Geneva hits and misses

Our two ace car guys each have an opinion. And sometimes they even agree.

Our two ace car guys each have an opinion. And sometimes they even agree.

Lamborghini Centenario

Our man in D.C., Ryan Beene, and Los Angeles-based sunshiner David Undercoffler travelled to Geneva to cover the One Percenter’s auto show last week. Inspired by recent political debates on TV, we asked the two to go head-to-head in assessing the show’s world debuts. Unlike those seeking higher office, name-calling was kept to a minimum. Or was it? Read on to see if things get heated.

> Audi Q2

Ryan Beene: Toss-up

Audi says it won’t sell the Q2 in the U.S., but that could be a mistake. The size, equipment and interior appointments make it look like the perfect crossover sibling to the A3 compact, Audi’s top-selling sedan in the U.S. last year. If it’s priced right, why would the Q2 be any different? It’s not a home run though. Sheet metal textures are busy and the C-pillar inserts that match the dark gray body cladding aren’t a good look.

David Undercoffler: Miss

Like, maybe the biggest miss of the show. Not only should this not come to the U.S., it shouldn’t be sold anywhere. You mean to tell me the same company that designed and built the Q5 is marketing this as its little brother? Whereas the Q5 has style for days, this frumpy backpack has all the gravitas of an armpit. It dilutes the Audi brand immensely, and it’s a brand that doesn’t have the equity that Mercedes does in the U.S. This means Audi needs to be more careful in going downmarket. The Q2’s design is so far downmarket, Volkswagen couldn’t even sell it.

> Lamborghini Centenario

R.B.: Hit

Ever-ridiculous Lamborghini outdid itself with its tribute to the 100th birthday of founder Ferruccio Lamborghini. The Centenario is impossibly low, long, wide and exciting. Everywhere you look there are staggering details in precisely formed carbon fiber. It looks like the Batmobile by way of Transformers, in a very, very good way. And under the hood is the most powerful engine Lamborghini has ever made. What’s not to love?

D.U.: Toss-up

What’s not to love, you ask? How about those front overhangs? The Centenario likes overhangs the way European men like scarves. Trust me, both were everywhere in Geneva. No, the aesthetic highlight of this car is the rear end. An epic rear diffuser sweeps out from under the car and becomes a rear bumper of sorts, but cuts away behind the rear tires if only to show their half-mile width. And yes, the engine is a 770-hp Norse god, but I’d be worried about the single-clutch automated transmission. $2 million should buy you an upgrade there too.

> Bugatti Chiron

R.B.: Hit

My esteemed colleague wisely notes that Bugattis are more of a collector’s item for the 0.0001 percent than a “vehicle,” as we peons know them. And, like the Veyron before it, the Chiron is no driver’s car. Its main purpose is blistering straight-line speed. But it’s hard not to be awestruck by the Chiron. Its styling and proportions draw from the Veyron but advance from it. Stunning details (and a few derivative ones) abound. Oh, don’t forget about 1,500 hp (1,500?!). Yet with all the hyperbole, its interior is striking in its simplicity, free of button clutter with a single stack of four knobs consolidating various vehicle functions. It shows Bugatti knows it’s best not to distract drivers with too many toys and touchscreens as they barrel past 200 mph.

D.U.: Hit

This is a win for aesthetic reasons. The Veyron was an awkward athlete, form followed in the shadow of function, and for good reason: Nothing looks as good as speed feels. With the Chiron, Bugatti and its Volkswagen engineers already knew the recipe for speed, which meant they could focus on design. That allowed them to come up with a hypercar that’s clean, masculine and never garish. Inside and out. Sure, the car will be a snooze when you go to turn a corner; this is the world’s most expensive GT car masquerading as a Ferrari-fighter. But for cruising the planet’s most exclusive boulevards, this is the new benchmark for taste.

> VW T-Cross Breeze

R.B: Miss

Let’s start with a disclaimer. VW’s droptop cute-ute concept is significant because it previews a new subcompact crossover to slot below the Tiguan and the production version of the T-Roc concept, rounding out what will be a five-crossover lineup.

