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This year, much like the last, I pensively wandered the halls of the 2015 Geneva motor show hoping to find that bit of astute inspiration, that instance of beauty or intelligence that makes you look at it discerningly whilst quietly nodding your head in agreement. I’m not sure if I experienced this subtle, flittering pleasure in quite the way I had hoped but it was a show that did give some controversy and surprise from unexpected places.
Aston Martin – Vulcan, DBX
Aston Martin shocked the automotive world with two very different concepts, the first set for production as a fiery, 1.8 million pound track car, the aptly named Vulcan. I tried to suspend my preconceptions of what makes an Aston Martin in order to accept this car but I just don’t think it fits with the essence of the brand.
The excitement feels too forced instead of latent and subtle, more Jason Statham than James Bond. It’s not that it’s just esoteric and actually well executed either, the truth is that it all looked a little rushed and unfinished, some features were way too crude and aggressive whilst others were simply lost on huge surfaces.
Lines and grilles may be recognisable, but it’s the entire, associated lifestyle that makes a brand. You can make a watch, a private jet or a wine glass feel like an Aston Martin by treating it in the right way which, kind of, brings me onto their second concept, the DBX.
The DBX is a CUV (crossover utility vehicle) with a high ground clearance and as a result shouldn’t really work as an Aston Martin in the way that the Vulcan should. This, however, is not the case. It is a sleek and well balanced design that seems to fit in. Aside from the imprecise headlights which may be verging on Hyundai territory, it feels well resolved as if a human touch and some love has gone into it unlike its steroidal brute of a brother.
In a world where companies are having to create broader types of cars to appease the mass market, the DBX stays true to Aston’s intrinsic values without abasing their elegant and sporty brand image.
We then zestfully strolled to the Ferrari stand where the new 488GTB had been unveiled.
It’s difficult not to compare the 488 immediately with the 458 as the two cars have identical proportions which is just about the only let down with this car. In every other way it is what Ferrari does best, a beautiful, wilfully characterful and subtly idiosyncratic supercar. The rear of the car is stunning, the combination of taught surfaces, sharp details and shut lines with a clever integration of each element is nigh on perfection.
The 308GTB inspired side vent has caused some debate and, when compared to the 458, feels a little brash but the rest of the car is subtle and considered.
Next up, Bentley were showing off their new concept, the EXP10. Now, some have surmised that this car is, in fact, just an Aston Martin by looking at a side view image which is deeply unfair. In fact, I’d say that, when seeing this car in three dimensional space (you know, like the perceivable universe), it is unmistakably Bentley. It’s muscular and weighty but also elegant in its stance. It feels like Bentley have been more daring and contemporary than usual. The grille shape is a little jarring on such a sleek car and it is a touch over-wheeled which gives the impression its riding a little high but, that said, I think this is as close to a discerning nod of approval as it gets this time around. Car of the show for me.
Audi – R8, Prologue
Next door was Audi and I felt like I had walked into a dystopian future where every car was designed to look like Wentworth Miller.
I can report that, yes, the new R8 is as mildly disappointing in reality as you thought. It seems, in an attempt not to offend any fans of the original R8, Audi have unfortunately stumbled on mediocrity. The larger grille squashes the lamps and vents up creating a less extreme look and more of a saloon car face. Everything is angled and faceted leaving no room for any fast reflections or surface beauty, it all just feels too typically calculated. They have also decided to split the iconic side blade into two, perhaps to lower the visual height or, perhaps, to protect for a convertible version but, whatever the reason, it feels more ‘normal’. Where they have succeeded, though, is in the interior which is almost enough on it’s own to sell the car.
The Audi Prologue concept offered some more interest and some much needed relief after the gratuitous complexity of some of the concepts I had seen. Beautifully proportioned, beautifully detailed and beautifully presented. It showed what I think Audi should be doing right now with production cars and it didn’t seem inconceivable for that to happen as it wasn’t as left field as most concepts are.
Another concept of note is the Nissan sway but if I’m completely honest I was more interested in honing my skills on Gran Turismo here. Some interesting surfacing and lovely control of reflections along the body side but all in all it was really just another exploration of form without making much of a statement or having any deeper thinking, much like the Lexus concept.
There was a bit of time to take a look at the new Mazda MX-5. I was a little disappointed with the images I had seen but in the flesh it started to make a bit more sense. It is noticeably compact it is which is a great thing for a MX-5 but the trouble with designing such a small car is that you are constantly constrained by packaging. Every line feels forced, stretching a surface from its impossibly low headlights up and over a haunch which rises high above the bonnet like a cat’s shoulder blades creates some ‘interesting’ surface resolution. It feels as if the designers wanted to keep the overall dynamic attitude rather than compromise in order to iron out all of it’s imperfections. Where there’s no argument, in my mind, is in the interior, it’s a perfect blend of the simplicity you’d expect from an MX-5 but with a premium feel. Overall it looked like a car that you’d just want to jump in and drive so all good there but that doesn’t stop me staring and the criminal rear lamps and some very awkward surfaces especially the dent-like crease that runs diagonally over the body side.
So all in all I wasn’t completely blown away by anything at the show but there were some exciting concepts specifically from Aston Martin. They may have divided opinion but at least it feels as if they have liberated their designers to show us something we didn’t expect. A liberated designer is a happy designer and that’s the main thing.
Geneva International Motor Show 2015, Salon International de l’Automobile.