Geneva preview: five cars we’re planning to peer at

28 February 2010

We’re off to the Geneva Motor Show on Wednesday, so we thought we’d round up the cars we’re planning on prodding when we get to the show. Not that an exhibition hall is necessarily the best place to sample a new car – we sincerely hope to slip behind the wheel of at least some of the following cars on a real road in the coming weeks and months.

Honda CR-Z
Honda CR-ZThe European version of Honda’s pocket hybrid sports coupe will go on sale this summer. We like Honda hybrids, despite the slightly below-par feel of their interiors. We’re hoping that the CR-Z will succeed in appeasing both head and heart, providing athletic élan when it’s wanted combined with fuel-sipping parsimony when it’s not.

Nissan Leaf
Nissan LeafWe drove the Nissan Cube EV-02 prototype last year and fell in love with its silent and silky delivery, so we have high hopes for Nissan’s big electric car gamble. At least a full five grand from the government will help tip the odds in Nissan’s favour. The Nissan Leaf might look like an old-model Renault Mégane that’s been melted in a microwave, but we suspect its frog face and slippery shape will grow on us. We want to try out Nissan’s innovative satellite navigation system, which greys out the parts of the map you can’t reach without a recharge, to see well it responds to changes in driving style.

Opel Ampera
Opel AmperaAnother big production electric car gamble – the European version of Chevrolet’s Volt looked surprisingly attractive in the metal (in stationary, prototype form at least) when we finally clapped eyes on it at Millbrook last year. The range-extended electric car concept promises to be both practical and economical. We do wonder what it will be like to drive up steep hills, though, given all the hardware it has to lug around – batteries, fuel tank, engine and motor. We’d also like to see how well it stops in the rain. And how it manages the transition from pure battery power to petrol-electric mode. Despite these points of keen interest, we have high hopes for this transatlantic transplant. Interestingly, both the Vauxhall Ampera and the Chevrolet Volt will be sold alongside each other in the UK from 2012. We wonder how the two cars will differ in price, given that Chevrolet is a budget brand in Blighty.

Aston Martin Cygnet
Aston Martin CygnetSome people think a Toyota dressed up like a boil-wash DB9 is a travesty, but we beg to differ. After all, it can’t be much fun piloting your ordinary Aston super coupe between the City and Mayfair, say, when your eye-line is level with a bike courier’s crevice. Why not cram the same sense of occasion into something more suited to the city? We would have loved the Toyota iQ 3 but for its brittle, ill-appointed interior, and it’s on the Cygnet’s insides where Aston has exercised the bulk of its skills. True, the James Bond image is hard to pull off when piloting a car barely bigger than a cocktail napkin, but at least you might cross a city and arrived stirred but not shaken.

Audi A1
Audi A1It may look like the result of a drunken shag between an Austin Maestro and a Fiat 500, and it’s not half as clever as an Audi A2, but it is progress, of a sort. We applaud the welcome wave of small cars with big ambitions, which prove that size really shouldn’t matter, and of which the Audi A1 will be the latest and probably the greatest. It’ll be much better inside than a Mini, a much better bet for residuals than a Citroën DS3, and much less likely to go bzzzzt-phtt-kerding than an Alfa Mito. The littlest Audi will be expensive but nonetheless a safe bet. We can’t wait to slip behind the wheel – the best place to avoid looking at its awful exterior.

That’s our pick of the new cars – we’ll let you know what else catches our eye later in the week.

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