In the first days of March, the hilly surroundings of the Swiss Lac Leman were still covered deep in snow, but inside Geneva's Palexpo exhibition center, you could get a feeling of the blossoming spring, full of busy life. Once a year, the car industry forgets about crises, environmental challenges, and political correctness and puts on the carnival mask, celebrating the fastest, most opulent, and dearest forms of mobility humanity has ever seen.
Through the decades, the Geneva Motor Show has grown to be one the most prestigious car events in the world, but the place that invariably hosts it on the precious Swiss land hasn't grown an inch. This leaves the exhibitors with so little space that, at an equivalent show in Detroit or Paris, it would be covered by not more than a dozen of the industry's big players.
But this is Switzerland, so even the car giants need to accept the rules that apply here. Rule number one: No matter whether you're Volkswagen or the surprisingly successful Croatian hypercar manufacturer startup Rimac, you have space enough only to boast with what you are the most successful at. In some cases this year, this meant that the whole stand had only one star. For Volvo, it was the new XC60—the new SUV set to be the biggest hit of the brand rejuvenated under the Chinese custodianship. Here presented already in its full galore with a complete engine lineup topped by a 407hp T8 variant, the XC60 proved that it is indeed ready to compete for leadership in the premium small SUV segment, hoping to place itself ahead of its German and American rivals.
The strength of the Swedish engineering was manifested even more convincingly in the other end of Palexpo hall by a pair of Christian von Koenigsegg's Regeras, here presented in their production spec for the first time. With a sensational 1.11-megawatt hybrid powertrain, the Swedish genius won the Top Trumps game with the 1,500hp Bugatti Chiron-celebrating production debut just a few steps away. The crowds cheered and so did the owners of no less than eight Koenigseggs that had gathered in front of the show. Even if this Koenigsegg-Bugatti duel may be regarded as nothing more than a billionaire's playground loosely connected with the real world of the other Palexpo walls, you can draw serious conclusions from Koenigsegg's feat. After years of indisputable German dominance on all fronts of the European car industry, the rest of the continent strikes back.
Yes, the Volkswagen Empire is still pushing on at an impressive pace. Next to the 450hp Audi RS 5, there stood the striking Q8 super-SUV in its nearly production-ready phase. Presented two years after the agile EXP10 concept, the drop-top Bentley EXP12 Speed 6e Concept looked far better than its name sounded. It also proved that the legendary British brand is seriously thinking about a smaller model spun off from the Panamera platform, positioned under the Continental GT range. The svelte white convertible showed what the near future holds for Bentley, which is a shift to lighter, smarter, and purer technologies tied more closely to what the rest of the VAG family is doing.
On Volkswagen's own stand, in the meantime, the Germans wowed the crowds with a charming Arteon four-door coupe. The model, priced above the Passat, proved that Europe's biggest carmaker knows how to maintain the pragmatic Teutonic approach its cars are known for, as well as how to spice them up with some emotions. The same can be said about the new Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, a car we all hoped was coming but couldn't imagine seeing, as the idea that this iconic brand could bring a wagon to the market still seemed surreal. Turns out, Porsche can do a wagon, and it is rather good at it. The ones who had little faith in the rumors regarding a four-door version of the AMG GT were in for a surprise as well, as the Mercedes stand welcomed a striking red concept car being just that: a hybrid 805hp uber-limo aimed squarely at the Panamera.
So the Germans showed stellar form, but they couldn't deny the progress shown at the stands of the companies they have to reacquaint as their competitors. The new Alfa Romeo Stelvio is the best proof for this; spun off from the highly popular new Giulia sedan, it closely follows its recipe for success, including the best of Italian flair and a sizzling-hot 510hp Quadrifoglio version that looks forward to grasping the Norsdschleife lap record in the SUV segment.
Range Rover Velar is yet another car with big chances of taking a considerable chunk of the market share now occupied by the likes of BMW and Mercedes. Yet another crossover of the JLR corporation, it looks more like a luxury boulevard cruiser than a Defender descendant, but it is promised to beat the competition both on the comfort and all-terrain-ability fronts. Right next to it, there stood a new Jaguar, not an SUV this time, but a van, naturally. It's easy to pick on I-Pace's controversial body, in Geneva exhibited in a blistering red shade, but its state-of-the-art electrical powertrain proves it's not always Tesla that is ahead of the game.
