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Aston’s show surprise
All-electric DBX causes a shock in Geneva | by Andrew Frankel

For once I was right. This time last month I predicted the Geneva Motor Show would be home to ‘the most exciting, astonishing and for almost everyone entirely irrelevant assembly of metal ever gathered together under one room’, and, boy, did it deliver. One of the best sights of the show was not any individual car, but clumps of dazed hacks gathered together all going ‘There’s never been a show like this.’ And, indeed, there had not.

Yet despite the Aston Vantage GT3 and Vulcan, the McLaren 675LT and P1 GTR, the Porsche Cayman GT4 and 911 GT3 RS, the Ferrari 488 GTB and Lamborghini Aventador SV all being known to us before Geneva, there were at least three more about whose existence there was little or no warning.

I guess the biggest shock was the Aston Martin DBX. Rumours that Aston was to unveil an SUV started circulating only the night before the show, but I am sure even then few would have anticipated that the car, while as high as an SUV, would have just two doors and be powered entirely by electricity.

Of course the car is a concept and unlikely to make production in any form similar to that seen in Geneva, but it shows quite clearly the direction in which Aston Martin is thinking in its brave new world under new boss Andy Palmer.

It accepts it needs a large, high and luxurious car you or I might call an SUV, but refutes conventional wisdom that says such cars should be traditional in their proportions and execution. Aston wants to test not only public interest in such a car, but also its reaction to so radical a change in design language that has served the company well for many years, but is now in danger of seeming tame and predictable.

With Bentley’s SUV heading into production this year, Maserati’s not far behind and Rolls-Royce’s now confirmed, an Aston SUV almost certainly on Mercedes underpinnings now seems inevitable. The only questions remain how long it will take to produce and how close in appearance to the DBX it will really be.

Bentley’s striking concept

Bentley is not yet ready to show its fully finished SUV to the world, but that didn’t mean it was going to leave it to Aston Martin to mop up all the headlines for the big British brands. Instead it unveiled its own concept, called the EXP 10 Speed 6 (right) which, unlike the Aston, looked suspiciously real.

The car is one both Bentley customers and prospects have been asking for ever since VW bought the company at the end of the last century. It sits not above or below the existing Continental GT range, but beside it at a similar price point and with far more sporting positioning. To that end its wheelbase is 100-150mm shorter than the Continental’s and is a strictly two-seat design. To provide even greater differentiation, the next generation Continentals will grow if not in absolute length, then certainly in interior space so that even the two-door coupé will be a full four-seater, in a similar vein to the Ferrari FF.

Each car is possible only because of VW’s next generation MSB platform from which both will be wrought, as will the next Porsche Panamera. Using aluminium-intensive construction and saving steel for where it really matters, such as the A-pillars, the platform alone is approximately 150kg lighter than the VW Phaeton-derived architecture upon which the Continental GT sits.

I’m told by Bentley engineering boss Rolf Frech that the result is a Bentley that weighs less than two tonnes, and I’m afraid I don’t know how long it’s been since the last; many decades, I would imagine. Power will come from a V8 engine, presumably the still fresh 4-litre twin turbo unit already used by the Continentals, and the platform permits either rear- or all-wheel drive with ease. Significantly Frech also suggests he sees no reason why the car could not sell with a V6 engine, if an appropriate motor could be found. Which you know as well as I means he’s already found one. A plug-in hybrid is a certainty too, as is in time it taking over the mantle of company GT3 racer from the Continental GT.

But I should qualify that. All these things are a certainty if the car gets built, and Frech says the decision has yet to be made. His hands are very full getting the new Bentayga SUV up and running (which uses the new platform of the Audi Q7 and next Porsche Cayenne) and he will not be drawn on when the project will get the green light or not. Even so I have every confidence it will be built, and for many reasons. Frech reckons its sales could match those of the Continental GT and there is capacity on site at Crewe to build it. It would take the company in a direction many are calling for and also act as a useful balance for the SUV at the other end of the size and weight scale.

Supercar targets Le Mans

You probably haven’t heard of Jim Glickenhaus. I thought I hadn’t until I discovered he’d once directed a film called The Exterminator that a 15-year-old me went to see for a bet resulting in images therefrom that live on in my mind to this day. I cannot recommend it lowly enough. But there he was in Geneva with a new supercar which I’d normally have dismissed as just another of many such cars I’ve seen from people with more money than sense and which are destined never to be seen again – but for a couple of things.

First, the car (top) was there in road and racing form and I knew last year’s Sebring 12 Hours winner Marino Franchitti had already signed to race it in the Nürburgring 24 Hours. Second, as I walked onto the stand, Gordon Murray was walking off it, so before I spoke to Glickenhaus I asked Gordon what he thought. And he loved it.

Now before you get as excited by it as Gordon, bear in mind that the race version of the SCG 003 costs £1.5 million, the road car £1.65 million before VAT, so I’m imagining that for most of us what follows is of academic interest. But interesting it remains.

It has two key USPs: first it’s a car that looks like a Le Mans prototype but which is actually built to comply with GT3 regulations, though the need to produce 1000 units means it will never be homologated as such. Instead its competition prospects will rely on organisers choosing to have it at their events, probably in an experimental category such as that in which it will run at the Nürburgring, before it can race at Sebring, Daytona or Spa. Needless to say, Glickenhaus is confident. “The reason it’s able to look like no other GT3 car is that it wasn’t designed to be a road car first. Everyone else has a cockpit area big enough to carry two large gentlemen in comfort. We don’t need that,” he explains. He also says the car has been fully tested and passed every FIA certification test.

Second, and unlike other GT3 cars, it is a road-racing car in the truest, most traditional sense. According to Glickenhaus, “You can drive off the highway into the paddock, change the wing, the splitter and diffuser, and go racing.” Which is precisely what he and Marino plan to do in Germany in May.

The car is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo Honda HPD engine, giving 520bhp with race restrictors and around 650bhp in road use, which in a car weighing 1150kg should be plenty. In addition Glickenhaus estimates the car should have better than double the downforce of any current hypercar, including the McLaren P1. If so, it should be a formidable competitor.

But Glickenhaus has his sights set higher still. “There is no way we’ll be able to run at Le Mans as a GT car, but the ACO wants us there and have told me to re-engineer the car for LMP1, and while they won’t let us win, they will let us have the power and the fuel tank to be competitive. And that is the dream: if I can sell 15 of these cars, we will be on the grid for Le Mans in 2017.”

* McLaren’s new Sports Series will be the third model after MP4-12C/650S and P1 built around McLaren’s carbon monocell. The two-seat supercar uses a detuned 3.8-litre turbo V8 for a price below £150,000. It should still have a massive power to weight advantage over the rival 911 Turbo S, but not offer the 911’s vestigial rear seats and 4WD. At least three versions of the Sports Series will be produced, the coupé that will be launched first, a convertible and a lightweight road and track ‘GT3’ iteration.