Geneva's shock launches; Jag's new XJ impresses; Land Rover's future; shock Aston city car

March, as it ever does, began with the Geneva motor show. During the past few years, shows have taken on a certain amount of predictability, with launches announced well before the covers are taken off.

In 2010, it was a bit different (as we’ll see in October, too). Cue the Porsche 918 Spyder, one of those special, limited-series hypercars that Porsche rolls out once a decade or so. The 918 is based loosely on the chassis of the last one: the Carrera GT. But by gum it’s a looker; it’s a hybrid, too. Best of all, it’ll be on the road in 2013.

See the March 2010 pics here

If any Porsche executives craned their heads through 90 degrees, and they did, they’d have spotted no fewer than 20 metres away the wraps being pulled from a unique project from another supercar maker. In Geneva was the official public unveiling of the Aston Martin Cygnet, a Toyota iQ for the particularly minted.

It met a mixed reaction. A few doffed caps; some scoffed. Probably more of the latter, but not from the Porsche execs we spoke to, who thought it an “intelligent” enough move to lower Aston’s range-average CO2, even if they were kind of grateful they didn’t have to remove the sheets from something similar themselves.

Shortly after the Geneva show, we got our first steer in the new Jaguar XJ, which looked “like taking a British luxury car right back to the top of the market”. For us, it does. No other big saloon has the Jag’s wonderful blend of dynamic qualities.

Jaguar’s sister company, Land Rover, you can’t help feeling, is in a curious, almost transitional phase. Range Rover gets the desirable models, leaving Land Rover, supposedly, with the utilitarian stuff. In March, we pondered the future of the most utilitarian Land Rover of all, the Defender, “whose ancestors created the business in the first place and have been the company’s backbone for the past 62 years”.

Land Rover design boss Gerry McGovern agreed. The Range Rover side of the business had been decided, he said; Land Rover was the issue now. So we got together with some designers to pen a possible replacement for the Defender, which legislation will see off here soon. It presents “a unique opportunity”, said McGovern, “but it’s also an almighty challenge".

Winter lingered on into March, you’ll probably remember. We took a Land Rover Discovery and a Toyota Land Cruiser into the worst of it, where the Discovery, for most of our testers, came out on top, easily outclassing its Japanese rival on the road.

Also in March, we drove some new metal. Peugeot’s take on the TT, the RCZ, “looked simply too exotic for either its duty or its £20k-£25k price”. It drove tidily, too, as did the Audi R8 Spyder, which “loses its roof but retains much of its compelling supercar character”. The BMW 320d ED, meanwhile, added “dazzingly low CO2 emissions” to its considerable existing appeal.

Read a month-by-month review of 2010

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