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Money talks in Geneva

The hulking British bulldog might tick the boxes for cashed-up families.

... rival the prices on the BMW options' list for things like salad and spuds.

So it's no surprise that the top end of town calls the shots at the Palexpo alongside Geneva Airport as Europe's carmakers go head-to-head for the first time in 2012. 

Ferrari and Lamborghini battle for go-faster bragging rights as Rolls-Royce and Bentley get serious about family motoring for the ultra-rich, while Infiniti pitches an new exotic coupe and even Ssangyong of Korea goes upmarket with a new concept. 

There are also dozens of one-off dream machines and hotrod tuner cars in Geneva, a show that is traditionally dominated by European design stars including Pininfarina and Giugiaro. 

But there is plenty, too, for ordinary car buyers as the Fiesta ST brakes cover, Hyundai updates the i20 and teases with the Veloster Turbo, Jaguar confirms an XF station wagon, Audi and Mercedes-Benz previews their A3 and A-Class, and Ford even updates its box-boring Transit workhorse. 

Picking the best of the best is tough with so much gorgeous stuff on the stands, but Alfa Romeo is the winner for 2012 and edges out the Infiniti Emerge-E with its Disco Volante.

The pretty little red coupe is dreamy without being stupid and is already confirmed for production, although the slightly-retro body will be draped over Alfa's existing 8C Competizione chassis - 4.7-litre V8, 335kW, 0-100km/h in 4.2 seconds - which means it's no chance for Australia with only left-hand drive.

The Ferrari F12 is exactly what you expect from the fastest car to wear the badge - 340km/h and 0-100km/h in 3.1 seconds - including a swoopy body that taps the past as well as the influences that created the California convertible, but Lamborghini goes even better with an Aventador J preview car that is snapped up for a rumoured $2.8 million ahead of genuine production of an open-topped Aventador supercar.

Rolls-Royce updates the Phantom with a new nose that still demands respect, as well as tweaking its colour choices with a two-tone approach that triggers memories of cheap seventies vinyl roofs, and Jaguar gets serious for families with an XF Sportbrake that will still struggle in a world of SUVs.

Further down the food chain, the Audi A3 looks good but not as edgy as an A-Class that must break away from the bus pass generation into something closer to the Y-Gen futurists, and Volkswagen previews a more car-like Tiguan crossover with its Cross Coupe.

Hyundai has a preview of a new flagship coupe called the i-oniq - did it mean ironic? - Kia shows a Track'ster that will become the new Soul, Honda shows the CR-V design that's coming to Australia, and the pocket rocket Ford Fiesta ST breaks cover with a confirmation for Australia.

The action and excitement at Geneva goes on and on, and that is - really - the best thing about the show. Detroit in January hinted that the word's carmakers are finally emerging from the austerity and fear of the global financial crisis and the big-spending effort in Geneva confirms it, with good news for almost everyone from Euro billionaires to ordinary Aussie families.

PG PICKS:

1. Bentley EXP 9 F.

Only one word fits - Ugly. With a big capital U. The hulking British bulldog might tick the boxes for cashed-up families, but this SUV makes a LandCruiser look elegant, and subtle.

2. Giugiaro Brivido.

Exactly what you expect to see in Geneva, as designers go all-out to impress the crowds - and each other. Not for production but a great looker with huge gullwing doors.

3. Range Rover Evoque Convertible. A certainty for production as Land Rover milks its most successful design - ever. This one will never go bush but is being fast tracked for Double Bay and Toorak.

4. Ssangyong XIV-2. Who knew the South Koreans could trump the Euros with a design that combines SUV practicality with a coupe-convertible body? A big surprise.

5. Toyota FT-Bh: Just when you thought the uglies were done, Toyota lobbed with this. If it's the future for hybrid cars then sales will be slow. Very slow.

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