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Stars of the Geneva Motor Show

Zagato Bentley GTZ

Europeans tore themselves away from exotic supercars to catch a close-up glimpse of the Nano, a tiny, basic and extremely cheap runabout which promises to turn the motoring world on its head.


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The Nano's starting price, below A$3000, means it costs about half as much as any other car on sale, and it looks certain to be the vehicle that gets India onto four wheels. Recalling the first time Tata Motors appeared at Europe's biggest annual car event, chairman Ratan Tata seemed surprised and genuinely moved at the interest the Nano has sparked.

More than any other contender, Tata is putting Third World car-makers on the map and has become a symbol of a potential new order. The Nano could go on sale in Europe one day, Ratan Tata said, but Tata Motors is already there — collaborating with Fiat and first in line to buy Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford. Expectations were high that the Jaguar deal would be inked this week, with an announcement scheduled for the Geneva show. Then word spread that there were delays and nothing would happen until after Easter. But for Tata now, it's only a matter of time.

A further sign of change in Europe also came in the shape of a runabout, this time from Toyota. In Australia we're so used to the Japanese brand's dominance that it's taken for granted, but in Europe it's further down the auto pecking order.

However, the iQ, which first appeared in concept form at last year's Frankfurt event, should show the European powerhouses of Volkswagen and Peugeot that if they fail to take Toyota seriously, they do so at their peril.

The cleverly designed miniature runabout, which is the world's smallest four-seater, goes on sale in Europe before the end of the year and becomes the bottom rung of a three-tier model strategy, which includes the Yaris, to take on the continent's biggest segment. The iQ gives Toyota something no other brand can offer and should help it limbo under European emission regulations.

It won't be as easy for the luxury makers, which now parade their efforts to be green at every opportunity. BMW's stand had row upon row of white cars with metre-high lettering on the sides proclaiming Efficient Dynamics, and the presentation was long on emissions numbers and short on sexy products.

It was almost by accident I realised Geneva marked the world debut of the M3 Convertible, and it was hard to escape the conclusion that BMW's real intended audience here, and at other recent shows, has been the politicians who could make its life a misery rather than the people who buy its cars.

It was a similar story at Mercedes although it took even longer to tell, so by the time it unveiled facelifts across its entire range of coupes, including an overdue update for the SL roadster, I'd drifted away to the Italians.

The Maserati Granturismo is the coupe version of the Quattroporte and it's just arriving in Australia, but already the marque has fitted a bigger 4.7-litre V8 — the same one which powers the Alfa 8C Spider (see below). It gave me another excuse to ogle one of the most beautiful cars on the market.

Meanwhile, Ferrari has facelifted its four-seater, the 612 Scaglietti, and crossed a little Rubicon of sorts: this is the first Prancing Horse with cruise control.

Toyota is still developing a supercar model for its Lexus brand, although the string of LF-A concepts are starting to make the real thing look a little overdue. For Geneva it recycled a convertible version shown at Detroit in January, and Lexus continues to be less-than-specific about the eventual powertrain these supercars will employ. A V10 with at least 360kW sounds tempting enough, so let's see the production version.

But teasing is the stuff of motor shows, and a dramatically gull-winged Renault Megane Coupe Concept showed hints of what the next French small car will look like, with a less exaggerated rear than the current hatchback.

Meanwhile, Saab's 9X BioHybrid did more than reinforce the Swedish fondness for ethanol fuels. The striking two-door showed how the brand plans to recruit young buyers into a future Saab compact car.

 

STARS OF THE SHOW

Alfa Romeo 8C Spider

What is it: A soft-top version of the 8C Coupe, Alfa's first supercar in eons and homage to some of the brand's signature models from the 1950s. Similar in design to the 8C Coupe, it will also become a flag-waver for the brand while Alfa decides whether to return to the US.

The power and the glory: Under the bonnet is a 336kW 4.7-litre V8 driving the rear wheels via a six-speed robot manual gearbox, while the body is carbon fibre over a steel frame. In the cabin, two sports seats and loads of lovely Italian leather.

Can I buy one? You'll need to have at least $360,000 handy and even then you'd better be quick. Only 500 will be built, all in left-hand drive, and many will already have names against them. Deliveries of the Coupe, also limited to a production run of 500, have begun and five Australians are among the select group of owners. Most will garage their cars overseas.

 

Italdesign-Giugiaro Quaranta

What is it: A concept car from one of Italy's premier auto styling houses built to celebrate 40 years in business. It draws on famous Giugiaro design landmarks, such as the Manta of 1968, for inspiration. The single-volume wedge shape is defined in one deft sweep of glass which hinges upwards from the front for entry. The cabin houses three seats, with the driver in the middle.

