2005 Geneva International Motor Show Report

It’s almost ironic to report that Geneva, Switzerland is home to one of the world’s most important international auto shows each year. Ironic, because though it’s true the Swiss love their automobiles, the host city of Geneva is about as unfriendly to cars as any in Europe – narrow streets constructed with horses rather than cars in mind, confusing traffic patterns, and some of the briefest of green signal lights ever experienced, causing outrageous back-ups any time of the day. After 5 pm it can take well over an hour or two to find a parking spot for the evening.

Still, as mentioned the Swiss are as car-crazy as the rest of us, and the geographic and political nature of their country means that a more eclectic mix of automobiles would be very hard to find. Tax-free bank accounts seem to support an unusual number of exotic vehicles, and German, French and Italian machinery is everywhere you look. Add to the mix a dab of Cadillac CTSs, Ford Crown Victorias, and the odd Mustang GT, and it becomes obvious Geneva is more than fit to host one of the year’s most important international automotive events each year.

2005 was the 75th anniversary of the Geneva International Motor Show. This year’s attendance was up 2.5% over 2004 with some 750,000 people visiting. Some 45% of all attendees were from abroad, so the international component of this particular event is no idle boast.

As there was no 2004 Frankfurt event (the IAA occurs every other year), the 2005 Geneva show took on extra significance. Many manufacturers chose the event to debut some very significant machinery, though none came as any great surprise. More and more, it seems even the biggest of international auto shows plays second fiddle to the Internet when it comes to dramatic debuts. Simply put, just about every major debut at this year’s Geneva International Motor Show could be seen previously on the Internet or even in some monthly magazines. Still, there’s nothing like seeing these cars in person and reporting back, so, as part of our civic duty, we were off to Switzerland on behalf of you, our dear readers.

The pride of the Audi booth was the RS4 sedan. This all-wheel-drive, 420-hp, V8-powered super-sedan looks the business, with its 19-inch wheels, wider bodywork, and serious sports seats. The RS4 will only be offered in sedan and wagon form. The stripped-down “club sport” type TT Quattro Sport was also shown, signifying the 25th anniversary of Audi’s legendary all-wheel-drive system.

Volkswagen used Geneva to publicly debut the all-new sixth-generation Passat sedan. Larger, and possessing some fairly BMW-esque design cues, the new Passat is an impressive vehicle when viewed ‘in the flesh’. Perhaps most convincing is the new interior design. While still reflecting the elegant and cohesive hallmark of recent VW efforts, there’s now a more sporting flair inside VW’s mid-size sedan. Engine choices run the gamut, from 4-cylinder diesels to an upcoming 3.6-liter VR6 option.

The Volvo stand had a variety of new and older models on display, including one of their earlier safety design study prototypes that possessed what appeared to be a pair of ‘40-mph’ bumpers, front and rear. The recently introduced V8 XC90 was present, but for the most part, Volvo used the event to educate the motoring public about their company philosophy and core values.

The BMW Group showed several new vehicles this year at Geneva. On the BMW stand was the company’s face lifted flagship, the 7 Series. A freshened face and updated tail give the limousine a cleaner, less awkward appearance, and look even better in person than in pictures.

The Z4 roadster was shown with a smaller engine, while the entry-level 1 Series was shown with a larger one. The Z4 will be available in Europe with a 2.0-liter gasoline 4-cylinder making 150 hp, the same engine available in the 120i. Conversely, the until-now-4-banger-only 1 Series was shown as the six-cylinder 130i with 258 horsepower and a higher level of standard equipment.

The V-10 powered M6 coupe made its debut appearance in Geneva. Sharing its 500 hp, seven-speed SMG powertrain with the mighty M5 sedan, the M6 brings a new level of prestige and performance to BMW’s exclusive 6 Series luxury coupe.

But the real star of the stand was the all-new E90 3 Series sedan. The 3 Series is BMW’s single most important model, with over 9 million units built in the 30 years since it replaced the 02 lineup. The newest variation, available initially in sedan form only, offers increased interior space and a higher level of safety than the outgoing model. The styling falls in line with the BMW’s current aesthetic, but in a more toned down interpretation compared to, say, the Z4 or 7 Series.