But the T-Cross Breeze is a miss because it embodies a key problem VW’s new regime is working hard to rectify: a grindingly slow development pace. Volkswagen has a habit of showing concept cars previewing a model several years away from production. The CrossBlue was shown in 2013, but the midsize crossover it will spawn won’t hit showrooms until next year. The same is likely true with the T-Cross Breeze.

D.U.: Miss

Let me get this straight: The brand with the oldest and weakest SUV lineup on the planet is wasting our time showing an awkward convertible two-seat crossover thing with a name that sounds like a sappy wine cooler that college freshmen sneak into their Motel 6 rooms on spring break? And remind me how many CrossCabriolets Nissan sold … was it 5 or was it 6?

If I’m a VW dealer or owner or fan in any way, this makes me angry. When will VW wise up and actually start showing real, production-ready crossovers that are viable and competitive in the U.S.? And not one, but all five they’ve promised? Any automaker that truly respects the U.S. market started years ago to reinvigorate its crossover lineup.

Toyota C-HR

> Toyota C-HR

R.B: Hit

Subcompact crossovers are quickly becoming a crowded melee of a segment. Toyota may be late to the party, but the C-HR’s wild styling gives it more than a fighting chance to beat up on the more humdrum early entrants. Rarely has a mainstream brand put such a risky design into production. It’ll be polarizing, but kudos to Toyota for making good on its pledge for more adventurous design.

D.U.: Hit

Mainstream brand? Risky design? Nothing was more risky than Nissan’s Juke, which looked like some sort of jungle insect had just seen his proctologist. But yes, I agree with my esteemed colleague that this styling — while not as wild as the concept was promising for the past year — is refreshingly bold. It should wake up the Honda HR-Vs and Chevy Traxes of the segment and allow Toyota to source some meaningful volume from the hottest segment in the industry.

> Maserati Levante

R.B.: Miss

The Levante’s market potential is substantial. It’ll be at every Beverly Hills soccer practice in no time. But the Levante is another example of how hard it is to apply styling and lines from a brand’s iconic sedans and coupes to a crossover.

D.U.: Miss

I wouldn’t kick the face out of bed, but the rest of this crossover is a snoozefest. China will eat them up, as will moneyed suburbs across the coastal states where badges matter, especially if they’re Italian. But the Levante’s styling is derivative and those porthole/side vent things look like they were an afterthought purchase at AutoZone. Maserati has a history of real style chops that it could have drawn on. Instead, the prospect of finally getting a high-volume seller scared the company away from doing anything meaningful.

> Aston Martin DB11

R.B.: Hit

This is the flagship that Aston Martin needs. It has all the hallmarks of the best of Aston design wrapping a new aluminum platform architecture and twin-turbo V-12.

D.U.: Hit

My colleague’s succinctness cuts right to why this car is a win. Aston is rebooting itself in a quest for that pesky sustainability that has eluded the British automaker since before it was actually called Aston Martin. This is an excellent start and gets us excited for the forthcoming Vantage and Vanquish, as well as the DBX crossover thing due at the end of the decade.

> Volvo V90

R.B.: Hit

Wagons preceded the current crossover craze, and Volvo made some of the best of them. But few Americans buy them anymore, so it’s reassuring to see the small, reinvigorated brand sticking true to its roots. Not to mention, the V90’s sheet metal is a handsome adaptation of the styling seen on the XC90.

D.U.: Hit

Auto journalists love wagons nearly as much as they love shrimp buffets. So excuse us if we don’t break the mold and profess this the best-looking wagon the U.S. might ever see. What remains to be seen is whether actual consumers agree. Volvo has momentum at the moment. The XC90 is a megahit in the U.S. And who didn’t have a Volvo wagon in their life in the ’80s and ’90s? What’s more, the V90 will start between $45,000 and $50,000. This puts it squarely in BMW 3-series wagon territory, yet the V90 has miles more swagger and size for the money.

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