24 September 2004

The doors are open on this year’s Paris motor show, at the French capital’s Parc des Exposition, and Autocar can report that, as ever, it’s packed full of new and improved metal, from extravagant concepts, to reinvented road cars soon to be turning up at a showroom near you.

Sports car enthusiasts will find plenty to look at; Ferrari’s new F430 and Porsche’s second-generation Boxster appear for the first time, before spring 2005 UK sales debuts. Aside from these, however, Mondial de l’Automobile 2004 plays host to international debuts from all of the ‘big three’ producers, and they make for a varied and comprehensive show well worth the modest 10 Euro entrance fee. Ford’s crucial new Focus hatchback takes its official show bow, alongside a convertible Focus concept fitted with a folding metal roof – the Vignale (right)– that could become a production reality within two years. There’s also plenty to see on the blue oval’s subsidiary stands. Nextdoor with Mazda, there’s an all-new medium-sized people carrier on show, as well as a fire-breathing saloon, both for the first time. The company’s 5 midi-MPV features a unique ‘6+One’ seating arrangement and sliding rear doors – both firsts in its class. The 6 MPS is a 256bhp fast four-door that its makers hope will break new territory for the marque. Volvo is showcasing a new 4.4-litre petrol V8, which it will use to make its XC90 SUV more appealing to American buyers. Jaguar's showing is an understandably modest one, following the tumultuous developments of recent weeks. Land Rover’s presence is similarly retiring, now that its new Discovery has broken cover. But Aston Martin has something to shout about: namely its fastest-ever production car, the new Vanquish S, which packs 520bhp, a revised front bumper and grille, and is capable of upwards of 200mph.

Paris is a landmark show for rival General Motors, not least because it’s reinventing its European branding strategy. As reported in this week’s magazine, it is showing a large, Korean-developed seven-seat SUV called S3X, as well as a new three-door Kalos supermini, and a concept called M3X due to father the next Matiz. All three will come to the UK as Chevrolets, rather than Daewoos, within the next two years.

GM’s more familiar Vauxhall brand is putting in a less revolutionary appearance, but it’s a significant one nonetheless, if only because it makes up one half of a hot hatch stand off that will surely feature highly on next year’s automotive agenda. Its Astra HPC concept previews the forthcoming Astra VXR – a 240bhp, front-driven three-door due to lock horns with Volkswagen’s fifth generation Golf GTi next summer. Paris will be recorded as the place where these two enemies first did battle – if only for visitor’s glances – and it’s worth the trip for that alone. Suzuki’s new Swift is also one of GM’s highlights; a much-improved sharp-looking supermini targeted directly at the European consumer. Cadillac’s advance into Europe is also trumpeted at Paris; it begins in earnest in 2005, when both left- and right-hand-drive versions of its STS executive saloon, CTS smaller saloon, SRX four-wheel drive crossover vehicle and XLR roadster (to be available in LHD only) go on sale across the continent. By comparison, DaimlerChrysler Paris show smacks of consolidation. Its recently rejuvenated Chrysler brand is present in the shape of the roofless Crossfire Roadster, and the maker’s new 300C in saloon and new estate form. Mercedes-Benz would have you believe that their impressive Vision R and Vision B concept cars are simply food for thought; the truth is that they’re two of the most interesting and prescient exhibits at the show, paving the way for the three-pointed star’s entry into two MPV segments. The former, a generously-proportioned luxury six-seater, shares a four-wheel drive drivetrain and various chassis componentry with Mercedes’ next-generation M-class offroader, and will have few obvious competitors when it emerges in final production R-class form early next year. The latter can be more closely matched up with the current midi-MPV sector; based on Mercedes’ new A-class underpinnings, the B-class will assume the position of the outgoing long-wheelbase A-class when it appears at a similar time, and will sit at the premium end of a segment that includes Ford’s Focus C-Max and Renault’s Scénic. Elsewhere, domestic manufacturers sieze the opportunity to put on an impressive show for their home crowd. PSA Peugeot-Citroën’s display includes Peugeot’s new 1007 A-segment contender heading for the UK next June, a facelifted 607 executive saloon which benefits from the addition of the company’s 2.7-litre V6 diesel developed in conjunction with Ford, and a eye-catching 907 concept V12 GT – a guaranteed crowd pleaser. For Citroën, the wraps officially come of its C4 three- and five-door hatchbacks, due to go head-to-head with the new Focus in January next year.

But the manufacturers who travel the furthest also have plenty to crow about. Honda’s FR-V takes its first bow, in direct competition with Mazda’s 5, and the Japanese maker also announces the extension of its i-CDTi diesel engine to the popular C-RV 4x4. On the Toyota stand, diesel is again on centre stage – literally, in the shape of the maker’s D4D Clean Power concept, an Avensis saloon with a high-output, low emissions diesel powerplant. That manufacturer’s biggest news is the official announcement of the name of its forthcoming city car, to share its underpinnings with Citroën’s C1 and Peugeot’s 107 and 1007: the Aygo. On the Hyundai stand, the smart-looking Sonata replacement is introduced, expected in the UK in mid ’05, while sister company Kia introduces its Sportage SUV, and a new supermini concept called Kia Sport, expected to father a new Rio range, in both five-door and saloon body styles, at some point in 2006.

More information on the Paris show can be found at www.mondial-automobile.com, which runs until October 10.

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