To a car enthusiast who has only ever been to the Melbourne and Sydney motor shows in the past, the Geneva Motor Show was intimidating, to say the least. The first thing to note was the sheer size of it, and I have been told Frankfurt is bigger still.
After wondering where to begin, I quickly assumed an anti-clockwise spiral starting at the far corner would suffice for each of the two levels. And after circling the stages, the following cars are my picks of the show - in the order that I saw them, not in preference. Though the Ferrari was truly stunning to behold...
Ferrari 599XX (above)
My favourite Ferrari gets the racing treatment. The 599XX borrows certain cues from the latest F1 car which is looking nicely organic. The 599 is a beautiful car to start off with, and adding the F1 detailing works very well. One such detail is a fin that rises from the lower edges of the front and rear bumpers parallel to the wheels. It seems to float there, not being attached at the top, and gives a great fluidity to the bumper.
I'm not sure of the practical reasoning of this on the 599, but a visual link to the F1 branch of Ferrari is always fun to see. Vast amounts of matte black next to the glossy Ferrari red looks a treat.
Volkswagen have taken what used to be a slightly bubbly and chunky looking car and transferred its new styling treatment to it. The new Polo has a great stance and communicates the VW theme of strong geometric shapes and solid volumes.
The sharp feature lines give the car a clear direction, however it seems if they aren't doing Audi grilles - they're borrowing headlamps. Nice detail but strong visual links to the Audi headlamps loses points for individuality.
All up a great looking little car to bring the VW language to an increasingly competitive market segment, design wise.
Seat have had a strong name in European racing for some time now, and this reputation is being used to back up some very creative surfaces. It seems the Spaniards are joining the French in breaking convention. While we are seeing a trend for rising to the rear feature lines, Seat have them dipping from front to rear on the Leon, reminding us of the sweeping front fender back from the 40s.
It's an interesting one though, because it throws off the DLO, with no harmony between the two lines. The Ibiza does not incorporate this line to the same extent as the Leon. Instead it has two intersecting lines that do strange things with reflections. I'm not sure of its success, but it will be interesting to see where they take it in the future.
Subaru Liberty Concept
Subaru had its Liberty Concept on show. The body looks strong and solid, however graphically it is all over the place. It has a nice line that runs down the bonnet and passes the grille on both sides, but that is nothing new. Visually it seems no longer to be an accessible long wheel-based AWD cruiser. It now looks heavy and oversized with huge overhangs at both ends.
Some larger wheels would have helped reduce the visual weight of the body however those headlamps could not have been saved by anything.
It seems Subaru have been confused with their designs lately. The moment they were met with criticism of their Tribeca grille they withdrew it. I think with some persistence and a few tweaks here and there they could have had a really solid identity. Instead they have lost confidence and seem to be trying to blend in with the masses.
Unfortunately this doesn't work when the masses are stepping it up.
Idea Institute presented a beautiful low slung roadster called ERA. The bonnet shows a trend I quite like, with two ridges extend from either side of the windshield and travel along the inside of each wheel arch. The effect is that of a furrowing brow and gives a great muscular feel to the bonnet.
The pumped wheel arches are slightly off circular and, along with the bonnet, give the car some real direction.
Overall it isn't a busy car - like the Seats have a tendency to be - but what they have done has been with confidence and it has worked beautifully.
A very tidy small car that has entirely done away with a grille, however they have managed to create quite an expressive and distinctive face by incorporating solar cells and headlamps in one large graphic that tapers upward and rearward.
Bluecar is a far cry from Ferraris, but it proves that this studio is not one dimensional and can pull off the understated subtlety that the iPod brought back to industrial design some years back. It has a great DLO and I really like how the rear graphic extends around the bodyside to meet two feature lines that run along the doors.
Fiat 500 Abarth
I'm a sucker for this little car, and to see it modified by Abarth tickles me. The friendly little Fiat base car has a great stance (minimal overhangs and a distinct forward lean) that has lent itself beautifully to the racing treatment. Under Abarth, the 500 goes from chubby cherub to a naughty brat in a devil's costume.
There's no denying the Xbow's intentions from the moment you lay eyes on it. The vast use of the dirt bike styling elements of exposed structures partially clad in brightly coloured panels gives the car a very fast, lightweight look. Couple this with massive expanses of exposed carbon fibre and it is clear that this car was meant for racing. Subtle vents and dimples in the surface are difficult to pick up on in the black carbon fibre but makes for a very refined outcome where no area has been left to chance. This unmistakable style of few sweeping surfaces, opting for the deconstructed look of KTM bikes, brings a whole new style language to the automotive market.
Mitsubishi brings a distinct Hello Kitty style to the iMiev, seen particularly in its front and fog lamp cluster. Overall it works well for the Mitsu, however a square panel at the front seems to have been pared back from a more expressive smile, which would have been in keeping with the rest of the car.
On such a rounded off car, the Mitsubishi logo actually detracts from the look of the vehicle, which can never be good. Perhaps it is time for Mitsubishi to carry out a subtle facelift to its badges a la Citroen's tweaking of the double chevron.
