Out of an “abundance of caution,” a phrase we’re hearing a lot, the Swiss government pulled the plug on the Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS). Since this is 2020, not 1990, the news from the show went out anyway as automakers switched to video reveals over the past week. Geneva intros fall into three categories: a wide range of mainstream and upscale cars from across the world; a lot of EVs and some plug-in hybrids because Europe is moving more quickly (governments for sure, buyers somewhat less so) to alternative energy sources; and the eye-candy $150,000-$3 million cars for those flush with oil money and others who Americans, from a distance, sniff at as Eurotrash.
Geneva is not just any auto show. In the even years when there’s no Frankfurt show, this is the world’s most important auto show. And unlike Frankfurt, Detroit, and Tokyo, there’s no hometown bias since Switzerland has barely any auto industry. It does have a lot of wealthy residents and visitors with money to burn. Here’s our take on virtual Geneva 2020.
The 2021 Audi A3 debuted with a showing of the Sportback version, meaning hatchback, which will ship later this year along with the A3 sedan. It has bolder styling and will be heavy on tech with a 10.1-inch center stack display standard, this on a subcompact vehicle about 175 inches long. At a time when some mainstream small cars are doing 8 inches as standard, this is one way to justify a price tag that can push into the forties. The instrument panel is digital, too (dubbed Audi Virtual Cockpit), with a 12.3-inch version optional and offering more display modes.
International editions will get small turbocharged gas and diesel engines. The US gets a larger turbo-four (gas) with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Sport S3 and RS3 versions will come later. Ditto hybrid versions. The big difference: the US for sure will get an A3 sedan but probably not the A3 Sportback. That’s because it’s a hatchback. But you could also call it a small SUV – many of which have sloping rear rooflines – and we’d happily buy. Although to our eyes it mostly looks like a wagon, which is another body style Americans aren’t currently keen on.
The beloved little Fiat 500 Cinquecento (Italian for 500) – beloved for its style and sporty driving, less so for reliability – is gone as a combustion-engine car. Bigger Fiats such as the Fiat 500X motor on, and the Cinquecento is to become a battery electric vehicle. An older version was called the 500e but now that electric is the only way you’ll get a Fiat 500, it will be the 2021 Fiat 500, no e.
The new EV 500 has doubled its range. Fiat says it can drive up to 199 miles (320 km) using a 42.0-kWh battery. That’s on the European WLTP test, which stands for Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure. Harmony or not, US EPA numbers are lower, perhaps 175 miles. For a car that’d be great urban runabout, 175 would be plenty, but American buyers like 250-300 miles even more. Because of this, Fiat has not yet said if it’s bringing the new 500 to the US. Right now, pure EV sales are less than 1.5 percent of the US vehicle market, and the majority of those sales belong to Tesla, at least currently.
The 2021 Golf GTI is redesigned inside and out. This is the sportiest of VW’s compact (actually, subcompact at 168 inches long), four-door Golfs. Let’s jump ahead to why lots of people buy GTIs: The 2.0-liter turbo-four engine climbs from 228 to 245 hp, and torque from 258 to 276 pound-feet. The standard transmission is a six-speed manual, or millennial anti-theft device, as VW says in its ads – and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is offered.
VW had some years with mixed reliability. That’s better. The most recent Consumer Reports reliability survey has VeeDub right at average. And since reliability has gone up over time, VW is in a good spot. Still, as VW works to rebuild sales, it isn’t bringing every variation to the US. For now, only the sportiest Golf will be offered, even if this car, with its upright seating, provides a lot of rear-seat comfort and luggage capacity.
How many more reminders do we need to understand what a mature car company the Hyundai group has become? Now there’s the Prophecy concept EVd using Hyundai’s Sensuous Sportiness concept. The effect is of an elongated, lowered Tesla Model 3 done right, with beautiful curving lines and few interruptions (such by side mirrors) in the concept. In the rear view, there’s a spoiler that pays homage to Porsche 911s. Inside the cockpit, the steering would be done by joystick, at least on the concept.
Propulsion, were the concept to come to market, would be electric-only, and Hyundai vows to have 44 electrified vehicles by 2025. According to Hyundai, “The expectation is to sell more than 670,000 battery and fuel cell electric vehicles annually by this time , and to be positioned among the top three EV providers globally.”
The BMW i4 Concept is the stalking horse for a late 2021 / early 2020 3 Series-sized EV. It’s a closer-to-production advance on the Concept 4 coupe from last fall’s Frankfurt Motor Show. (See, with all the motor shows, sometimes you have more than one concept, plus the final shipping car, and you’ve got new at three shows.) It will be a powerhouse, with 530 hp and a sub-4-second 0-60 mph time.
Range is in flux, or rather the world’s competing test cycles are not in sync. The WLTP figure says 600 km or 373 miles. But BMW says on EPA tests, range will likely be in the mid-200s. Length is listed at 189 inches, or 3 inches longer than the 3 Series sedan. Based on BMW’s evolving naming convention, 4 in the name means 4 Series means the coupe version of the 3 Series, and four doors make it a 4 Series Gran Coupe. We believe most buyers don’t need 300 miles of range most of the time. But try telling that to someone cross-shopping the Tesla Model 3 that provides two options: 250 miles (standard range) or 322 miles (long range). While Tesla is the industry’s benchmark for battery efficiency, long range, and loyal followers who put Bernie Bros to shame, BMW is the leader in cockpit telematics and the past few years the premium German automakers have developed a reputation for highly reliable cars (Porsche, Audi, and BMW; Mercedes-Benz is a bit below average currently).
The Fisker Ocean SUV got its European (virtual) debut at the non-Geneva show, reprising some of what the industry saw in Las Vegas at CES 2020. It is “the world’s most sustainable vehicle” with a vegan interior, offers a solar roof adding up to 1,000 miles a year of range (that is, 3 miles a day) in sunny climes, and Fisker would prefer to lease out the Ocean rather than sell this compact (183-inch) SUV: $379 a month with $3,000 down.
Safety fanatics may freak, but Fisker says there’ll be a head-up display with karaoke mode, meaning the lyrics to songs will be projected at the base of the windshield so you can sing along. Fisker’s challenge is that the company will be coming to market along with a lot of other electric vehicles from vendors with lengthy pedigrees. But then, Tesla was just a startup, too, and not long ago.
Some Bugatti customers had a complaint. Not the $3 million price tag. (Paying that kind of money proves you’re a Player.) Nor was it the top speed well over 200 miles per hour. Rather it was the feeling the car wasn’t 100 percent comfortable to drive at speed. Now comes the Chiron Pur Sport.
The Pur Sport is lighter, but it also has a six-foot-wide spoiler to plant the car at its insanely high speeds. The engine remains the same: 16 cylinders, quad-turbos, and 1,500 horsepower. The tradeoff is the top speed of about 235 mph has been scaled back to 217 mph. Price will be $3.3 million and 65 will be built.
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