3 March 2004

There were surprises for every budget at this year’s Geneva motor show as manufacturers kept cars such as the new BMW M5, Fiesta RS and Rolls-Royce cabrio (pictured right) under wraps until the show’s first day.

It’s rare for six top manufacturers to keep their new cars a secret until the covers come off at their press conference, but that meant a real buzz about the show as the unveiling of genuine surprises occurred up and down Geneva’s halls.

And the daddy of them all had to be Rolls’ drop top, or 100EX, as the car is officially titled. Although that specific car won’t go into production, in PR speak ‘elements of it could be seen on future models’, which means the concept is a strong hint as to what’s next in the pipeline for the Brit brand under BMW stewardship.

And BMW also held back a jaw-dropping surprise of its own – the 500bhp M5. Although strictly speaking also a concept car, it’s of the ’virtually production ready’ variety, with sales starting almost immediately after the final version appears at September’s Paris motor show.

At the other end of the performance scale, Ford shocked with a trio of hot Fiestas. The 150bhp ST was expected, but parked alongside it was a fantastic-looking concept for an even quicker RS version. The third car was Ford’s Junior World Rally Championship Fiesta, unveiled by Ford rally boss Malcolm Wilson and star driver Marco Martin.

MG Rover also used a sports star to unveil new product, with Olympic rowing champ Matthew Pinsent pulling the wraps off a V8 version of the Rover 75. Spun off the MG ZT 260, the Rover version is also rear wheel drive and is intended as a more cosseting alternative to the hardcore MG.

At the practical end of proceedings there were also a couple of interesting developments. Renault showed off a Clio mini-MPV concept that will morph into a production version for Paris in September, while Fiat jumped in with a concept 4x4 version of its Idea mini-MPV.

On top of these star cars, the dozens of debuts pictured in Autocar in recent weeks also vied for attention, including Merc’s new four-door Coupe CLS, the new Audi A6, Citroen C4, Corvette Cabrio, Peugeot 407, Mitsubishi Colt, Vauxhall Tigra and Mini Convertible.

Click on gallery to see more pictures

Read all about one of the most exciting motor shows in recent years in next week’s Autocar, out on 9 March.

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