The Mazda Kiyora is out of this world. The styling of it is so organic it looks alive, as though it could swim away at a whim. The windshield is near on horizontal, a tangent the bonnet carries through and then dips rapidly at the front giving it a nice little bulge on its nose. The interior is beautifully sci-fi.
I am not sure how well this radical styling will age, but for now, this Zaha Hadid formation sums up Mazda's edge in design brilliantly.
Ford Iosis Max
The latest embodiment of Ford's kinetic design language continues the distinct spears in the body side and a fast daylight opening. The tail lamps are reminiscent of Mondeo's, with an extension that continues to the rear door. It is squared off and I am not sure how successful it is in keeping with the overall theme of the vehicle.
The interior is playfully reminiscent of a sports shoe, and other sporting equipment. Bright glossy colours, white vinyl and leathers as well as "breathing fabrics" give a very athletic interior, and the absence of a B pillar gives an open, airy feel. The exterior, as an expression of itself, says slick people carrier. It is rather like a Fiesta for youngsters who want more space.
Mercedes Benz McLaren SLR Stirling Moss
Mercedes had their gorgeous limited edition SLR on show. The exaggerated classic racing car proportions work well with the contemporary surface language of tapering spears and sharp surface breaks. It makes such a strong statement for itself that I doubt whether this car will ever age.
The distinct bulge that runs down the centre of the bonnet to become the nose really emphasises the length of the car. The roll bars behind the seats are classic features but their cross sectional shape and forward lean bring them beautifully into the present. The front end's use of strong tapers to the rear screaming of G force, the rear is more of a middle finger to trailing drivers. There is a definite frown in the rear lamps and the diffuser incorporates elements of a gaping mouth with bared fangs daring anyone to overtake it.
This car had me stunned when it was unveiled last year. It had the same effect on me when I saw it in the metal. It has such a low stance that the greenhouse barely clears the wheel arches with a windshield so heavily raked it just about has the same gradient as the bonnet, an element that acts to bring the driver into the car.
The pumped wheel arches have squared off tops that work to emphasise the length of the car, a feature accentuated by a strong horizontal that starts from the doors and rises to the rear, intersected by the rear wheel arch. The horizontal emerges behind the wheel arch through a gaping vent and continues to from something of a tail stretching out well behind the car. A distinct feature of the side is a beautiful air scoop that catches light as the body tucks out of sight.
Such an eccentric exterior surely demanded a spectacular interior, and Citroen doesn't disappoint. What looks like a solid copper dash has been created, with organic, sinew like buttresses that extend through the interior. It does not quite communicate racing, but in a car conceived for virtual racing alone (in which every parameter can be changed) I can see their justification.
A summary of what makes this such a successful piece of contemporary car design would be the interplay between surfaces. Citroen have managed to get a solid looking car by incorporating hollows, scoops and bulk and tying it all together using traditional car design principles.
Alfa Romeo Mito GTA
Initially I wasn't the Mito's greatest fan. The GTA, however, changed that quickly. What it does to the base car is bring some much needed surface differentiation to the front end. Some extra breaks in the front bumper do a world of good, as does the blacked out air intake surround. A black roof creates a nice link between front and rear windshields, and brings a nice line to the AC pillar arch. By repeating the line of a bulge in the tailgate in the top of the diffuser, Alfa tie the sporty bumper in with rest of the car well. Centre mounted twin tail pipes bring a great racing feel.
RenaultSport Megane RS
Renault presented an outrageously gorgeous Megane Cup racing car. The unbelievably widened track, gaping intakes and vents and the rear end of a rocket ship was all they needed for me to fall in love with the "base" RenaultSport Megane. There is a great line that is repeated from the top of the headlamp through to the bottom of the air intake, intersected at various points by horizontals, that nicely sums up contemporary car design. It is about identifying a strong theme and carrying it throughout the car with subtle variations, surrounding it with complimentary as well as opposing elements, to create interest.
A horizontal as that on the Megane front end is such an opposing element. It is unusual to see such a flat horizontal, but it seems to bring out the rest of the curves in the car by providing some relief. The blacked out panel is interesting and works well in emphasising the car's sporty intentions.
Hyundai, as well as other Korean manufacturers, is really maturing in style. Nice clean lines that bear a relationship to one another, and a strengthening theme throughout. Hyundai isn't quite there yet, the grille mesh is a bit too organic for my tastes and does not relate to the rest of the vehicle, and the wheels look like giant mirrors. My preference would have been for a more structured mesh, and a metallic finish on the wheels as chrome has a tendency to confuse the eye over complex surfaces.
To have had the opportunity to walk between the greats of the current automotive market has been a pleasure. The Geneva Motor Show exhibited the full range of the European market, and to be able to look at the design merits of a small hatchback next to a supercar and then hold them in as high regard as each other speaks volumes of how far car design has come in recent years.
For anybody serious about making a career in the automotive industry, a trip to an international motor show is something to seriously consider, it has been incredibly inspiring, and it is something I intend to do again one day.