Downsized and dynamic
Smaller, fuel-efficient but powerful vehicles poised for premieres
Volume and luxury brands will use the Geneva auto show to debut downsized cars that, in many cases, are light and fuel-efficient but still pack power and emotional appeal.
This echoes a trend in which European car buyers are choosing less expensive, fuel-saving models as economic hard times hit consumer spending.
Audi's new A3 will face a challenge from a Mercedes A class that loses its boxy design in favor of a sporty look. Both cars debut in Geneva and will battle the BMW 1 series, which gets refreshed this year.
Ford and Fiat will debut their latest entries in Europe's expanding small minivan segment. The two automakers take different approaches to win customers. The Ford B-Max has a pillarless design and rear sliding doors to ease access to the cabin for the target group of young families while Fiat hopes to harness the appeal of the retro-styled 500 minicar with a larger five- and seven-seat version called the 500L.
Here's a sampling of some of the production and concept vehicles making debuts during press days March 6 and 7 in Geneva.
Audi's key launch is the A3, but the A6 allroad wagon and A1 quattro minicar also will debut in Geneva. The new A3 is sleeker and lighter than the previous-generation model and it is the first Audi to have the brand's new infotainment platform. Features include a plug-in module that enables hardware to be easily updated, a new multimedia control panel with a handwriting recognition system that allows users to enter characters by finger movement and an optional 7-inch screen with 3-D graphics.
The A3 will be offered in three-door, five-door, sedan and convertible variants. The United States only gets the sedan. The A3 is the first of about 40 vehicles to use parent VW Group's new MQB modular platform that will also underpin the new VW Golf.
The third-generation A6 allroad that debuts in Geneva is lighter and gets as much as 20 percent better fuel economy than the current model.
One of Stile Bertone's most famous cars, the 1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero, inspired a concept for a high-performance coupe that will be unveiled in Geneva to mark the Italian design house's centennial. The midengine concept is called Nuccio after Giuseppe "Nuccio" Bertone, who transformed the little-known family business into an Italian design icon during his 60-year leadership of the company. He died in 1997 at 82. Bertone design director Mike Robinson took inspiration from the Lancia Stratos HF Zero concept to create the Nuccio, which has innovations such as a tensile steel roof that offers high structural resistance at a low weight.
With the 6-series Gran Coupe, BMW enters the fast-growing niche for coupe-styled four-door sedans. The Gran Coupe will rival the Mercedes-Benz CLS, Audi A7, Porsche Panamera and Aston Martin Rapide. BMW hopes the Gran Coupe's sporty styling combined with practicality will win buyers. The car will have the same engines, driver assistance systems and mobility services offered on the 6-series coupe and convertible versions and will be built alongside them as well as the 5- and 7-series models in BMW's factory in Dingolfing, Germany.
Chevrolet will unveil a Cruze station wagon, a variant that General Motors hopes will boost the brand's fleet sales in Europe, where wagons are popular company cars. The wagon, which is not expected to come to the United States, also will get a 1.7-liter diesel engine. The diesel also will be offered in the Cruze hatchback and sedan in Europe.
The Geneva debut of the 599 GTB Fiorano successor--code-named F152--will complete Ferrari's frenetic product renewal that helped the supercar brand sell a record 7,195 cars last year. The two-seat coupe will have a 6.3-liter gasoline direct-injection V-12 engine with performance upgraded to 700 hp from 620 hp in the 599 it replaces. The supercar also gets a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to replace the 599's six-speed automated manual.
The high-roofed 500L expands the 500 range to four models. It will replace the Idea and Multipla in Fiat's lineup and will rival vehicles such as the Ford B-Max and Mini Countryman. Fiat said the 500L will be a "distinctive alternative" to vehicles with traditional designs in the minicar and subcompact segments. It has front-end styling inspired by the 500 hatchback but is taller, wider and longer and sits on a widened version of Fiat's small-vehicle architecture used by the Punto subcompact.
Ford is replacing its slow-selling Fusion small minivan in Europe with the innovative B-Max, which has a pillarless design combined with rear sliding doors. The design may help Ford win new customers in a competitive segment led in Europe by the Opel/Vauxhall Meriva. Ford will not sell the model in the United States.
Hyundai will preview the next phase of its "fluidic sculpture" styling with the ioniq concept car designed at the company's European r&d center in Ruesselsheim, Germany.
Infiniti will unveil the Emerg-E concept for a lightweight plug-in hybrid sports car powered by an electric motor and a range-extending gasoline engine mounted in the middle of the vehicle. The concept also will reveal the brand's new styling direction.
Jaguar will unveil a wagon version of the XF called the XF Sportbrake. The car will compete against models such as the Audi A6 Avant, BMW 5-series Touring and Mercedes E-class wagon.
Mercedes-Benz has given the new A class sporty styling to win more young buyers, ditching the boxy shape of the previous-generation car. The automaker's design boss, Gorden Wagener, calls the redesigned car "the coolest Mercedes in a long time" and the company hopes the A class will be a stronger rival to the Audi A3 and BMW 1 series in the entry-premium segment. U.S. sales are expected within two years.
Mini will unveil the Clubvan concept, which previews a delivery van that may join the BMW brand's expanding lineup. The Clubvan is based on the Clubman station wagon. A production version would be aimed at companies such as courier and home delivery services looking for a trendy van to improve their image.
The third-generation Boxster is lighter and more fuel efficient than the car it replaces. It also has a more cab-forward stance with the windshield shifting forward, as well as heavily sculptured flanks, which now feature longer doors and larger wheelhouses.
Volkswagen expects half of its Up minicar buyers to choose the five-door variant that debuts in Geneva. The Up three-door was shown at the 2011 Frankfurt auto show. The five-door Up is almost identical to the three-door version with only a few side profile design tweaks. The car has the same 1.0-liter, three-cylinder gasoline engine as the three-door and the same technology such as an optional low-speed collision avoidance system and a removable touch-screen navigation and infotainment system.
Volvo will expand its lineup with the V40, an entry-premium rival to cars such as the Audi A3 sportback. The V40 will become the brand's smallest model, replacing the S40 and V50. Volvo doesn't plan to replace the slow-selling C30 coupe, its current entry-level car.
Douglas A. Bolduc, Luca Ciferri, Bertrand Gay, Bruce Gain, Nick Gibbs, David Jolley and Harald Hamprecht contributed to this report
You can reach Paul McVeigh at email@example.com.