Mazda chose Geneva to introduce an all-new rendition of their Miata roadster. From here on out, however, the new car shall only be referred to as the MX-5. Longer, wider, and styled much more dramatically than MX-5s past, the new car gathered a great deal of attention from the motoring press, and why not? The Miata (including all different naming variations) is the world’s best selling sports car, and an all-new model signifies something important. Spec sheets have the new MX-5 seemingly better in every regard. More power; bigger brakes; a stronger, more rigid structure; and more interior room promise a terrific drive, so long as none of the former model’s great balance and over all fun-factor have not been tampered with.

Though ostensibly targeted at US consumers, Subaru’s B9 Tribeca SUV made its European debut at the 2005 GIMS. Luxury SUVs are gaining popularity overseas, and Subaru hopes to capture a share of this market with the B9. The car’s upscale interior, three-row seating configuration, and somewhat compact exterior dimensions should suggest the Tribeca could do well with European customers, especially if a diesel powertrain ever becomes an option.

The much smaller Subaru R1 debuted as well. Powered by a 660cc gas engine and available in either front or all-wheel-drive, the R1 seemed a perfect choice for many of Europe’s extremely clogged cities.

If continuous, unyielding crowds of people are an accurate barometer for choosing Geneva’s Car of the Show, then Alfa’s all-new 159 sedan would win hands-down. The 159 replaces the 156 and is aimed at the A4, 3 Series crowd. Beautifully sculpted both inside and out, the 159 is something of a breath of fresh design air for this segment so held hostage by the stoic Germans. Recent headlines regarding GM and Fiat mean we’re now even less likely to see the 159 in the States, and that’s truly a shame for both US drivers and pedestrians alike.

Another beauty making its international debut (finally!) was the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Designed to do battle with the likes of Porsche’s 911, the baby Aston seems more than equipped for the job. Though painted in a somewhat garish yellow scheme, the car has perfect proportions and a beautifully styled interior, all with hatchback versatility to boot (pun somewhat intended). Add a 380-hp V8 for motivation, and it might be wise for 911 owners to keep an eye on their rearview mirrors.

The French design some crazy cars and people seem to love them for it. Citroen’s new mid-size C6 sedan continues the tradition. Aimed at 5 Series and E-class buyers, the C6 is wildly eccentric in its design language. Personal opinion dictates whether or not such styling seems overboard and contrived, but there can be no arguing that the car looks like nothing ever built before. With only a pair of 6-cylinder engines from which to choose (215-hp gas or 208-hp diesel), it appears that Citroen is banking on the C6’s unique looks to pull buyers away from traditional German design. Good luck with that, Citroen.

Speaking of stealing buyers from the Germans, Lexus is very much dedicated to that very tactic. Debuting their new GS and IS sedans, Lexus fully admits they have the BMW 5 and 3 Series firmly in their sights. While the GS is a pretty vehicle with a very enticing interior, the IS seems less successful from an aesthetic point of view. Very little suggests links to the first generation IS, and the new car seems a bit over-styled with some very questionable design details, such as the exaggerated kink at the top of each rear door and the much-too horizontal bumper line across the rear fenders. Still, if these cars are dynamically excellent, there’s no doubt some people will want to migrate to Lexus over time.

Possibly the very last vehicle we’d choose to navigate Geneva’s narrow and crowded streets would be the new Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Then again, if traffic jams are a certainty (they are), and you can find someone else to do the driving, the big Bentley might make an excellent choice after all. For all intents and purposes, the Flying Spur is a longer, 4-door version of the Continental GT Coupe. No bad thing, that; as it suggests the sedan retains the same twin-turbo 552-hp W12 engine and awd layout as its 2-door sibling, and that is 100% correct. Top speed is reported to be 198-mph.

We’ve been thinking it’s a pity Ford has chosen not to send the second generation Focus to the US. After seeing the new 5-cylinder, 200-hp Focus ST, we’re 100% certain we’re getting the short end of the stick… again. The new Focus has grown into a much more mature and presentable hatch, and the ST version plays the hot-hatch role just as effectively. We’d love to see how this car stacks up against the new GTI, but alas, it seems we’ll have to wait for a European publication to let us know.

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