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Lost tango in Paris
French showcase lacks a little of its usual fizz | by Andrew Frankel

I’d like to tell you that this year’s biennial visit to the Paris Motor Show produced the usual wall-to-wall orgy of new models as manufacturers jostled to get their latest ideas in front of the media, but I can’t.

It was a somewhat subdued affair, populated more by concepts and fresh iterations of existing cars than anything genuinely new the public might one day be able to buy.

It’s not immediately clear why this should be: Paris is one of the genuinely big shows, a rival for Geneva, Frankfurt, Detroit and Beijing, but it didn’t feel like it this time. Could it be that manufacturers didn’t want to peddle their wares in a country whose car industry has been in so much trouble for so long? Perhaps they’re saving it up for Detroit in January, or maybe there’s no conspiracy at all and it was just a slightly slow show. It does happen. For me I think it’s a combination of all these factors coupled with another, namely that when things got very tough back in 2008-2009, a lot of projects were canned, sidelining cars that would only now be ready to be shown in public.

Still, we weren’t short of things to see even if some of them, like the new Jaguar XE, were by now familiar. But it was good to learn that its pricing is realistic, with a base petrol model costing £26,995 and the diesel everyone will want (not least because of its class-busting 99g/km CO2 output) listed at £29,775. The equivalent BMW 3-series, the 109g/km 320d Efficient Dynamics, is precisely £1000 cheaper.

JLR also showed its new Discovery Sport (which is actually a replacement for the Freelander and based on the same underpinnings), but at the other end of the SUV scale there seemed to be far less eagerness to embrace the category that for years now has seemed able to do no wrong. First Ferrari categorically ruled out making such a vehicle, despite persistent rumours that new boss Sergio Marchionne wanted the profits from such a car to prop up less successful areas of his Fiat empire. Then Aston Martin revealed that its Lagonda nameplate would no longer be used on an SUV, but on an attractive limousine that will sadly only be sold in the Middle East. And finally Lamborghini admitted that its Urus SUV had still not been given the green light, five years after first appearing in concept form. It will be interesting to see if Rolls-Royce keeps its nerve and pursues its plans to build an SUV based on the forthcoming BMW X7 luxury SUV. For Bentley and almost certainly Maserati, however, there is no possibility of reconsidering, for their SUV projects are some distance past the point of no return.

Wraps come off new MX-5

I guess the show’s biggest single unveiling was the new Mazda MX-5, some 25 years after the original completely reset the template for small sporting cars. Unlike most, I didn’t warm immediately to its looks but I learned long ago never to form judgements on show appearances alone: Jaguars always look better on the move than on the stand and the little Mazda may well prove the same.

What I did like about the new MX-5 was the back-to-basics philosophy behind it. Mazda has done very well to keep such a firm hand on the MX-5’s weight while some cars have added half as much mass again to their overall bulk, but Mazda reckons to have shaved as much as 100kg from the outgoing car, reducing it to not much more than a tonne. In an era where even a base Lotus Elise weighs more than 850kg, that’s impressive for a car that should continue to be usable on a daily basis.

Like all MX-5s it retains the traditional layout, with a longitudinally mounted normally aspirated engine in the front driving the rear wheels, a traditional two-seat cabin and a simple roof configuration. Mazda has saved weight by reducing the car’s overall size and using aluminium for many components, especially in the body and suspension. Power will come from two engines of 1.5 and 2.0 litres, offering up to about 180bhp.

Busy time for Mercedes

Most of the news coming from behind the scenes emanated from the direction of Mercedes-Benz. It produced its new AMG GT coupé for the first time at a show (although it had already been revealed in Stuttgart), as well as the new C63 AMG 4.0 V8, which has more power than its 3-litre six-cylinder rival the BMW M3, but matches it for economy. But it was what Mercedes wasn’t showing that proved to be of most interest.

I sat down with AMG boss Tobias Moers, who told me he was working on not only the FIA GT3 version of new GT coupé (which will replace the SLS on track from 2016), but a road-going model aimed directly at the Porsche 911 GT3. Like the 911, the rival Mercedes will be lighter than the car upon which it is based (to the tune of 100kg), boast more power and carry a wider track, revised suspension and an effective aerodynamics package. Moers indicated that 550bhp was a likely figure for the output of its 4-litre twin turbo V8 motor, so the power to weight ratio might be some distance ahead of that offered by the 911 GT3.

The weight loss would be achieved largely through the fitment of lighter carbon-fibre body components.

Moers also confirmed that, from now on, all AMG cars would be branded Mercedes-AMG, that a limited slip differential would be standard on its rear-drive models and that there are no plans to make a diesel-powered AMG, even of any current or future SUV.

Eye-catching Lambo

Of all the concept cars on show in Paris, by far the most talked about was the Lamborghini Asterion.

Its 910bhp output is provided by a combination of a V10 petrol engine and no fewer than three electric motors, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is Lambo’s answer to the likes of the LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and Porsche 918. For a start it is a concept and no one at Lamborghini was exaggerating its chances of being turned into a production car, but secondly its focus is on luxury and Grand Touring rather than trying to bust the outright lap record at the Nürburgring.

I have no problem with this: if Ferrari can build a comfortable long-distance cruiser like the FF, why not Lamborghini? It’s hardly betraying its heritage: the very first Lamborghini car was precisely such a machine and I think it would sit very well with the company’s current image of building solidly engineered cars with extrovert styling. And while Lamborghini has always courageously avoided the lazy and easy option of recycling old names, were it to produce a dramatically styled 2+2 Grand Tourer and call it Espada, I for one would have no trouble with that.

Ferrari’s limited editions

Ferrari has revealed two limited-edition models. The first is the 458 Speciale A (below), the ‘A’ referring to ‘Aperta’ or the open roof of Ferrari’s most powerful convertible to date. Just 499 will be built to a specification that closely matches that of the closed 458 Speciale, including its 600bhp, 4.5-litre naturally aspirated engine. Ferrari quotes a weight gain of just 50kg and an identical Fiorano lap time. A price has yet to be revealed but is likely to be about £240,000.

The second model is rather more exclusive. Just 10 Ferrari F60 Americas will be built and all have been sold for £1.56 million to favoured US collectors to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the company’s presence on the continent.

Based on the F12, the convertible F60 America boasts dramatically revised bodywork clothing standard F12 mechanicals, which still means placing a 730bhp, 6.3-litre V12 at your disposal. A lightweight fabric roof is sold with the car but is intended for emergency use only and should not be fitted above 75mph. All F60 Americas will be painted in the blue and white colours of Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team, which most famously won Le Mans in 1965 with a 250LM driven by Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt.

* Want to drive a genuine Jaguar D-type or a brand new F-type R coupé? Got a spare £275 and you can now do both thanks to a venture from Jaguar Heritage. Or you can drive an E-type, a ‘Coombs’ MkII or even a C-type. Or be a passenger in any of them. Prices range from £95 for 30 minutes in the passenger seat of an XK150 to £2000 for a full day driving the crown jewels of Jaguar’s past and present. Events takes place at a 200-acre site in Fen End, Warwickshire. Contact www.jaguarheritagedriving.com for more details.

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