Autocar brings you all the latest news from the Beijing motor show, with new car reveals from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and Peugeot
Andrew Frankel Autocar
20 April 2014

This was an abnormal Beijing motor show. Abnormal insofar as once you’d abandoned your taxi and walked through the impenetrable traffic to the show halls, and negotiated the feeding frenzy of the crowds, it was really rather normal.

Compared to the same show two years ago, there were far fewer cringing rip offs of extant western brands, and a smaller number of outrageously ostentatious wealth statements from the domestic manufacturers. It was, if you like, a far more considered show, one that no longer felt the need to trumpet its credentials but was happy to relax in the knowledge it took place in the capital city of the largest car market in the world.

It was a show that didn’t need to try too hard because you couldn’t ignore it now even if you wanted to. And it knew it. As a result this Beijing show was a far more real and relevant event, and if that made it commensurately less entertaining too, the Chinese would regard that a price worth paying. These guys aren’t here for the comedy value any more: they are deadly serious.

Even so, it was still the foreign brands that brought the most interesting products to Beijing, albeit most of it still in concept form: the people of this country may buy more cars than any other but manufacturers still prefer to save their big unveils for traditional show venues in Frankfurt, Paris, Geneva and Detroit. 

Perhaps most interesting of all in terms of its significance was Audi’s TT offroad concept. That sounds like a contradiction in terms but isn’t. Like Land Rover has done with Range Rover and is soon to repeat with both Discovery and Defender, this is Audi realizing the TT name has such power in itself, it’s wasted on a single model and could instead be applied to family of cars, launching TT as a sub-brand in its own right. 

Citroen has gone even further and has turned its DS models into a standalone brand, as Lexus is to Toyota. In a hall far away from anything with a chevron on its snout, DS showed it’s a brand ready to flex and stretch, with the DS6 WR SUV that PSA’s currently parlous state alone is keeping from sale in Europe, and a racey 300bhp DS 5LS R concept. As for Citroen itself, it unveiled a smart small crossover SUV called C-XR, the progeny of its tie-up with Dongfeng (which now owns 14 per cent of its PSA parent) which looked so ready for production no-one was being fooled by Citroen’s insistence that it was only a concept. Sadly it looks no more likely to reach these shores than the DS6 WR.

Unlike the Lexus NX, a very real medium sized crossover aimed straight at the likes of the BMW Z3 and Audi Q5, not to mention the Range Rover Evoque. Dramatically styled and designed to draw attention like no other Lexus production car this side of an LFA, it will be on sale in Europe from late summer and is tipped to reach UK shores before the end of the year, though the diesel engine without which sales both on the continent and here will condemn it to niche status, has yet to be confirmed.

Indeed the SUV theme pervaded all nine halls in Beijing. Of the top ten best selling cars in this country, all ten are three box, four door saloons; but no-one is expecting that very traditional status quo for last forever.

I am told that already China sells more SUVs than Germany does all cars put together and at Auto China the burgeoning popularity of the breed was clear to see.

In addition to the aforementioned, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its Concept Coupe SUV in an apparent and almost successful attempt to out-awkwardly style the rival BMW X6. It will be interesting to see if its designers feel the need to unscramble the egg a little before it goes on sale as the MLC, though we expect the fact the X6’s challenging appearance harmed its sales prospects not one bit may prove instructive.

Altogether easier on the eye was the Hyundai ix25, the Kia Soul-based sub-ix35 SUV which can add its name to an elongating list of inherently desirable new product seen in Beijing for which sadly no plans to sell in Europe currently exists.

Was BMW’s Vision Future Luxury Concept more inherently desirable than suggested by it needlessly convoluted name? Probably, though its avant-garde styling split opinion like few others at the show. One thing it cannot be accused of however is being boring and that bodes well for next year’s BMW 7-series that will adopt many of its styling and design cues.

After decades of trying and failing to be as good as a Mercedes S-class, this seems to be BMW riding high on the outstanding reception accorded to the bold as brass i3 and i8 deciding it’s instead just going to be very, very different. And that we salute.

And the same can be said of the pleasingly bonkers VW Golf R400 concept, especially as our inside sources suggest VW’s initial position that it was a one-off with no hope of production may have moderated somewhat of late.

We hope so: 40 years after the Golf first drew breath as the world’s most sensible hatchback, we find the idea of one with 395bhp and capable of breaking the four-second 0-62mph barrier so gloriously nutty it would a huge shame if it were never to be enjoyed by the public. We’d back a visually toned down five door version with a butter wouldn’t melt appearance and supercar-slaying performance. Anyone who recalls the supercharged, 16-valve Golf Limited of 1990 will know exactly what we’re talking about.

As for the Chinese domestic brands, as ever there was no shortage of quantity but still very little sign of the kind of quality that is going to make even customers in China let alone in the rest of the world buy them for reasons other than their uniformly low cost. Do the manufacturers care? Less than you might think in this land of the joint venture, where every major Chinese car company is in bed with at least one major western manufacturer.

The Chinese provide local factories and therefore affordable access to the world’s largest market, and their partners being the technology, expertise and credibility they currently lack. And they are learning all the time. When we return to Beijing in 2016, we expect them to have departed the bargain basement to be found going up in the world, and via the express elevator too.

Read more Beijing motor show news.

Our Verdict

Land Rover Discovery

The Land Rover Discovery has an unbeatable combination of practicality, off-road ability and on-road manners

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