Geneva '13: Four of the Best

This year's Geneva Motor Show is now in full swing, and having just returned we can vouch that power was the order of the day. Lamborghini, Ferrari and McLaren revealed new hypercars with the Veneno, P1 and La Ferrari models respectively, and there were a number of more reasonably priced hot hatches for the rest of us, particularly the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Kia Procee'd GT.

Although there was no green pavilion this year and pure electric cars were few and far between, environmental technology was incoporated into cars from almost every manufacturer, from the aforementioned hybrid supercars all the way to plug-in and natural gas versions of the Audi A3 and an updated Nissan Leaf. If fear of scaring buyers with avant-garde design is keeping the form of cars traditional, then at least the fear of emissions regulations and rising fuel prices mean that conventional drivetrain technology is getting cleaner and cleaner.

Here are four of our favourites from this year's show.

Volkswagen XL1

The most famous 1-litre car finally made its production debut at Geneva, and alongside its hybrid powertain huge advances have been made in decreasing weight and increasing aerodynamic efficiency. Shorter than a Polo and lower than a Porsche Boxster, the tiny XL1 is designed to move under as little energy as possible whilst maintaining high levels of safety and design.

Lightweight – At the heart of XL1 sits a carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) monocoque weighing just 89.5kg. Whereas a conventional car’s body accounts for around 40% of overall weight, the XL1’s CFRP shell contributes only 29% of a total of 795kg. Polycarbonate windows weigh 33% less than glass ones and add only 5.2kg, whilst offset seats constructed from the same polymer as the body weigh half what a conventional seat would.

Aerodynamics – The impact of frontal drag on a car’s fuel efficiency is enormous, and whilst Mercedes are understandably proud of the new CLA’s drag coefficient of 0.22 (a large-scale production car record), the XL1 counters with a Cd of just 0.19 (but a swimming penguin as a Cd of 0.03). To create a shape that offers the lowest resistance and maximum streamlining, the XL1 features a round front, a smooth roof, a strongly sloping and narrow rear as well as the removal of conventional wing mirrors, which have been replaced with cameras. Extreme measures for most cars, but the XL1 is nothing if not extreme.

Further modifications include a housing for the rear wheels and the specification of narrow tyres. Air vortex generators on the front wheels “prevent the air stream from getting caught in the wheels housing” and an attica (a groove below the rear lights) reduce air resistance further.

Toyota i-Road Concept

Toyota’s environmental strategy can be split into three bands. Mid to long-distance travel will be undertaken in hydrogen vehicles such as the FCV concept; hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles will be used for the majority of everyday journeys, with no range anxiety or burden to the infrastructure, and finally, electric vehicles will cover short distances. The i-Road concept for personal mobility fits nicely into the latter category.

Powered by a pair of 2kW motors mounted inside the front wheels, the i-Road has a range of 50km (when travelling at a fixed speed of 30kph) and can fully recharge from a standard 120V socket in three hours. So far it doesn’t’ really rival the similarly tandem-seated Renault Twizy, but what makes the i-Road interesting is the “entirely intuitive” Active Lean technology, which calculates the required lean angle based on steering angle, gyro-sensor info and vehicle speed before motors and gearing then forcibly tilt the i-Road. The Active Lean technology moves the wheels up or down initiating a lean to counteract centrifugal cornering forces. More simply, if you’re driving along a slope or cornering hard the i-Road will remain upright.

A hard top means no helmet is required, whilst a turning circle of three metres and quick charging make the i-Road ideal for personal urban transportation.

Kia Provo Concept

Kia’s catering to European tastes took another step forward with the B-segment Provo Concept – a confident, muscular hatchback with a small footprint. One of the aims for the exterior design was to find a new language between sculptural and product design, and wrap-around front and rear light graphics aim to emphasize the car’s width.

The Provo is a concept in the traditional sense of the word and the headlight band is made up of over 1,500 LEDs. A driver would even be able to upload personal designs via USB.

The Provo uses a four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine tuned to 204PS mated to a small electric engine, which during hard acceleration allows the concept to become temporarily four-wheel drive. It also permits the Provo to move exclusively under electric power at low speeds.

Amongst plenty of quilted leather, the interior philosophy is one of simplicity. “People are very busy in their minds and they have a lot to think about as well as the road, and we want to make our cars simple for the user and easy to maintain. We also want to bring fun and pleasure, but an affordable fun,” said Laurent Boulay, one of Kia’s Frankfurt-based designers largely responsible for the Provo.

McLaren P1

McLaren released a production version of the P1 hypercar, a pre-production version of which was seen at last year’s Paris Motor Show. A hybrid powertrain developing a combined power output of 903bhp gives the fantastically serpentine P1 a 0-300kph time of less than 17 seconds.

Materials have played a big part in the development of the P1, and whilst the majority of the car is constructed from high-quality carbon-fibre, much of the rear is wrought of titanium, principally for it’s heat-shielding properties.

The interior is as utilitarian as you could wish for, with no carpets unless they are specified, no sound-deadening materials and high-density but low-weight foam for the seats to reduce weight further. Not even the leather escapes intact, and any leather used is thinner than what goes into the ‘standard’ MP4. Furthermore, interior carbon-fibre is remains free of lacquer to save yet more weight (and reduce glare).

Although the P1 looks heavily CAD-rendered, Frank Stephenson insists the vacuum-packed design was the result of “a lot of sketching…all this talk of designing cars on computers is not really true.” Then next step after sketching is building 40% scale models before a full-size model is built from clay with five sculptors. Finally, the car went into the wind tunnel. 


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