GENEVA -- Automakers are looking for a healthier European market this year, and their new products reflect the confidence. Bullish concepts and daring design ideas are the norm at the Geneva auto show this year, and the show floor is crowded with clear hits and just a few misses.
HIT: Mercedes-Benz S-class coupe
The Mercedes S coupe is a gorgeous new expression of luxury, and it's loaded with delightful new technology -- including a concept Daimler calls "Magic Body Control," which allows the big car to tilt around corners. When Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche referred to the coupe in Geneva as "the most beautiful S class of all time," he was saying what everyone else at the show was thinking.
HIT: Opel Adam Rocks
Opel's non-U.S. mini-cross-over Adam Rocks is a glimpse of what having fun in the car business looks like. The name might be a bit clumsy for U.S. tastes, but the Adam Rocks is a party-colored, small-but-beefy crossover with an electrically controlled soft top, powered by a new three-cylinder 1.0-liter direct-injection engine and a six-speed manual. Nothing about this General Motors car would work in America. But it's easy to at least imagine European consumers zipping around city streets having fun.
HIT: Jeep Renegade
The answer to the question: "What would the all-American Jeep look like reborn as an Italian?" It's the Renegade, a stylish subcompact SUV that Fiat will build for Jeep in Melfi, Italy. More important for the automaker, it is a 4x4 designed and built to appeal to urban markets around the world.
MISS: Audi TT
The third-generation redesign of the Audi two-door sports car plays it a bit safe, keeping the car as TT fans like it. Audi did everything right, making it more powerful, a few pounds lighter, a pinch roomier and giving the headlights a crisper look. But it was a missed opportunity to reassert what the TT originally was: a brash statement of a sports car. The car's outline has been smoothed out by a few degrees. But in a new era of performance car enthusiasm, the TT deserves a little more flash.
HIT: Peugeot 108
Leave it to the French to find a way to make the incoming wave of A-segment minicars more fashionable. The new 108 from Peugeot has a neatly trimmed outline that makes it look dignified and sporty enough. But around back, the car's shapely taillights protrude in a nice touch of colorful styling, like a jaunty scarf on a French businessman.
HIT: Tata Nexon concept
This compact SUV concept shows how an Indian manufacturer associated primarily with low-cost vehicles for emerging markets is using design to broaden its identity. The Nexon's mesh grille and white-glass headlights give it a rich feel. But the full-length sunroof is the real attention-getter. The sky-view panel advances the car into a wider world, where consumers are actually enjoying their drive.
MISS: BMW 2-series Active Tourer
Does BMW ever really do anything wrong? The 2-series Active Tourer unveiled in Geneva is already taking heat from the auto enthusiast world for bringing BMW into what Europeans refer to as the MPV segment of people haulers. The Active Tourer is a decent enough five-door small car. It is more of a high-roofed wagon than anything else. But what misses the mark is not so much BMW's daring to take on a new segment; it's the car's styling. It is unusually sedate, and calls to mind a Toyota Matrix.
HIT: Hyundai Intrado
The future-concept Intrado crossover signals Hyundai's thinking about a sleek and lightweight fuel-cell vehicle. But considering Hyundai's lack of specifics about the technology, it is reasonable to suspect that with the Intrado, Hyundai is simply raising the curtain on its new global design chief, Peter Schreyer. The Intrado is the first concept to come from the former Audi designer's mission overseeing the Hyundai group. And it is a bold and fearless piece of styling. The car almost seems to stretch as though moving at light speed. Schreyer has managed to blend elegance and muscularity into a roomy crossover.
HIT: Magna Steyr Mila Blue
The Mila Blue concept is third-party coachbuilder Magna Steyr's demonstration of how to produce a small car that weighs just 1,477 pounds. But what's notable is how the company proposes to do it: with cardboard. The vehicle's shell is fortified by lightweight recycled paper -- cardboard -- rather than metal. Chief designer Andreas Wolfsgruber assures that the innovative structural inner material meets all crash standards and is inexpensive to manufacture. "To create a lightweight A-segment car is simple," Wolfsgruber says. "You make it out of carbon fiber. But then no one could afford it. This is a more economical solution."
MISS: Toyota Aygo
The interior of Toyota's new A-segment Aygo is spot-on for consumers in this emerging small-car segment. It communicates a sense of durability and substantial-ness with a creative mix of colors. But the shape of the Aygo, with its rear door nearly touching the back hatch, reveals the design challenge that automakers are going to face in the A segment. It's going to be hard to make pint-sized cars attractive. The Aygo embodies the saying that "beauty is within."