The Euro-only section had its big news, including the long-awaited debut of the Alpine A110. The first French sports car brand resurrected by Renault mixed the sentiments of its half-a-century-old legendary namesake. It boasts fresh technologies to yield a 252hp, 2,380-pound mid-engined coupe with a seven-speed double-clutch gearbox; in short, a potential Porsche Cayman-beater. If you're up for compact-sized luxury SUVs, chances are you'll like the new DS 7, a convincing attempt at the premium segment made by DS brand, the luxury arm of French Citroen. This Audi-Q5-cum-Champs-Elysees-glamour-model won't come to the U.S., though; for the time being, its PSA Group owner is thinking of dipping its toe in the U.S.-market water with a car-sharing program.
So much for reality; it's the cars like the splendid new McLaren 720S that make the Geneva show truly special. For this reason, Woking's new golden child might have been the most important premiere of this year's show, as the 720S, McLaren's first successor to an existing model, is still a car like nothing before it. With its impossibly complex body and 710hp 4.0L V-8, it marks a dawn of the new supercar era in which effectiveness, expressed by both powertrain technologies and aerodynamics, reaches new heights.
Somewhat surprisingly, the best response to McLaren's epoch-defining supercar came from Lamborghini. Its Huracan Performante came to Geneva as the newly (but controversially) crowned king of Nordschleife. Together with the refreshed Aventador S, they had painted an image of a Lamborghini different to the one we know. Playboys' favorite is evolving, with its cars becoming more focused and more technologically sophisticated thanks to Lamborghini's leading position on the carbon-fiber front.
In an even more unexpected move, it was Porsche that countered the British and Italian sensations with a car that consciously takes a step backward. The new 911 GT3 brings back the availability of the six-speed manual and shuns the downsizing trend, gaining 200 cc of engine capacity. The result is a full-size 4.0L boxer motor, good for 500 hp and a 9,000 rpm redline. And yet only a few yards away, there was another Porsche that merged the past with the newest technologies on an even more dramatic level. Actually, it wasn't a Porsche at all, but Ruf's first fully custom-built car.
Funnily enough, Ruf all too often had stolen Porsche's show in Geneva in the past, so it wasn't surprising to see Zuffenhausen's bigwigs trying to casually mix with the audience at the world premiere of the new car made in a little specialist garage located in Pfaffenhausen. What Porsche's elite saw at Ruf's stand surely exceeded their expectations. To mark the 30th anniversary of the world's fastest car of 1987, the legendary Yellowbird (undoubtedly the most important car in Ruf's history), the company produced its successor that looks just like the original on the outside, but packs all of the newest technology underneath its vintage-look-alike body. As our scoop story revealed a week ahead of its debut, thank you very much, the 2017 CTR is the first car in Ruf's company not to be based on any Porsche, but on a bespoke carbon-fiber monocoque not far off what you find in McLaren, LaFerrari, or LMP race cars. This particular chassis was developed in cooperation with one of the German motorsport gurus, Vela Performance. CTR's yellow body is also all new, even if it maintains the Yellowbird magic with all of its purist-pleasing details.
When it comes to style, the Italians are still the ones to dictate the trends, both good and bad. The new Zerouno Lamborghini Huracan-based five-off, the first road car to wear the Italdesign logo on its nose, divided public opinion as a car not true to the roots of the design studio that had given us the elegant Alfa Romeo Brera and the original VW Golf. Similarly, it seems Ferrari missed its chance to amaze the crowds with its F12berlinetta successor, the 812 Superfast, leaving many hoping for more. The new Maranello flagship hasn't left anyone wanting for more power, though, as Ferrari ends its pureblood V-12 era (they're going to be hybridized from the successor on) with an engine bored out to 6.5 liters to generate a whopping 800 hp. Strangely enough, autonomous driving wasn't a trending topic at the show.