Confident, elegant, multinational Paris was dealt a reality check as global brands such as Ford and Volkswagen stayed away and many of the glamour car launches were pinched by Pebble Beach a month or so earlier (notably, the Bugatti Divo and Mercedes EQ Silver Arrow concept). Even so, the Gallic rooster rounded up enough debuts to manage a strut of sorts, with a little help from the Germans. Nick Gibbs inspected the newcomers to separate the exquisite from the execrable.
Les coups et les misérables
HIT: Mercedes-Benz GLE
With rival BMW picking design fights with itself, Mercedes offers a more elegant choice with the new, U.S.-built GLE midsize crossover. The now-familiar rounded surfacing and the corporate shark nose tips the balance in favor of tough rather than villainous — although how did we get to the point where 22-inch wheels look perfectly normal?
MISS: Smart Forease
Sounding like a cream to soothe hemorrhoids, the Forease is a lumpy open-roof concept to remind everyone that small doesn't always mean cute. Based on the electric EQ cabrio, the Forease does away with the folding roof and shortens the A-pillars in a nod to 2001's Crossblade, an always-open Smart that made limited production. It's hard to see the Forease following it.
HIT: Porsche 911 Speedster Concept
Only Porsche could get away with showing a special edition 911 less than two months before it's due to unveil the base car's replacement in Los Angeles. The concept will be built, in just 1,948 units, a nod to the launch date of the Porsche 356, and if the values of the last four Speedsters are anything to go by, this could be the safest place to park $200,000 (estimated) anywhere today. It's really a more cramped 911 GT3 with two seats, the Boxster's lower windshield and the trademark Speedster double-hump cover hiding the cloth roof. Measured on likely residuals, however, it was the most sensible car at the show.
HIT: Infiniti Project Black S
Infiniti had said it wasn't going to Paris, but then word spread that the Project Black S prototype was lurking round the back of Hall 1. Based on the Q60 coupe and looking menacing in matte gray with gloss black and yellow detail, the Project Black S is a serious attempt to deploy Formula One heat-harvesting hybrid tech within Infiniti's twin-turbo six-cylinder engine, boosting horsepower from 400 to 563. F1 teams found this fiendishly tricky. For a road car, it could be near impossible. We wish them luck.
MISS: Mercedes EQC/Audi e-tron
Controversial, because these two crossovers herald the long-awaited entry of Mercedes and Audi into the electric arena. The powertrain revolution, however, certainly isn't reflected in the conventional designs. We accept the arguments: "BMW tried bold; it didn't work. Why scare core customers when switching to EV is scary enough?" But Jaguar has shown with the I-Pace that a bit of differentiating flair for luxury electric vehicles can work. We applaud the e-tron's cameras-for-mirrors for that at least, but apart from the obscure "blue detailing equals EV" code, little about the Merc suggests electric. At least Mercedes saw sense not going for a "frunk." Audi's is so small to be pointless.
MISS: BMW 3 series
BMW reckons the seventh-generation 3 series is the distillation of the brand in one car. The designers obviously took this to heart and added plenty of styling flourishes to the brew, as much as they could grab, and maybe some from over here, too, and ... like an out-of-control cocktail session, this is the morning-after result. Maybe the Chinese taste for outsize characterization is partly to blame for the thick chrome edging, the larger grille spilling onto the hood or the painful-looking bodywork jab into the headlamps that one observer likened to an eye infection. We'll get used to it. Now, where'd we put the Advil?
HIT: Ferrari Monza
Word on the floor was that Ferrari was cross with its Paris show location, sandwiched between a noisily debuting VinFast, Shelby's show-on-a-budget stand and the bit where all Ferrari's rivals (including Lamborghini and Aston Martin) got a last-minute deal to fill some floor space. But the crowds came anyway to ogle the new Monza SP1 and SP2 open-roofed specials that'll be limited to just 499 and cost $1.85 million each. With either one or two seats, a carbon-fiber body and an 810-hp V-12, the retro-leaning pair created a welcome fantasy bubble free from talk of carbon dioxide cuts.
HIT: Peugeot E-Legend concept
Not just a hit but the hit of the show. The supposedly autonomous E-Legend is a modern remake of the elegant 1969 504 Coupe designed to suggest that, contrary to all common sense, there will be room for self-driving coupes in the future. We swooned over the taut sheet metal and the '70s-chic interior and signed a Change.org petition from a French website to persuade Peugeot to build it. It'll never happen, but Peugeot brand head Jean-Philippe Imparato tweeted that if the petition got over 500,000 signatures, "We might really have to consider it," offering a glimmer of cruel hope.
HIT: Renault K-ZE
If we're measuring success on global relevance, then Renault's cute little electric K-ZE crossover should top the hit parade. With a potential 155-mile range and a likely $8,000 starting price, this is how Renault hopes to satisfy both regulators and customers in China when it goes on sale there next year before going global.
VinFast is a new Vietnamese brand that merits a hit for the chutzpah of wheeling out soccer megastar David Beckham, guaranteeing that we'd all at least cast a glance at its Lux A2.0 sedan and Lux SA2.0 crossover. Quite smart it was, too, with its Pininfarina-designed sheet metal just about hiding the BMW underpinnings. VinFast CEO, ex-GM manufacturing head James DeLuca, hinted at grand export plans, but for now, VinFast has to hope national pride persuades enough locals to switch from their Kias, Toyotas and Fords to justify Becks' fee.
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