The Paris Auto Show is the overture to the musical marathon of annual global automotive debuts, and if our observations there this week are any sign, this year’s program will consist mainly of variations on a theme. Instead of the stunning unveiling of dramatically distinct new models, we saw many major manufacturers reveal updated, upgraded, up-powered (or differently powered) versions of familiar vehicles.
As usual, Lamborghiniwas an outrageous outlier to all perceived rules, with its stunning and unexpected showstopper, the 910 hp, V10 + battery powered, plug-in electric/gas hybrid Asterion “hyper cruiser.” We’re still rolling up our lolling tongues and praying to Carrus—the god of all things automotive—that they build it.
Not so at BMW and Audi, who led the charge with our variant theme. The blue-and-white propeller brand had a trio of familiar cars with new improvements. Its X5 midsize SUV was shown in a new EDrive configuration, which in BMW-speak means a plug-in electric/gas hybrid, good for about 20 miles of battery-only travel before its familiar 2.0 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine kicks in. Its recently revamped (and renamed) 2-Series was displayed with a cloth drop-top to form the 2-Series Convertible (the slingshot M235i version will also gain the option of losing its roof). And though the X6 five-door, hatchback, coupe-roofed Sport Activity Vehicle received a full makeover, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish it from the outgoing car, save a few subtle aerodynamic bits like front-wheel vents and slight increases in scale.
The four rings of Ingolstadt aped their Teutonic brethren, at least in the number of newish cars on display. It showed a taffied (and somewhat bizarre) four-door version of its iconic two-door TT coupe—though the car's 400 horsepower output piqued our interest—as well as a soft-roofed convertible version of this same vehicle. And for the petroleate parsimonious among us (or at least among the Europeans, for now) Ingolstadt had a new variant of their capable A6 midsize sedan, with a number of aerodynamic and efficiency aides supporting a small diesel engine borrowed from their smaller vehicle line. Wheeze, cough.
German compatriot Porsche chimed in on the efficiency tip with a plug-in hybrid version of its Cayenne SUV. As did VW in a far more bizarre way, with a new sporty iteration of the experimental, limited-production XL1 fuel sipper. The original version was a so-called One Liter Car—one that could, with the aid of an electric hybrid system, outrageous lightness, and a myriad of aerodynamic spats and slats—travel 100 kilometers on one liter of diesel fuel. The new version, called the XL Sport, loses some of the corsets, gains a bit of length, and replaces its Stormtrooper white armor with a coolly environmental matte blue paint job, for a sportier, er, green street cred. But the biggest difference comes in what’s under the engine compartment, where its tender oil burner and batteries has been replaced by a high-revving screamer borrowed from a Ducati motorcycle—a cross-selling result of Volkswagen’s purchase of this iconic bike brand.
Perhaps our favorite German update arrived on the VW Group’s British ultra-luxury marque, Bentley. The flagship flying-B, the Brobdingnagian Mulsanne, has at long last been given Crewe’s Speed treatment, with the requisite steamroller wheels, rifle exhaust, tinted tail lamps and grille, and a power upgrade to the signature (Paleolithic) 6.75 liter V-8 resulting in 530 horsepower and a diabolical 811 pound-feet of torque, capable of propelling this heavyweight champ to 60 in 4.8 seconds and on to a 190 mph top speed. Once we liquidate $400,000 or so in assets, we’ll order ours in the delicious greenish-brown color that Bentley refers to as Spectre.
Even the Italians got in on the variant game, with Ferrari revealing a convertible version of its perfect 458 Speciale, called the Speciale A (for Air?), and Maserati showing another sports sedan bespoked by luxury fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna—last year, it was the full-size Quattroporte, this time, it was the midsize Ghibli. The only Italian company to escape this trend, almost, was Fiat, who displayed its all-new 500X cute ute, a Nissan Juke-like anti-fashion, five-door bucket of oddball that the company hopes will make people forget its ovoid, and sucky, five-door 500L We say almost, because the 500X is really just a Jeep Renegade wearing a new slim-cut Italian sweater. (Or maybe the boxy Renegade is a Fiat wearing a boxy tracksuit? Chickens and eggs. Fight among yourselves.)
As exceptional provings of the rule, a few brands managed to defy our invented convention. Jaguar debuted its entry into the BMW 3-Series and dominated the entry-level luxury-sports-sedan market with its all-new aluminum-intensive XE, which will feature a new range of efficient gas and diesel engines—even in the United States—when its taut and cohesive form debuts here in 2016 as a 2017 model. Land Rover showed a similarly all-new, aluminum-intensive crossover, the capacious Discovery Sport, which surprised all of us with its rich interior, $38,000 starting price, and trick 5+2 seating configuration, allowing you to seat four friends and two enemies en route to any event.
Mercedes took the sheets off its AMG GT, the second sports car built by its in-house tuner brand and the follow-up to the schnozzy, gull-winged SLS AMG. Still long of nose, this smaller, less bombastic, better-looking sports car sports a twin-turbo 4.0 liter V-8 under its extended hood, an interior that wouldn’t look out of place on a future Ferrari, and a rear profile that is strangely reminiscent of the Porsche 928, at least to our eyes. We look forward to test driving it next month and seeing if it’s the Jaguar F-Type, Porsche 911, Corvette fighter it’s meant to be.
Finally we’d be remiss in our discussion of the all-new if we didn’t mention the Infiniti Q80 Inspiration concept. Meant to be an indicator of Nissan’s luxury brand’s idea of its own full-size luxury future, it succeeded most triumphantly on the full-size mission. Longer than a California drought, it took up firm residence in the category of “Japanese Concept Cars That Will Never (and Should Never) Be Built” with a profile more stomped on than a dime bag of college coke, more unfortunate creases and curves than an Ashley Stewart fitting room, and a rear-window treatment borrowed from a boat-tail ’71 Buick Riviera. Our eye literally could not rest upon it, and, mindful of Medusa, we can’t help but be thankful for that.
Photos by AP Images