miles away from the Civic Type R's. It's going to be fascinating to see which of these two five-door hotrods gains bragging rights once we get to try them on tracks and B-roads.