THE Shanghai motor show used to be a minor diversion to point and laugh at Chinese tribute acts. No longer.
It’s now one of the biggest dates on the automotive calendar, with the big players taking China very seriously. Here’s Wheels’ top 10 picks from this week’s event.
Chevrolet FNR concept
Prepare for sensory overload. The hyperactive Chevrolet looks straight out of a sci-fi flick with its gob-smacking design and ready-for-interstellar war kit. From the crystal-laser lights to the 'dragonfly' doors and magnetic hubless electric motors, the FNR is a techno geekfest on wheels. What’s it like to drive? Don’t ask. The roof-mounted radar makes this the meanest autonomous car we've ever seen. That's right, this thing's driverless, with 180-degree rotating seats to boot. While it's far from reality, elements of this design are rumoured to form the basis of a Chevrolet and possibly Holden sports car aimed at younger buyers. It genereated the biggest buzz by far at Shanghai.
Peugeot 308 R Hybrid concept
Stop teasing us Peugeot - build a 308 R. More specifically, build this one: a 373kW/730Nm hybrid version that eats emissions legislators for breakfast. With an 80mm wider track to house 235-wide 19-inch boots, not only does the powerful Pug have a lithium-ion battery pack, a pair of electric motors (one in the back, one up front) and a 1.6-litre turbocharged four, it's all-wheel drive and destroys 0-100km/h in 4.0sec. The electronically limited 250km/h top speed is a complete contradiction to the 79g/C02 it emits, making it about as dirty as French Nun despite its wicked looks and demonic performance. Please Peugeot, take us to confession in this...
2015 Ford Taurus
Sure it's bland in resale silver, but the Aussie link makes the Ford Taurus noteworthy. Not that Ford Oz would have you think that; it says this model is specifically for China and took the best of Ford's global talent pool to create. That includes Aussie lad Todd Willing, who designed the Taurus's exterior and also penned the jaw-dropping carbon-clad Ford GT40 supercar that wowed Detroit in January. The Big T was also engineered in Oz, as caught by Wheels late last year after three development cars were shipped from China, and is powered by a 2.7-litre twin-turbo V6. It could make a good Falcon replacement, but big cars aren't selling anywhere... except China.
2016 Nissan-Dongfeng Venucia VOW
Can Renault-Nissan's Chinese sub-brand Venucia teach Nissan designers a thing or two? You bet - and here's proof. The VOW (for Venucia Over Wonder of course) doesn't have the chrome V-grille and slab-sided styling typical of the majority of Nissan SUVs. Instead it's a sharp-edged, quirky and drop-dead gorgeous four-door SUV 'coupe'. Think of it as a sexy fastback answer to the Nissan Juke. While that rump may lack sophistication, the confident, angular front end with its sculpted bumper, set-back headlamps and those squared-off haunches and rising belt-line have us hooked. Confirmed for production, it's the first time we've had a thing for a Chinese car. It won't be the last.
Citroen Aircross concept
The Aircross shows that the funky C4 Cactus isn't a one-off; Citroen can make cars with genuine spunk. The lusty red high-rider is the size of a Nissan Qashqai and takes the Cactus success to the next level, from looks to an ongoing focus on weight loss. Just when we’d got used to the Cactus’ trolley-ding preventing AirBumps, Citroen brings us AlloyBumps. The car’s stance on those massive alloys and smooth, fluid body shape are muscled up by design wins like the silver side-window frame, suicide-doors for pillarless entry and exit plus a stunning interior dominated by bold lines, huge display screens and an airy, glass roof. We don't even care that the 233kW 1.6-turbo plug-in hybrid set-up and 4.5sec 0-100km/h claim is a pipe-dream –just look at the thing.
2016 Mercedes GLC Coupe
The banana-bending 2015 Mercedes GLC Coupe is Stuttgart's answer to the BMW X4 - itself inspired by the polarising yet hot-selling BMW X6. While BMW doesn't use the coupe name, Mercedes adds it to what is essentially a lift-back version of the GLK, which will be renamed GLC when it arrives at the Frankfurt show later this year. Riding on 21-inch wheels, the custard-coloured show car was near production-ready according to Mercedes and first deliveries are likely to see a 2.0-litre turbocharged four as the base engine. We're not peeling our banana until we see a rumoured Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 Coupe complete with the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 in our test garage. Expect to see the GLC Coupe here in 2016 from $75K.
2016 Haval H6 Coupe
Here's where cultures clash: the H6 won't be called a Coupe - its China market name - when it arrives in Oz next year. While Mercedes can get away with it, the H6's roofline doesn't quite drop like the GLC Coupe's, but this car is marginally smaller than the Benz. Never heard of Haval? It's part of Great Wall Motors and builds the best-selling SUV in China, the H6. This is the new generation, packing loads more tech like electric power steering and autonomous drive capability, as well as greatly improved interior quality to better meet the promise of its more athletic styling. Power comes from 2.0-litre engines (a choice of petrol or diesel) mated to a six-speed manual or dual-clutcher, with all-wheel or rear-wheel drive. Prices are expected to start at around $40k when it goes sale here next year.
2015 Lexus ES facelift
Camry clone or esteemed elegance? Lexus says the latter as it wheeled out its mid-sized sedan that's based on a stretched Toyota Camry platform but adds sophistication to the bread-and-butter sedan's repertoire. The facelifted ES exterior looks more like a mini version of the GS, still fronting up with the family trapezoidal grille and firm yet rounded-off beltline - a departure from the comparatively wild IS sedan, but right at home with the rest of the Lexus line-up. Power for Australian models will continue to come from a 3.5-litre V6 or a hybrid, with a panoramic sunroof available in an Aussie Lexus for the first time - who would've thought it?
2015 Volvo XC90 Excellence Lounge Console
A super-luxurious version of the XC90 sees an interior that adds a certain theatrical element, right down to the champagne flutes in the back, a la Mercedes-Maybach, a brand that also happens to be planning an SUV for the cashed-up. Volvo designer Thomas Ingenlath has done a fantastic job on the new generation of Swedish sleds, so he deserves to ride in the back of his own creation. The Excellence Lounge Console gets a table (don’t worry, you won’t have to assemble it yourself), 17-inch entertainment screen and swaps the front passenger seat for a leathery footrest to make this a better bet than the stretched S80 limousine Volvo drove us around Gothenburg in a few years ago. Sadly, the ELC is for the China only.
Audi Prologue Allroad
An Audi wagon that's bigger than an inner-city apartment? That'll be the first ever Audi A8 Avant - sorry - the Audi Prologue Allroad. It’s not short on presence with that swooping D-pillar and awesome three-dimensional glass of the LED tail lamps and the show is back up by some immodest go, with a 3.5-second 0-100km/h time from its 540kW hybrid drivetrain. Yep, 540kW from a wagon that's sexier than sin and kicks ass like a 540kW ass-kicking machine. While strictly a concept (sure), the Prologue Allroad is the biggest Avant yet, leading to speculation that an A8 Avant is being cooked up. It's more top work from the wild-haired Marc Lichte, who took over Audi design duties from Wolfgang Egger just over two years ago.