The power and the glory: All four wheels are driven by a Toyota hybrid system which combines a 155kW 3.3-litre V6 with two electric motors. The roof and bonnet feature arrays of solar panels for recharging the battery and powering the cabin.

Can I buy one? No, it's a one-off.

 

Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4

What is it: Lamborghini's junior supercar, the Gallardo, has been face-lifted and fettled to keep it fresh after five years in production and more than 7000 sales. The revised design has better aerodynamic qualities and features LED daytime running lights.

The power and the glory: : The V10 engine has grown to 5.2 litres and pumps out 412 kW at 8000rpm, giving a zero to 100km/h time of just 3.7 seconds and top speed of 325km/h. Some of the performance increase comes from a 20kg weight reduction and Lamborghini has discovered an environmental conscience, reducing emissions and fuel consumption by 18 per cent thanks to direct fuel injection.

Can I buy one? It's unlikely to be cheaper than the current model, which starts at $415,000, and you'll need patience to wait for Australian deliveries.

 

Pininfarina Sintesi

What is it: The designer of countless Ferraris and Maseratis lets his hair down on a concept car. Pininfarina designs are regular show-stoppers at Geneva and this four-door coupe is no exception, with its wavy sill lines and wedge shape. In a theatrical touch, all four doors rotate skywards for easy entry. Pininfarina says the Sintesi is an exercise in reorganising the ingredients in a car for more efficient use of space and better dynamics.

The power and the glory: Four fuel cells each developing 20kW drive a wheel each, backed up by boost from a battery.

Can I buy one? No chance.

 

Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe

What is it: Rolls-Royce is on a roll, with a coupe version of the Phantom joining the sedan and convertible already on sale. More than 1000 Rollers went to buyers last year, which means BMW's elite badge easily eclipsed sales of the Maybach, its rival from the Mercedes-Benz stable. It marked a new highpoint in annual volume for Rolls, too.

The power and the glory: Rolls says the Coupe is more driver-oriented than the sedan, although not a sportscar. The engine — a 6.75-litre V12 — suggests performance won't be an issue, although the car's size and weight rule out acrobatic agility. However, the chassis is stiffer, the suspension firmer and there's even a sport button. The design incorporates many ingredients from the 101EX concept of 2006, such as the LED headlamps.

Can I buy one? Of course, if you have the money. Just don't ask the price. Apparently, advance orders are mainly from people new to the brand.

 

Spyker C8 Aileron

What is it: The next generation C-line model from Dutch sportscar specialist Spyker extends the wheelbase of the original but remains inspired by the company's aviation and racing heritage.

The power and the glory: A mid-mounted 298kW 4.2-litre V8 with six-speed manual or, for the first time, an automatic. The construction features aluminium panels over an aluminium spaceframe. The cabin is a riot of stitched leather and the metallic dash looks like a jewellery box.

Can I buy one? Prices start at around $350,000 and if your tastes already run to sound systems from Kharma and watches from Chronoswiss, then you'd better allow a bit extra for the options. But you'll have to go to Europe to get it. Volkswagen Scirocco

What is it: A versatile and affordable sportscar for every day of the year. A resurrection of a famous VW nameplate more than 30 years after the original, and two years after a concept version revealed the brand's intentions. The four-seat coupe incorporates a new face for the brand in the grille and light shapes, plus a practical wagon back.

The power and the glory: Based on the Golf but wider and lower to the ground, the Scirocco will be available with a range of petrol and diesel engines — all turbocharged driving through a seven-speed double-clutch transmission.

Can I buy one? Yes, and like Volkswagen's recent return to the affordable convertible segment in the Eos, expect prices to be competitive.

 

Volvo XC60

What is it: Volvo's entry into the premium compact SUV segment is the safest car the company has ever built, it says. It slots in below the brand's best-selling XC90 and pitches the Swedes against the BMW X3 and upcoming Audi Q5. Volvo expects annual sales to reach 67,000.

The power and the glory: Designer Steve Mattin says Volvo is turning up the visual volume with this design, which takes it even further from the boxy shapes of yore. The safety claim is backed up by new technology which aims to prevent low-speed shunts with automatic emergency braking, while the powertrain line-up features a new turbocharged in-line six-cylinder.

Can I buy one? Yes, early next year.

 

Zagato Bentley GTZ

What is it: A restyling of the Bentley Continental GT by specialist coachbuilder Zagato. It continues a long tradition of reworking British designs by the Italian bespoke company, which has previously reshaped Aston Martins.

The power and the glory: Undisclosed powertrain, but the original engine is likely. Zagato has made the wheel arches more pronounced and turned the roof into a double-bubble shape. Most noticeable, though, is the GT's newly rounded rump and tail-lights. Hand painted pin-stripes complete the tailoring.

Can I buy one? You could commission one.

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